Derwent River: Wrest Point, Sandy Bay

Old Sorrows

View of the Casino from the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania

Puzzling over Sandy Bay’s earlier coastline I browsed books and clicked my way through  archival images and concluded that for thousands of years Wrest Point had more delicate proportions.  Before the Mouheenener were forced off their land in 1804 it would have been used as a landmark, a camping spot, a pantry and a kitchen, with Lamberts Rivulet on its northern side creating a diversity of plant and marine life – that is, if that rivulet hasn’t been diverted.  I checked the stormwater map. Drains and rivulets join up but I was reasonably confident it was entering the river in much the same spot it always had.

People were possibly born on this point of land and they certainly died here, hung for misdemeanours on Gibbet Point, as it was known in the early days of settlement, because it was far enough away from Sullivan’s Cove not to cause offence but still a visible reminder of the ultimate punishment.

These days bitumen and the casino weigh down those old sorrows and more besides, because apparently the Sandy Bay Station was in this general vicinity, the home from 1838 of a cohort of homesick Canadian political prisoners, rebels in an uprising, the Battle of Prescott. Their voyage out from Quebec on the Buffalo took a hellish four months (sickness, injury, fear and hunger) and when they arrived, swaying and staggering on their sea legs, they were, that very day, forced off to build Sandy Bay Road. The station was rough – a circle of basic huts – and their provisions were meagre. But they managed to write diaries and when the Governor, Sir John Franklin, who later died searching for the North West Passage, came visiting, one of them wrote this:

He made a very edifying speech to us, in which he was pleased to say that we were very bad men, very bad, indeed; and intimated that we all deserved to be hung. He said we had been sent there for one of the most aggravating crimes, putting much emphasis on the word ‘aggravating’, and, at the same time, as if unwilling to look us in the face, rolled his eyes up to heaven, like a dying calf, if I may be allowed to use a a comparison suggested by my former business…’ (Captain Daniel Heustis, a butcher prior to exile).

Thomas Chaffey, who owned the point, tried to help them escape.  He’d come out to the colony aged 45,  having narrowly missed being hung for robbery and having served time on Norfolk Island.  His land extended from the point up the slopes of Mount Nelson but he and his wife Maria (a Lady Juliana convict with a sentence for shoplifting) built a modest stringybark cottage on what then became known as Chaffey’s Point.  The couple and their seven children had a front row view of executions for several years and after that a foul smelling try works may have been established on the point (Goc,1997).  Thomas’s son, William, built the Traveller’s Rest hotel on Chaffey’s Point. Later, a hotel, the Wrest Point Riviera, was built there and in 1973 the Wrest Point casino took its place.

The Boardwalk at the Casino traps the sun and is built over the water. For a brief period one summer I liked to walk the local beaches then go there for a coffee, the papers and a view of the yachts. This was before we actually bought a boat and I could elevate that experience to coffee on board wherever on the river I chose to have it.  (Today it was mid river, the water quiet, the breeze minimal and five dolphin in a tight pod swimming slowly by.)

The point has been the site of much happiness and sadness and these emotions are still very much entwined  in terms of the current business of tourism and gambling. As for the land itself, it’s been beefed up, extended, and when you sail by you can see pipes entering the river beneath the casino as well.  Although  the cormorants and seagulls hang about on the rocks close by, the contamination from the hotel and the marina has to be detrimental.  It’s no place for swimming and no place to feast on the stoic molluscs that survive there but apart from all that, it’s an iconic local landmark.

Archival Images (Tasmanian Archives and Heritage)

Early Buildings on Wrest Point

Photograph – ‘Wrest Point’ House, Sandy Bay

Wrest Point Hotel


Further reading:  Goc, N. 1997. Sandy Bay: a social history. Gentrx Publishing, Hobart.

Inspiration Has Many Threads (1)

On Living, Dying and Exploring Beaches

INSPIRATION I:IV“It is life, I think, to watch the water. A man can learn so many things.”

― Nicholas Sparks, The Notebook

My favourite beach is usually the one I’m standing on, lying on, sitting on, swimming off, kayaking by or sailing past no matter where in the world I may be but truly, there is no best beach in the world. Beneath the most polluted and abused appearance, beneath that mangrove mud, despite those heel busting pebbles, all beaches are good, are beautiful as Tasmanians will testify about the beach that once held a lake but now lies drowned at the bottom of a dam.

I love their shapeshifting nature. I love the element of surprise a beach throws up, if not in an altered shape then by the unexpected flotsam and shells suddenly exposed. I love the intoxication of salty air suspended above crashing surf or still water in sheltered coves. There is nothing about a beach not to love except when the waves are at your ankles and the cliff at your back.

When the centre isn’t holding, when disintegration within, without, and all about fast forwards, a beach is a good place to go to elongate time, to contemplate the underpinnings of things, to return to what is real and simple and beautiful.
For a small island Tasmania has an abundance of beaches. I’d done my first walk for this blog before I discovered that Andrew Short had long ago realised this. He became acquainted with them in 1990 and 1996, walking them, measuring them, counting them. But they’ve changed. The sea is having its way with the dunes and there have been changes wrought by marram grass, recreation, marine farming – all sorts of human insistences and arrogances founded in ignorance.

Tasmania also has a plenitude of islands. There are the larger islands most Tasmanians know – Flinders, Cape Barren, King, Maria and Bruny – and then there the scatterings of island groups, most with a beach or two at the very least, but some rock alone with seal haul outs and seabird rookeries.

Long ago, long before I discovered Andrew Short’s work and his astounding figure of 1,269 beaches on mainland Tasmania (with a further 348 on a few selected others) I’d thought of creating a beach blog. I started taking pictures of the ones we were walking – Verona Sands, Half Moon Beach, Nutgrove, Cosy Corner – but this project quietly died before I’d even selected my blogging software – or stopped in disbelief before that daunting number – 1,269.  That was a hapless, short lived effort and I hope this time I do a little better.
This week I attended a conference at Wrest Point Casino in Hobart. It’s built on Chaffey’s Point (aka Wrest Point) with beaches to the left of it and beaches to the right, the suburbs behind where once there were forests and behind the largely built up foothills the mountain, a reminder still of what the land closer to the river once was like. We talked about living and dying while engaging in creative pursuits while outside the Derwent flowed, the seagulls sat on rocks and watched it and our small yacht lay tethered to the marina rocking on that timeless water.

I like the notion of trying to live each day as though it’s your last but it can be hard to achieve. When it happens it can infuse a little intensity into life, a little like a threatening diagnosis can make life feel richer, poignant, and totally desirable at that point of potential loss, or conversely, how being fully immersed in a creative project illuminates a day and brings together apparently disparate events and objects. Beaches, rivers and the sea. I thought that if I knew the year was going to be my last then along with people and animals I would surely include books, boats, beaches and waterways.

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