Special Interest Matter - Tribute to Peter MacFie

Tuesday 31 May 2022


Ms ARMITAGE (Launceston) - Mr President, I will not go to the lectern because I do not want to turn my back to the friends and family of Peter MacFie, whom I am speaking about today. I will stand here in my place.


Peter H. MacFie - social historian, researcher, person of letters, composer and musician. Peter was born in Launceston 6 November 1943. Peter's paternal grandparents were from Devonport. Hector MacFie II was the MLC for Mersey in this House from 1954 until retiring as president in 1972. Prior to that, Peter's great-grandfather, Henry MacFie was an MHA for the seat of Darwin in north-west Tasmania, having changed his support from Labor to Nationalist over the matter of conscription in World War One.

Peter's other forebears included three convicts: Hector MacFie from the Isle of Bute, Scotland, and his wife Bridget Connor, from Ireland; also, John Price from England, who arrived as a Point Puer boy. Peter's maternal grandparents were Archers from the east Tamar Dilston property, Landfall. They were well-regarded lay preachers and had a long history in the Wesleyan tradition as well as being successful farmers. There Peter developed his fascination with old farm machinery and methods of land management.


After a teaching career spanning 1965-79, Peter embarked on his lifelong passion of historical research, commencing with saving the historic Millers Cottage, Richmond from demolition in 1981. Peter then became resident historian to the Port Arthur Authority at Port Arthur from 1983-1991. Peter's office was in the accountant's house and it was always piled high with papers. He responded to numerous inquiries and questions on a huge range of topics, from buildings and structures to convicts and the free. Staff witnessed hundreds of Peter's responses in the files. Pete wrote a huge range of articles, published and unpublished, including those related to Point Puer, but also topics such as the colonial gardens of Port Arthur, rock and roll, the First World War soldiers who did not return, and much more, mainly focusing on people in lower socioeconomic conditions or difficult circumstances.


On leaving the Port Arthur authority in 1992, Peter became an independent historian and commenced far-ranging social history research, including that of the Maydena-Tyenna Valley forestry on behalf of the then-Australian Newsprint Mills. Peter interviewed over 100 families during a 10-year period, accumulating a significant oral and written history. Due to changes in mill ownership, this project languished for some years, but was published in 2020 to wide acclaim as a 400-page book, The Newsprint.

Peter either established or participated in the setting up of Tasmanian historical societies, with his template for establishing such groups widely adopted. These include the Sorell History Society and the Derwent Valley Historic Society.


In the new millennium, one of Peter's important projects was the research and publication of a book concerning the former convict fiddler, Alexander Laing, based on the handwritten manuscript of tunes presented by Laing in 1863, with most of his tunes dedicated to Tasmanian people and places. Peter rediscovered the manuscripts within the Tasmania State Archives and set about having these arranged by fellow Tasmanian musicians Steve and Marjorie Gadd. They were then performed by various ensembles, including at the Biannual National Folk Festival Ngunnawal Country, Canberra. Peter presented his paper detailing his research and was also invited to Cambridge University UK in 2006, again talking to this paper. The Laing tunes have been published jointly with the Gadd's notation in Peter's book, On the Fiddle, for future generations to explore and enjoy.


Peter was a talented musician and composer, his sublime folk tune, Lean To, and wicked country dance song, Everyone is Dancing at the Forcett Hall, represent two Tasmanian folk art, and add to Peter's other much-loved works. Over many years, Peter conducted with great enthusiasm historic re-enactments, bus tours and events featuring the Laing tunes, plus his own and other folk rock through the Derwent Valley, Coal River, Sorell and Tasman Peninsula districts. Peter also authored books for various councils, including the acclaimed Underground Hobart: The World Beneath the City, allowing Hobartians to rediscover the hidden world beneath their feet.


In 2020, the College of Arts, Law and Education University of Tasmania presented Peter MacFie with a distinguished service award for exceptional and sustained contributions to historical research.

Whilst historian at Port Arthur in the 1980s, at the suggestion of his much-loved mother, Lilian Elsie, Peter commenced researching the early Wesleyan preachers who had been assigned the contract for the penal site's religious affairs after the Anglicans declined. With the onset of his disabling motor neurone disease in 2016, Peter's editor and dedicated friends worked with the near completed manuscripts, and The Wesleyans of Port Arthur was published in April this year.


As a descendent of a Point Puer boy convict, a sixth generation Tasmanian, Peter MacFie's Wesleyans has also effectively and vividly evoked daily life at Point Puer for those boy convicts, an exceptional legacy. When in 2019 Peter had to move out of his beloved cottage at Dulcot near Richmond, retired archivist Margie Bryant packed 130 boxes of research material that Peter then donated to the Tasmanian State Archives, a valuable resource from which future historians and students can get access and gain knowledge.


Despite being bed bound for the last two years of his life, Peter continued to be interested in the publication of his works, both written and musical. Peter's lifelong friend David John Wilson recently stated:


My friend had quietly evolved into a venerated, respected, highly-esteemed historian, one who felt driven to chronicle the history of the island he loved.


Peter Henry MacFie passed away peacefully this year on 28 April 2022. As a footnote, Peter's brother Robert MacFie and his editor, Jan Horton, will continue to publish those of Peter's works that were substantially completed prior to the onset of MND, as he requested.


Members - Hear, hear.


Mr PRESIDENT - I would also like to thank Peter for his work and mention he was always a very engaging person whether talking to him about music, history or numerous other topics, old machinery was another favourite. I know Peter will be missed by many people, but he will live on through his historical works and musical compositions. He was a great Tasmanian who should be remembered.


Members - Hear, hear.

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