There is an argument to suggest that Bruny Island off the coast of Southern Tasmania is the earliest encounter site of what was eventually to become the nation state of Australia. While Abel Tasman was not able to land on Bruny Island, he at least attempted to do so 128 years earlier than the Englishman, James Cook, landed at Botany Bay.
Before Governor Philip landed at what was to become Sydney Harbour in 1788, Captain Cook’s old sailing master, the infamous William Bligh, actually landed at Adventure Bay on Bruny Island. He was able to replenish supplies and move on to Tahiti and history in his famous ship, HMS Bounty. However before Bligh landed on Bruny island, two French vessels arrived off Tasmania in 1772 and on our rainy day exploration of Hobart’s Botanic Gardens, we saw the memorial to these French explorers and scientists who greatly contributed to our understanding of this island state.
The above sculpture marked the bicentenary of the 1772 event and was made from the iconic Tasmanian timber, Huon Pine. It represents the sails and bow of the French ship.
Our own trip to Bruny Island was a few days before rain arrived in Hobart on the day we explored its Botanic Gardens. We had a beautiful drive down the edge of the Derwent River and the complex coastline south of Hobart. We arrived at the small town of Kettering which is situated at the start of the d’Entrecasteaux Channel which is sheltered by Bruny Island. The channel was named after the French Admiral who explored this coastline in 1792 and discovered that Bruny Island was separated from the actual coast of Van Dieman’s Land. The state government funds the vehicular ferries across to Bruny Island, enabling us to stay on board the bus for the scenic trip across the channel.
Our tour of the Island was described as follows by the operator. “Bruny Island Traveller is a full day tour from Hobart. Taste your way across Bruny Island, visiting some of our renowned artisan producers on an all inclusive gourmet wilderness adventure whilst discovering the spectacular scenery and cultural heritage of Tasmania’s favourite island.” That sounded pretty good to me, particularly as the first stop the bus made was at an oyster farm to collect the oysters for our lunch later in the day. The second stop was the Bruny Island Cheese & Beer Co. Their produce included freshly baked bread in the outdoor oven that can be seen on the left below. Not being a great gourmand myself, I was surprised at how enjoyable the food was at this very professionally run business. We were given an interesting run down of the business and the joys of making beer and cheese on Bruny Island.
The “spectacular scenery” mentioned in our itinerary was probably best displayed when we arrived at the ‘Neck’, the isthmus that keeps North and South Bruny Island connected. We stopped before we had gone too far along the Neck at the Truganini Lookout and Penguin Rookery. There is an impressive wooden set of stairs that took us up to a lookout where the panoramic views over the Neck to South Bruny Island were very impressive. To our left was the broad expanse of Adventure Bay and to our right was Isthmus Bay opening out into the D’Entrecasteaux Channel. We didn’t get a chance to wander down to the beach where the Penguin rookery was. Given our experience already with Penguin rookeries on the north coast of Tasmania, we knew the Little Penguins and the Short-Tailed Shearwaters would be absent, out at sea gathering food.
I was interested to discover the reason behind why this lookout area was named after Truganini. She was born on Bruny Island in 1812 and her story is a sad exemplar of what happened to the Tasmanian Aboriginals during her life-time. I remembered that she was in the news in 1976 when the press published stories about her on the centenary of her death in 1876. They put particular emphasis on the fact that she was the last full blooded Tasmanian aboriginal to die. I was a young history teacher at the time and I remember posing the provocative question to one of my classes that ran something like, “What country has completed a full genocide of a specific race of people?” My logic was that if there were no more full-blooded members of this race of people, cut off from the Australian continent at the end of the last Ice Age, then it must be genocide. Unfortunately one part of the Truganini story that was being told was not quite accurate; she wasn’t the last full blooded Tasmanian aboriginal and she certainly wasn’t the last person to claim the heritage of these people which continues today throughout Tasmania.
However, Truganini’s tragic story needs to be part of the Australian memory of its history. By the time she was 17, “her mother had been killed by sailors, her uncle shot by a soldier, her sister abducted by sealers, and her fiancé brutally murdered by timber-cutters who then repeatedly sexually abused her”. (Wikipedia). The rest of her life didn’t go much better and the least that could be said is that by the time of the centenary of her death, 20th century Australians were ready to respect her last wishes for her ashes to be scattered in the D’Entrecasteaux Channel. Even in 2002, some of her hair and skin were found in a collection in the English Royal College of Surgeons and returned to Tasmania for reburial.
From the isthmus that connected the two Bruny Islands, we travelled to our next destination which was Mavista Reserve. It can be seen marked on the map to the left, inland from Adventure Bay. The logging of South Bruny Island began almost as soon as the first Europeans arrived at Adventure Bay. A botanist on board Captain Cook’s 1777 ship, David Nelson, is recorded as collecting the first specimen ever of a eucalypt from this island. Logging continued throughout the 19th and 20th centuries and the reserve we visited for our morning walk has all the reminders of this history; decaying boilers, log-haulers, timber tramways and saw-pits.
As we were leaving Mavista Reserve, there was beautiful bush home and garden just outside the reserve where we saw our first white wallaby, apart from the picture on the side of our tour bus. Apparently, there is a population of around 200 such wallabies on Bruny Island. They are white due to a genetic defect and survive on this island due to lack of predators. “So what causes these adorable creatures to have snow white fur, pink eyes, nose and claws? A genetic defect in the Bennett’s Wallaby has thrown off the balance of melanin in these little marsupials causing them to become albino. If this were the case nearly any other place on Earth, these unbelievably cute little hoppers would be snatched up by predators before reaching maturity. The rest would succumb to poor vision, cancers or other diseases. But a lack of predators on Bruny Island help these albino wallabies to survive.” (Tasmania.com)
From our forest walk it was time to head to our café on the headland near South Bruny Island National Park, not far from Captain Cook’s landing place in 1777. We were able to enjoy our oysters that we collected earlier in the morning and relax before our afternoon of exploring more of Bruny Island. On the wall of the café was an example of what the original canoes of the local indigenous people looked like.
Our first stop after lunch was the Bligh Museum that sat not far from our café and just over the road from the shoreline of Adventure Bay where Captain Cook landed in 1777. I am not sure what building was re-purposed for this Museum, dedicated to the various explorers who visited Adventure Bay. Its windows were insufficient to shed enough light on the various exhibitions here. Despite this, there were a lot of primary sources about Cook and Bligh and their various exploits around Bruny Island and the wider Pacific…history buffs will love it.
Over the road from the Museum is a globe of the world that is meant to celebrate the whales that make their annual migration along this coastline. A whale pod is worked into the interior of the globe. Whatever its artistic merits, our bus driver’s most insightful comment was that if you looked closely, you would notice that New Zealand had fallen off the globe. Our company found this concept hilarious except for the Kiwis on board. The sculpture was erected in 2006 and was placed here as this was the site of four whaling stations whose work in the 1820’s-1830’s nearly drove the whales that travelled past Adventure Bay to extinction.
From the Bligh Museum, we then walked over the road to Two Tree Point at the mouth of Resolution Creek. This a very significant spot in Australian history and so has been listed on the Tasmanian Heritage Register. It was here that Tobias Furneaux (1773) and James Cook (1777) replenished their supplies of fresh water before continuing on their Pacific Ocean voyages. William Bligh also visited here in 1788. One of the amazing aspects of this story is that the artist with Bligh at the time, George Tobin, painted an image of Two Tree Point and the similarity between his water-colour and today’s photos of the site appear to suggest that little has changed at this spot. This would make the two eucalypts on the point aged around 250 years old.
After a good look around Two Tree Point, it was time to begin making away back along Adventure Bay Road to our second last stop for the tour; HIBA Gardens & Bruny Island Chocolate Company. This outlet occupied 25 acres on the edge of Adventure Bay, just before the Neck. The home of the owners was set in a traditional English parkland landscape with beautiful views over to Cape Queen Elizabeth on the end of North Bruny Island.
Our last stop was well back onto North Bruny Island and was the ‘Bruny Island Honey Shop’. This was a great place who not only gave us a small jar of their honey to take away; they also gave us an ice-cream flavoured with their own honey and the child in me was delighted!
APPENDIX 1: Itinerary for our day on Bruny Island.
APPENDIX 2: Another water-colour by Naval Lieutenant George Tobin of Adventure Bay, this time with an image of a dwelling of the original inhabitants.