Field Guide to Falling in Love in Tasmania

Currently showing posts tagged Bass Strait

  • Steering South by South-East

    Steering South by South-East

    On board the Norfolk two friends from the Fenlands sailed along the northern coast of the island.

    George Bass had thirty-three years tucked under his belt; Matthew Flinders was only twenty-four. They had become dear friends on their early journeys around Australia, beginning on their voyage out in 1794, and now the waterway that would become known as Bass Strait, with eight volunteers and no timepiece.

    It was from a note in Flinders’s journal, on November 4, 1798, that Low Head, like so many features observable by boat, received the name it would bear on maps from then on.

    Six years later an expedition of four ships would make their attempts into enter the Tamar River to settle at Port Dalrymple with Lieutenant-Governor Paterson in charge. These vessels were the Buffalo, the Lady Nelson, the Integrity and the Francis: but as the gale blew up at the mouth of the river, one ship – the Buffalo – was separated from the others, and Captain William Kent was forced to make landfall for a time on that eastern headland Low Head; shortly after, attempting again to enter the river, the ship was hammered by the weather and was washed aground.

    At last they all reconvened at Outer Cove. Were there locals at hand to watch the flag-raising ceremony, the beastly watercrafts stalking down the river that was known as kanamaluka or Ponrabbel?

    Some had no doubt seen Bass and Flinders “steering S. E. by S. up an inlet of more than a mile wide” one late spring afternoon in 1798, in that handsome colonial sloop. A giant white swan swooping onto the placid waters of the widening river.

    The colonists quickly set about establishing their colony at Outer Cove, now George Town, with two prefabricated huts from Sydney. Bricks were laid and vegetables were planted. The destinies of the northern colonies were to unfold sporadically, progressing uncertainly, struggling against natural elements and without the wisdom of those peoples who had seen “Bass’s Strait” when it was indeed not filled with water at all.

    But the purpose of Low Head was more clear. The broad river they called the Tamar, flowing out of the confluence of two further long rivers that tumbled down from the high dolerite slopes of Ben Lomond to create the significant hydrographical systems that had created life and meaning for the north of the island for so long, was difficult to navigate where it met the Strait. There were many hazards to contend with, and Low Head was a suitable place from which to address these.

    So early on beacons were established there, beginning with a simple flagpole of Captain Kent's construction. A pilot’s station was manned from 1805, by one William House, but he absconded after two years - sent to Sydney in 1807 to seek assistance as the fledgling colony verged on starvation, he did not return.

    The first lighthouse was built by a gentleman dubbed “Bolting Dick” or R.M. Warmsley. It was erected in 1832. The famous colonial architect John Lee Archer designed a more permanent fixture, built by convicts from stone and rubble and armed with a revolving light at considerable expense. It was finished in 1838.

    This had to be replaced five decades later by the brick building that stands today. By this time, cottages for coxswains and crewmen had been constructed; school houses and workshops were added; the pretty Christ Church was holding services; farmhouses stretched along the river; cows and sheep grazed in paddocks; couples raised their children; and roadways to Launceston had been cleared.


    Recently on the Field Guide, we remembered explorer Henry Hellyer.
    Further along Bass Strait lived Tarenorerer, a freedom fighter, born around 1800.

  • Tarenorerer the Warrior

    Tarenorerer the Warrior

    Tarenorerer was born around 1800 and belonged to the region near Table Cape on Tasmania’s north-west coast, from a people known as either the Tommeginne or Plair-Leke-Liller-Plue. As a teenager, she was abducted by a neighbouring bands and sold to sealers in Bass Strait. They named her Walyer.

    The sealers of the Bass Strait islands were rough and crude men for the most part, and it was not uncommon for Aboriginal women to be taken as unwilling wives. Tarenorerer lived through this a decade before returning to the Tasmanian mainland. When she came back in 1828, she spoke English, and knew how to use a gun. These two skills – plus an overwhelming urge to achieve revenge – made her a force to be reckoned with.

    Two centuries’ distance – and the agendas of those writing the accounts of her life – may have distorted the record of Tarenorer’s life, but it seems that her enemies were both black and white. Tarenorerer renewed conflicts against old Aboriginal enemies, but also said that she hated the white Europeans as much as she did black snakes. Assembling a misfit guerrilla army of Aboriginals from a number of areas (including her two brothers and two sisters), Tarenorerer proved to be a wily general. Her attacks on both settlers and their livestock represented some of the most intelligent tactics in the Black War.

    Missionary-diplomat George Augustus Robinson saw Walyer as a threat to his relocation program for the Aboriginal Tasmanians. He described her as an ‘Amazon’ and bemoaned her ‘wanton and barbarous aggression’. Robinson had no love for the Bass Strait sealers, but may have colluded with them for the capture of the rebellious warrior. Tarenorerer returned to the sealers in 1830; whether by choice or force is uncertain, and historians have strong views on either side.

    Whatever the case, she was captured by a sealer that year, and handed over to Robinson. She was sent to a prison on Swan Island, in solitary confinement to counter her leadership, lest she inspire further revolt. Moved to Gun Carriage Island shortly after, she died of influenza in 1831, still a young woman.

     

  • What They Hated

    What They Hated

    Many years ago, it was proposed to make a certain southern hemisphere island a prison colony for the wayward souls of gin-soaked London. It was an idea not without its complications. Ships would lug the new population over the waters of several oceans, before spilling out those grimy contents on the shores of the strange land. They would share the colony not only with horrible rambunctious birds and creatures with pockets in their bellies, but mobs of natives, who had inhabited the place for not a few years, had adapted a culture completely at-odds with those idealised by the Empire, and were not really satisfied about giving the land up to the visitors.

    In short, everyone loathed the new arrangement, save for a few observant folks in London alleyways. But what to do but make a go of it? In the crucible of conflict of every variety, something unique was forged. Half-castes, bushrangers, drunks, piners, explorers, whores, loners, poets and painters, fisherfolk, gardeners, apiarists, brewers and distillers all popped up like mushrooms in black soil. Eclectic and idiosyncratic governments ruled. Much was lost, too much. An eerie peace settled like a gel on the island, limned with absence, heavy with the echoes of 40,000 years of human history. All of it created a new culture, a new topos with new ideas and legends and slang words and ways of falling in love.

    I suppose that all happened a while ago, and these days it's easy to imagine it was always this way. But it wasn't. There was once a time when people arrived in Tasmania and didn't like the food, the songs, the romantic options, the scrubby trees, the ominous mountains, or the bloody fucking birds.

    There are dangerous waters on every side of the south-dwelling island I am writing about, and for most of the people who came here those many years ago, it was a treacherous journey to something about which they had few nice things to say. What they hated, I couldn't love more. And when I think about certain mornings when I have crossed those waters to return home, and seen the coast rise like the crest of a green-and-tan wave, I am pleased to come to what for me is home.

    When my ancestors saw it, their hearts sunk. Mine couldn't be more buoyant.