A mile in the shoes of a map maker
In her remote southern shack Jo is charting a different course.
Jo was in the middle of travelling through 60 countries over 12 years when she lost her sense of direction. She sustained a head injury snowboarding in Canada, and it still affects her today.
“I lost my sense of direction overnight. I never knew where I was,” she says.
So, she became more observant of her surroundings and started to draw maps to feel more grounded. Soon Jo was supplementing her work in cafes by selling local maps, wherever she was.
Years later she settled in a “little shack” on the edge of a World Heritage site in Southport, Australia’s southernmost settlement, with her partner Sarah, their blended family of four kids, and dog, Poppy.
“It’s this quiet time I desire to get my head around the detailed work. I love this time. I love this work.”
She now has many strings to her bow, leading cave tours for Tasmania Parks and Wildlife, operating an antiques shop, running the creative catch-up Cakemates, and creating custom maps. Jo has drawn maps for anniversaries, Airbnbs and even large-scale murals on exclusive estates. The maps offer a stylised, birds-eye view of an area with much more charm and personality than a drone photograph.
To harness the quiet and creative motivation she needs, she hand-draws her maps in the early hours, often starting at 4am.
“This is my time,” she says on Instagram. “I brew coffee, listen to the chorus of birds slowly build outside … it’s this quiet time I desire to get my head around the detailed work in these wee hours. I love this time. I love this work.”
Sometimes what she leaves out is just as important as what she puts in.
“I show what I like [on some maps]. There are lots of hidden gems where I live. So, what do you share? There is a fine line of what you keep secret and not.”
She also collects old maps, and this makes her feel like a treasure hunter or detective unravelling historical mysteries.
“Hunting for old school maps you realise there is lots of history here. Southport used to be the second-largest town in Tasmania.” Not bad for a town that now only has a population of 135.
Her philosophical Instagram account (@ladyjo_and_co) has 13.2k followers, including Prime Minister Scott Morrison. When she first noticed he was a follower, she thought he was in a band, and it took a while for the penny to drop.
So, after living in many countries, how does Tasmania compare?
“Tassie tests you. After a while I thought ‘Hell, this is what I’m in for’.” But once she settled in, she embraced a humbler existence.
“There are lots of reasons I like this part of the world. The community, the simple lifestyle. You need to live autonomously and adapt well. You have lots of really odd characters around you, too.”