There are homes on the low dunes backing Cremorne beach and behind them the small community stretches across the flat land in the elbow between the beach and Pipeclay Lagoon. These reaches of Moomairemener land were first reshaped into farmland by the McCauley family who arrived in 1804 and ran cattle and sheep. They also grew potatoes, barley and beans. These days it’s a small community of permanent residents and holidaymakers; a place unspoilt by the inappropriate development that marrs so many other beachside villages although there is currently a developer who would really like to try. I for one hope this community holds out against greed.
Cremorne benefits from Pipeclay Lagoon, an enclosed, tidal body of water that separates it from Clifton to the south. I discovered, when I kayaked it, that it is shallow and that I’d chosen the perfect way to enjoy its serenity. There are oyster farms here and along its margins there are 45 ha of saltmarsh wetlands, protected to some extent by coastal reserve and the attentions of the Wildcare Deslacs Group, but also threatened by changes in tidal flows, habitat disturbance, unmanaged tracks and roads, ditches and litter.
One of the first farms on the banks of the lagoon was Waterloo Farm, owned by Captain Busby and his wife Mary. When John Morrisby bought it from Mary he developed orchards of apples, pears, apricots and cherries and grew peas and root crops between the rows, enriching the alluvial soils with seaweed. There’s a rare eucalypt (Eucalyptus Morrisbyi) that grows in this area and it takes its name from this farming family, who eventually sold, the subdivided land along the waterfront and lagoon giving way to weekenders.
Today, on the Cremorne side of the lagoon there is a narrow road squeezed between backyard fences and the shore. It runs down to a tapering of beach beside the lagoon’s channel to the sea. Four dolphins came through this channel earlier this year and stranded but for walkers it’s a good place to begin exploring the short, narrow beach.
Cremorne Beach (T405)
The beach has a domesticated feel because of the houses on the low dunes, but this is deceptive. When there are storm surges such as there were in 2010 and 2011, the waves have been known to undercut sections of the dunes and there have been a number of dramas at sea off this coastline.
Cathy and I came to Cremorne hoping to find a track we thought might exist at the northern end of the beach. It was a cold day, the tide was out and rain threatened but quite quickly we had walked the kilometer or so along the sand. Ahead of us was the steepish, yellowish slope of Calverts Hill, much of which was owned in the early days of the colony by Elias Grimsey, whose neighbour for a while was the Rev Knopwood’s adopted daughter, Elizabeth.
Calverts Hill and Cremorne North (Beach T404)
We quickly found the track and walked quite easily across hillsides of tall yellow grass, coming across a small cove about ten minutes into the walk. Beach T 404 is a short 50m pocket beach that looked to be mainly cobbles trapped by the cliffs that are some 30m high. It’s also only accessible from the sea and apparently at times sand fills it to form a low tide made terrace.
For a while we followed a fence line and then we descended down to the rocks and most of our walk ended up taking place just above the waterline as the path curved around one undulating hillside after another. We idled along, discussing the rock formations we encountered. The sea was quiet and rain was visible in the distance. There were good views over Sloping Island to the Tasman Peninsula.
We passed five pied oyster catchers standing quietly on the rocks. We passed a couple of pacific gulls and then a shag standing very still on a pole, imbuing the mood of the day. It was hard to gauge how far we still had to walk.
Mays Beach (T403)
I was keen to reach Mays Beach because I had only ever seen it from the top of Richardson’s (aka Nobs) Hill and from there it seemed unattainable down at the bottom of the steep slope, separated from the road by private land, but as we rounded Calverts Hill on our walk the land flattened out and there before us was the beach, occupied just then by a flock of about twenty plovers.
We were fascinated to discover a small number of houses in the bush behind us, but they’re so tucked away that we couldn’t easily discern any driveways or even a road and as we crossed the beach we puzzled over their means of access – down Richardson’s Hill or from somewhere to the south?
This walk had taken about 2.5 hours and we were yearning for lunch and racing the approaching rain. Still, while Cathy explored the hillside looking for the path, I walked along the kilometre long curve of beach, crossing a spine of rock that divided it into two sections to its conclusion at Mays Point, where there is a right hand break.
The hill is 79 m high but the good news is that the track is well made and links the beach to the top of the hill where the private road begins behind a gate. We literally ran up it to reach the car we’d had the foresight to park at the top. We had finished just in time – the temperature was dropping and the rain slammed down on us just as we got there.
One of us was digging about frantically in pockets but to no avail. The car and its keys were separated by the distance of our walk. All thoughts of lunch in a cosy café faded. Wildly we surveyed the landscape beneath us for a shortcut back to Cremorne but faced with what looked like a lot of private land we didn’t like our chances and so we set off back down the hill at a trot, laughing over our misadventure.
A Different Sense of Direction: the intimacy of Sea and Soil
It seems so long ago now, but during summer, shortly after friends told me they’d seen thousands of shearwaters from their yacht as they were crossing Frederick Henry Bay, we came to Cape Deslacs one evening to watch the shearwaters return to their burrows.
It seemed to me that this, really is the best way to experience the cape – as a refuge for these well travelled birds and so rather than wander its tracks or follow its roads, we sought out the viewing platform.
I’d once seen large flocks of Short-tailed Shearwaters (Puffinus tenuirostris) rafting in Port Davey and I’d seen the very first of them return one year from their long migration down the latitudes to Fisher Island, a tiny granite island in the Great Dog Island Group between Flinders and Cape Barren Islands. Those Fisher Island birds have been the subject of a longitudinal monitoring program extending back to the 1950s and because they return literally to the day, we were there when the leaders arrived. A scratching in the soil the next morning gave their presence away.
Although I’d read that they could be seen rafting off Taroona I’d rarely seen any on the Derwent River but when returning from Recherche Bay on Samos we saw for the first time in the D’Entrecasteaux a flock of perhaps two hundred winging their way down the Channel. I’ve been unlucky because these long winged birds are Australia’s most numerous seabirds and while there are no longer flocks of many millions, as the explorer, Matthew Flinders in 1798 asserted he’d seen, the flocks are large enough still to create awe when you see them.
The track to the platform led through native bushland. The day was already darkening and gradually the stars came out. In total there were four of us stargazing on the platform, our sense of self miniaturised by the Milky Way and the looming sky. All around Tasmania and especially around the Bass Strait islands great flocks of shearwaters were on their way home to their burrows but when the first dark shadows flitted overhead we thought at first that they might have been bats.
Aborigines believed they wintered behind the moon. That’s apparently how they got the name ‘moon bird’. They make a good meal and taste like sheep and so they’re more commonly called ‘mutton birds’. They might migrate almost the length of the globe on those metre long wings and swim proficiently with those webbed feet, and for a bird have a keen sense of smell, but they are so inelegant at landing that you swear they must sustain bruises. They are renowned for their excellent time management and for their magnificent sense of direction. They set off at the end of each Northern summer from the waters off Japan, Siberia and Alaska, barely, if ever making landfall, honing in on their tiny burrow at the far ends of the earth.
They partner for life (mostly), lay their single egg at the end of the November and watch it crack open in January. Then they take turns minding their one and only, feeding it up until it’s double their size. Come April they fly north without it and abandoned, wandering about and testing their wings, the chicks don’t eat. They tone down, feather up and intuitively follow their parents north a few weeks later in May.
Shearwaters are predators at sea and on land they are prey. The snakes that inhabit some Bass Strait islands rely almost wholly on the chicks for sustenance. It’s a physically close and terrible relationship. They are also commercially harvested for feathers, oil and meat and the traditional mutton bird harvesting practised by Aboriginal Australians continues. Modern life has thrown in further difficulties. Think gill nets and plastic, habitat loss and feral predators like cats.
That night on the cape the sky was soon awash with birds cascading down through the air. It was awesome. It was impossible to count them. There was a profound sense of a community returning, of lives lived with purpose and capability, of birds bringing their oceanic experience back with them and deep down into their burrows within the earthy skin of the cape.
The moon had given us a low tide and with a slender window between cold fronts Cathy and I whipped on our walking gear to continue our saunter along the coastline.
We paused on Goats Bluff to look across the long expanse of Hope Beach before making our way down the narrow path through native bush to the beach. The last time I’d come here it had been 25 degrees and people, heavily tattooed, were lounging under umbrellas beside the sedimentary cliffs. Today was crisp but sunny. Ever since the geo and I had driven off the ferry after a couple of weeks spent in shorts and t shirts on the mainland, Tassie had been lashed by a bout of wild, wintery weather, so this was a brilliant reprieve.
Calverts had been our ‘go to beach’ when we first came to Tasmania. Every time I walk it I remember a tiny kelpie x border collie puppy from the Stirling Ranges in Western Australia. Along with two of his siblings he’d been bundled into a box and on to a plane in Perth. Several hours later I plucked him out of that box at Kununurra Airport in the Kimberly region of WA and for the next two years he enjoyed field camp living with us. The creek, the waterholes, the fishing expeditions and the parties in the annex, the walks down to the chopper to meet the guys returning from another blisteringly hot day doing mag anomalies. Two years in a caravan in boab country, living small. Two years in a tiny field camp in all that wild, vast inaccessible space. We were lucky though, because sometimes, in the chopper, we got to explore caves rich with rock art and canyons with verdant microenvironments that felt way off the map, far from roads or even a track, that you wouldn’t know were there unless you could spot them from the air.
This puppy, born of working stock, climbed trees (sort of). His acrobatics intrigued children. His speed was astonishing and Calverts was a beach he raced along, trying unsuccessfully to round up seagulls. He drove around Australia, squeezed on top of a mattress that was wedged on top of a motorbike, that weighed down the already sagging boot of our Holden station wagon.
Cathy and I walking along discussing economic conundrums, saw a spout of water off Betsey Island, just as two birds lifted into the air close by. Further down the beach a lone man stood on the sand dunes assessing the swell on this rip-prone beach. Behind him, the dunes sloped down to Calverts Lagoon, a change in the vegetation and a quieter sort of environment.
We reached the opposite headland. This is where the geo and I have always turned back, but had occasionally noticed people making their way down it and had puzzled over where they were coming from. Cathy was the person who let me in on that secret, but before we set off up that path we explored the rock platform that slants upwards around its base because another beachwalking friend had told me that if you climbed to the end of it and peered around the corner you could see a little cobbled beach. But what we saw when we reached the end was the narrow shape of a gulch that at low tide probably did leave cobbles and rocks exposed. While I stood there musing, Cathy bounded up the daunting cliff face and when I looked up I could see her standing on the headland enjoying the view.
I followed slowly up that steep side. There was only marram grass to grab hold and it looked rather puny. Besides, it’s hostile and I wasn’t wearing gloves. I surveyed the big drop beneath me and the hard faced rocks. Those I was clambering up were damp and my shoes lacked grip. One up to Cathy, I decided, and slithered slowly down to a more welcoming ledge before seeking out the little path further back along the headland.
From the top we could see Calverts Lagoon, fingers of land and stretches of sea. The best was yet to come, because on the other side of the bluff lies a hidden beach, outstandingly beautiful. I’d been here once before, pretty much as soon as Cathy had told me about it. It had been a hot day and our party had disturbed a lover’s tryst. ‘Beware the snake,’ the man had yelled at us, jumping up to shoo us away. We had clearly destroyed their moment because it wasn’t too long before they were trailing us back along Calverts.
Smugglers Cove (Beach T 410)
We descended through soft sand, stepping over dead birds and a dead sheep to reach Smugglers Cove. It’s seriously lovely and is cupped by the steep headlands of Cape Contrariety. It’s also seriously private and intimate even though it’s spacious enough to accommodate several parties of beach goers. Two eagles wheeled above us and a pied oyster catcher stood on the rocks regarding us.
After a while we followed a fence line up the bluff on the other side, keen to reach the other end of the Cape. I’d tried hunting down the owner of the private land without any luck, so we didn’t like our chances. There were mutton bird burrows. There were sheep, happily alive. We followed their tracks until we reached a fence that crossed our path.
This was as far as we figured we could go. From there we could see the spot we’d reached on an earlier expedition, when we’d attempted to cross the Cape from the Clifton side (see next blog post), so that long slope separating us from that point near the top was frustrating. We knew there was a nature reserve along the tip of the cape and that another beach (T409) was down there too.
On the Beachsafe site its described as ‘a 150 m long high tide cobble beach located along the western end of the cove, with a sand and rock low tide terrace. Waves averaging about 1 m break across the 50 m wide bar and surge up the cobbles, with the steep slopes right behind. The 4 ha tip of the cape is a private wildlife sanctuary.’
We’d been defeated but the walk back was uplifting. A yacht was crossing Norfolk Bay, a north easterly filling its sails. That whale breached and blew again. We saw Little Betsey Island tucked away behind Betsey Island, Black Jack Reef and the great sweep of Hope Beach beyond Goats Bluff. We saw the Iron Pot at the entrance to the Derwent and snow on kunanyi and the Snowy Range. And as we clambered back down the path to Calverts there were seven surfers in the swell beneath us, where originally there had been only one. You’ve got to have ichor coursing through your veins to take on Tasmania’s winter ocean. I lack even a single drop and just the sight of them had me zipping up my down jacket.
This walk: 1 September 2017. If you’ve walked this cape or know the contact details of the farmer, please let me know so we can try again.
… what is beauty? This is one of the most fundamental questions, it is not superficial, so don’t brush it aside. To understand what beauty is, to have that sense of goodness which comes when the mind and heart are in communion with something lovely without any hindrance so that one feels completely at ease – surely, this has great significance in life; and until we know this response to beauty our lives will be very shallow. One may be surrounded by great beauty, by mountains and fields and rivers, but unless one is alive to it all one might just as well be dead.
~ J. Krishnamurti
On Being a Goat
It may seem strange that I’ve included Krishnamurti’s quote at this point in my blog, because the bluff is unassuming, easy to hurtle by without noticing, and yet it has a certain sense of poise gifted by its location in the landscape between two capes so that, had Krishnamurti, a great nature writer, found his way here, I’m sure he would have taken his seat and looked out at ‘all the marvellous earth’, the hills and the valleys interleaving themselves, and perhaps, while contemplating this magnificent coastline he might also have reflected on human nature – how we are so often goats, with at times, a certain poise, when we make the effort.
Those who appreciate beauty come here at night to star gaze and to wonder at the auroras. In daylight hours, as the sky’s moods play out over the landscape, colours shift transferring the mood of the sky. At this junction of ocean, land and lagoons the biota is rich, the birds are various, the native coastal vegetation still reasonably intact. Surfers carve the breakers; below the cliff to the east is a break called Rebounds. Goats and Wedge are breaks to the west. And from these 30 m high sandstone cliffs you can walk west along Hope Beach (aka Roaring Beach) to Cape Direction or you can go east down Goat Bluff’s flank to Calverts Beach for the walk to Cape Contrairety, or angle slightly inland to circumambulate Calverts Lagoon, binoculars around your neck, field guides in your rucksack.
The bluff also provides access to the north. Just cross the road and go west along the isthmus – but think seriously about this – the birds love this thin strip of beach beside the bitumen so it’s unkind to intrude. Perhaps rather choose the meandering track (far more rewarding) along its eastern shore.
Or simply play it like Krishnamurti and make your mind like the sky by lingering on the bluff with its sense of poise drawn mostly from the fact that it is the divide between the Arm End beaches and the sweep of coastline to the east.
In other words, don’t think for one moment that Goat (also known as Goats) is an isolated bluff simply there as a carpark, or a dislocated remnant scrap of reserved native vegetation. The road behind assumes more importance than is warranted. Instead, imagine that you are Nuenonne, that slash of bitumen not there yet and see instead Colin Springs Hill descending gracefully down to the bluff’s sandstone rampart, uninterrupted. Before you there’s a valley, drowned by the ocean that extends down from that rampart and out to Betsey Island, with a dune trapped lake to your right behind Hope Beach, the drowned valley that is Ralphs Bay behind you to the north, a pooling of water in Calverts Lagoon and Pipe Clay Lagoon at Cremorne behind you to your left.
Goats Bluff. A small band of Nuenonne. Shearwaters wheeling on the night sky, and then the aurora.
Short describes it as ‘a 60 m long pocket of rocks and sand set in a gap in the centre of the bluffs and immediately below the lookout. The beach consists of high tide cobbles and boulders against the base of the cliffs, then a sandy 100 m wide bar with rock outcrops that fill the gap. Waves are lowered to 1 m at the bluff owing to sheltering by the island and rocks and break across the bar with a weak rip usually flowing out against the western rocks.’
He says there is no safe access to this beach. To try would be dangerous. So please don’t.
I was surprised to discover another secret on the On the Convict Trail blog: ‘Nearby [to Piersons Point] Goat Bluff was also the location of further underground tunnel systems [associated with the Derwent’s system of battery defence]. But Goat Bluff isn’t near Piersons Point, which is on the western side of the Derwent’s mouth (although distance is relative, I guess) and so I was sceptical until I saw this fact repeated on the South Arm History site. The Fort Direction page by Maurice Potter states ‘at Goat Bluff there are still the remains of underground trenches that were built at that time’ [WWII] and I also discovered on this page that ‘as many will remember, most of the beaches and the hillsides of South Arm were covered with barbwire entanglement and this remained so for some years after the end of war.’ (Potter, n.d.)
Sitting on the bluff contemplating the landscape you might naturally suppose that Betsey Island is made off the same stuff as the bluff, but you would be wrong. Black Jack Reef and Goat Bluff are sandstone / siltstone but Betsey declares its difference by being Jurassic dolerite (Leaman, 1999). It shares another secret with Hope.
Hope has even more compelling secrets
And as Goat Bluff overlooks Hope here they are.
The first is the precise whereabouts of the wrecked ship, the Hope, that gives the beach its name (Leaman, 1999).
The next secret really belongs to the general vicinity near Hope because between Betsey and the Derwent Light mysterious compass deviations first noted by Mathew Flinders are now assumed to be caused by volcanic necks on the sea floor – and according to Leaman (1999) may possibly have caused the Hope to wreck in the first place.
But here’s the best secret. Eons ago the complicated Derwent entered Storm Bay through the South Arm isthmus, which now blocks it. The best part of this secret is that it seems to have done so through ‘a gorge [now] filled with more than 200 metres of clay, sandy clay, sand and gravel [that] lies hidden from our view…’ (Leaman, 1999).
A mountain. A river. A bluff. They may seem so enduring, but I think all nouns are simply verbs in disguise and everything a process.
Leaman, David. 1999. Walk into history in Southern Tasmania. Lehman Geophysics, Hobart
Short, A.D. 2006. Beaches of the Tasmanian coast and islands. Sydney University Press, Sydney.
Betsey is a hump of island, the largest of the three in the Betsey Island Group and although it is visible from a number of Hobart suburbs, because of the hilly landscape and the peninsulas that surround the city, it often disguises itself as just another bump in the landscape. Like Tinderbox Peninsula, its reefs were shaped by volcanic activity and on three sides cliffs rise steeply. It has a small pebbled beach, Black Jack Reef lies between Betsey and Hope Beach and if Tinpot Island, also a member of the Betsey Group, is the sentinel for the Derwent River, then Betsey Island in Storm Bay is a sentinel as you sail towards Frederick Henry Bay.
I was pretty excited the first time I took part in one of the 29 nm races from its start at Castray Esplanade in the Derwent River, out around Betsey Island and back to start on a Trad 30. It remained a favourite race because it left the confines of the river and took in a stretch of coastline I walked but rarely sailed.
It was on race that I discovered that Betsey Island had a tiny companion, Little Betsey Island, tucked under its southern shoulder and that this little island trails a reef too. On the lovely Birngana, we came in tantalisingly close beneath Betsey’s eastern cliffs on one race (seabirds swirling above), seemed just behind Hope’s breaking waves on another and, each time I’ve done this race, it’s proved long enough to glide to a halt on a mirrored surface in the river, to enjoy a reach exhilaratingly heeled, to watch the sea state change time over time with the arrival of catspaws or wild gusts. Spinnakers up, or reefs in, maybe romping back up the river or stuck at the back of the fleet, the sailing on Birngana was always convivial, the rounding of the two Betseys full of curiosity and wonder, and the fun of the race always continued through drinks and snacks back in the berth.
Names come and go and play a role shaping identify. For the longest time Betsey Island is understood to have been called Teemiteletta or Lore.by.larner.wa. There is a record of both names, presumably given by different tribes – the latter name seems linked to the Moomairremener, who had a myth about a group of girls who went across to Lore.by.larner.wa to enjoy themselves, but were chased by some men. To escape them they leapt into the sea and a spirit, Rageoropper, who judged in favour of the girls, turned the men into rock, while the girls swam back to rejoin their tribe. (Go girls! #metoo.)
Those name givers that made their way over the water to the island as wild swimmers or in their bark canoes left memories of their journeys by way of scatters of shell and stone. They’d have been seeking mutton birds, shellfish and penguin eggs. Bruni D’Entrecasteaux, the French explorer, called the mountain in the sea Willaumez Island after Jean Baptiste Willaumez, who was on board the Recherche with him.
In the 1800s the British came with a heavier footstep and in short succession the island gained a string of new names – Lady Franklin Island, Franklin Island and these days Betsey Island. It’s possible it may have been named after Betsey, the daughter of Sergeant MaCauley and his wife Maria, who farmed in the Clarence area and were friends with the Reverend Knopwood.
The island was still being used by the Moomairremener in the first years though, because in 1804 an aboriginal man was taken from the island into Hobart and the governor ordered him to be dressed in European clothes. Luckily he was able to escape that night (Nicholls, cited by Clarence City Council).
In 1814 another group of aborigines were found sitting around a fire on the island and encouraged to visit Hobart. Again they were inspected by the Governor and given clothes. After being offended by a local it is unclear whether they were taken to Bruny Island or drowned as they tried to reach it.
Betsey’s Many Uses
In the early days of the colony two convicts were placed there to signal when a ship was sighted, either by firing a gun by day or lighting a fire by night. It was used as a lookout by whalers.
It also became the home of the offspring of five rabbits who were on the First Fleet to Australia. In the 1820s, when the island was bought by a Mr James King, he built himself a stone house, took his water from a couple of fresh water springs and set about breeding rabbits for the Chinese fur trade, a profound shock to the island’s ecosystem. His endeavours were quite successful but he sold the island on for 470 pounds to Captain John Bell and Mr Crombie, who continued this business … and while the men sold rabbit pelts to China, the rabbits nibbled steadily through Teemiteletta’s pelt.
By the 1840s the dishevelled island had been bought by Sir John and Lady Jane Franklin for 910 pounds and one of her many creative notions was to establish a botanical garden or game reserve there. The plan never came together and the island was left to itself, although it was visited occasionally by fishermen and was the temporary hang out of a handful of deserters, feasting on rabbits and birds, no doubt, while they patiently waited for their ship, the Cicero (American) to leave Hobart.
Then, in The Mercury of 24 May 1876 there’s this intriguing report:
Land Slip at Franklin Island.
A letter received by Mr. J. W. Graves from’James Alexander, better known as ” Old Alick,” who has for some years resided on Franklin Island, recorded an interesting occurrence that occurred there on the 18th inst. Alick states that himself and the boy who resides with him were at the back of the island about four o’clock in the afternoon, when they had a narrow escape of being buried alive.
They had just crossed the flat ground at the back end of the long hill, when the land began to move steadily, ” the same as a ship being launched.” In a few moments an immense mass of earth,’ the best piece of land on the island, fell into the water, leaving, as the writer describes it, “a great gulf.”
Alick seemed very much concerned about it, probably from an idea that at any moment the whole island may disappear in a similar manner.’ He says it does not look like the same island, and wants Mr. Graves to go down and see it. Franklin Island, as is well known, was named after that noble lady who passed away last year; but the native name of it was Teemiteletta, or, mountain in the water. It was given by Lady Franklin to the people of the colony, and has always been looked upon with great interest. It would be a thousand pities if it was swallowed up in the Derwent.
The Real Owners
Forget the affairs and acquisitiveness of men. These two islands and the Betsey Reef are now part of a 176 ha nature reserve which somewhat protects its natural owners. On its rocky dolerite cliffs, with outcrops of sandstone, on its scree slopes, sedgeland and saltmarsh life exists. White’s skink and the she-oak skink live here. Birds add colour and music to the open eucalypt woodlands and burrow into the sandier soils but there is only one mammal – the silver-haired rabbit – that erodes Teemiteletta still – well, at least up until 2002 – but let’s hope the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service has rectified this by now.
In 1985 and 1999, when Nigel Brothers and David Pemberton surveyed the island there were over 15,000 little penguins living there, joined in summer by approximately 150,000 shearwaters. The penguins, arriving and departing the island risked their lives because both professional and recreational fishers set nets just offshore. It is outrageous that nets were not been banned decades ago.
232 black-faced cormorant couples also lived on Betsey then. Kelp gulls were outsiders – only 3 pairs and 11 individuals set up home here.
They saw a white-faced heron. A pair of sea-eagles had a nest in the eucalyptus forest but wedge tailed eagles also had a presence. Other raptors included swamp harriers and the brown goshawk and in the Eucalyptus globulus woodland there were spotted pardalote, noisy miners, various honeyeaters, the grey butcherbird, the forest raven, the nankeen kestrel and silvereyes.
The thunder of the human footprint also exists in the weeds that limit Teemiteletta’s life giving generosity. Boxthorn and Cape Leeuwin wattle restrict the natural habitat available to the amazing diversity of species this small 175.13 ha island supports.
I didn’t know when we sailed by Betsey that beneath us lay wooden and metallic corpses, now bejewelled with marine flora. Old ships need graveyards and since 1916 they’ve been dragged out to Little Betsey Island to create vibrant underwater gardens frequented by divers. Two of the ships are flattened 1930s freighters now lying off Little Betsey Island reef and a number of harbour vessels lie out to the west. There’s even a section of Hobart’s old pontoon bridge there.
Black Jack Rocks, closely associated with Betsey Island snared a nautical prize in 1994. Incat, Hobart’s ferry making success story, had been contracted to build Condor 11, a 78 m vessel, but on its trial in Storm Bay on 8 October 1994, there was a navigational slip up and in the darkness of the night the ferry rushed a full boat length on to the semi-submerged reef – and stayed there for a good two months, its stern and portside hull clear of the water, while repeated rescues were attempted until finally it was freed.
Change is coming again to the mountain in the sea. Conscious of the damage done to the D’Entrecasteaux Channel and Macquarie Harbour, fish farms are moving out into Storm Bay. The proliferation in this area will have a negative environmental and recreational impact on the bay and the island.
Brothers, Nigel; Pemberton, David; Pryor, Helen; & Halley, Vanessa. (2001). Tasmania’s Offshore Islands: seabirds and other natural features. Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery: Hobart.
Hope Beach spreads itself from Cape Direction in the west to Goats Bluff in the east, a distance of about 5 km. It is backed by dunes that are quite large by Tasmanian standards. The beach forms the southern shoreline of the South Arm isthmus. Ralphs Bay is contained behind the dunes and this large embayment of the Derwent River provides a sheltered habitat for shorebirds.
Betsey Island lies offshore and between the island and the beach lies Black Jack Reef, notorious for snaffling the boats of the unwary.
Although we had come to Hope (driving through farmland then walking in along the dune top path) we weren’t sure we were done with Cape Direction. I stood beneath the cyprus pines that grow on the dunes in this western corner of the beach and contemplated its shaggy slope. Cathy energetically sought a path and although it was possible a way existed, the dense scrub made it uninviting. So we decided to tackle the rocks instead.
The reef at the base of the cape was an equally unlikely route around to Pot Bay but we gave it a go, timing breakers. It defeated us within metres but presented us with a great view westwards towards the Iron Pot Reef.
As we set off along the sand a lone surfer stood on the dunes assessing the surf. A pied and sooty oystercatcher were chilling together, and later we spotted six more of the pied variety, along with a dozen hooded plovers – a great sight, given they are endangered.
It was only when we’d reached the eastern end (where the beach unexpectedly curves and broadens) and had climbed up Goats Bluff that we saw that those sand dunes, a bulwark against the ocean, were being sand mined.
We could make out Black Jack Reef where one of the Incat ferries, Condor 11, ground to a halt on a trial run in 2011. But it is only the most recent shipwreck in this area. The best known one gave the beach its name.
The Loss of the Hope
The Hobart Colonial Times May 1827
We have the painful duty to report the loss of the barque Hope, which vessel was wrecked on Sunday morning last, on the long Sandy Beach, between Betsy and Iron-pot Islands. It appears she was on her way from Sydney hither, with about 100 tons of freight, and the following passengers: Ensign Barcley, 40th Regiment; Mrs. Bisbee and Mr. Bisbee (wife and brother of Mr. Bisbee of Hobart Town who came as passengers in the ship Elizabeth from England to Sydney); also Mrs. Westbrook mother of Dr. Westbrook. Of this place, another passenger per the Elizabeth, and three others, among whom is Mr. Edmund Johnson, nephew of Mr. Joseph Johnson of the Green Ponds.
The Hope made the Heads on Saturday afternoon; and took on board, off Cape Raoul, the pilot, Mr. Mansfield, the same evening, shortly before dusk. The Hope at this time was being towed in by two of the ship’s boats; but the pilot having taken charge of the vessel, told Captain Cunningham, that he could safely bring her up the river, without the assistance of the boats; from which, in consequence, she parted.
The Captain, however, wished the vessel might be towed in; but the Pilot observed, that his long experience in the river Derwent would enable him to bring her up in safety otherwise. The Captain was perfectly aware of sufficient room being afforded in the Derwent for any vessel to be brought up with almost any wind, and therefore acquiesced with the Pilot’s wishes; and, leaving the charge of the vessel in his hands, retired to rest, where he remained until awakened by the vessel running on shore.
The wind light and variable, and the vessel proceeded up the river but slowly. The night was rather dark and rainy; and about 4 o’clock on the morning of Sunday; about two hours before day break, she, by some means, we can scarcely conceive how, ran ashore, on the long sandy beach, in Shoal Bay, as above stated.
Although the night was rather dark, the wind was not violent, but the surf was running tremendously high. On the lead line being thrown, she was discovered to be in seven feet of water, while her proper draught was fifteen. The moment she struck, the consternation and terror became general; and the scene is described as truly terrific.
The Captain raving at the pilot like a man distracted, the latter standing in mute dismay— females just left their beds— sailors not knowing which way to turn, to relieve the creaking vessel, which was expected to go to pieces every moment, as she already leaked like a sieve— the heavy surf rolling over her, adding horror to the scene— while the dismal half hour guns of distress seemed to signal the death knell of all on board. Daylight at length appeared and discovered to the sufferers their truly perilous situation.
About 10 o’clock of the Sunday morning, two whale-boats, of Mr. Lucus’s fishing party, which had been laying off Bruny Island, came up to the wreck. They had heard the proceeding evening the signal-gun nfor the Pilot, which drew their attention and induced them to bend their steps thitherward.
They immediately lent their aid, with the ship’s jolly boat, in getting out the ship’s bower and kedge anchors; but the attempt proved fruitless, for one of the whaleboats (the property of Mr. Kelly), was stove, having her head absolutely dashed off, and the crew narrowly escaped with their lives. Captain Cunningham then jumped into the jolly boat alone, which parted from the other boat, and nearly fell a sacrifice to his eager promptitude, to save the vessel. Finding every other hope lost, to all the lives they could became their chief object.
The venerable Mrs. Westbrook and Mrs. Bisbee were safely conveyed on shore, after a state of most dreadful suspense for four hours. All this time, the rolling of the vessel almost precluded anyone from keeping their feet, while the state of the two females was most dreadful; overcome with weakness and terror, and fatigue, they could not stand without support, which was kindly afforded by a Mr. John Elliot and some other Gentlemen passengers. With the Ladies, Mr. Clarkson, charterer of the Hope, came up to Hobart Town by the whale-boat in the course of Sunday, bringing the fatal news to Town, leaving the other persons on board. Immediately on learning the fate of the Hope, the Agent (Mr. Behune), dispatched the sloop Recovery, a small craft, in order to bring away a portion of her cargo, in which she succeeded, having returned the following evening with as many tons of goods as could be thrown on board from the wreck.
But to return to the ship. On Sunday night, between 11 and 12 o’clock, the rudder gave way, and the upper part of her stern was driven in. At this critical hour of the night, it was every moment feared that the stern post would give way or be driven in also; in which case the vessel must soon afterwards have foundered, and every soul on board perished as the surf was still running mountains high. The other passengers who did not come up on Sunday safely arrived in Town on Tuesday – till which period all hands were employed at the pumps, in imminent peril, every moment in danger of being washed overboard. When some Gentlemen who left the wreck on Tuesday, who had visited it on Monday, the sea was gaining on the vessel every hour, her main mast had been cut away, and all hopes of saving her were given up. Some casks of spirits, which were on board, were ascertained to have been damaged by the salt water; and the tea and sugar, which also formed part of her cargo, must inevitably be destroyed. We understand, that among the persons who had merchandise on board is Mr. James Lord, owner of the Marquis of Lausdown.—- We are not aware whether the vessel is insured or not.
The government brig Prince Leopold, in coming from Maria Island with the remainder of the wreck of the Apollo, saw the Hope off the Heads on Saturday, and safely arrived in the Harbour the same evening. Monday she discharged her lading, and on Tuesday was immediately sent to the relief of the wrecked Hope.
There were rumours that £30,000 in silver coin had been buried on the beach by two soldiers. Captain John Laughton purchased the wreck at an auction, but in another nasty twist of fate he drowned while inspecting it (Shipwrecks of Tasmania).
South Arm is Calvert country. The name is everywhere and at the eastern entrance to the river the Calverts once had fruit orchards on a farm called Pleasant View. In September 1939 they sold it to the army and in 1944 the army built Fort Direction. The military base extends across both Cape Deliverance and Cape Direction.
Even down at the bottom of the world, the idea of falling to the enemy made people jumpy. That’s why, from 1804, shortly after the colony was established and on into WWII, a network of batteries and bunkers was built down both shores of the Derwent to where in Storm Bay the river merges with the Southern Ocean. Standing right at the river’s mouth, Fort Direction and the Pierson’s Point battery were the first line of defence against enemies arriving by way of the Southern Ocean (Tasmanian Times, 25 Feb 2011).
Seacroft Bay and Fort Beach
On one of summer’s more perfect days, Cathy and I set off on a walk along Fort Beach, Seacroft Bay’s only beach. It was low tide and our ambition was to walk across both capes and on to Hope Beach. But the army had not responded to my request for permission to traverse military land and we anticipated that our walk would be a brief one that would end abruptly where the beach gave way to military land.
The low dunes backing the beach are infested with marram grass and the river had been nibbling away at them. Blessington Street runs behind them and the houses here enjoy superb views over the estuary. We chose to walk along the swash, stopping to consider an outcrop of rock emerging from the sand and remarking to each other that we had finally reached the last beach on the Derwent River’s eastern shore.
There was a woman with a dog quite a distance ahead of us. Beyond her a man took a path up from the beach and disappeared into the bush on to what had to be military land. If he’d gone that way then so would we.
The dog owner had stripped down to her bathers and was about to plunge into the perfectly transparent water by the time we reached her. We got chatting and she told us it was possible to continue on via the rocks, or alternatively by way of the path the man had taken. We quickly decided that the rocks would be more adventurous and walked on, undeterred by the sign we saw on the beach.
Passing four pied oyster catchers, I wondered about the impact of toxic waste on the birds who call by and unwittingly spread toxicity further afield and on those birds who make their summer residence here and possibly bury into it.
The rocky platform at the base of Cape Deliverance was beautiful, the pools rich with kelp and seaweed. It was tessellated in places and there were dropstones and small formations that the geo later suggested were probably remnants of an earlier rock platform.
Soon we came to the kind of risky gulch that has you wishing you’d remembered to bring a first aid kit along, just in case. A little later we walked around a point and were elated to see the Iron Pot lighthouse right ahead of us, at the end of the low lying reef.
This was not the only surprise. In Pot Bay, tucked between the two capes, there was another beach. While Fort Beach gives every impression of being the last beach, this secret beach appeared to hold that honour. Obviously I hadn’t been too observant when sailing passed this area, perhaps because it’s not possible to sail between the capes and the Iron Pot. There’s that dodgy reef and sometimes there are cray pots off it, so it pays to have ample sea room.
Marram grass hadn’t made as much of an inroad on this beach’s dunes. Native vegetation still owned them. Cathy pointed out that we were not the first to have visited that day. There were footprints: human, dog and bird.
Tucked away beside the dunes we found a structure made from driftwood and plastic debris and after enjoying it we carried on walking along this largely litter free beach.
The Last Beach on the Derwent
Beyond Pots Beach we found another, even smaller beach (T 414, Short 2006). Although little more than a 80 m cove below Cape Direction, it is the beach that actually has the honour of being the last beach on either side of the river.
Tackling Cape Direction
That small beach was so protected we couldn’t get all the way around the rocks because of a fairly dramatic drop off and so we decided to do like mountain goats and scramble up the cliff. I was still picking my path upwards when Cathy disappeared from view. Although I was sure I’d have heard her if she’d fallen over the edge, I tried peering over the edge to make sure she wasn’t spreadeagled on the rocks below. I called her once and then I called her again, this time a whole lot louder.
She appeared above me and said she’d found a path. Trusting that no snakes were sunbaking in this vicinity, we made our way through tall grass and scrub to a path that led around the headland, taking cover when we noticed a Toyota 4×4 heading towards us. Behind us, and way up on Fort Hill, there are Defence Dept buildings and houses. The Toyota must have seen us but as no one accosted us we continued on our way.
Ahead we could see signs and a small concrete building. Later I read that:
‘The naval command [lived] on the hill at Fort Direction. These men had to carry out watch over the entrance to the harbour. A small weather board building of four rooms was constructed on the top of the hill with the adjacent flag pole for the raising of signal flags. A watch was maintained 24 hours a day from 1940 – 1945. As many as fifteen naval personnel lived in quarters just below the top of the hill.’ (Potter, RSL website)
The signs warned about asbestos in this vicinity but beyond them there were cliff top views to die for, so as a vague protection I held my phone in front of my nose. The sea breeze hadn’t yet roused itself and we figured any asbestos left on the surface was dormant today and must surely have been blown far and wide by now, or was beneath ground lining shearwater burrows. It was easier to simply not think about the other nasty chemicals we might be exposing ourselves too but instead to focus on the quite dramatic views of the Iron Pot and Bruny Island from this high vantage point. They were heady, and so we lingered.
As we searched around for an onward path we discovered that there were middens up and a steeply plunging cliff face on the north eastern side with a pebbled cove beneath it. We could now see all the way along the cliff line to Hope Beach. Hope looked so close yet so unattainable.
Headlands are tricky for walkers because the way can be barred by private land, but being military land we didn’t want to find ourselves in the middle of an explosives test. There were fences and box thorn and no doubt moon bird burrows, and although it was conceivable we might find a way, we decided on balance that we would turn back. I wondered about kayaking the capes and then I remembered one particular time I’d sailed them.
The Capes by Sea
The fleet stretched out ahead of us one balmy Saturday on the return leg of a long distance race around Betsey Island. We were towards the back of the fleet, the conditions favouring lighter yachts and we were sailing excitingly close to the surf break off Hope Beach.
We were off Cape Direction when we observed that the boats out ahead of us had heeled dramatically. The big blue Beneteau liked rough weather. When lighter yachts heeled, she’d barely lean, but this southwesterly was intent on causing havoc. Much earlier in the day the frustration had been a long period becalmed while the rest of the fleet sailed a sneaky breeze.
We hadn’t even considered reefing before the wind whammed into us and the yacht heeled like I’d never experienced her heel before. Suddenly the cliffs and the Iron Pot, on what was now a lee shore, seemed exceedingly close and the normally laid back crew leapt into action with alacrity. There was a cacophony of yells to ‘down traveller!’ ‘main out!’ and ‘reef!’ And where there were usually one pair of hands on a line there was now the urgency of many, some at cross-purposes.
As we made it around both capes and the Iron Pot with sufficient sea room to keep us safe, the wind swung behind us, the crew grew animated with unanticipated hope and the yacht, now sailing in far more favourable conditions, began to power up steadily through the fleet.
Making Like a Ghost
Cathy and I turned back (but If you’re planning to walk further than us then see below for a couple of tips.)
This time we took the path that ran along the cliff top passed the shearwater colonies and in so doing bypassed the Lone Pine Memorial where a dawn service is held each ANZAC Day. At various points we tried short cuts but we didn’t want to damage burrows and the hollows behind the dunes roared ‘Snakes!’ at us and so we kept out.
There was something quite old time about taking the neat path we found over a fully mown hill as though we were on a clear road to somewhere, like walkers between villages in the olden days. The sweep up Fort Hill was devoid of people until we crested a rise and saw not very far away from us the same white Toyoto we’d seen earlier. Three people were bent over, working silently at some incomprehensible task, apparently just as eager to ignore us, while we, trying to avoid them, searched again (but more frantically) for a short cut off military land and on to the beach.
They were only about 10 metres away from us anyway, and we were beginning to feeling foolish. Tired of feeling like ghosts we called out, ‘are you conservation volunteers?’
‘Army,’ they said, avoiding eye contact, and turned back to fencing a tiny tree (a lone pine?) behind a small monument while we stood about a metre away photographing the little memorial in front of the tree with its engraving of the Dardenelles. Then, feeling as though we had transformed into ghosts again, we carried on down the path back on to Pot Bay Beach.
Au revoir, timtumili minanya
We had stood at the mouth of the Derwent (known before settlement as timtumili minanya to at least some of those living along its banks). Ocean beaches and headlands stretched out to the east. Our walk had included two capes and and had taken us from the river to the meeting place on the eastern shore of the Derwent River, Frederick Henry Bay and Storm Bay with three of the Betsey Island group of islands – Betsey, Little Betsey (hidden from our vantage points) and the Iron Pot just off shore. From this point on we’d be walking ocean beaches all the way to the mouth of Pittwater Lagoon, but we thought we might just have a go at seeing if we could walk Cape Direction from the Hope Beach side.
‘Thu 17 Aug South Arm to Cape Direction Grade: Easy Map reference: Blackmans Bay 1:25k Book by: 8:00pm Wed 16 Aug Start at: 10:45am at car park opposite South Arm War Memorial Group limit: 20 Bring: The usual daywalk gear This is an easy walk from South Arm to Cape Direction opposite the Iron Pot Lighthouse along a newly made track and the fore shore. We will do it `out and back` rather than as a circuit, avoiding the steep box thorn and mutton bird burrow ridden climb up from the western end of Hope Beach and precarious cliff top walk to the cape. It is an easy 4 hour walk with time for coffee at `The Sand Bar` on the way home. There are magnificent panoramic views, especially from the cape.’
* This is an Aboriginal name for the Derwent River, found in the Tasmanian Aboriginal gallery at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery. Interestingly, the spelling for the people living along the western shore is given as Muwinina, which is different to the spelling I’ve found in other sources.
Johns Point and its Beach (T417): The minuscule, the long and the vast
There is a great sweep of rock platform with cracks and tessellations that curves around Johns Point at the western end of Fort Beach and then narrows as it wanders north along the base of the cliffs. We’d planned to walk out of Half Moon Bay south onto Fort Beach, but we ended up doing it the other way around because sometimes its okay to be contrary.
The Minuscule but Long
Invertebrates in their tiny rock pool worlds live their quiet watery lives along the reefs here, grazing and hiding out in the variegated forests of seaweed, while beside them the river and Storm Bay sweep one into the other. There’s an altitudinal order on the reef. When the tide recedes some barnacles, periwinkles and limpets will sit out the dry period while other reef species make sure they’re fully immersed.
Many of these tiny beings know more about the river than we would imagine and between conversations with Cathy as we walked along beneath the cliffs that sunny day I was contemplating barnacles in particular, those small hermaphrodites in their calcareous huts that choose to stand on their heads, that relative to their size have the longest penises* in the world (it’s true – move over, elephants!), their wispy little cirri feet swaying in the water but who look to be as sessile as trees. Why move, when the river brings endless meals of assorted meats and veg in the form of phytoplankton and zooplankton, right on to your calcareous plates and your perfectly adequate cirri spoon them into your mouth?
Only, if these arthropods were really that sedentary I wouldn’t find them seeking trips on Samos’shull, so what’s going on?
What’s going on is the exploratory tendencies of all of us who are either young or young at heart. After being brooded by their parent they become travellers in the body of water they find themselves in, swimming free in their naplius one-eyed larval stage, part of the great planktonic realms of the river. These little crustaceans are in their cyprid stage by the time they’re ready to settle down. Brushing up against a boat’s hull, they choose it. Landing on a rock, that’s where they stay. Shoved against a jetty paling, their little feet cling to it or, more adventurously, they hitch a ride on a passing whale**. The cement they exude from their antennae is so powerful science is trying to mimic it and Charles Darwin, who walked this river paying deep attention to its geology and life forms, had a particularly fascination for the not so humble barnacle — he knew of its achievements, both physical and chemical.
I knew from my earlier walks that across the Derwent, just inside the D’Entrecasteaux Channel, there were other rock platforms with a similar species richness and that just as the barnacle’s home looked like a tiny volcano, Charles Darwin had discovered deposits from an extinct one off Taroona. I was beginning to see how the vast geology of Tasmania reveals itself if you put on your walking shoes – fossils in siltstone and sandstone on either bank, similar weathering, layers of shell in the South Arm stratigraphy. We were enjoying the patterns unfolding in the rocks when unexpectedly we arrived on a little beach. Cathy pointed out a line of houses on the cliff top. My attention had been on the tiny secrets the rocks and pools were unveiling and I was somewhat surprised to see civilisation above the blue sweep of the river that was filling the hollows and depths of the drowned rift valley spread about us.
Beside the jetty we stood on the sand for a moment contemplating the scope of Half Moon Bay and relishing the fact that we had now walked its entirety, avoiding pesky roads. But beaches are transient landscapes. They change every day, and incrementally so do we. Some events marked in the sand – the small wanders of a plover, for example – get extinguished by wind or water. Some traces and tracks get sandwiched by sand, perhaps even fossilised. That’s one of life’s lessons you can read on a beach, the nature of memory.
We could not claim to know the beaches we had walked so far. In human terms, our meetings with beaches were no more than briefly meeting someone’s eye at a bus stop, but this walk around the reef, and the pleasure of discovering a beach was a completely fulfilling way to while away an hour at the end of a longer walk.
*This Californian Academy of Science video is worth a watch.
** A whale washed up on a NZ beach carrying some stupendous barnacles. A video worth watching because it also demonstrates the respect of the local maori for the whale.
Lauderdale, an outer suburb about a forty minute drive east from central Hobart, is situated on the isthmus where the South Arm peninsula officially begins. Carry on through it and there are two routes you can take to reach the Arm End beaches that are on the far side of a second more southerly isthmus. Of the two options, I like taking Rifle Range Road. It wanders along the western slope of Mount Augustus and continues onto Collins Springs Hill. There are tracts of dry sclerophyll forest, views west across Ralphs Bay to kunanyi, views east over Calverts Beach and lagoon and finally a spectacular view of the Iron Pot and Betsy Island.
Opossum Bay Beaches
Opossum Bay stretches its 1.5 km length west to southwest. It harbours three beaches, although, if you’re not a local, its easy to make the mistake of thinking that there is one beach only. Opossum Bay beach is easy to find while the other two are easy to overlook, unless you are paying close attention to the landscape.
I pretty much started this blog here, with my first walk around Gellibrand Point, accessible from this point. Now I was back here with my friend Cathy. We’d set ourselves the goal of walking the coastline to the end of Seven Mile Beach and we’d planned to do it on low tide days over the coming months.
T 422 Mitchells Beach: in the shadow of its middle sibling
The tide was out on Mitchells Beach and it seemed lighter and more gracious than when I had been here last. On that day a band of cobbles barely separated the winter sea from the eroding slope at the western end of Opossum Bay and the stone percussion in the roll of the swell had been audible to us some distance above it. But the day Cathy and I had chosen had begun with a big frost. Now the sky was blue and on the far side of the river there was snow on kunanyi.
We turned our backs to the mountain and walked east along the pale terrace of sand the low tide had exposed, in the long gone footsteps of family bands of the Moomairemener, believed to be members of the Paredarerme (Oyster Bay tribe). They called the land along the eastern shore of the Derwent River Nannyelebata and they were people of both the coast, the river and the lagoons that are to be found on this diverse peninsula, a peninsula largely in kunanyi’s rain shadow with few hills. As there are no real makers of rivers around here (save Den Hill, Jim’s Hill and Blatherwick Rise – all rather too lowly to whip up a creek) their water sources were springs and the freshwater that collected in the dunes, as well as their freedom to follow the seasons further up the river and to cross it in places.
Mitchells is a reflective beach of about 850m, the longest in this bay, and stormy weather can invigorate the waves that are eating away at the weed infested slope. We stopped for a moment because I wanted to try to understand what the stratigraphy was saying about this beach’s past.
Still catching up on each other’s news, we reached the rocky platform and headland that separate this beach from Opossum Bay Beach, embraced with so much enthusiasm by the locals that houses literally perch on the wrack line.
T 421 Opossum Bay Beach: houses as rampart
We walked along sharing the memories it has given us. Cathy knows it far better than me and she mentioned that we had the option of a footpath between here and South Arm. I’ve viewed its houses, boatsheds and slender sweep of sand on windy days from heeling yachts and also when, becalmed, there’s been ample time to absorb the view more fully. The beach houses and shacks on their bluff are the rampart the rising river meets and the views are of the estuary widening.
There’s a difference between walking and exploring, and concluding that today at least we fitted in the latter category, we shunned the pathways on the headland above us at the eastern end in favour of the shoreline and clambered around the headland with its jetty by way of the rocks.
T 420 Glenvar Beach: The Secret Beach
We crossed a boat ramp and walked into the more hidden part of the bay. Too often I’ve been that sort of beach walker who stops at the end of a stroll along the sand without testing its boundaries. That’s why I’d never found Glenvar Beach. Recently a friend had told me that she’d rented a beach house at a Gellibrand Beach. She described where it was and spoke about the lovely way the swells sometimes swept into the bay from three different directions.
Glenvar is definitely the smallest and most crescent shaped beach in the bay. Here, the houses also show an inclination to cosy up to the water, but held more tightly between two headlands, the feeling is more intimate. I figured this had to be my friend’s ‘Gellibrand Beach’. Cathy and I lingered on the rocks before beginning our walk out of it, admiring all the things large and minuscule about it – the nautical things like boat sheds, the sea walls in places, the features in the siltstone – fossils included – a feather or two along with shells and the vibrant seaweeds of the reef.
I came back here the other day after a storm. Kelp lay washed up on the beach. This time I walked the lanes between the houses on on the headland seeking out a path to the beach. That’s the way to arrive on Glenvar. Not by directions but by following the lean of the land until you arrive on the sand.
Blatherwick Rise* stops Glenvar Beach. We set off along the rock platform at its base. The siltstone here has been sculpted by the winds and rain so that its stippled with hollows. I was pretty thrilled to have reached this spot because once, crewing on the big blue Beneteau in a long distance race, a buoy was placed off here and we’d had to check the chart, none of us precisely certain about where the mysterious Pigeons Holes were to be found.
It’s a favourite spot with the cormorants, perhaps because there’s quite a variety of fish here. I counted twenty one of the birds taking in the long view and apart from a gull or two, they were the only members of the avian nations that we saw on this walk. We also discovered the remnants of a battered metal boat lodged on the rocks.
Our rock hopping had warmed us. We took off our jackets and explored the platform with its mollusc rich rock pools fringed with red and green seaweeds. Beneath the water where the rocks give way to sand the stingrays and the flathead lie camaflaged and all these are reasons why divers like this spot.
We walked the shoreline, sometimes scrambling, wondering where above us the house owned by Brian Ritchie (Violent Femmes) happened to be. According to the website for the tv series Sandcastles that featured it, he left the Big Apple seeking the serenity of The Apple Isle and bought this land from Peter Garrett (Midnight Oil and ex Labor MP).
At one point we found a narrow path beneath casuarinas and sauntering along this cliff top path we heard voices below us. The water seemed unusually blue just there. Two heavily tattoed men on a motorboat, oblivious to our presence, were getting ready to dive. We regarded them silently before continuing on, coming to a small beach neither of us expected to encounter. Its beauty was marred by the litter it was assiduously collecting. (Later I checked Short’s inventory but it isn’t noted there.)
We filled our bags with plastic bottles and styrofoam and then clambered over more rocks and down on to another beach in the next bay along.
Half Moon Bay
Like Opossum Bay, Half Moon Bay has three beaches within its 3 km extent and it also faces west across the Derwent’s estuary, which is vast here, the swells and waves from Storm Bay flow directly into the river, merging with the water from the D’Entrecasteaux on the other shore. Humans may demarcate the boundary with a mark (the Iron Pot in this case) but the moon and the weather determine where and how the waters mingle.
T 419 Half Moon Bay Beach and its smaller sibling
This beach (T419) we found ourselves on was known to Cathy but not to me. Robertson (2008) calls it Half Moon Beach and Short (2006) calls it Pigeon Holes Beach . It’s about 150m long and on a summer’s day it would be a lovely place to come to with a beach umbrella and a good book. But if you were a bird, that’s what you’d be dreading. Your eye would be on making a nest here and beach umbrellas play havoc with that.
The smaller beach we’d stopped to spring clean is in effect a little companion tucked into the long headland that is Blatherwick Rise, so seemed to me to be not quite Opossum Bay and not quite Half Moon either. Unrecognised, it’s without a Beachsafe number (unless my beach interpretation is shaky here and I’m suffering from beach confusion).
T 418 South Arm Beach
A quick clamber over the next lot of rocks and we were on South Arm Beach, the long, generous curve of sand backed by dunes. We increased our pace because we were fast running out of time. Sometimes we walked below houses. We exchanged waves with a couple on a sundeck toasting their mountain view with glasses of wine. I found an enigmatic layer of shell in the dunes. It could have been a midden, but one of Ralphs Bay’s most intriguing features are the dense layers of shell. This lovely embayment lies held in the crook of the peninsula’s skinny arm and I thought I might be seeing an exposed part of that layer.
We walked passed boat sheds. We passed the conifers. We reached South Arm (no more than a village or a far-flung Hobart suburb, take your pick) and as we turned to walk over the headland by way of the roads, we eyed out the rocks below Johns Point. We’d hoped to walk around and complete Half Moon Bay but we had run out of time.
If we’d taken the South Arm to Opossum Bay trail that runs close to the road, we’d have done that 4.5 km walk in less than two hours, but we had chosen to scramble over rocks instead and we had dallied on beaches. The school bell chimes at 3 p.m. though, and one of us could not be late. That last Half Moon beach would have to wait until next time.
* According to Place Names Tasmania, this name was ‘advised by Mr G. Calvert and Mrs B. Gellibrand; family by this name lived for many years in old days at top of rise on South Arm Road.’ Locals also call it Blatherwick Hill.
** They also record this information about (The) Pigeon Holes: “Pigeons as we know, favour ledges for nesting and roosting. Mr Cramp recalls that pigeons used to nest on a cliff face at Opossum Bay, South Arm. There was a considerable number of them, and the ledges were—“.
I’m writing in defence of the ocean and the shore, not something I’d anticipated when I first set out to explore the coastline. Back then, the idea was to log the diversity and beauty of all that I saw, but in the 21st century it’s not so simple.
That’s why this blog is a Tasmanian take on that ubiquitous tale of industry and the powers that be colluding to rob the public of their common wealth while holding out jobs as a carrot and blindsiding the environment that sustains us.
But carrots are quickly nibbled away and environments don’t always recover.
It may be uncool in the strange climate we inhabit these days, but I would go so far as to frame this story as one of elder abuse. That elder is Mother Earth who nourishes billions of people (and all those other species we largely couldn’t give a rat’s arse about). The irony, of course, is that each time she’s bashed we’re bashed too except so many of us have become anaesthetised to what’s happening. We forget that
we are the protectors,
We are the thing it needs protection from
We are that which needs protecting
(Quoted in Murphy, 2012)
Okehampton Bay: Big Fish Snaffles up the Lure of Profit and Expansion
The desire to get bigger, to generate more profit and to be the best has Tassal, a Tasmanian salmon producer, angling to put 28 pens in Okehampton Bay on the East Coast. There will be 800,000 fish at full capacity. That’s a whopping amount of poop, streaks ahead of that expelled by the whole of Triabunna (the closest town) after endless nights of food poisoning and infinite days of giardia.* I’m sure you can easily visualise the soup of nutrients that will combine with the currents and the tides flowing into Okehampton Bay and along Mercury Passage of which it is a part.
Whales migrate through here, dolphins and seals regard it as their hunting grounds and habitat and divers collect abalone from these ostensibly pristine waters for the export market.
Tasmania benefits from its clean and green brand, but Tassal has recently been trashing it for themselves and for others. The company has acquired a reputation for being a heavy users of antibiotics, for overstocking, for damaging the sea floor in Macquarie Harbour at a distance further than anticipated out from their pens. They’re also responsible for a significant amount of debris that washes up on the shorelines. And this is a shame. Tasmania needs clean and green. It needs sustainable industry. It needs long term, permanent jobs. I’d like to be honouring them for their contribution to the economy but the cost to the environment is just too high.
Their lease in Okehampton Bay is 80 hectares and stretches to within 530m off Lords Bluff, it’s northern headland. So close, and not much room left for boating.
It’s 700m from the shore at the other extreme. And it’s 7 km from the Maria Island Marine Reserve, which is seriously ouch. The island is a much loved national park. There’s a marine reserve there too, and it’s one of Tasmania’s most iconic views, visible from different points along the east coast south of Freycinet Peninsula.
Understandably, Tasmanians who have warm memories of blissful days on this vehicle free island rich in wildlife and 360 degrees of scenic beauty, are dismayed. For some of the sailors I’ve discussed this with, it makes for a waterway ruined. Tassal says it isn’t fish farming in Mercury Passage (Tassal Sustainability report 2016) and here’s the actual quote:
When investigating potential sites for expansion of farming, Tassal will examine various sites, some which may be suitable from an environmental and social perspective, and some that are not. Mercury Passage, located adjacent to Okehampton Bay, is one such example. We will not farm in Mercury Passage. A rigorous stakeholder engagement process is undertaken to ensure our social licence to operate.’
But this is downright sneaky. Mercury Passage includes bays and embayments, of which Okehampton is one. It’s part of the passage’s shoreline after all! That statement, plus a temperature graph without a key in Sustainability report 2016, the debacle in Macquarie Harbour with no apparent contingency plan beyond charming the regulator were enough to make me particularly curious about this fishy business, the focus of local debate and protest.
Actually, one other thing. The local council claims that the last time Okehampton was pristine was ‘when Aboriginal people fished there in canoes’ (The Mercury, 23 Nov 2016), so here’s what it was like when the French explorer Peron visited in 1802: “The marine animals were very abundant on these shores, and we saw huge troops of dolphins, cetaceans and innumerable legions of seals” he wrote ( Plomley, 1983:72). But hey – isn’t that how we want the oceans to be?
A similar abundance of seals was seen around Ile des Phoques [Island of the Seals] in 1987. (Ranson & Brown, 1987). And the Maria Island National Park and the Ile des Phoques Nature Reserve Management Plan 1998 states that around Maria Island there is still a rich marine flora and fauna representative of a variety of Tasmanian east coast habitats (Edgar 1981). That’s why a stretch of coastal water around the north western shore was added as a marine extension to the Park. And it’s also considered the most significant representation of the Maugean biogeographic province reserved in Tasmania (Kriwoken, 1991).
The plan notes extensive seagrass beds which act as fish nursery areas. According to locals, sharks breed here too. Tassal, heedless of the precautionary principle and disrespecting the possibility of damage, are shrugging off known unknowns, have experiments up their sleeve and will ‘monitor’ what happens to this environment.
So, regardless of their poor record in Macquarie Harbour (and IMHO the D’Entrecasteaux) they’re telling us they respect the environment (only not as much as profit) and are asking us to trust them I really, really want to. But I think Mother Earth is up for another bashing.
Seeing It for Myself
I’d Google Earthed Okehampton Bay, checked it on maps, viewed the Tassal lease on paper, read reports (see below) until I could no longer see straight, but as I’m not particularly familiar with Triabunna and Spring Bay (although they once provided the yacht I was on safe harbour from a storm) I thought it would be insightful to go and actually see the lease so I knew what I was writing about.
Just as the kayak was going up on the roof rack, a friend who is also concerned about Tassal’s expansion plans rang to say he’d arranged for me to go out on a yacht to view the lease. ‘You’ll see much more of it this way,’ he said.
So on one of those stunning winter days when there is no breeze and the sky is impeccably blue, the geo, the dogs and I stepped onto one of those ‘I wish it was mine’ sort of yachts and, with its equally concerned owners, motored out passed Bricky Point and Horseshoe Shoal, Sappho Spit, Windlass Bay and Point Home. Once around that headland we were into Okehampton Bay.
But as we crossed Spring Bay we passed by the shed that had once housed fishmeal, causing a stink, literally. We passed the Tasmanian Seafoods building and the jetty where the super trawler would have been based if community outrage had not put a halt to this massive fishing trawler’s plans to operate in Tasmanian waters. The concern then was overfishing. The new concern is overstocking.
Tassal have planned a long jetty here and a start has been made. It means the local yachties need to roll over because one of the racing buoys has been a fixture here, so the jetty means a course change. This may not seem important if you don’t sail, but it does demand that one community gives up the rights it has enjoyed for a company project destined to use the common wealth for its own profit. Racing here is a pleasurable activity, avoiding large boats is not. What offset is Tassal offering, I wonder?
Just a hop across the bay’s entrance there’s still the old wood chip infrastructure. It used to provide employment for Triabunna. A tourism venture is planned here but if Tassal is given the go ahead then noise, lights and visual impact could be problematic.
All the Profligate Beauty
On this perfect winter afternoon Mercury Passage shimmered blue and silver and Bishop and Clerk stood tall against the sky while the dogs snoozed on deck and we all chatted. No aquaculture wins beauty points. Spring Bay Seafoods, Tassal’s new partner, farms in this vicinity too but it has struggled because warmer waters have caused algal blooms and DST [Diarrhetic Shellfish Toxin] disease.
As we rounded the headland and Okehampton Bay came into view I was thinking about how salmon producers state that the ocean’s resources are fast running out, and they are therefore providing a community benefit. But as the oceans succumb to acidification, microplastics and warming, so will salmon. Also, it’s beginning to seem that fish farming with its explosive expulsion of nutrients locally accelerates the ocean’s distress. It seems to me it would be better by far better for us as a species with our habits of overconsumption and waste, to focus our attention on ocean health and behaviour modification so that the ecosystems we depend on continue to sustain us. And their argument is all a bit of a furphy really, because when it comes to salmon farming wild fish still end up down the gullets of farmed salmon by innocently swimming into pens or ending up ground into food pellets.
Tassal, we could see, that beautiful afternoon, is leaping enthusiastically into developing this lease. The lease marker buoys are in, pens are being developed and we were gobsmacked by how huge this lease is in the landscape. It stretches out across the entrance to the bay and deep into it, appearing to shrink the dimensions of the coastline. Truly, it’s scary vast!
The skipper put the boat in neutral and we gazed sombrely at the loveliness of the mainland and the Maria Island coasts. We watched the ripples of baitfish on the water, seagulls so full they look laboured taking off. Okehampton’s beach is enjoyed by locals in summer, our companions said. I turned to look at Maria Island. It looks so close here; you can see Darlington. No worries, according to Tassal. Tourists love to visit fish farms. (Who are these peculiar people, I had to wonder. It’s like paying to visit a battery hen farm, is it not?) And I’m not disputing that people are keen to visit big black pens, but is that not truly bizarre?
Tassal say that 5 independent studies (2006-2009) suggest that nutrients can occur out to 500m from the source. I don’t believe in a fluid environment that nutrients screech to a halt at the 500m mark. Look at the way litter finds its way independently across oceans -airoplane wings, for heaven’s sake – and how nutrients consumed are transported to other reefs inside avian and piscean bellies. Tassal’s big dump may well contain antibiotics, if they don’t get their act on and stop this bad behaviour. Good luck whales. Good luck dolphins, seals and birds, in avoiding entanglements and antibiotics. Good luck all you other species we don’t really give a rat’s ho hum about either but are destined to encounter poop soup.
To counter watery rises in temperature, Tassal are breeding heat tolerant salmon and will experiment with integrative farming, growing seaweeds, urchins (both feral and native) and mussels beside the pens to sop up nutrients and help out the reefs. Who knows, perhaps they’ll introduce their brand new but not adequately tested waste management system, developed belatedly and in a hurry (reactively, in other words) when nutrients from their pens in Macquarie Harbour spilled past the scientific estimates of the impact zone. It’s success is still questionable. And again, if only all this were possible without an unsustainable impact.
But Tassal, it’s not!
I hope like hell that this farm doesn’t go ahead. Worse case scenario, I hope like hell that integrative farming is the success Tassal expects it to be. But it’s got to be a definite yes before many Tasmanians accept the notion. At the moment it seems more like fingers crossed.
When I talked about this issue with friends, I discovered a growing distrust about decisions made behind closed doors. The fact that DPIPWE and Tassal share a building in the city centre leads to a perception of a snug relationship, the kind of relationship that at least one of its competitors seems concerned gives them preferential treatment. Huon Aquaculture are taking the regulator to court for not heeding scientific advice and mismanaging stocking limits in Macquarie Harbour with devastating consequences for the environment. Tassal have jumped in to support the regulator.
Around Spring Bay
On our return trip we headed across Spring Bay towards the Eastcoaster Resort. Close by a proposed 350 mm water pipe will enter the bay, heading out and around to Okehampton Bay and if you’re wondering why a water pipe, fresh water is needed to wash down salmon in order to prevent disease. But the East Coast is drought prone. To support Tassal (as well as a golf course and potentially some farmers), the Glamorgan Spring Bay Council is planning to build dam. The dam will be on the property of two council staff, a lucrative arrangement. But Tassal will have a long wait to get this water and let’s hope the rains fall. Let’s hope the promise of additional water to the community holds good and it’s not the community sacrificing water to Tassal, kind of easy to imagine.
And for what? This company turns over a huge profit already. It’s an industry roughly thirty years old. They don’t yet know their full impact on the environment. Far better for them to perfect their techniques rather than expecting the planet to accept getting whacked while they work things out.
For a start they could take their fish farms out of bays and out of sheltered waters and leave the East Coast alone. They could work towards minimising their oceanic footprint with real integrity so that they stop impacting on the disappearing species all about us.
Socially, this farm has split the community. Jobs are needed here, no one disputes this, and with a park on their doorstep and tourism on the rise, Triabunna could enhance its appeal as a choice destination. That’s one of the reasons those opposed to the fish farm believe the site is inappropriate, that the environmental impacts will be significant and that this is salmon farming on the edge.
This from the EPA’s own website:
The Tasmanian salmon industry is one of Australia’s largest and most valuable aquaculture industries. Increased sea surface temperatures may present challenges for the production of this cool-water farmed species as they are currently farmed near the upper thermal limits of their optimal growing temperature. A temperature rise of 3°C may result in severe stress to Tasmanian salmon. Warmer temperatures are also likely to increase outbreaks of disease in aquaculture operations and changes to rainfall and changes in salinity, nutrients and sediments may also have a negative impact. (EPA, 2017)
Let’s Grow Tasmania’s social media and television campaign from LGTF (see video) began in late December 2016 depicting a fisherman defecating over the side of a boat, claiming “farming 800,000 salmon in Okehampton Bay is about the same as 10,000 people taking a dump in the bay every day”.
That’s a hell of a lot of poop soup.
Mother Earth is drowning in our waste. We’re throttling her.
So hand’s off Okehampton Bay.
Some further reading:
For the planning documents relating to Okehampton Bay, check this DPIPWE page.