Field Guide to Falling in Love in Tasmania

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  • Melbourne Vandemonians

    Melbourne Vandemonians

    This is Melbourne: the home of handsome hipsters, the world's best coffee, and the world's best sport. It was here that some of the most important labour laws, such as the 8-hour work day, were first passed. 

    Geography buffs will recognise that Melbourne is not, in fact, in Tasmania, the place that these histories are centred around. But what not so many people know is that Melbourne was founded by squatters and speculators from that island at the bottom of the world, which was then called Van Diemen's Land.

    The area was first attempted as a settlement in 1803, but it was abandoned for Van Diemen's Land within three months. For three decades, only one colonial rogue remained, the escapee William Buckley, lived among the Aborigines. However, in the 1830s, an enterprising spirit compelled a group of investors, bankers and graziers to scheme and settle the banks of the Yarra River, raising sheep for wool, and paying not a dime for their land grab.

    John Batman, their ringleader, made some sort of deal with the local clan, the Wurundjeri. He traded an assortment of tools and clothing for nearly 2500km2 of land. The legitimacy of the treaty is questionable, but nevertheless, Batmania had been founded. (I shit you not: that was its name.)

    Waves of settlers came from Van Diemen's Land. Many of them were ex-convicts on their tickets of leave. They came for work, and later for gold, but mostly to avoid the stigma of being an ex-convict. It often didn't work. They said you could tell the Vandemonians from their faces, from prison tattoos, from their lack of manners. They left Van Diemen's Land in the thousands. And in the end, they passed a law banning these migrant Vandemonians from crossing the Bass Strait; if Vandemonians were caught arriving in Melbourne, they were locked up.

    Some managed to make land, change their names, and make a new life for themselves. Hundreds of them died in institutions in Melbourne.