Tasmania, a Charming Island

Hobart wharf from the boat

​March 19, 2019, Hobart, Tasmania — Before now, my knowledge of Tasmania consisted of 1) there’s a nasty toothy critter called a Tasmanian Devil and 2) there’s a Tasmanian TV mystery series called ‘The Kettering Incident’ that’s available on either Netflix or Amazon Prime Video. I watched only 2 episodes, but will go back and finish it now that I’ve been here and realize how charming it is. Though, as I recall, the sun never shone in the series, which the Guardian called a ‘Tasmanian gothic thriller par excellence.’

Here’s your Highlights of Tasmanian History wrap-up:

Though spotted by Dutch explorers as early as 1627, it wasn’t until 1642 when, searching for terra australis incognita on behalf of the Dutch East India Company, Dutch explorer Abel Tasman arrived and claimed the land for Holland. He named it Van Diemen’s Land after his patron, Anthony van Diemen, governor general of the Dutch East Indies. Nothing came of it, and the island was left alone for over 100 years. Tasman didn’t know it was an island: It had become separated from the mainland when Ice Age melt created the Bass Strait. That separation stranded 300 generations of indigenous Aboriginal people on the island.

The French floated around the area in the late 1770s, trading with the Aborigines and claiming the land for France. Canadians from Acadia settled here in 1784. Captain Bligh arrived in 1792, seeking breadfruit as a source of food for West Indies slaves. The French returned in 1793 and, in 1802, Napoleon sent explorer Nicolas Baudin to map the region and collect specimens. Unlike most of his predecessors, Baudin treated the peaceful Aborigines with respect.

In 1802 English mapper Matthew Flinders circumnavigated — thus discovering it was indeed an island. The British finally took it over in 1803, when Sydney established a new penal colony for its worst and re-offending convicts from the Sydney prisons. That year 49 free English settlers also arrived. Between 1803 and the end of deportation in 1854, some 75,000 convicts were shipped to Tasmania. Another ‘convict’ tidbit: Back in Britain, a child as young as 9 could be deported. A child as young as 7 could be hanged for an assortment of crimes.

Between 1824-32, the English fought the Aborigines in the Black War. By 1825, Tasmania had become an independent colony. In 1828, martial law was declared and any Aborigine could be killed anytime, anywhere, by anyone. (Today we would call that ethnic cleansing.) Those who survived were transported to neighboring Flinders Island. In 1876, the last full-blooded Aborigine died.

In 1855, the name was changed from Van Diemen’s Land to Tasmania, in honor of the first ‘discoverer,’ Abel Tasman.

When you see a sandstone building in Hobart (and elsewhere), it was most likely built by convicts working for the government. They also worked in coal mining and timbering and as free, albeit forced, labor for farmers. ​

​Once upon a time, Tasmania was known as the Apple Isle due to its large international apple trade — which died out with their entrance into the E.U. They’ve switched fruits and now grow large black cherries. There are many oyster farms. When our guide arrived from England 50 years ago, he could have bought a $10 license to farm abalone. Today, that license would cost $2,000,000.

Large industries include aluminum, newsprint (and other paper, now that newspapers aren’t much made of paper anymore), zinc ingots (from imported zinc), catamarans capable of speeding up to 50 to 60 knots... and Cadbury chocolate.

And tourism... which is now their major industry. I can see why. I liked the little bit I saw.

This is the old wharf-side warehouse district called Salamanca. Hobart boasts the world’s second largest natural harbor (after Sydney), with many attractive Georgian and Victorian style buildings. ​

The 26th largest island on the globe, its population is 530,000. The median house price is $1,000,000 ($704,000 US). Many have corrugated metal roofs and cast iron railings, made from iron used as ballast in trading ships that arrived here from Britain. ​

I visited a small Regency-style country house, Runnymede. Built circa 1840, it belonged to only three families — that of a lawyer, then an Anglican bishop, then a prominent whaling captain: it stayed in that family for 99 years before being turned over to the Tasmanian National Trust. ​

​Whaling (and sealing) was huge in this part of the world, and Hobart was second only to Nantucket in the industry. As our guide pointed out, after all, Tasmania is surrounded by oceans — Pacific, South Pacific, Southern and Indian!​

We visited the little town of Richmond with its convict-built stone bridge....

... and its Gaol., which doubled as a debtors prison. Had I paid to go in, I would have seen the solitary confinement cells, the chain gang holding cells, and the flogging yard, where floggings were performed every other day. ​

​Today’s more modest constabulary...

Wine is also a growing (haha) industry, and after a lovely ride through the countryside...

... our final stop was Riversdale Estate, the country’s largest Tasmanian-owned winery. The temperate climate, with no frost, and the fact they get the most sun in the valley produces great grapes that they sell to companies such as Penfolds, and turn into their own excellent wines.​

​The vintner had bought this spread when he was in ‘uni,’ in order to raise angora goats. He raised very good goats: they won prizes at international goat events and brought ‘race horse prices.’ With the caprine profits, he switched to grapes.

​Your Wine Briefing du Jour: We tasted their excellent Pinot Gris, Riesling and Pinot Noir. I learned you can keep a Riesling for 10 to 12 years after it’s bottled. I had learned at a tasting onboard that you should not keep Sauvignon Blanc more than 3 years after its vintage date. Their elegant walnut-paneled tasting room...

A couple other wine tidbits: Shiraz is big and bold and comes from a hot climate, whereas a Syrah comes from a cool climate. Grapes used to make Italian-style Pinot Grigio are left on the vine a few days longer (to get sweeter) than those used for French-style Pinot Gris. Pinot Noir grown in a cool climate is lighter (in color and body) than what I drank here.

Before we left, the vintner very quietly told the group, ‘Thank you, America, for doing what you do to keep the world a safe place.’ #

©2018, 2019 Susan Nash/PassePartout
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