The Museum of Old and New Art’s controversial collection continues to draw thousands of visitors to Tasmania, but it’s just the latest chapter in an arts narrative that has enveloped the island for decades.
Colonial art collections, award-winning nature photography, soaring symphonies, and epic sculptural works are just some of the highlights in store for culture vultures exploring our smallest state.
Here are ten of the best cultural attractions in Tasmania.
Mona is the headline act in Tasmania’s cabaret of cultural experiences and has been since it opened in Hobart back in 2011. Despite the hype, you can’t help but be impressed. The artworks and antiquities that line the walls and corridors of David Walsh’s underground architectural masterpiece are often polarising — but that’s the point. The museum is located down river from the city centre. Cruise transfers on the Mona Roma ferry depart from the Brooke Street Pier.
In 1812, the Duke of Wellington defeated the French in a distant battle in Spain. In dedication to this far-flung victory, Hobart’s Salamanca Place was founded. Here, merchants and traders built waterfront warehouses to service the fledgling colony. Fast forward a century and those same warehouses are now the home of the Salamanca Arts Centre — a collection of gallery and performance spaces that provide a valuable platform for Tasmania’s local artists, musicians and actors to exhibit their work. The centre hosts changing exhibitions exploring the relationship of people, landscape, culture and time.
The Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery in Hobart is one of the island’s must-see cultural attractions — not only for the collection it holds, but also for the historic buildings that are incorporated in the complex. They include the colonial Commissariat — Tassie’s oldest surviving public building — and imposing Custom House. The museum displays classical, colonial and contemporary art, along with an array of artefacts from the state’s past. The natural world is also well represented, including a permanent exhibition that details the total annihilation of the thylacine (Tasmanian tiger). It’s titled ‘Skinned, Stuffed, Pickled and Persecuted’.
Formed in post-war 1948, the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra has been the pride of the island ever since. With its 50-strong complement of talented musoes, the TSO resides in Hobart’s Federation Concert Hall but spends much of its time on the road, both across the island and around the wider world. The TSO has a strong history of community engagement and even recently performed with inmates of Risdon Prison. Visit the website for a list of upcoming performances and book well in advance.
Tasmania’s Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park offers plenty of amazing photo opportunities. On your way through the park, pay a visit to The Wilderness Gallery at the Cradle Mountain Hotel. The gallery contains a collection of award-winning nature photography, along with other nature-based art works, including paintings, ceramics, sculptures and more. Look for the incredible photographic work of Rob Blakers.
In 1899, Queen Victoria laid the foundation stone for the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Eight years earlier, Launceston had launched its very own Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery. Today it’s the largest regional museum in the country. Browse early colonial artworks, before inspecting the collection of scrimshaw — carvings by colonial mariners using the teeth and bones of whales. Feel chills as you walk stealthily through the zoology displays, which include a number of giant spiders (safely stored behind glass!).
Many young men from what is now the town of Legerwood in Tasmania’s north-east ventured onto the bloody battlefields of Europe in World War I. Seven made the ultimate sacrifice. To honour their bravery, tree saplings were planted as an enduring memorial, but by the end of the 20th century the ageing trees were in danger of having to be removed. With a true Tasmanian sense of resolve, the residents of Legerwood engaged chainsaw carver Eddie Freeman to fashion the broad trunks into sculptures, which portray the men in the moments that defined them. Viewing the Legerwood Memorial Carvings is a moving experience.
As you lose yourself in the lush rolling hills of the Kentish region south of Devonport, you’ll no doubt be inspired to capture the stunning beauty of the landscape on your camera. For the past three decades, the artists of the town of Sheffield have been doing it with a paintbrush on the outer walls of homes, stores and public buildings. The entire civic centre is an outdoor art gallery of large, colourful murals. The annual International Mural Fest event takes place at Easter.
The trunk rings of a Huon Pine, which has grown for thousands of years in the forests of Tasmania, maps the story of the tree’s life. Following perhaps by example, Tasmania’s human history is steadily unfolding on a 100-metre-long, three-metre-high wall of carved timber at Derwent Bridge in the heart of the state. The Wall in the Wilderness is the evolving work of artist Greg Duncan. Admire the striking detail of Indigenous figures, farmers and miners in action. Look for the particularly fine sinewy detail in the limbs of the horses.
Beautiful Bruny Island — located off the south-eastern coast of Tasmania — is home to some sixty working artists. To connect with the community, head to Bruny Island Arts Inc — a display space for paintings, sculpture, photography and jewellery. Learn from the locals by joining a workshop to fashion your own unique souvenir of the island.
Do you have any suggestions to add to this list of the best cultural attractions in Tasmania? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
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Cover image: Tourism Tasmania/Kentish Council. Additional images: Bigstock
Barry Johnson is a freelance writer living in Sydney, but with a trail of Aussie souvenirs scattered throughout previous homes in Europe, America, Asia and the Middle East. Barry believes travelling is an adventure where the highlights push you on to the next trip and the lowlights can be laughed at with hindsight. Without a passport, he’d have missed getting lost in the Californian forest a week after the Blair Witch Project went viral, building a giant Buddha on a Cambodian mountain, camel racing in an Egyptian desert and teaching English to Peruvian children as they taught him Quechuan — the language of the Incas.