South Arm: Betsey Island: mountain in the water with many names

Betsey Island viewed from Mount Nelson.jpg
‘The Mountain in the Water’ viewed from Mount Nelson

Who are you really, Betsey Island?

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.

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Betsey Island and Little Betsey Island viewed from the Hope Beach reef

Sailing Betsey

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.

Confused Identity

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.

Beautiful Graveyard

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.

(For more about the scuttled ships see these links:  Shipwrecks of Tasmania , Tasmanian Scuba Diving Club and the Marine Life Network

Black Jack Snaffles a Ferry

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.

Fish Farms

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.

Sources:

Brothers, Nigel; Pemberton, David; Pryor, Helen; & Halley, Vanessa. (2001). Tasmania’s Offshore Islands: seabirds and other natural features. Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery: Hobart.

Clarence City Council.  Aboriginal people and early European activity. n.d.

Clarence City Council.  2002? Early settlers (pdf)

Donnelly, Area.  Bunnies by the billions thanks to one gun-loving Englishman.  The Daily Telegraph January 12, 2016.

HISTORY OF BETSY ISLAND. The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954). Hobart, Tas.: National Library of Australia. 14 October 1913. p. 4. Retrieved 5 January 2016.

Tasmania. Parks and Wildlife Service. 2002.  Small South-East Islands Draft Management Plan 2002, Hobart.  

Textual Silence Project. 2014. A brief history of Betsey Island

Wickham, Mark. 2005.  Entrepreneurship and the management of innovation in the global marketplace: the Incat story. The Management Case Study Journal Vol.5 Issue2 Nov 2005: pp83-93

Derwent River: South Arm Beaches – A two cape walk

Looking for Deliverance, Direction and Hope

Calverts Beach
Source: The List

No Place Safe Enough

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.

There be toxic matters here.jpg

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.

Cape Deliverance

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.

Remnant from earlier times and the light.jpg
The Iron Pot light and the possible remnant from an earlier rock platform now weathered away

Pot Bay

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.

POT BAY
Pots Bay and its beach.  The Derwent, Hobart and kunanyi in the background.

Pot Bay hideaway.jpg

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.

The last beach on the eastern shore.jpg
The last beach

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.

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Midden in foreground.  Beneath the cliff the cobbled cove.  Hope Beach in the distance

 

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.

Iron Pot the reef and Bruny Island 2 (1).jpg
The Iron Pot, the reef and Bruny Island in the distance. Beach T414 below.

 

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.

~~~

Tips:  If you don’t want to sail or  kayak the capes, you can  actually walk all the way around to Hope Beach.  According to Greg Faull’s blog post it’s possible.  The Pandani Walking Club website also discusses this option but indicates that it can be precarious:

‘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.

Walking Cape Direction