Derwent River: Long Beach (aka Sandy Bay Beach)

From Summer Camp to Solstice Swim

Long Beach: the view from the south
Long Beach: the view from the south

I was puzzled why anyone bothered with this popular beach when I first visited it one hot summer’s day during my first year in Hobart.  There were a lot of uncertain people sitting in their bathers on the sea wall but swimming wasn’t an attractive proposition because the water came all the way up to the steps and slapped against the concrete in a discontented manner.  I sympathise with the river now.  It was trying to build a beach and this seawall, built without understanding, impeded it.

Yet this has always been a popular beach, even when, in the 1980s, it was barely there at all.  An artificial dune was cultivated in the corner bound unnaturally with marram grass. This once magnificent beach had become a desultory shadow of its previous self and I think that those who still came here were in love with a memory.  (It’s still a lovely spot when the sun is shining on it but it was overcast yesterday when I returned to take some more photos, earlier ones being lost in the uncatalogued innards of iPhoto.)

Long Beach from northern end

Before the convict ships arrived to set up camp Long Beach was called Kreewer and the Mouheenener had a summer camp in this sheltered spot.  In those days the beach was wide and backed by small dunes.  Picture a bark kayak, exquisitely woven dilly bags full of the jewels of the sea, children playing on the sand.  The land was flat and shaded behind the beach, a great spot for huts as well as some easy hunting, and there was a handy stream.

Although the rivulets that flow sporadically down the slopes of Mount Nelson are not well known, Wayne Rivulet has a slightly higher profile because it still enjoys daylight along some of its course, beautifying the grounds of Fahan School before entering the river at Long Beach / Little Sandy Bay.  It brings with it eroded dolerite from the heights, creating a delta of clay  over which the once dense sand of the beach now sits as a thin sheen.

Having already succumbed to epidemics, the distress and fear that took hold at Kreewer is outside the comprehension of anyone who hasn’t faced the end of their world and all  they hold sacred.  The forests they tended, the trees that were their totems, were knocked down to make way for an alien landscape of farmland, divided up between fences that ran all the way down into the river.   The Mouheenener, in a state of deep existential crisis, retreated and the beach became a popular destination for Hobartians in their strange clothing, who no doubt moved stiffly in the landscape not seeing the visual detail, not taking direction from the fragrance of the bush or hearing in the calls of birds the rhythm and events of the day.   Shooting expeditions from town, well recorded by the Rev Robert Knopwood, had rendered the emu extinct and chased the frightened animals that still survived further away from European settlements.  At that point the odd little handfish that moves about on its fins and inhabits the lower bays of the Derwent, still enjoyed an easy life in this beautiful bay.

The beach was so accommodatingly wide and so beautiful (see links to early photos below), that it served as a place to promenade, socialise and relax, and to enjoy the regatta that finally found a home here, or the start of a horse race.  Enjoyment was yet again marred by disputes over right of way to the beach that reached a climax around 1910.  There were petitions.  There were meetings.  The government was persuaded, buying up  land to create the park, and a long jetty was built on the beach so that people could arrive by boat as the Tramway Company wouldn’t extend the line along Sandy Bay Road.

Francis Cotton, in 1880, noticed that the sea level was rising on Long Beach.  He asserted it was the building works happening at Sullivans Cove and Norfolk Island settlers, including Maning and Fisher, considered that the sea had risen by about 50 feet in less than three decades.

There’s a more recent, curved seawall now, over which, in great storms, the sea breaks and which causes a significant wave to reflect back off it during high tides but there is a bit more beach than there used to be in the days of the old sea wall.  This area is often a gourmet adventure because there are cafes, making it, in summer, a great place for an evening pizza or a day time coffee, or a place to come on a Friday evening to enjoy the summer market.  From here you can walk north around Sandy Bay Point or south around Blinking Billy Point, the two sentinels of Little Sandy Bay and while the water in the bay is usually calm (unless the sea breeze is filling in from the south east), out beyond these two points gales frequently whip up raging white caps.

Sundown Park behind the beach was  described in the 1800s as ‘the Hyde Park of Hobart’ and it’s occasionally vivid with small flashes of colour when eastern rosellas and swift parrots  swoop between trees.  There’s a  crocquet club and a petanque piste, a playground and the playing fields.  There’s a platform just offshore that swimmers can lay claim to and that is alternatively occupied by cormorants drying their wings. Kayakers launch from here and seek refuge as well when conditions on the river turn wild.

Playground
Playground

In the heart of winter, when snow lay deep on the mountain’s summit and gardens were white with frost, the most adventurous Hobartians rose from their beds in the black pre-dawn and found their way down to Long Beach for the Dark Mofo Festival Solstice Swim.  They took off all their clothes and plunged en masse into the freezing water of the Derwent just on sunrise.

I’m sure it took their breath away.

When I arrived at the beach a good two hours after this, apart from footprints in the sand, there were no clues that this midwinter event had taken place.

I looked.  I contemplated.  I imagined the Mouheenener regarding this activity  from the ghostly forest and the sharp gasp of the Rev Knopwood.  Then I went home to a hot coffee and a warm bowl of porridge.  The frost still lingered but my kitchen was snug with the wood fire roaring.

Other people’s photographs:

Large wave striking the seawall (Sept 2009) Long Beach | Large wave, Long Beach

Historical

The closest to its natural state (post 1870)

The esplanade taking shape

Regatta at Long Beach & another (some time after 1921)

Showing the old sea wall

Before the sea wall  |  Taken from Sandy Bay Road

Jetty and sea wall, Long Beach

Sculpture, Long Beach
Sculpture, Long Beach
Blue gum tree - favourite hang out of the swift parrots
Blue gum tree – favourite hang out of the swift parrots
Beneath the blue gum tree
Beneath the blue gum tree

Further information:

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

Leaman, D. 1999. Walk into history in Southern Tasmania.  Lehman Geophysics, Hobart

Derwent River: Sandy Bay Point

Thomas on Fire!

Nutgrove north to south
Nutgrove Beach with Sandy Bay Point at the far end.

Two beaches radiate from unassuming Sandy Bay Point: Nutgrove to the north and Long Beach to the south, with green and leafy Sandown Park fanning out behind the point.  The Sandy Bay Sailing Club is prominent above the dunes.  It, along with its parking area inhabit the dunes and the area behind them.  Last summer a creative French traveller parked his colourful van here and settled in, just one of the travellers passing through in their camper vans, their tenures normally much briefer affairs.

French van

The day I walked from Lords Beach to Sandy Bay Point I had Hobart’s early regattas and yacht races in mind along with that first horse race (see post on Nutgrove).  In the early years of the colony  Nutgrove was a wider beach and on this particular day I got a clue as to what it had once been like because as I walked around the Red Chapel cliffs and found the little cove the birds have been gifted I saw that everything about the beach was different. It was wider than I think I’ve ever seen it before and at  Sandy Bay Point, where beach access at high tide is often not possible except over the fragile dunes, there was a surprisingly generous sweep of sand.  I was so deeply absorbed in the past that it was almost unsettling that no horses hurtled around that corner as they did back in the early 1800s when local accents were different, dresses were long and riotous parties were a part of the regatta and racing celebrations – to the point that Sir John Franklin (of North West Passage fame and, locally, as the Governor) put a stop to the regattas below Government House because there was too much unruliness and litter.  James Kelly, chair of the Regatta committee (who’d circumnavigated Van Diemen’s Land and discovered Port Davey), moved it to Chaffey’s Point (today’s Wrest Point). Mr Chaffey made a killing at his pub – and  Sandy Bay Point featured more strongly in the races.

Wide enough to race horses
Wide enough to race horses

Sandy Point, back in the 1800s, had smuggling coves to the right of it and smuggling coves to the left. The little rivulets – Waimea, Maning and Lamberts, for example, provided access routes for getting smuggled grog up into the bush but the inns along the coastline were conveniently located for receiving rum and other spirits from the ships anchored offshore too.

One of these ships was the Thomas.   One dark night in 1833 Captain Hanley anchored off Sandy Bay. He’d cut deals with the smugglers, so his pockets were full and likewise the longboats were all weighed down as the smugglers rowed back into the coves.

Later that night the Thomas went up in flames and the fire raging on the river lit up the sky, mesmerising those awake on shore and  ‘looking almost splendid’ according to an onlooker. Hanley and three other crew members were the only ones on board at the time.  They jumped into a longboat and set off for the shore but because the fire seemed contained to the stern they returned for another look, while two boats, the Mary and the Stakesby came slowly to their  rescue.  As they stood near the poop the fire reached the magazine and their was a massive explosion. In the little farm houses along the coast people asleep in their beds shot upright and got to experience an unanticipated fireworks night.  Somehow the sailors escaped with their lives.

‘At eight o’ clock on the Sunday morning the dying Thomas was towed burning to nearby Sandy Bay Point where she grounded in about five feet of water and continued burning through the Sabbath with crowds flocking to Long Beach to view the spectacle. (Goc, 1997).

Suspicion over who’d started the fire swirled through the community and over the ensuing days what was left – casks of rum and casks of salt floated on the water, easy pickings for the opportunistic.

The Thomas stamped its presence on the point, predating the ‘boat park’ with its pirate ship in Sandown Park.  In fact, in 1880 ‘H’ wrote ‘…anyone walking now along the beach at high water past Murdoch’s fence would hardly believe that the ship Thomas which was wilfully burnt about 1831, and was beached at Sandy Bay Point, was available to ramblers at low watermark. Many a time I have with my young companions mounted the ribs of the old ship, which stood on the sands, a place which to get at now would be in 20ft water.’

It’s a whodunnit without an answer.  The fire may have been caused by a smuggler dissatisfied with his deal, a mutinous crew member or, for all we know, the captain himself.

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

 

 

Sandy Bay Point

 

Sandy Bay Sailing Club
Sandy Bay Sailing Club
Sandy Bay Point
Rounding Sandy Bay Point

Approaching Sandy Bay Point: the path over the eroding dunes

Prossers
Prossers Restaurant: a prime position on Sandy Bay Point. Rocks shoring up the eroding beach, usually below water
Path down to Sandy Bay Point
The Sandy Bay Point walkway to the beach

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.  

Sources:

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.

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: Lord Beach, Sandy Bay

It’s One for the Birds

Lord’s Beach, Sandy Bay.  

In the little nook on the south side of the casino there’s a small, intimate curve of sand that survives despite the development around it. Because it’s below the seawall drivers lost in their own thoughts can overlook its presence. There’s a gate with a Parks and Wildlife sign beside it. No dogs are allowed, and I think perhaps there should be no gate there at all because I’ve gates to beaches are sometimes left open by the careless, making seabirds like penguins vulnerable to attack.

According to Short (2006), this beach was continuous with Short Beach long ago, which means there was once sand around Wrest Point (hard to envisage). Given that early settlers mentioned sea level rise they’d witnessed, this may have been the case although my hunch is that there were some cobbled strips and these days at least, it’s more continuous with beaches to the south.

One day when the weather was still warm I went down to the marina to work on the boat and the dogs came with me. Afterwards we walked along Marieville Esplanade, past the casino and around the corner to Lord’s. I tied the dogs up at the fence and went on down the path. I felt I was encroaching – the owners had risen as one and moved out onto the water. There is a bench. I sat on it as unobtrusively as possible. Around me there were footprints and all of them belonged to ducks.

In the afternoon much of this part of the beach lies in the casino’s long shadow. The view up river is blocked by Wrest Point but there’s a longer view across the river and down the estuary, and in the foreground there’s the much photographed jetty with its boat house as well as a cluster of yachts on their moorings. Out a bit further, the casino buoy cleared, we often turn the yacht into the wind and hoist the sails.

There are actually a couple of buoys in this vicinity that the Derwent Sailing Squadron and the RYCT use for the combined club races. As well as the green Casino buoy just off Wrest Point, there’s the DSS permanent further offshore and the Manning Reef buoy, sometimes camouflaged by moorings.

I’ve sailed past this beach many times, and cycled above it on lazy summer rides from the Cenotaph to Hinsby Beach, Taroona but one summer a few years ago, feeling particularly free on a week day, my friend and I walked north from Long Beach further south.  The tide was low, but there were some rocks and bits of branch we had to navigate. And this is the thing – you can come to this beach and think that it’s a tiny cove. It isn’t. That little cove is like the bloom of a lily and its stem is a long slender tapering of sand and rock. Jump onto Google Earth and take a ride from the tiny deltoid mouth of Sandy Bay Rivulet south along the coast. You can see clues as to what was there before, you can deduce that older shoreline, marvel (with some concern) at the myriad changes.

Really, the only distraction on the beach is the sound of traffic coming from the road above so if you feel a real urge to come here, bring earphones and relax to music – and bring a bag for litter collection. Picking up the odd cigarette stub or plastic wrapper is a nice way to reciprocate the avian owners for tolerating your inconvenient presence.

The Lords were once the wealthiest family in Hobart, made good from a convict beginning. James, sentenced in York, arrived on the HMS Calcutta in 1804 and quickly grew rich trading in illicit grog. Goc (1997) describes him as a ‘Bobby Shaftoe’ dressed in knee breaches and silver buckles. He and his sons became large landowners in Sandy Bay and bought the Chaffey’s Land, lending their name both to the beach and to Lord Street not that far north from Wrest Point.

But that day last autumn, while my dogs stared down at me feeling cheated, I envisaged the cultivated fields of the New Norfolk settlers and like the Mouheenener children before them, the Chaffey children and others playing on the sand and exploring Manning Reef. Car traffic faded, the road was dirt once more and the Canadian political prisoners on their unsteady legs, plotting their escape, were road building, there was the foot travellers, the odd person on horseback, the sounds of farming and land clearing as well as the odd shot – which would have to be the Rev Knopwood bagging pigeons. Out on the river I imagined a tall ship, whales breaching, gannets diving, and on a light south easterly breeze, the conversation of penguins carried towards me.

Sources:

Goc, N. 1997. Sandy Bay, Gentrx Publishing, Hobart.

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

Sandy Bay

Historical Photos in Tasmanian Archives

Photographic link:  Aerial view of Wrest Point , Lord’s Beach and Marieville pre the Casino and DSS.

Lords and the boatshedLords and seagull

Ducks on Lords

Derwent River: Short Beach

Beginnings

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.

Sources:

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

Marieville

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 DSS
The Derwent Sailing Squadron marina