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

Walking the Sandy Bay Rivulet From Source to Estuary Part 4

Roughed up in the ‘burbs.

Track to Romilly Road
Track to Romilly Road

South Hobart, Dynnyrne, Sandy Bay – the suburban route began with a nondescript path outside the park gates that ran downhill to the rivulet, returning in a rush to its natural bed. I explored a bit, then crossed it to reach the forest track above it through to Romilly Road.

So here’s the sobering truth.  The houses begin and the rivulet gets roughed up.  A sign of worse to come, it travels between banks entangled with blackberries and forgot me nots, lawns and paddock.  Some gardens make it their focus, others shun it.  Regardless, it sounded almost cheerful flowing thin and narrow at this interface between forest and habitation. I had a good view of the state of affairs; this path follows a higher contour just below Stony Steps, another of Hobart’s secret places.   There were cliffs; I reflected on how this rivulet, eons ago, before its landscaping capacity had been thwarted by us newbies, had carved an impressively deep valley.

I arrived at Romilly Street.  After my wanderings the concrete seemed cold, shadowed and unforgiving.  I, myself, mentally immersed in the rivulet, felt out of place as I paused to take some photos from the bridge.  I could see no way of getting to the bottom.  It was the domain of the ducks.

You barely catch a glimpse of the rivulet on the last stretch of Waterworks Road and what you see is hardly edifying. By the time it gets to Linton Avenue it looks scruffy and unkempt – and then it’s gone!  it simply disappears beneath the road.

With a sense of anticipation, I  took the little path I’d discovered at Linton Avenue on a previous sortie, full of anticipation that I would burst through into the park but my conjecture was wrong.  It led me through to an enclave of flats. Back on Linton, I peered through a wild tangle of tall, dense brambles and weeds, a sign of neglect that indicated a rivulet could well be travelling underneath.   There was nothing to see, nowhere to go and so at the Foodstore on King I turned into Overall Street, braving a soapy smelling periwinkle clad bank, down to the rivulet, where I stood over it taking photos of where it emerges from its tunnel and its route down through the park.  Then I chose to walk the road rather than that sodden weed infested bank and encountered it at Parliament Street where it travels beside the oval. I was retracing my steps from a brief exploration of this area the previous week.

That morning frost had crunched under my shoes as I walked upstream along the rivulet flowing  between gardens and park.  I’d tiptoed past a tiny tent in a hidden glade (someone sleeping rough)  and had expected to emerge on Linton Avenue but had arrived, instead, on the freeway, quickly ducking back down lest I be noticed by the morning traffic.

Again I crossed the road.  There was the place where I’d stopped to chat with a man who directed my attention to a house, once a mill, on the banks of the rivulet, and there again, down a steep descent, was the end of  Fitzroy Place and the woebegone rivulet now in a stormwater drain heading beneath Regent Street.  I sauntered down Queen Street and detoured into Lincoln Street to meet it again where the story was one of ducks and daks – ducks fossicking on the bank and old underpants caught on a rock.

I walked down Jersey Street and found the rivulet carrying a plastic bag.  I was there to greet it at Dr Syntax, where it had accumulated plastic cartons and I was there as it entered another stormwater drain (yep, we really esteem this rivulet) and was there to witness it running down its gutter behind the back gardens on Osborne Road.  Sombered, I headed down Quayle Street.

Down near the beach the rivulet gets some recognition but litter marrs the scene – spray cans, McDonalds takeaway products, trapped by a buffer – Mary Ann Bay Beach is grateful. What a terribly filthy, crass minded species we are, I was thinking, and then a welcoming tide came rolling in, and the rivulet, once fragrant, now toxic, depleted itself into the Derwent.  My dogs rushed to greet me and the geologist waited.  Short Beach was lit with slow afternoon activity and the light was mellow.  Feeling like a traveller arriving in another land, I was both buoyed by the loveliness of the walk to Romilly, the activity on the Esplanade and sobered by how quickly the rivulet had been ravaged.

We found a bench, we spread a cloth, we poured puerh tea, and sitting side by side eating chocolate and imbibing this smooth antique tea, I told the geologist of the places I’d been and the things that I’d seen.

SBR at top of Wwks Rd
Meeting forget-me-nots, top of Waterworks Rd


Sandy Bay Rivulet running past Pillinger Road
Sandy Bay Rivulet running past Pillinger Road
Sandy Bay Rivulet from Dr Syntax
Sandy Bay Rivulet from Dr Syntax
Sandy Bay Rivulet mouth, Short Beach Sandy Bay
Sandy Bay Rivulet mouth, Short Beach Sandy Bay
Tea time after the rivulet walk
Tea time after the rivulet walk

Walking the Sandy Bay Rivulet From Source to Estuary Part 1

Part One:  Being Random

Because I live in the Sandy Bay Rivulet’s catchment, it seemed symbolic that I should kick off my beach walks by strolling the Sandy Bay Rivulet from its source at The Springs (about half way up the mountain) to Short Beach where it enters the Derwent.  I looked at the spurs high up near the summit, figuring out the catchment zone.  I read reports and discovered some conflicting facts about where its source is believed to be.  I did some sleuthing, discovering it here and there as it meandered through its urban reaches.  I made an astounding discovery – or so I thought.  It’s the rivulet that flows beside my favourite forest track.

‘You’re going to walk the what?’ said my friends.  It seems that even if you live in its catchment, on the landscape it has made, the rivulet is out of sight and out of mind.

While vacuuming one day, it occurred to me that it must flow through Turnip Fields.  I cut that chore short and went to explore this little known spot.  From the road I saw new houses with names like Mystic Way, and the Derwent, like a heart-shaped lake, captured by the foothills.  I saw the reservoir at Waterworks and down on the valley floor, blocked by private property, I saw the forest it must surely run through.

The one thing I didn’t do was consult a map.

Confident I now knew its route, I told the geologist I would follow the rivulet that slips down beside ‘the leech path’ to Jackson’s Bend on Huon Road.  There’s a steep, forested valley on the lower side and I imagined I would slither down into this copse with my sailing boots in my rucksack in case I had to slosh my way down the rivulet itself.  Over drinks the geologist explained that I would need a compass, that the bush would be dense, and quite possibly impenetrable over the rivulet.  He told me it was even conceivable I could fall over a cliff and die.

I was disbelieving.  The copse is narrow but it’s true the slope is steep.  I had thought of my descent into the valley as a drop into an unknown world – old memories of the Famous Five had stirred, awakening my inner George.  ‘Forget it,’ said the geologist, and told me of his efforts to push through horizontal and the achingly slow progress he had made.  ‘Only masochists will go into that stuff.  There’s too little reward.’

I was unconvinced but I didn’t like the idea of encountering old bones (that cliff!) or trespassing and encountering a landowner bristling with weapons, as occurred to some others in a 4×4 recently.  And so I agreed to begin at The Springs and to follow a more conventional way down to the river.

From the Springs to the River: Radfords Track
From the Springs to the River: Radfords Track