Derwent River: Blinking Billy to Hinsby Beach – Part 10 – Conclusion

Sleuthing Around Taroona

Pebbles make a foot


‘There is much heaving related to water conditions and light structures are moved with the changes’ ~ David Leaman (1999)

I was on such a high after completing that walk that I couldn’t return to those beaches fast enough. The very next day I was back, sleuthing around behind the beaches, particularly the Grange end of Dixons Beach as well as Crayfish Point.

There, in the shade of the canopy behind the boat sheds at Grange Avenue, was the bed the rivulet had made for itself and heading south was a clifftop track.

I bumped into two locals who’ve live behind the beach (Grange, or Grange end of Dixons, take your pick) for decades. I knew the one – she’d taught my daughter. The man and I soon discovered a common connection, this being Hobart. They were happy to share their knowledge about what to expect from the nearby tracks, set me right about the location of Cartwright’s Point but could not identify Beck’s and Retreat Beaches. ‘My dear, I have not been down to the beach for years,’ she said.

The dogs and I pondered the rivulet and the bed it has made for itself then wandered along the cliff top track – and, just for the record, we’ve been back many times since then, accessing it most often from Uitekah Crescent on the southern side of the rivulet. The cliffs are unstable (which is why, for some years, it was closed to the public) and to avoid broken limbs and worse, there’s a wire fence along the edge. There’s also the option, further along the walk, of taking the steep steps down to the shore (where Dixon’s Reef lies wide and exposed on a spring tide) or continuing through a lane, along roads and through bushland down to the beaches at Taroona High School. On this section from Grange there are beautiful views of the estuary through the fringe of casurinas on the cliff edge. On the other side of the path are gardens and the sounds of the suburb.

Clifftop bridge

Sue Mount’s article on bushwalking tracks in Taroona explains that there’s been a path running along the foreshore a long time before the Apex Club upgraded it in 1972 and I like the idea that this was Mouheenener made. I haven’t found anything to suggest that it was but there’s a human tendency to take the path of least resistance and so there would have been a big attraction to following in earlier footsteps. This might seem a long way from Taroona, but in his book Lost trails of the Transvaal (1965), T.V Bulpin says the ox wagon trails of the Voortrekkers often followed already existing tribal pathways through Southern Africa.

Sue Mount also writes in such a way that makes it sound as though the track continues along the Alum Cliffs to the south. I was intrigued – did a path linked with the Taroona beaches run all the way to Kingston or did she mean that you walk along the rocks to Taronga Road and clamber uphill to join the Alum Cliffs track there? This blog heads there next. I made a note to self: find out!

The view from Taroona

I so wanted to show the geo my new discoveries but when, late one evening, I finally got him to walk the garden path with me down to the beach at Grange, malicious little waves were hammering at the steps and the cliffs.

‘It’s gone!’ I gasped, my disappointment profound. You would not have known a beach had been there. For a moment he looked unimpressed but then he turned to watch the wave action on the cliff with growing interest. ‘It’s being undercut,’ he said and we turned and walked back to the car talking beach erosion. And so, perhaps, I took him there in what were for him, ideal conditions after all, but I felt that I had lost my friend, the beach.  (Later, on more long walks, I was to realise that just like Lord’s Beach in Sandy Bay, this beach expands into long and impressive proportions along which there are many instances of beach art.)

The dogs came with me to explore Cartwright Creek too. We followed it from the base of Mount Nelson, across the road and down the grassy bank to the reef below. We visited on high tides and low tides, the expanse of reef exposed and one fine day, with my cycling friend, we walked from Lamberts Rivulet to Cartwright Creek. The creek does have friends. The Friends of Truganini group apparently attempts to make headway against the riot of weeds beneath which it is largely hidden and at this point it does not look as though they are winning the war, at all.

The Sandy Bay beaches inspired me to look into history to make sense of their current shape and appearance but Taroona, with the cone of its volcano beneath the Alexander Battery (Leaman, 1999)  and the squiggles in the roads indications of multiple repairs, lured me into burying beneath the surface to try to understand the variable geology of the beaches


Going along for the ride

The land here is unstable, the soils expansive. The schools and many Taroona streets and houses are travelling on the back of a slow moving landslip down towards the river, and yes, on some cliff tops, their tenure could be precarious! Cracks in walls, roads and soils, hummocky earth and gutters, contorted trees and sudden shifts in slope angle are some of the clues as to what’s lying beneath, as are the inclinometers that track it’s incremental journey.

For those with a short attention span for matters geological, I promise  I’ll be brief!

Simon Stephens is a geologist who has focused his attention on Taroona and he writes that it is ‘a complete microcosm of the geology of the Derwent Valley’, pointing out that the geology determined the way settlement and construction happened in this area. But long before the explorer’s ships anchored, long before the Mouheenener attuned themselves to this land, and at that point in time when the Permain and Triassic rocks had laid themselves down, Tasmania was a part of Gondwanaland, and was a large basin of accumulating sediments, at other times a shallow sea or lowland flats with icebergs visible offshore. Transformed again, a slow river meandered across ‘a vast riverine plain’ (Stephens). I forget dates fast, so I’m not noting the chronological dimensions of eons here – I’m more interested in the different climates and landscapes that have taken a ride through Taroona.

Today, for instance, there are hard, older rocks on the hills and softer rocks, somewhat younger, on what Stephens refers to as the ‘coastal apron.’ The oldest rock is the Grange Mudstone (Permian) and Fern Tree mudstone also occurs here, sometimes with drop stones in it, as well as worm castings. It smells of sulphur if you strike it – but I haven’t, and I’m not going to run through all the different rock formations either, as there are lots, so instead I’ve linked to relevant resources. Also, because my little project has led to geological conversations at home, I’ll put up the geo’s take on the Derwent and D’Entrecasteaux too, I think perhaps after Pierson’s Point where the view to starboard is of the channel, the view to port the river and Storm Bay.

There are glacial scratches on some rocks that I found along this shore and those stones that have dropped into the mudstone (when it was still mud) have probably dropped out of icebergs and I think that is amazing!  It’s actually no wonder that these kaleidoscopic landscapes have led to such a confusing shoreline.

In short, according to Stephens, the climates in which the rocks were laid down varied from Northern Siberian conditions to the sweltering heat of the African Rift Valley. Taroona, (and okay, the island) has had long drawn out climactic moods.  But we’ve had our impact too.  Here’s a conglomerate of ‘anthropocite’!

Anthropocite conglomerate

Clinging to the cliff
After Blinking Billy 3

Taroona’s fault

There are many fault lines in Tasmania and Taroona has it’s very own (although Sandy Bay has more.)  It’s about 60 million years old and when the land subsided and formed the Derwent Valley this fault started opening up, quite possibly as a result of Australia breaking apart from Gondwanaland. Stephens says it runs from close to the Grange quarry (Truganini Reserve), across the Channel Highway and south to the top of Taroona Crescent where it turns and travels out to sea near the southern end of Hinsby Beach and not far from Alum Cliffs. That steep gully I thought so pretty as I came down the wooden steps on to Hinsby Beach? It’s an exposed part of this fault.

Just Past Blinking Billy beach 1
After Blinking Billy 3

Tropical Taroona

Sometimes Taroona exposes its more tropical self in the form of clay soils and fresh water sediments from when it basked beneath a torrid sun. Stephens says that in the area around Karingal Court ‘the sediments are much finer with clay layers which sometimes contain impressions of leaves and other plant matter.’   A friend of mine recently spent time in Coffs Harbour and couldn’t get over all the turtles she saw swimming around in a lagoon. If we could time travel back to when Taroona was (sub)tropical, we could sip on gin and tonics while watching the turtles, rather similar to the Murray River turtles, swimming around our feet in Taroona. It’s true; there’s evidence in those sub-tropical chapters of the rocks.



After the last glacial period the sea rose to today’s level. Dolerite from the hill tops weathered and fell into the sea, releasing heavy minerals like magnetite. There is black sand on Taroona beach and well as magnetite you can find zircons here.

So that’s all I’ll say about reading rocks to discover Taroona’s hidden personality and life experience, but the geo has assured me of the need to look at the big picture and not just the local details and so I tasked him with scoping the Derwent River Valley and the D’Entrecasteaux.  I think Pierson’s Point is the right place to point that particular telescope starboard up the channel and port side to Storms Bay and the Derwent River valley and in the meantime there more places to go and people to see.


Leaman, D. (1999). Walk into history in southern Tasmania. Hobart, Tas: Leaman Geophysics.

Mount, S. ([n.d.]). More walking tracks. [Hobart], Tasmania: Dept of Sport and Recreation.

Stephens, S. (n,d,). Introduction and early history. [Hobart].

the face

Derwent River: Blinking Billy to Hinsby Beach: Part 7: Reaching High School Point

The Name Confusion Never Ends

Detail: baby mussels and limpets on rock
A detail from this walk: mussels and limpets exposed by the tide

The eucalypt that had confused me as I approached Grange Beach a little earlier in the walk had done so because my next waypoint, already known to me, was another  bleached eucalypt lying prone across pebbles and sand, supported on the tiptoes of its branches.  But now, walking along south of Grange Beach I was still trying to clarify the coastline in my head.  Where, really, did Grange begin and end?  Why was what I was seeing not according with what I’d read in Short’s inventory?

I rounded a slight point and finally reached the eucalypt I’d encountered the previous Sunday, a day that had begun sluggishly because I’d been reading Cheryl Strange’s book Wild, about her long walk down the Pacific Crest Trail, well into into the early hours of the morning. It had made me itchy to get out and walk beaches again, especially as so much of my time had been spent on Samos, back in the water finally after a long time on the slip, but still needing new batteries and a new anchor.  Down at the boat that Sunday, ready to do some work, the geo and I  realised we could do nothing – the shipbuilder had one of our keys and we’d forgotten the other – and so, with just a short space in my day before heading off on a beekeeping course, I’d set off on my initial sortie into Taroona to identify beach access points.

I’d parked the car at the southern end of Flinders Esplanade and found a path that led down to the beach beside a double story house.  This path followed the short, steep edge of a gully that was the home of a rivulet.  At the bottom of the cliff a huge, bleached eucalypt tree stretched across the sand.  On the other (southern side of the rivulet) another path ascended.

KARINGAL COURT 2 the eucalypt
The prone eucalypt at the bottom of Karingal Court

I thought initially that I was on the beach that Short calls T458 (aka Blinking Billy Beach 3 – yep, I know; I was very confused!) because he describes that as being a narrow reflective sand and rocky beach that extends along the base of 20-30 m high bluffs for 200m. Only this wasn’t that long – or then again, maybe on a different tide it was? I also thought that it might be T459 which he describes as extending south of the sloping 20m high Cartwright Point. When I read this I still thought that Cartwright Point was actually High School Point visible in the distance, so it didn’t make sense. (He says of T459 that it’s a narrow eroding beach, is backed by vegetated bluffs that rise to 20m in the south, that there are houses on top of them and steps at the northern end. Not knowing the shoreline to the north at all that Sunday, I decided for the time being that this was the one I was on, not thinking twice about the steps at Grange Beach.

Welcome to my geographically confused world!

I hadn’t had time on that Sunday visit to walk north of the eucalypt, otherwise I’d have realised then that in the absence of a firm nomenclature there are different ways of viewing the coastline. Short, it seems, has taken a larger coastal/geomorphological perspective and identified longer strips – the three Blinking Billy Beaches with the third extending to Mitah Crescent (I think), and Dixons extending south from Grange Avenue to Taroona High School and High School Point. It was only when I revisited on a summer spring tide that I saw that on this strip Grange, Karringal and Dixons really do become one.

One long beach
Karingal Court, Grange Beach, Dixon Beach merge on a spring low tide, Jan 2016

That Sunday, I simply walked about on the shrunken sandy portion of the beach as far as I could go, which wasn’t far as the tide was quite high.  It was indeed narrow here, and as you can see, there are a lot of cobbles and sand and a reef. I found a quite astonishing square rock pool carved into a huge boulder that looked at first like a boat and then like a plane. It’s at the southern end close to the geologically interesting cliff that barred my way further south on that particular tide.

Karingal Court 1

The carved pool at Karingal

So on my long walk I sauntered along knowing that at some point I’d see the bleached and fallen eucalypt below Karringal Court and when I did the somewhat longer beach thrilled me just as much the second time, although I paused with concern to reconsider the dank little rivulet trapped behind a buildup of pebbles.

Karingal Court looking north up its beach
Revisited:  The beach below Karingal Court on the spring low tide, Jan 2016.

From here I could see past the pebble strip I was on to how the beach I assumed was Dixon’s curves to the point at the High School and that, in fact, this wasn’t all that far away.

There is a path you’re encouraged to take as your near the high school, but I’d come back after my beekeeping course was over, and walked that then, trying to shrug off a small despair that had nothing to do with the keeping of bees. That path sometimes uses streets, sometimes paths through bush and across grassy spaces, and sometimes brings you to cliff tops and as a result I was beginning to wonder about the geography behind the beach too.

Rather than choosing this path again I continued along the pebbles beneath tall yellow, unconsolidated cliffs before I stepped onto the beach that I’d identified  as the one Sue Mount refers to as Dixons, but which, on a more recent visit, some locals spread on towels told me they simply call High School beach. They did not know it had another name.

Quiet view from Karingal
High School Point from Karingal Court beach, Taroona

As I walked along Dixons I kept a closer lookout for middens but the evidence I found was frail and barely present. I stopped to try and make sense of a layout of rocks that brought fish traps to mind, but if Tasmanian aborigines did not eat fish from  3700 years ago onwards – there was a dietary transition at this point (Johnson & McFarlane, 2015) –  then why would they have built a trap, if that’s what it is?  I must be one of many who have thought about this because on that later visit one of the people I stopped to chat with on this beach had wondered the same thing and as archaeologists have visited the midden on Dixons, they must have regarded/disregarded this feature too. It doesn’t feature in Jim Stockton’s Tasmanian Naturalist article on the matter.

I rounded the point I thought was Cartwright’s, puzzled, because it was disassociated from the reserve to which it was supposed to be attached.  Instead the school grounds rise behind it.  Is there a school anywhere else in Australia that has such a fantastic setting – surrounded by two beaches and a third (Retreat) across the road really just artificially divided from the other two?

There was a small cluster of seabirds hanging out on the boulders at the point (not Cartwright’s at all, but High School Point, just to be clear).  There nearly always are seabirds here and, buoyed by this fabulous walk, I adjusted the pick up arrangements and then I carried on walking.

(Andrew Short’s report is referenced on The Bookshelf page).

Johnson, M & I McFarlane. 2015.  Van Diemen’s Land: an aboriginal history, UNSW, Sydney


Derwent River: Blinking Billy to Hinsby Beach – Part 3: To Mitah Crescent Cove

I Know You, Boulder

The walk continued…

At the end of the beach I had to hop onto rocks and make my way between the river and a concrete wall.  Around  the corner  a wooden boatshed looked as though it might end my walk but I found a way around it and although my walk felt seamless this is where I regard the Blinking Billy Beach 3 section as beginning.   Just look at this picture.  Who’d think there was a city here?

Boatshed marking beginning of BB3
As you turn the corner at the point at the southern end of  Blinking Billy Beach 2 (aka Half Moon Bay) you see this structure.

The same subjects preoccupied me as I walked along – the geology, the history, the structures – and, specifically, locating myself on this piece of shoreline.  I kept changing my mind as to where I was in relation to the road above me but I wanted to do this walk without the help of Google Maps so that I had a real sense of (urban) adventuring into the unknown.

Blinking Billy 3 wild coast
As you turn the corner at the point at the southern end of  Blinking Billy Beach 2 (aka Half Moon Bay) you see this structure.

In  wild weather this would be a windswept stretch of rocky coastline with views north to town, south into Storm Bay and across the river to more loveliness along the southern section of the eastern shore.  On the day of my walk these lonely stretches felt pensive, secret and self-contained, and I felt myself more likely to encounter a nineteenth century smuggler along here than back at Red Chapel Beach or Blinking Billy Point.  At the same time I felt as though the shoreline was as aware of me as I was of it.

I figured I was out of Geography Bay and this new perspective of the river renewed my feeling of exhilaration in the landscape and perplexity about ourselves – that we Westerners have been here since the beginning of the 1800s and yet, so close to the city centre, the nomenclature is still so sparse as to be mostly non-existent and so slippery where it is there at all.   Many of us know more about London, Paris and places overseas than we do the intimate nooks and crannies of the river, the mountain and the great rifted catchment.

A few months after this walk I had a debate with a friend over just this issue.  He’s a man that does real adventuring and exploring – the further off the beaten tracks of this world and out of communication the better.  He is against nomenclature.  He wants the earth’s places (mountains, rivers) left untainted by names but is prepared to compromise on a latitude/longitude co-ordinate.

I feel differently.  As I walked along this stretch of coast wondering about the original aboriginal names for the places and features I was passing – names that over 30,000 years just have to have been rich, dense and redolent with mythology – it struck me like an epiphany, the extremely serious and overlooked disconnection we have with the earth.  A shrieking Disconnection.  A Disconnection so profound we’re trashing the planet beyond redemption and losing ourselves.  No names – no recognition. No relationship.  No honouring.  No sense of gratitude. I looked at the magnificent, powerful river that I love so much, as much a goddess as the Ganges, and wished ‘sacred’ had not become a disparaged word because if anything felt sacred it was the animation I perceived in this river and its shoreline, so dynamic and timeless despite our culture turned beautiful parasite glued to its side. At the most profound level this existential disconnection is manifesting in more damaged psyches as each generation becomes less connected to the earth because how do you honour yourself if you can’t relate to and stand in awe of the greater entity you’re part of?  As I wandered along the rocks, pausing to ponder their origins, diversity and beauty, I felt so utterly enthralled at the profligate beauty about me and a real grief that so many other compelling distractions have made it difficult for us to immerse ourselves in a landscape unfettered by human notions of time as was the case before our cultural evolution careered us away from hunting and gathering.

I had begun to pay more attention to my thoughts and less to the landscape when a sloping and strangely familiar boulder blocked my route.

Boulder and yacht
Hello, Boulder.

About two feet of estuary rose and fell about its base.  I didn’t want to take off my shoes and wade, the river’s temperature making it somewhat untouchable.  On the other hand, my first strategy for climbing up the boulder’s side was hampered by the fact that a few weeks before I had dislocated and fractured my little finger while working on the boat with our mechanic, who I think of as being to engines what Leonard Cohen is to music.

I put my hands on the sloping rock.  ‘I know you, Boulder.’  We had not met for a Very Long Time.  Looking up I noticed a huge house with enormous windows.  Now that was new to me.

When we were a whole lot younger we had come to  look at a  house – a beach shack really – at the bottom of Mitah Crescent.  The owners walked us through their cacti and succulent garden down to a large boulder.  The river lapped around its base but they assured us there was sand when the tide went out.   We desired that boulder and that river access but knew that once we had paid for the property we would not be able to afford renovations for a while to come and so we sadly and stupidly decided not to make an offer.

I  leaned my back against the boulder for a while, thinking that on this walk I’d barely noticed the Eastern Shore – I was so busy ‘paying attention’ (my current mantra) to the rocks about my feet and the all enveloping personality of the shore.  My iPhone was losing power rapidly because of happy snapping and  jubilant voice memos.  I looked back along the way I’d come.  I tested my finger’s capacity to help draw my weight up the side of the boulder.  Not looking good.

Looking back from Mitah Crescent
Looking back at Blinking Billy Beach 3 from Mitah Crescent

My options were limited – I could fall, climbing that boulder.  But if so, there was reason to hope that I’d be spotted sooner rather than later by the big windowed houses above me because at this point of the walk they had drawn closer and lower to the shore  and so I took my chances, shifted my weight from disabled finger to used-to-being-bruised knee.   Trying to be discrete, because I could not definitely recall whether the  boulder was a right of way, I crept across it, slithered down over the boat shed’s jetty and found myself in an intimate and beautiful sandy cove.  If the tide had been out when we’d viewed that house, we would both have lost our heads and hearts.

Cove at Mitah Crescent
Looking back at Mitah Crescent cove

More rocks, more pebbles, the occasional rivulet and astonishing discoveries.  I sometimes thought that paying too much attention to where I was about to place my feet I was missing out on rivulets, but in fact the way you find a Hobart rivulet is to use your nose.  As they emerge dishevelled and emaciated from their concrete prisons they bring with them a distinct smell: stale old detergent.  Yep.  The cleaner we are, the dirtier we make the environment.

Then I encountered another boulder and, with an awkward gap, a double set of rails leading from boat sheds to the water.  I slithered down to the base of the boulder and timed my scramble for a gap in the waves – and made it under the structure.

Double boatshed
Double boat shed

I was about to leave Sandy Bay and enter the suburb of Taroona. but a little way around the next corner I found some more appealing structures and to my surprise, a sphinx like rock gazing out to sea.  It’s waypoints like this that would undoubtedly have carried names earlier in the Holocene and I paused, feeling the loss of the language that once sung this landscape into being, the loss of a way of being in the landscape and interpreting the subtle nuances our less sophisticated gaze  misses.  I work with people who have dementia.  In a more holistic way I think we have robbed the landscape of its earlier identity and a significant part of its memory.

As you turn the corner at the point at the southern end of  Blinking Billy Beach 3 you see this structure.  In the absence of official nomenclature, my personal name for it is The Mouheenener Sentinal


And it was along this stretch of shore that I nagging awareness came to the fore – one huge river, but only a handful of avian wanderers.

Where the hell were the birds?

Next blog entry: Photographs – Blinking Billy to the Sandy Bay border







Derwent River: Marieville Esplanade (South)

Still Just Hanging In

Sometimes you just don’t see what’s in front of your eyes.

The cardboard sign at the start of the track gave me pause for thought ‘Snake Spotted Lying on the Path’ someone had written, and so instead of exploring new territory I headed down to the marina to do a bit of work on Samos. The dogs lay and watched me.  It’s currently the summer solstice, the day was hot, the moon  a waxing gibbous and the tide  low but oblivious to all this I was tending the engine and talking to my neighbour.

At a certain point I looked past the yachts and ducks to the houses that occupy the foreshore.

There at their base were remnants of beach.  Rather sorry looking remnants but large enough patches of  polluted sand to provide private coves for those lucky enough to live in those houses.  Not that long ago it was a longer stretch of cleaner sand and boats swung at their moorings in the lee of Wrest Point.  Now the marina’s been extended and there are new floating berths.

This view has become so familiar to me but in failing to question it I hadn’t seen it for what it really was: a beach still present enough to make a statement:  well may I go unnoticed but I’ll be back in one guise or another long after the marina and these activities are gone.

Beach at the DSS

Beach remnantsDSS Beach remnants

Meet Me in Tokyo

When someone you love says ‘Meet me in Tokyo,’ the temptation is just too great. I put my blog aside, abandoned social media and headed out into the world on a small adventure that involved food safaris, onsin challenges and meditative pilgrimages to shrines, both Shinto and Buddhist.  In Kyoto the leaves were turning.

Sky tree golden flame river.png
Sky Tree, the Asahi Flame and Sumida River

We took up residence for a while in Asakusa, an old part of Tokyo, where the Sky Tree towers over an already tall city and the Asahi flame, such as it is, lies heavily on its side beneath it. We were close to shrines, big and small, that honour the Bodhisattva Kannon who is intimately linked to the Sumida River.  The story goes that back in 628 AD when the area was a delta, three fishermen hauled a statue of this particular Bodhisattva out of the river.  The first shrine was made of straw.  Now there’s a complex of wonderful shrines, including Tokyo’s biggest and most visited.


The gift of the Sumida River hasn’t saved it from all sorts of atrocities.  It may know daylight but it has concrete hips. There’s minimal habitat for river species. The Derwent in comparison is a wild eyed hippie, a moody and creative artist with a flare for change.

I didn’t notice anyone fishing in the Sumida and barely a bird apart from a lone cormorant and a tiny flock of seagulls that flew into sight beneath a bridge. In fact, with a bridge literally every kilometre along its length there’s not much river traffic either because the bridges are so low.

Derwent from the Mountain (1).png

Flying back into Hobart is a beautiful experience – that first riveting sighting of the mountain and that most magnificent of rivers, always so spectacularly stunning from the air, is riveting.

Once my feet were on the mountain and my eyes on the river, I felt reconnected to home, ready to curl my hand around the tiller, jump on my bike, lug my kayak down to the water or take another stroll along the coastline somewhere.

Derwent River: Nutgrove Beach

Those racing days

Kelp on Nutgrove Beach
Kelp on Nutgrove Beach

Nutgrove Beach is my wonderful ‘go to’ beach, one I mostly associate with pale sand, sunshine and activity, but because I’ve been walking through winter these photos show its moodier, more introspective personality.

I  come here to think, to catch up with friends, to watch yachts racing, to enjoy the best of the day and to be walked by the dogs. The water quality is dubious but canines aren’t discouraged by that.  There can be snow on the sand and they’ll still take the plunge. and some dogs, entranced by ducks bobbing on the water, and the more sight impaired by a bobbing buoy, head off in futile pursuit. Their owners cheery commands for them to return grow ever more plaintive as small crowds gather and their dogs recede into the distance. The dogs don’t stand a chance but avian business is always disrupted when people, with or without dogs come down to the beach.

Nutgrove  is north/south facing, a 700 m long stretch of sand that starts at the rocky platform below the cliffs, south of Red Chapel beach.  It swings slightly east and broadens out a little as it approaches Sandy Point at its southern extent. There are substantial houses – one the size of a small hotel – barricaded by pathetically small sand dunes, no more than the slightest of slopes really and at a certain spot there are no dunes at all. This beach suffered along with Short Beach because early settlers removed a large amount of sand from here too.

It’s a beach with a surprisingly fragile sense of identity. I’ve read about it and heard people refer to it as Sandy Bay Beach. In some earlier documents it also seems to have been known as Long Beach. It is longer than today’s Long Beach to its south and in earlier times when both beaches were far broader their identities were probably more fused than today. Further adding to the confusion, the Derwent Estuary Program, in a map locating monitoring sites, divides it into Nutgrove East and Nutgrove West but perhaps this is only for the purposes of checking water quality. Whatever, it can do your head in.

The Sandy Bay beaches aren’t named on the nautical chart for the Derwent River but it is identified on the Taroona 1:25,000 series. Its current name comes from a small orchard of walnut trees that used to be attached to Nutgrove House on the land behind it. The house, built in the 1880s, still exists today.

I vaguely knew the beach was there when I first came to Hobart because you can see it at certain points along Sandy Bay Road but I largely ignored it in favour of the ocean beaches. I was also understandably confused about what it was called until a friend set me straight when suggesting a group of us meet there. It was a sunny morning and the river glittered. The children paddled while we talked. For a beach of its dimensions, it was  surprisingly empty that glorious day. I began to make it a regular haunt, arriving on it usually via the right of way off Sandy Bay Road, a pathway between homes that you’re unlikely to discover unless someone tells you about it – or you’re an observant walker, or you’ve parked there, perhaps to buy something delicious from Lipscombe Larder and you’ve wondered why dogs are leading their owners up or down what looks like a private driveway.

The pink historic house with the Iceberg roses, the driveway with the wooden carport, transport me to France every time and the dogs are always full of anticipation, which is catching. You walk past various flowering plants in summer and then turn to take the steps where the nasturtium grows, and there is the jetty, the splendiferous river and the moored yachts. There are the conifers we sometimes use to help us find the Nutgrove buoy when racing, and there is the beach spread out to the south. At times you feel part of a communal passagiata but it’s also possible to have the beach entirely to yourself.  And you have to marvel:  the land sweeps up to become the hill that is Mount Nelson, carrying the weight of Sandy Bay’s large houses, and despite suburbia that beach stretches out and you have it to yourself.

You need the tide on your side walking Nutgrove Beach. When it’s really high there’s not much space between water and dunes and you end up treading a soggy path. This is sobering.   When Hobart started hankering for a race course, they decided this would be it –  that it would begin south of Sandy Point and end at Nutgrove’s northern end. In 1816 that first race was run.  A crowd gathered on Long Beach to watch the start but most would not have seen the horses galloping up Nutgrove. There’s no doubt many people raced in pursuit of the horses to enjoy the celebrations at the finishing line below the Beach Tavern – that very same pink building with the right of way down to the beach.

Nutgrove Beach
Nutgrove Beach

Later, as boundary fences were built and jetties split the beach up, access across private land wasn’t guaranteed and caused a lot of community friction. Fierce debate began appearing in the newspapers with various observations of increased sea level rise being used to explain the descent of fences into the river. Some writers had a fine sense of coastal processes, noting shifts in currents and the carriage of sand because of the changes being wrought in Sullivans Cove – wharfs and buildings, redirected rivulets, for instance.  This was just the start of debates about private and public rights to beach access. Tasmanian Traveller has encountered this problem walking the upper reaches of the Derwent. It remains an issue in many places around Tasmania today, Battery Point being a prime example.

If you come to Nutgrove Beach from Red Chapel beach to the north there’s a smidgen of beach tucked between the rocks and the jetty-with-character (the only one remaining.  This is  the spot where Lipscombe Rivulet emerges encapsulated in its stormwater drain, and this ‘beachlet’ (Thanks, No Visible Means) has a sign to inform dogs that this is just for seabirds. Once, after a massive storm a few years ago, I was astonished to discover an unkempt yacht bearded with seaweed and weighed down with barnacles, sea squirts, jellyfish polyps, mussels… the whole caboodle, washed up here, a sorry sight.

Winter on Nutgrove, down by the jetties
Winter on Nutgrove, down by the jetty

Down the south end of the beach Sandy Bay Sailing Club has its clubhouse and so the beach is often full of Optimists, and an optimist you have to be to allow tiny children loose on the river in dinghies not much bigger than walnut shells. The rescue boat is always hovering. Invariably someone capsizes, a character building experience and perhaps the reason why some fine sailors have emerged from the club.

The yellow Nutgrove buoy, just off the beach, is usually the southern extent of keelboat twilight races down the western shore, so when the sea breeze is in it’s lovely to watch the fleet gybe and run wing on wing back up the river. The beach’s other nautical connection is the orange structure half way along it. This is a light that ships use to help line up their passage under the bridge.

Winter on Nutgrove
Winter on Nutgrove

Historical photo:  View from Battery Point of Wrest Point and Sandy Point and the beaches in between.  


Derwent Estuary Program 2004. A model stormwater management plan for Hobart Regional Councils – a focus on the New Town Rivulet Catchment. Derwent Estuary Program, DPIWE, Tasmania.

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

Robertson, M. 2008. From Petal Point to Cockle Creek: a beach explorer’s guide to the East Coast of Tasmania. Regal Printing.

Short, A.D. 2006.  Beaches of the Tasmanian coast and islands.  Sydney University Press, Sydney.

September on Tasmanian Beaches

A Little Pause

There’s been a delay in posting because of visitors, learning about beekeeping and preparing a beehive, travel about the state and trying to get my first issue of a local newsletter to the printer on time. But while it may seem I’m making my way excruciatingly slowly down the Western shore of the Derwent Estuary, I did in fact reach Piersons Point much earlier this year and so I’m playing catch up on this blog.

While writing, I’ve walked some beaches down the D’Entrecasteaux Channel and on the South Arm Peninsula.

I can also report that from Cockle Creek to Couta Rocks the boobiala has been in brilliant yellow blossom. Epacrids and cyathodes have also been adding colour to the coastal landscape. There are a diverse range of sponges washing up on the Cowrie Point beaches and while the sand at Robbins Passage seems pale at first glance, a little digging reveals black sand lies just beneath those beautiful ripple marks the outgoing tide leaves far behind. The surf was big at Marrawah and at Mt Cameron West, a place I’ve long wanted to visit, we acquisced to aboriginal requests not to take dogs in, and we turned back.

This month I also got to know the sandhoppers at Sarah Ann Rocks (West Coast) far more intimately than I’d ever anticipated. If any beach was aptly named its Sarah Ann. That sand is rocking and hopping beneath your feet and unless you go digging you would probably never know.

The plover that gave me an in the face warning that I was not welcome on Red Chapel beach (see my last post) also  gave me reason to pause and think a little.  I phoned the Parks and Wildlife Service to report the broken gate but more than that, as a person who has long bewailed the dog apartheid on many of Tasmania’s beaches my walking has led me to the conclusion that during the prime breeding months in spring, we should all be avoiding the beaches, ceding tenure to the birds, so that they can enjoy their parenting without abandoning nests or succumbing to anxiety and alarm. After all, it’s we, not our dogs who are the most menacing of species and with the dunes eroding on many beaches, it’s a hard call for nesting birds to simply find a spot to lay an egg.

This is why over the next few months I’m exchanging my walking shoes for my bicycle. I’m hopping in my kayak and I’m hoisting my sails.  Walking, developing an intimacy with landscape, paying attention to it and asking questions of it has been exhilarating and has expanded my thinking but now I’m curious to experience small adventures out on the water.

Derwent River: Red Chapel Beach (T 453)

 Just Fishing

RC a long view

It’s night time on Red Chapel Beach and the birds are loud. There’s a crescent moon rising and out near the middle of the river the foreign vessel at anchor is barely visible.  James Moodie and a mate or two are in his boat closer to the shore.  They’re waiting for a fish to bite but that’s not all they’re waiting for.  The conversation in the boat is quiet; sound carries over water.  They have one eye on the ship. Up above the beach there’s a light shining from his cottage window.

A long boat leaves the ship and heads towards them.  They raft up but from the shore you’d be hard pressed to know that business is being transacted.  All done, Moodie rows ashore.  The oars creak, there’s the small splash of water.  The birds fall silent.

The boat, carried onto the shore by the quiet water, takes clearer form.  It’s a heavy duty wooden rowboat.  And those men are taking out boxes.  There’s the sound of ceramic and glass.  They push that boat right up the sand.  Their accents are strong.  There’s both glee and caution in their voices.  The birds are on alert and the hillside is still and dark.  The men are discussing how they’re going to get the sly grog up the  hill.  They know where they’re going to hide it.  They’ve planned what they’re going to do with their share of the takings and Moodie is reckoning on a good profit selling it from his cottage to the passers by on the Sandy Bay Road.

James Moodie, back in England, was a highwayman who’d been jailed for robbing on the King’s Highway and for assaulting a Constable Jelly.  For these crimes he was separated from his wife and children and deported after first spending two years in the misery of Guildford prison and more time amidst the filth and vermin of the prison hulk, Retribution out on the Thames.  Lightfingered in NSW, he ended up in Van Diemen’s Land, where light fingered again, he nicked some rope.  Illiterate but smart, he amassed sufficient wealth through money lending (at 12 %), hard work and dodgy deals to buy the land above the handy beach now known as Red Chapel.

At 55 he married Ann Barnes (27), had five children and began to gain respect as a carpenter and a farmer.  He had a thing for rope because he learned how to spin native hemp and New Zealand flax together to make a high quality product he could sell, and he acquired further respectability with the building of St Stephen’s Church which would have been a place of community connection for the Norfolk Island convicts living in this area.  It stood out as a landmark, his apparently pious act clearly evident for all to see.

When Ann died, his eldest daughter, Mary, 12, took on her mother’s household and parental role, but she married at fourteen, a dubious marriage that was not in her best interests.  The tale deteriorates into one of financial and sexual abuse.

St Stephens Church holds summer memories for me.  Occasionally I’d go down to this beach to absorb some of its serenity while music carried from the piano in the hall and little girls thumped the floorboards yearning for the day they’d dance on points.

I came back to this beach in August, many years after those tranquil afternoons.  I stood in the small park and looked down at the moored yachts just offshore.  The gate with its Parks and Wildlife sign had been left open by a careless visitor.  There was the willow tree and the boat sheds.  There were dinghies neatly stacked.  There was no one else on this small, intimate city beach except me and a few ducks.  When I looked up, there were the mansions but there was no sign of life behind the windows.

I walked along the northern rocks where they curve out around a garden wall.  There’s a small sandy cove around there that looks to have been isolated by this garden.  To reach the sand you have to scramble across the jetty of another boat shed.  To the south the beach continues a little way below the headland.  It’s been isolated from Nutgrove Beach, the next beach along, by sea level rise but once they would have been a continuous strip.

I came back again on my yacht.  My friend had the tiller as we motored close to the moorings and I took photos and regarded the bay.  From this perspective it’s clear that Red Chapel shares Sandy Bay (as in the actual bay) with Lords Beach to the north.  In effect, they’re the same beach tied to each other by the stretch of rocks, the visible part of Manning Reef, below the seawall.  The Mannings, also convicts from Norfolk Island, had land here once, and Manning Rivulet enters the river here.  You would not know it existed.  Its trapped in a stormwater drain.  From the water you can look at the shore and imagine a different Sandy Bay – a more kindlier planned one where the rivulets run free and linear parks retain and support native fauna and flora.

‘How much water do you like beneath the keel?’ my friend asked.

‘About four.’

‘Bit less than one now.  We’re over the reef.’

‘Out we go then,’ I said.

Again I returned, talking on the phone to the little girl I’d waited for on the beach all those summers ago.  She’s grown now and was in Sydney, in transit home from the UK.  We reminisced.  I told her there was, unusually, someone else on the beach.  I said that three ducks sitting together observing the river were preventing me from walking around to the cove.  I told her there were plovers nesting, that while one circled high above the other was dive bombing me then veering in a circle and flying hard and fast straight at my face.

I left the three ducks to their ruminating and respected the plovers wishes.  The young boy on the beach had left the gate open again, only this time it was completely off its hinges.

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

Photographs from Tasmanian Archives

  1.  St Stephens Church and the stretch of beach below the cliff
  2. St Stephens Church and the beach from the foreshore

RC boats

Looking north

ngRed Chapel 1 Looking north RC a long view RC boats Red Chapel 1 Sunny day Red Chapel

Derwent River: Short Beach


I thought I knew Short Beach well but actually I knew little of its past and so I went there intent on peeling back the suburb.  Beneath the brief skin of grass, marinas, streets and houses who was this beach really?

It turns out that for thousands of years behind the beach there was forest kept open enough for hunting by firestick farming.  There was abundant wildlife, including forester kangaroos and the Tasmanian emu.  Birdlife was rich and varied, bronzewing pigeons prolific.  Short Beach had a pure mountain stream at each end and the Mouheneener living along the shore fed themselves from the reefs and the forest, leaving the river to the whales, seals, fish and seabirds. There is believed to have been a taboo, perhaps founded in myth, about the taking of fish.  When they went out on the water they used bark canoes to navigate the currents.

Before settlement in 1803 (Risdon Cove on the eastern shore) and 1804 (Sullivans Cove, north over the headland from Short Beach) this was a free ranging coastline but no sooner had the ships moored than the land, rivulets and beaches became subject to massive and rapid change.  The Mouheneener drew back from this part of their territory and the Reverand Knopwood and his friends moved in, enjoying hunting through here in those early days of settlement, shooting without thought of limitation, bagging pigeons, swans, wattle birds, emus, kangaroos, wallabies and the like. The forest that once supported the Mouheneener with ease was cleared for farming, and in 1804 Captain William Sladden and George Prideaux Harris were farming alongside the rivulet, the land cleared of casurinas and eucalypts by convict labour.  Harris built his home pretty much where Ashford (an historic homestead) is today.

I went looking for maps and pictures but recognising the beach isn’t easy. Perspectives and distances in early paintings make parts of the coastline hard to identify and there was considerable reclamation happening right from settlement’s start.   In 1840 this article appeared in the Colonial Times:

‘Mr Fredk Bell has erected some splendid baths at an immense expense on the Beach at his estate in Sandy Bay.  He has also run a Jetty out a considerable distance into the river at the end of which he is about to erect bathing-rooms, we are fearful it will not pay; but the public will be much indebted to Mr Bell for his spirited conduct in affording such accommodation (nay, luxuries) as the Hot and Cold Bath in a climate where both are so desirable  The Beach in front, as well the Sandy Bay Road, have become a fashionable promenade and drive.’

The Victorian Bathing Establishment was divided into Ladies’ and Gentlemen’s baths and there were two refreshment rooms.  In 1908 there were complaints about peep-holes between the two sections.

I discovered that many people (including some of the Norfolk Island settlers) had their own yachts and sailing races were held off Sandy Bay from the early years of settlement.  The Royal Yacht Club (then called the Derwent Sailing Boat Club) was founded way back in 1859 and the Derwent Sailing Squadron in 1906.  The DSS held their first meeting in an old whaling vessel, the Derwent Hunter, berthed off the Domain and in 1955, many years after the whaling vessel had burned down, they got their clubhouse at Cheverton’s Jetty on Marieville Esplanade.

The jetty, the baths, reclamation and pollution from the despoiled rivulet, all messed with the beach, which  also has a gothic side to its character.  It was once a notorious smuggling hotspot, was where, in the nineteenth century three young girls found a buried baby, where at least one nineteenth century suicide took place, and more recently there was a murder on a yacht moored just offshore.

In 1879 there was public comment that sea level had risen here and that where once it had been 3 ft deep it was now 10 ft deep.  By 1834, a commentator mentioned he had once ‘rambled on the Sandy Bay beach near the present Blanchwater and Ashfield beaches, and I can declare that the sea lies greatly encroached there.  Where water is now 8 ft deep, I have with my children rambled and got shells… the Sandy Bay beach had been greatly encroached upon by the sea.’  Nevertheless, for many years the beach suffered from the removal of sand by Council decree.

Short Beach then was apparently known by the name of the estate but I’m not sure if Blanchwater was also along Marieville Esplanade.  I’m sure more research would clarify what the beach looked like then as well, but I think it was either a long curve stretching from the rivulet to the smaller point where Wrest Point is today or that it had a stretch of cobbles or rock where the park begins, then returned to sand.  In the picture below (1855) it presents as a narrow beach with what looks like a line of cobbles, and this is quite common along some parts of the Derwent depending on the season.

Short Beach is part of the Errol Flynn reserve now, established to celebrate that Hobart to Hollywood success story – he swam here as a child – but the beach ends with the rowing sheds, built on the point where the jetty and public baths once stood.  There’s a children’s playground, public amenities, a green space and then the two yacht clubs:  the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania and just south of it (but right next door) the Derwent Sailing Squadron, at present extending their marina.  Concealed beneath all this there used to be a strip of beach but you would never know.

I asked a friend if he could remember what the esplanade looked like when he was young.  He said he recalled a rivulet that entered Marieville Esplanade where the DSS is.  I went looking, and he was right.  Just in the corner where Wrest Point begins and the DSS ends there is a great big stormwater outlet.  I’d sailed passed it many time and never noticed it.  It creates the channel boats use to get in and out of that marina.  There’s a big shallow sandbank here that sets off depth alarms.

When we first moved to Hobart we lived in Sandy Bay not far from Marieville Esplanade.  On windy nights we could hear the clatter of rigging and a couple of times a day we’d take our dog, used to the fenceless expanses of a tree savannah, down to the beach to unleash his canine energy.  These days I go to Short Beach to walk the dogs after working on my boat.  There is sometimes a group of dog owners in conversation, you can hop over the rivulet onto the tiny, pitcturesque cove of sand at the base of Battery Point.  Short Beach is heavily used and is a bit dishevelled and subdued, its dunes long gone, maybe trammelled into the ground or flattened in a reclamation exercise, or never there in the first place.  I’m not expert in this matter but I can testify to the fact that although they have good views of the beach and the river, the houses have nothing to protect them from potential inundation.

Short Beach – perhaps Shortened Beach would be a better name –  is notable because the Sandy Bay rivulet enters the Derwent below Battery Point, and it is also the first of a string of Sandy Bay Beaches.  Before sailing became such a big part of my life I used to like launching my kayak here.  Over the last six or seven years I’ve spend a lot of my time at the clubs, sailing out of them, discovering the river’s geography.  And while boatyards are not good for the river’s health they have a strong allure, and the combined clubs and the races they hold have added to Hobart’s appeal as a nautical city on a magnificent waterway.

Note: Further information welcomed!  Photos below.


Centre for Historical Studies (UTas). The Companion to Tasmanian History [website].

Goc, N.  A history of Sandy Bay

Approaching Short Beach

Short Beach from the water


Looking towards the RYCT and the Wrest Point Casino

CITE: Sandy Bay from near Bath Street, Battery Point 1885. In: Allport album II No. 6, publ Hobart : s.n., [ca. 1886]. / AUTAS001126183078

Sandy Bay from near Bath Street, Battery Point 1885. In: Allport album II No. 6, publ Hobart : s.n., [ca. 1886]. / AUTAS001126183078.  State Library of Tasmania
Short Beach modern version

Taken from approximately the same place, 2015.

Short Beach 1

The small cove on the north end of Short Beach.

The Derwent Sailing Squadron marina

Derwent River: A Beautiful Geology

But Where Does the Beach Start, and Where Does it End?

beach near trywork

At first I thought I’d simply visit each sandy beach, but within the first few minutes of our initial walk at South Arm I’d scrapped that plan.  Beaches are not disconnected from their rocky platforms or the coastline that surrounds them; it’s not possible to see the whole magnificent geology by looking at grains of sand even though they say a lot.

I was also immediately confronted by the question about what makes a beach.  Bedrock geology occupies about 60% of the shoreline so there’s a lot of hard rock.  The remaining 40% of the coast comprise sandy beaches; some tiny, waveless coves, some long surf beaches, each with their own sandy signature.

On walks with the geologist, we got to talking about how beaches are made.  We’re a tiny island hammered by the Roaring Forties.  Weather passes through and clearly subscribes to the view that when visiting, more than three days and you stink like a fish.  The cold fronts run hasty circles around the Southern Ocean.  I’m glad to see one go, I’m enjoying the mellowness that confirms my belief that there’s no better place on earth to live than on this island, when goddamit, that warm weather is shoved out by another cold front arriving in a temper and I have to down traveller and reef, close windows and crank up the woodstove, add another layer of thermals before heading down to the marina.  But our beaches face every which way, so for each one exposed to the prevailing wind another provides a safe anchorage or a sheltered nook be you human, seal or seabird.

A ripple becomes a wave, the moon entices then releases the ocean making a yo-yo of the tides, currents wend their way through the oceans deep and deep below the layer we’re a part of, magma schmoozes through fissures and cracks melting all opposition, adding its power to the building and destruction of coastlines.   With humankind intent on weighing in, turning tropical our polar waters and usurping the earth building roles of rivulets and the like, we’re bringing the Holocene that nurtured us to a climactic close.

I went looking for a definition of a beach.  I found long, technical ones that sounded far too complex for me so I decided a beach was where there was enough sand that the word ‘beach’ popped into my head.  Still, I would have to become attuned to where a beach began or ended and was going to learn that it was no easy matter.

That’s why I’m glad I started with the Derwent River beaches.  I’d no sooner get home than uncertainty about what I’d noticed – or, more usually, failed to notice – would assail me and back I’d go.  I’d go back often just for the pleasure of revisiting or to take a friend to see what I had found.  I’d go back because I’d begun to doubt my point of view, wanted to confirm the beach’s perspective both literally and figuratively, and because, the way I see it, neither the beach nor I are different and neither are we the same each time we meet.

Percentages sourced from Short, A.D. 2006.  Beaches of the Tasmanian coast and islands.  Sydney University Press, Sydney.