The Museum of Old and New Art’s controversial collection continues to draw thousands of visitors to Tasmania, but MONA is only the latest chapter in an arts narrative that has enveloped the island for decades.
From colonial art collections to award-winning nature photography, soaring symphonies and an entire town resplendent in murals, here are ten top cultural things to do in Tasmania.
Museum of Old and New Art (MONA)
The Museum of Old and New Art (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 shadowy underworld are often polarising and challenge many of the basic conventions and attitudes we as a society hold dear.
The museum is located down river from the city centre. Cruise transfers are available, departing from the MONA Brooke Street Ferry Terminal.
Salamanca arts precinct
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 free weekly music event Rektango is a good introduction. It’s held every Friday at 5.30pm.
Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery
The Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery in Hobart is absolutely one of the ten top cultural things to do in Tasmania, not only for its collection but also the historic buildings incorporated in the complex. They include Tassie’s oldest public building – the colonial Commissariat.
The museum houses a fabulous collection of classical, colonial and contemporary art. The natural world is also well represented, including a permanent exhibition that details the total annihilation of the thylacine (Tasmanian Tiger), titled ‘Skinned, Stuffed, Pickled and Persecuted’.
Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra
Formed in post-war 1948, the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra has been the absolute 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.
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The Wall in the Wilderness
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.
The Wilderness Gallery
Australia harbours thousands of amazing nature photo opportunities and Cradle Mountain is one that’s high on the list of must-snaps for most visitors to Tassie. On your way southward from Devonport towards the national park, pay a visit to The Wilderness Gallery at the Cradle Mountain Hotel.
The gallery contains a collection of award-winning nature photography, distilling the beauty of the world’s most remote sites. Highlights include the stunning work of Rob Blakers, and a tribute to the haunting wilderness photography of Peter Dombrovskis (1946-96).
Queen Victoria Museum & Art Gallery
In London in 1899 Queen Victoria laid the foundation stone for the Victoria and Albert Museum. Eight years earlier Launceston had launched its very own Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery (originally known as the Victoria Museum and Art Gallery).
Today it’s the largest regional museum in the country and offers an overwhelming collection of art, objects and natural specimens spread across two sites in ‘Lonnie’, with something to appeal to all ages and interests.
Delve into our earliest colonial artwork before interpreting the latest contemporary creations or inspect scrimshaw – the carvings by mariners using the teeth and bones of whales. Then feel chills and goosebumps as you walk stealthily through the zoology displays, including giant spiders (safely stored behind glass!).
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 or smartphone. For the last three decades the artists of Sheffield have been doing it with a paintbrush and today the entire town is an outdoor art gallery of large, colourful murals, which adorn the outer walls of homes, stores and public buildings.
Gustav Weindorfer, one of Tasmania’s earliest pundits of protection for the island’s pristine natural environments, was the the subject of the first Sheffield mural. Today there are hundreds to enjoy. Visit during Easter for the annual Mural Fest celebration.
Legerwood Memorial Carvings
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. Seeing the Legerwood Memorial Carvings is a moving and poignant experience.
Bruny Island Arts
Wherever you travel in Tassie you’ll find a community of artists and creatives hard at work, and beautiful Bruny Island is no exception. Bruny is home to some sixty artists. To connect, head to Bruny Island Arts Inc, a performance and display space dedicated to the community’s work, including painting, printmaking, sculpture, photography, jewellery and graphic design.
Suitably inspired, you can learn from the locals by joining a workshop to fashion your own unique island souvenir, or try your hand at decorative glasswork, painting or plein air sculpture.
Do you have any suggestions to add to this list of ten top cultural things to do in Tasmania? We would love to hear from you. Please leave us a comment.
Cover image courtesy of MONA. Image: Rémi Chauvin. Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
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 Quechua, the language of the Incas.