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Eggs & Bacon Bay and The Promised Land: What the Devil?

June 3, 2013 – 8:16 pm3 Comments
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Tasmanian Devil, Warner Bros style.

By Alex Kats
Recently I had the opportunity to spend a week in Tasmania, a part of the country that I had not previously visited. After my three day work conference – which is the reason I was there in the first place – I decided to stay on for a few days to tour the Apple Isle and enjoy its majesty.

I started in Hobart, where the conference had been, and almost unintentionally walked by the Hobart Synagogue, not even realising it was there because it is squashed between two larger buildings on either side. It is on Argyle Street in the centre of the city, because way back in 1842, Judah Solomon, a local Jewish activist and philanthropist offered land that he owned on that street for the purposes of a Jewish place of worship following a meeting that decided one should be built. The synagogue was built over the next few years and was officially consecrated in 1845, making it the oldest synagogue in Australia. It is also somewhat unique in another way because it alternates each week between orthodox and progressive services. Before even leaving Hobart I realised that this was a special place.

Over the next few days I drove from Hobart to near the bottom tip of Tasmania, out west, and up north to near the top tip and then down to Launceston, covering a distance of more than 700 kilometres. The scenery was majestic and engrossing, some of the experiences were glorious and the remoteness was at times confounding. The whole state has a population of about half a million with the majority in the cities, so as a result, on one day starting on a road just half an hour out of town, mine was the only car on the road for more than 40 minutes. Yet with all that, I was most astounded by some of the place names. I drove through towns or signs pointing to towns called Detention Point, Penguin, Flowerpot, Nowhere Else, Mount Horror, Hell’s Gates, Eggs and Bacon Bay, Adventure Bay and my personal favourite, Doo Town, where every house bar one has a name, and a name with the word Doo, like ‘Love Me Doo’, ‘We Doo’, ‘Doo Little’, ‘Xanadoo’, and a number of others in a town that only has about 20 homes.

After a while I also noticed that in a territory that is supposedly two and a half times the size of Israel, there were also many place names with a Middle Eastern or even biblical theme. I drove by pointers to Nile, Garden of Eden, Jacob’s Ladder and Promised Land, I visited the King Solomons caves and I drove over the Jordan River and through the tiny towns of Jericho and Bagdad (spelled without the ‘h’). I also drove through part of the Walls of Jerusalem Forest, which leads to the small town of Jerusalem. Who knew that Israel’s capital had a namesake in remote Tasmania?

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Hobart Synagogue: Australia’s oldest shul.
Photo by Alex Kats

Some of these places are among the smallest towns in the state (the town of Bagdad for example has a population of just 650) but they are all on the same territory in the peaceful and quiet state of Tasmania. The Middle East, where many of these names originated, with all its conflicts and tensions, yet again has a lot to learn from Australia.

And as I walked through Launceston, I realised that the themes of diversity, history and religious co-operation continue in the cities as well. Australia’s oldest Catholic and Anglican churches are in Tasmania as well, whilst Australia’s second oldest synagogue is in Launceston. Encouraged by the Hobart Synagogue, the Jews of the north in the 1830s wanted their own place of worship so they applied for a grant. The governor refused, so instead they raised their own money and the Launceston Synagogue was consecrated in 1846. It has not been in continuous use since then, but still stands in the centre of the city on St John’s Street, seemingly quite a religious street that also houses some very old churches, the theosophical Bible Society, the Gospel Society and the very modern but Persian named ‘Vashti’ women’s clothing store.

Clearly Tasmania is an ecclesiastical, pluralist place that is proud of its history and with a penchant for odd names. I guess that is no surprise when the by line on the number plates reads ‘Tasmania: Explore the Possibilities’.

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