Residency location: Maatsuyker Island, 2009/10
Maatsuyker Island rises out of the ocean off the South West coast of Tasmania in the Wilderness World Heritage Area. On its southern tip stands Australia’s most Southerly light. Living on Maatsuyker is living on the edge.
Communication from remote Maatsuyker Island has always been difficult. Early keepers used the International Code of Maritime Signal Flags to signal to passing ships. Keepers like my dad were required to spend an hour a week practicing the code. Their wives, meanwhile, hung out the washing between showers and rushed to get it in when the wind got up. Reflecting on my own and my mum’s experience and that of the many women and children who lived on Maatsuyker Island, I have re-interpreted the Maritime Signal Flags in domestic textiles.
During the long summer days of my residency on Maatsuyker I carried a small visual diary everywhere I went – observing and recording. I sometimes sat for hours at a time, stitching and gazing out from my island eyrie.
Seafarers raise the ‘R’ flag to indicate that they have finished sending their signal and are ready to receive a message or ‘listen’. I had no phone, fax or radio on Maatsuyker and spent long days alone immersed in the island – listening. Like the light keepers and their families I had to make do with whatever I could find or had thought to take with me.
Light keepers on Maatsuyker Island took weather records every three hours. When radio contact became available the observations were converted to code and transmitted to Cape Bruny light station. Now the island caretakers are the weather observers. Their reports on ‘the state of the sea’ – the swell and the wind wave – are critical for the safety of seafarers. On the island I was stationary in a moving landscape of sea and sky.
Gwen Egg is a textile, fibre and community artist with many years’ experience. She first visited Maatsuyker Island in the ‘60s and ‘70s when it was a fully manned lightstation and she was an adventurous teenager. She returned in the summer of 2009/10 through an Arts Tasmania funded Wilderness Residency. In 2012, with her partner, Marina, Gwen returned to Maatsuyker for six months as a volunteer caretaker for the Parks and Wildlife Service.