When I was a young bloke, fortunate to be travelling overseas, a family member said to me on mentioning Tasmania, "Tanzania you mean!" The assembled crowd laughed heartily in unison.
It was in jest, but a common jibe that made me retract into my young shell. As a result, I would often lower my eyes and place my chin on my chest when asked where I was from.
The United Republic of Tanzania is situated in East Africa. The country is famous for Mt. Kilimanjaro, a volcano which is the highest point in Africa - 5895 metres above sea level. Tanzania has very little similar with Tasmania apart from a capital T and British colonial rule, which ended in 1962 yet continues with gusto in Australia.
You don't need to cast your mind too far back to remember when our state was considered a backwater, both economically and socially.
The endless taunts from mainlanders aimed at dismissing Tasmania from any important discussion regarding the fabric of Australian life and rarely, if ever, the positive impact and influence on the economy, was a consistent and persistent mind set.
"We're nearly going as badly as Tasmania," Tasmania is a retirement village," "Did they count two heads in the census?" and "Are you all related to each other," were statements and questions all too common.
Often, our relaxed way of life ensured self-deprecation was employed to either join in with the laughter or add to the commentary in order to deflect. But, if we are honest, it did wear a bit thin.
Fortunately, times have changed for the better. People are visiting Tasmania in droves. And remarkably, Tasmania is, right now, the trendiest destination in Australia.
Last Thursday night, I couldn't believe my eyes and ears when witnessing the impassioned and raucous behaviour of screaming Queenslanders and NSW Blues supporters visiting during school holidays, filling hotels, pubs and restaurants, and cheering on their respective states in the middle of winter!
From an evidence point of view our state is tracking well above decade averages across several indicators. CommSec State of the States, last released during April, painted the economic picture with Tasmania ranking the third best performer, inline with the ACT and behind just NSW and Victoria.
Business investment, construction work, dwelling commencements, economic and population growth, and retail spending are all in a strong position relative to others, with unemployment at 6.5 per cent the outlier, that tempers celebration.
My eyes no longer lower nor does my chin rest on my chest when describing our home, and Tanzania remains as dissimilar as it has always been.Brian Wightman
But it's less about rudimentary quantitative figures and more about quality. It's accessibility, the arts, fine food and wine, festivals, jobs, sport, tourism including unique accommodation offerings, and "Instagramable" vistas, which create a sense of space and privacy and beauty. And critically, it is because of who we are as people that encourages visitors to enjoy good times and relax.
We are at our best when sharing stories with pride and confidence. Fun-loving raconteurs who can hold a room with tales of heritage, elaborate anecdotes of adventure and exploration, and muckraking and stirring that breaks the shackles.
No longer are we, as regularly, on the receiving end of jibes, jokes and taunts. We are more likely to be asked for directions to the Cataract Gorge, the MONA effect, your favourite local vineyard, or where to go for dinner. Colleagues and visitors alike want to talk about the obvious improvement, the change in fortune and the difference in outlook.
At times, they are searching for a silver bullet that doesn't exist. It's the culmination of decades of diversification, facilitating and targeting investment and managing risk, good timing, hard work and a whole lot of luck. Nevertheless, and even though I am an optimist, there is still so much we need to do to help our people maximise opportunities.
Dramatically improving education and health outcomes, housing supply, and secure jobs and wage growth remain crucial if we are to underpin continuous economic growth. And that's as much to do with belief, confidence, culture and perceived value as it is to do with money.
Tasmania has found its voice. We are comfortable in our own skin and must share our story. My eyes no longer lower nor does my chin rest on my chest when describing our home, and Tanzania remains as dissimilar as it has always been.
- Brian Wightman is a former Tasmanian Attorney-General and school principal