Field Recordings: Tasmania

Lake Esperance

Summer holidays. Head south to avoid the Australian summer. Escape the mosquitoes, snakes, and an all pervasive humidity that saps the body of energy and the mind of all intelligible thought. Go to Tasmania, Australia’s most southern island state. With this motivation behind me I found myself in some of Australia’s most beautiful wilderness.

Hartz Mountain: Lake Esperance.

Questioning whether I should lug my recording equipment with me or simply leave it in the car and walk unencumbered, I put on my backpack and walked the 40 minutes from the visitor’s centre to Lake Esperance … a glacier lake (tarn) in Tasmania’s alpine World Heritage Area. A funny thing to get sunburnt along the alpine peaked walk, my first red skin in years.

Arriving at the lake I began the lengthy process of unfurling the cables attached to my hydrophones. If anyone can answer the question of how cables can tie themselves into knots with such enthusiasm and expertise while packed tightly in a bag, I will be truly grateful.

There in the midday sun with an icy wind blasting across the lake’s surface I found that my headphones weren’t transmitting any sound. Trying to quell my descent into a downward mental spiral in such an exquisite setting I thought it best to place the hydrophones in the water and hope for the best. This, after all, was supposed to be an enjoyable experience. I watched the hydrophones settle in the water and pressed record. Only weeks later did I get to hear the sound of this ancient lake system.

View across Surveyors Bay

Nearby along the south-eastern coastline was the area I would call home for almost a week: Surveyors Bay. An isolated area whose coastline is dotted with humble shacks facing the calm water. I may be Australian but I’ve never been a fan of the ocean, preferring instead the hills, forests, and deserts. Surveyors Bay altered my perspective towards this quite drastically. Lulled by the sound of gentle waves, observing the slow and infinite movement of the tides, watching kelp and seaweed move with the currents, I fell in love with the ocean. Or at least, with this particular protected bay area (I shouldn’t get too carried away). Here, time moved in different ways.

Tree, water, wind, contact microphones

On my first evening there the wind blew strongly. Attaching contact microphones to this dead tree dangling in the water I not only heard the waves, I also heard the deep tones of the wind passing across the solid timber. I could have stayed listening to the wind in all its crescendos and diminuendos … but a glass of wine was calling.

Early morning sounds to wake up to

During the early mornings and late afternoons bird and insect life made itself heard above the waves. It was easy to imagine this as a sound unchanged for thousands of years. Sound transporting us back to a distant time. To hear this as your everyday sonic backdrop, how would it affect you?

Flies, flies, flies

By late afternoon each day the shack was filled with flies. A cacophony of buzzing, drones, smacks against glass, violent circles on the floor. Where did they come from, all congregating against one window in the kitchen? A short burst of energy that nicely contrasted with the waves outside.

Cave at low-tide

Exploring a little further along the local coastline I came across this limestone cave. The tide was low with only an occasional gentle wave encroaching within the cave’s mouth. The sound of the water washing in and out, gurgling inside its crevices, kept me entertained for some time. Thoughts of the ceiling collapsing and no one knowing where I was prompted me to leave faster than I’d have liked. Yes, my thoughts may have been a little dramatic in retrospect.


And there it is. An all too brief holiday in southern Tasmania documented through its waterways. If only it were possible to spend more time there, to peel back the layers of sound beyond those heard by a burnt-out tourist on a 2-week vacation. Tasmania, I’ll be back.



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