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Urban Explorer - winter at home -The South Arm Peninsula

Early Sunset  at Lauderdale. That's Mount Wellington in the background

 It's hard to believe that at this time last year we were enjoying a European summer.
Winter has come early this year. The days are short. There has been snow on the mountain several days in a row, lots of rain and howling winds but I suppose we should be thankful we aren't in Queensland (cyclones and flooding) or in the many places which are still drought stricken. We are having some lovely weather now though. It was my sister's fault really. She made me realise how little I actually knew about the place I have been calling home for the past 40 years. Not even about the place across the river which is practically a suburb of Hobart. When you live here you take all that amazing scenery for granted, but when you have visitors you rediscover all sorts of interesting things. She will be pleased to know that I have been there twice since our visit.
Hobart is a bit like Valparaiso in that it is spread higgedly- piggledy over lots of hills and a ragged coastline. Not only does each area have it's own character and history but you gain a totally different perspective. Just going across the bay to South Arm is like exploring a foreign country. Even the climate feels different. Luckily the natives are friendly and speak the same language.

Looking south towards Bruny Island and  D'Entrecasteaux Channel

Sheltered Beach at Opossum Bay
The South Arm Peninsula certainly looks a lot more impressive from this side than from across the river where you only see the dry, barren hills of Droughty Point where whalers cleared the timber for their blubber pots more than 150 years ago. From this side you see the huge bulk of Mt. Wellington and surrounding ranges to the west, with Bruny Island, long sections of coastline and the D'Entrecsteaux Channel to the South. There are beaches to the left and beaches to the right, interespersed with wild rocky headlands where the wind never stops.
Small settlements have sprung up in the more sheltered coves - Clifton Beach, Blessington, South Arm and Opossum Bay, which no doubt started out as a collection of  isolated farm houses and holiday shacks but are now undergoing gentrification. Despite this, with the vastness of the sea before them and the mountains looming in the background, even the large modern houses know their place. There is a sense of  fragility, of a little bit of civilization clinging precariously to the coast - a little embroidery on a large rumpled quilt.

The quaint South Arm Post Office and General Store dates from 1856

Retreating waves trace lazy scallops on the beach. I suspect that in summer there would be standing room only here, but now except for the occasional dog walker, a lone fisherman who breaks the mirrored surface and the two windsurfers which I thought were birds, *we have long stretches of untrodden sand to ourselves.

(*Reminds me of a delightful ad for one of our optometrists which shows a life saver rescuing what he thinks is a child, only to have it turn out to be a seal pup. "Now where are your parents?" he asks).

Those little fibro cottages and the crazily -leaning boatsheds which remain, remind me of more carefree times - of Sunday drives and holidays by the sea, before people could duck off to Tuscany for the winter, before we worried about global warming or whether we would have a job next week. 

Beach Culture

Not so grand but a charming and homely part of the built environment

From here, the early settlers would have seen many ships making their way up the Derwent - the whalers, merchant ships, the government ships laden with stores, convicts, soldiers and settlers. Many of them came to grief, but it was not until the sinking of the Princess Royal with 300 free settlers on board in 1832, that Governor Arthur ordered the building of the Iron Pot Lighthouse, only the second in Australia, on the small island which marks the entrance to the river. Previously convicts were assigned to light a fire on nearby Betsy Island  to guide approaching ships, but judging by the many shipwrecks this was  not very successful.  A small beacon still stands there today.

 Though the treacherous channel is not as busy or important a thoroughfare these days, today's watchers would still see their share of  pleasure boats, modern trading vessels stacked high with containers, the annual Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race and the two Incat ferries that take visitors north to Mona or South to Perppermint Bay. Occasionally they may be treated to a view of the Antarctic icebreakers or a tall wooden sailing ship coming to celebrate the bi -annual Wooden Boat Festival. The only survivor from the good old days when most visitors came by ship  and produce was taken to Hobart by sea is the doughty Cartela which  normally does dinner cruises and the like, but is currently undergoing a complete refit to celebrate her centenary.

Lifesaver - The Iron Pot  Lighthouse, the second oldest in Australia, has been guiding ships through the tricky entrance to the Derwent since 1832

Usually the local history remains a mystery to all but a handful of local residents, but thanks to a newly marked Convict Trail, mostly easy going and well supplied with seats, excellent views and markers, even "foreigners" like me get some idea of what has taken place here. References to Aboriginal history are noticaably absent, but here and there are what appear to be the remains of middens along the shore. The Moomairremener  a band of the Oyster Bay tribe hunted wallabies and caught seafood here until the arrival of white settlers in 1803. Relations with settlers were more or less friendly until the Aborigines were fired upon by one of  Bowen's party in his absence, killing fifty or more. Beyond that time little is known, although aboriginal fires could be seen near the coast at least until 1808.

Are these the remains of shell middens or more recent seafood feasts?
It seems that one William Gellibrand, father of Tasmania's first Attorney General, was granted 2000 acres  i.e.most of South Arm, in 1820 when the colony was desperate to achieve a measure of self sufficiency.With the help of convict labour he was able to farm the land. He and other family members are buried in a vault on a lonely headland overlooking the sea and very possibly looking back towards England.  I wonder what he would think if he were to wake up and see the thriving suburbs of Kingston and Blackman's Bay across the river?

A tomb with a view

From the inscription on his tomb we learn that he was "courteous and affable in his disposition benevolent and generous in his character and of uncompromising integrity of purpose." This is all well good and no offence to Mr. Gellibrand who was undoubtedly an honourable citizen, but what I like about the convict trail is that it is not as anodyne as the usual epitaph or obituary. Unlike Shakespeare's Mark Antony who mourned the fact that "the  evil that men do lives on after them, but the good is oft interred with the bones," I believe that the evil is more likely to be buried and that is usually much more interesting. On the convict trail - we learn of deceit, corruption, immorality and redemption, being parted from loved ones and the harshness of justice as practised at the time. When I look at some of the stately homes and grand old buildings in Tasmania, I can't help but think few of these would have existed, had it not been for the ready availability of convict labour.

William Lazenby -Transported for stealing a hen

Many convicts who worked at South Arm stayed on once their term was over and now have many descendants in the area. More detailed information about the convicts can be found here.
There was also a large influx of free settlers from Norfolk Island in 1808 when it ceased to be a British Colony. Their names are also still prevalent in the district as are the trees they brought with them -the stately symmetrical  Norfolk pines. It is said that most, if not all the Norfolk pines in Tasmania are descended from these.

A stately Norfolk pine at Opossom Bay. Trees tell stories too

Possibly the granddaddy of them all at Terra -Linna, the site of Gellibrand's original homestead

As we walked along the trail fragrant with  the rich scent of early wattle with honey tones of Sweet Alice, we came upon a eucalypt unlike any I had ever seen. Thinking we had discovered a new species we ran excitedly to the quaint little post office and general store. Other ladies were consulted. One lady took a piece to a knowledgeable friend in the next town. I rushed off to contact the Botanical Gardens. Jill, the lovely lady who had taken the cutting got back to me first. "It's Eucalyptus Lehmanii, she told me, rare yes, endangered even, but not native to this area, but the far south east of Western Australia. That of course makes me wonder how it got here, but that will have to be the subject of another visit.

Strange excrescences from which the flowers grow

The flowers of the Bushy Yate as it's commonly known, are the size of tennis balls

Since then, Jill has discovered several more specimens in the area.The birds - mostly parrots, absolutely adored these shaggy blossoms, particularly the Musky Lorikeets. I was hoping they may have been the rather similar looking Swift Parrots  which breed here and are on the threatened species list, because there are only 1000 breeding pairs left.

The unusual  mace - like seed heads

Pretty Poser - a Musky Lorikeet, just one of the many birds in the area

Caution -Echidna Crossing. Saw this lovely specimen just as I was finishing the convict trail

Sharks occasionally visit Clifton Beach though being a popular surfing spot, this is manned by Life Savers in summer. Whales have returned to the Derwent more than a century after whalers almost rendered them extinct.   There are several Nature Reserves and Bird Sanctuaries. The one at Ralph's Bay  (photo at the top of the page) is  for seabirds and waders, particularly the Red Necked Stint which stops by on the way to and from Siberia each year. This caused much consternation when a huge marina development was proposed for the Bay in 2004. Despite this, the area has still not been formally recognised as a UN Ramsar Wetland of international significance and is still not fully protected.  Nor is  William Gellibrand likely to be alone much longer. A large Golf Club development is planned for that area according to local historian Maurice Cooper, though it  is currently somewhat delayed due to concerns about potential disruption to Aboriginal sites. It is possible that two small grave markers I found on the way to the Gellibrand vault, may be related to this.
From Mr Cooper's website I gleaned that it was not until the military arrived in the second World War that power came to the area, along with better road access and a more reliable water supply. Perhaps it is this that has helped South Arm to retain its relative sense of isolation, even though it is now less than 40 km from the city.

Mystery Grave

Who was Max Dart?

The sun was slipping behind Mount Wellington and it was getting cold by the time we reached Ralph's Bay. Definitely time to head home we thought. Big mistake. We missed the light show of the year, if not a lifetime. We only saw it on the news that night, that bioluminescent phytoplankton had bathed the whole Bay in irridescent blue. I did my best to view it on another night after a clear day, but it seems that the plankton had moved house - too many visitors perhaps, - every five minutes another car would pull up and people with phones, torches, and children in gumboots would tumble out, and  I only succeeded in freezing my appendages off.

The day was not without its rewards however. After a pleasant afternoon tea with Jill and Maurice at the local coffee shop, replete with comfortable couches, books and memorabilia, during which Maurice filled me in on some of the history since first settlement,  Jill took me on an extended tour around the district to show me old homesteads, spectacular views and some of her favourite haunts.
That more or less ended my exploration for now, but I have a feeling I will be back to enjoy more of that off -season solitude.


Gordon said…
Your photos are terrific!
I'm familiar with most of these places, but often I fail to appreciate somewhere until someone with descriptive skill and keen powers of observation describe their experience.
I guess that's the power of writing.