I am grateful for the extensive comment provided by one blog follower, which puts my last posting into perspective. I recommend you go to the website and read the information. I will be interested to read any comments offered by others.
John Wadsley’s Brighton, Central Highlands, Derwent Valley and Southern Midlands Councils Joint Land Use Planning Initiative – Stage 2 Heritage Management Plan of July 2010 reports: ‘After the initial period of European settlement from 1803, a large influx of free settlers and pastoralists in the 1820s saw a major expansion of European influence and land grants in the central and midlands areas of Tasmania. Settlement along the Derwent, Jordan, Clyde and Ouse rivers forced local Aboriginal bands from traditional hunting grounds and increased tension between settlers and tribal groups. Conflicts flared in a number of areas, with local farmers and vigilantes attacking Aborigines and retaliation by tribal groups attacking road gangs, stockmen and homesteads.
In 1828 Governor Arthur declared martial law against Aborigines after failed attempts to divide Aboriginal lands from the “settled districts” to reduce the number of attacks by tribal groups. By 1830 the number and frequency of attacks by and on had reached such a level that Arthur decided to launch a full scale military operation against the indigenous population in the southern Central Highlands, southern Midlands and south east areas. This became the so-called “Black Line” which was intended to round up Aborigines and move them from the settled districts. By 1831 some hundreds of Aborigines and settlers had been killed over land occupation and dispossession of traditional tribal lands. The Aboriginal population in the Midlands and Central Highlands was by now very small, probably less than 100. Many traditional hunting areas had been cleared of tribal groups allowing further expansion of pastoral activities. The so called “conciliation” process under George Robinson eventually saw the remaining Aboriginals moved off their traditional lands to Flinders Island by 1834, and then to Oyster Cove in 1847.’
I am deeply dispirited. I have some sad news. My impulsive project to walk from the mouth to the source of the Derwent River will be thwarted by greed and other human characteristics of a negative nature. Despite this situation, I am working on a new plan to reach the source of the Derwent River at Lake St Clair Lagoon in a physical and meaningful way and, once I have fleshed out the details, a future post will offer an explanation. Meanwhile, after you read the following, your suggestions will be most welcome.
During stages 1-14, from time to time I recorded how access to the actual river edge was sometimes denied me because properties were fenced and gated. I bemoaned the fact that across Tasmania, in many instances the law provides that property owners own land and water to half way across rivers. While a ‘grace and favour access’ or by ‘a permission granted approval’ process exists in some places, much of our river edges cannot be walked freely. Yet in so many European countries ‘right of way’ paths and walking trails across the land have been taken for granted for centuries so there is much more freedom to simply enjoy being outdoors. Non-indigenous settlement is too recent in Tasmania so a criss-cross of ‘ancient’ walking paths has not been established, and the pathways of the inhabitants prior to settlement, the aborigines, either have been obliterated or knowledge of their location is not easily available to the non-indigenous population.
Photo of the Derwent River taken through a house block on the western edge of the town of New Norfolk.
The damage is done and to repeal laws and ‘take away’ land from owners would be political suicide, and cries of unfairness and for expensive compensation would abound. I can imagine the legislation arose partly from consideration of the practicality as to who or which organisation would maintain the thousands of kilometres of river edges across Tasmania and keep them clear from bracken, blackberry brambles and exotic weeds.
Can you spot the River through these profusely growing weeds?
While walking for leisure purposes has a history in Tasmania since the beginning of European settlement, our early legislators did not have a crystal ball to see that the 21st century is one in which many people want a healthy lifestyle that involves exploring and accessing our natural environment without barriers.
Unfortunately, a damaging minority of people are greedy, thoughtless, and cannot be trusted to meet their promises. The consequence is what I found during Stage 15 and what I can foresee for Stage 16. I soon realised that almost no free/public access to the River exists between New Norfolk and Gretna, and it seems this will also be true for any future inland push along the River.
After leaving New Norfolk on the westward proceeding Glenora Road on the southern/western side of the Derwent River, I soon registered paddocks and more paddocks had been recently re-fenced with fresh spiky barbed-wire.
Note second fence line inside and parallel to the barbed wire fence line.
This year, the Australian Federal Government budget made a concession for small business owners and granted an immediate full tax deduction for expenses up to $20,000. My conclusion was that farmers in the Derwent Valley grabbed this opportunity and used it to protect the limits of their properties.
As a child my father showed me how to pass through barbed wire fences. The process is best with two people but one can do it. You put your shoed foot on a lower strand of wire to hold it down, then pull the next one up and slip through the enlarged space hoping not to be spiked by the barbs. But today’s farmers in the Derwent Valley know this trick. Since they don’t want people on their land, the wires are now extremely taut and the spacing between many lines of wire is only about 10-15cm. If an adult expects to pass through the barbed wire fences of Derwent Valley farmers then Dad’s technique cannot work.
Barbed wire fences were not my only barrier to accessing the Derwent River. Gates presented insurmountable challenges. Almost all gates that I arrived at were padlocked. That hasn’t always stopped people accessing a property because the use of strong square wires or other metals in gate construction usually helps you with a footing to lift up and over the top. Not so with many Derwent Valley farmers’ gates. The new gates either are ringed in barbed wire or are wrought iron with high straight verticals which provide no place for feet. For me these were unclimbable.
Very occasionally I came across older fencing that had minimal or no barbed wire and seemed very climbable. But alas. These fences had an additional strand attached; an electrified line. Intended to keep the cattle in and from trampling fence lines, these electric fences were an absolute barrier for walkers like me.
In places, farmers had cleverly left overgrown tangles of thorny blackberry canes that extended down paddocks and into the river, as an impossible barrier near their fence lines.
I came across signs such as ‘Private Property’ and on one occasion the sign warned that ‘Trespassers would be prosecuted’.
Even access was limited to the very open Sports Ground at Bushy Park, one which contains almost no infrastructure. This Sports Ground edges the Styx River as it flows into the Derwent River.
The sign pictured below was particularly annoying because it was suggesting that permission might be given if a request was made. However, I couldn’t get access to ask for permission to walk across the land. Once on the spot, there was no way to discover who the landowner was and then to somehow connect with them using technology.
On a particularly wonderful luscious green hill that wound around the Derwent heading for Gretna, one where walking close to the river would have been a great pleasure, the sign ‘Trespassers will be shot’ was a strong deterrent.
During my walk I had decided that perhaps anglers had not respected the limited access they were given to the River at key points, via styles over fences. I mused that perhaps fishermen had strayed further than permitted, wrecked fences and generally not left the land as they found it.
Blog follower Jo told me a story of how a few men had prearranged with a landowner to come and fish in his dam. After their weekend of fishing they emailed the landowner with thanks for the opportunity to take home 50kgs of fish. Needless to say, this greed was rewarded by the owner telling the fishing party never again to ask for permission to enter his land.
Later at the Gretna Green Hotel where I waited for the bus back to Hobart after completing the Stage 15 walk, I talked with a local about the reason for the impenetrable barriers to properties. Apparently wood lifting, and cattle and sheep rustling used to be rife in the Derwent Valley until farmers closed their borders. Not only would people drive onto properties to chop down trees and collect sufficient fire wood for their own personal needs, they would bring trucks in and take loads away to sell. All without the permission of the land owner. Similarly, whole cows and sheep would disappear in their droves overnight. Regularly. Modern day farmers’ costs are high, their income comparatively low for the hard work they put in, and so they were unprepared to subsidise the living of others. Their fences and gates have become good barriers – not perfect, because occasionally some unscrupulous wanderers bring bolt and fence cutters. Nevertheless, as a walker with no intent to leave my mark on the land, I cannot proceed.
In my last steps walking into Gretna, I passed the two paddocks through which I envisaged Stage 16 would start. But both had impassable fences and gates with padlocks. For the next stage, which was expected to cover the area from Gretna to Hamilton via the river, there are at least 4 property owners and who knows how many padlocked gates, bramble congested river edges, barbed wire and electric fences. It is not realistic to ask owners to come and unlock the padlocks and then relock them after I pass through.
While it is true, and you will read details in future posts, that I did access the river from time to time during Stage 15 and experienced some wonderful locations, for most of the walk I was deeply depressed about the limitations under which my project is being placed. I am pleased that writing this post has helped purge some of that anger and frustration. Now that the situation has been recorded, I feel much more ready to be positive again and determine a new way to reach my goal. The goal remains the same, but the process must be modified.
This question has been asked because I am not concerned with researching European settlement or its impact on Tasmania’s indigenous population.
It seems that three categories of information sources might be used for my study:
- the written/printed word,
- material anthropology, and
- oral histories. Such histories might exist in association with the continuance of authentic movements such as dance and sound making.
As stated in an earlier post, the original settlers in Van Diemen’s Land, the descendants of non-indigenous peoples, and other non-indigenous people have left historical written/printed documentation. In addition, exploring visitors to this island before European settlement made written records. Each of these writers will have their own perspective, and so my challenge will be to remember what they write is not necessarily a fact. This means I will need supporting and corroborating evidence of other kinds; material artefacts and/or oral histories. I do not expect to find any early 19th century documentation written by Tasmanian aborigines – but I would be very excited to read such records if I should find them.
James Joyce, in his essay “Fantasy Island” (Manne, 2003, Whitewash Black Inc. Agenda, Melbourne) refuted the evidence of Keith Windshuttle’s book (2002, Fabrication of Aboriginal History: Volume One, Van Diemen’s Land 1803-1847 Macleay Press, Sydney) when he declared ‘Windshuttle can impose his contemporary conclusions on Van Diemen’s Land history only by limiting the selection of sources …’. Joyce’s position reminds me to stay focused and to explore broadly.
At the moment, I have started working through a mountain of freely available reference material seeking clues as to what I might need to follow up with careful research. As yet, I have found very little that pertains to the Derwent River. These are early days during which I will come to an understanding of the limitations and challenges of my project.
1804 was a memorable year for Van Diemen’s Land (later to be renamed Tasmania). Historical records show that in May 1804 a significant and deadly clash occurred between the European new settlers and the peoples of the local Moomairremener aboriginal tribes.
I have been trying to picture the circumstances which might have caused fighting to break out.
Starting with the European settlers
From January 1804 onwards, Bowen sailed to Sydney from Risdon Cove and back again before making a final departure from Van Diemen’s Land in August. It is not clear how many people remained at Risdon Cove while he was away. During the months from February to May, the two officers were confused in relation to who was in charge. It wasn’t until 8 May 1804 that Bowen officially handed control over to Collins.
Another problem is that personality conflicts existed between Bowen’s free settlers, and that there were difficulties working with the few members of the military which accompanied this initial settlement. The contributing factors to the uneasiness between people are easy enough to guess: an environment that is physically unusual and unknown to the new settlers, unpredictable weather conditions, inadequate food and water, no services or shelter buildings available and everything needing to be built, the hard labour required to eat and live each day, the fact that half the number were convicts and not free to do as they please, the fact the other half had to manage and feed those convicts. In a small community of 49 people, should one person not like another, there would be no escape, and it is easy to imagine in these harsh pioneering days irritability could burst. Even minor civic scuffles would be unsettling for such a community.
In relation to the Moomairremener indigenous peoples
Their land entitlements and living practices had been established for thousands of years. Therefore, the incursion of the European strangers would have started as a puzzling surprise and then proceeded to become a despairing resentment as their land was taken over and their food sources mismanaged. The food stores brought by Bowen’s and Collins’ ships were often unusable leading the new settlers to kill kangaroo and other game for survival. Their means for obtaining such additional food supplies included using firearms. Not only were these weapons unfamiliar to the Moomairremener peoples, they were stronger and more efficiently deadly than the weapons which the aboriginal tribes owned. Without a common language nor shared cultural beliefs, the failure of the aboriginal and Europeans to communicate clearly with each other, set a path towards localised warfare.
According to Wikipedia, on the 3rd May 1804 “a large group of Aborigines blundered into the British settlement. The soldiers mistakenly thought they were under attack and killed some of the intruders. About 300 aboriginals, men, women and children who had banded together, approached the Risdon Cove settlement whilst occupied on a kangaroo hunt during a seasonal migration. The Aborigines had arrived at the settlement and some were justifiably upset by the presence of the colonists. There had been no widespread aggression, but if their displeasure spread and escalated, Lieutenant Moore, the commanding officer at the time, and his dozen or so soldiers, could not be expected to be able to protect the settlement from a mob of such size. The soldiers were therefore ordered to fire a carronade (a small cannon used for firing salutes at the settlement) in an attempt to disperse the aboriginals; it is not known if this was a blank round, although some allege grape shot was used to explain an alleged but uncorroborated high figure of deaths.
In addition, two soldiers fired muskets in protection of a Risdon Cove settler being beaten on his farm by aboriginals carrying waddies (clubs). These soldiers killed one aboriginal outright, and mortally wounded another, who was later found dead in a valley. Lieutenant Moore’s account lists three killed and some wounded. It is therefore known that in the conflict, some aboriginals were killed, and that the colonists ‘had reason to suppose more were wounded, as one was seen to be taken away bleeding’. ‘There were a great many of the Natives slaughtered and wounded’ according to the Edward White, an Irish convict who later spoke before a committee of inquiry nearly 30 years later in 1830, but could not give exact figures. White alleged to have been an eyewitness, although he was working in a creek bed where the escarpment prevented him from viewing events, claiming to be the first to see the approaching aboriginals, and also said that ‘the natives did not threaten me; I was not afraid of them; (they) did not attack the soldiers; they would not have molested them; they had no spears with them; only waddies’, though that they had no spears with them is questionable, and his claims need to be assessed with caution. His contemporaries had believed the approach to be a potential attack by a group of aboriginals that greatly outnumbered the colonists in the area, and spoke of ‘an attack the natives made’, their ‘hostile appearance’, and ‘that their design was to attack us’.” Neither Bowen or Collins were present at the time of this attack.
Ahhh. The sadness caused by misunderstandings, ignorance, fear and lack of leadership!
Another informative site is http://members.iinet.net.au/~rwatson1/bowen/risdon_cove.htm which includes 20th and 21st century history of Risdon Cove.