On page 14 of The Mercury newspaper on 5th February Rex Gardner asked ‘What’s in a name? A fair bit , actually’ about a part of my favourite Tasmanian river.
He talked about the area near the Hobart docks and further out into the harbour and remarked that it ‘really doesn’t have a proper name’.
Rex commented: ‘We call it the River Derwent, or Derwent River. But that name aptly describes the Derwent around New Norfolk, and upriver from there, because a river is a naturally flowing fresh watercourse, flowing towards the sea. Heading downstream towards Bridgewater, the Derwent becomes an estuary, defined as brackish water fed by streams and rivers, and flowing to the sea.’
When Rex added ‘What flows through the city of Hobart is not a river’, I gasped. Over time, my blog has addressed the challenges of defining where the Derwent River starts and stops.
To help you to visualise the location, below is an excerpt from Google maps.
Rex Gardner explained, ‘It could be loosely called an estuary, and more properly a harbour, which is a body of water surrounded by land. The Derwent is 1.4km wide at the Tasman Bridge. From the Hobart docks to Howrah Point is 6km. From Sandy Bay to Tranmere is 5km. The Mississippi and the Amazon rivers don’t boast distances like that, except at their mouths or when they flow through lakes.’ Finally he remarked: ‘You have to wonder how the Derwent has suffered the indignity of being called a river for so long. Just like Mount Wellington got a name change, so too should our Hobart Harbour.’ An alternative fact: our mountain has two official names – Mount Wellington and Kunanyi.
Rex Gardner’s approach adds a new dilemma. To understand some of the legal issues associated with defining a ‘river’ read here, here and here.
The Derwent Estuary Program describes the section of the Derwent between the Iron Pot (at the inner edge of Storm Bay near the eastern shore river mouth) and New Norfolk as the Derwent Estuary rather than the Derwent River and explains it is “a unique environment; a partially enclosed body of water where tidal seawater and fresh river water mix”.
What constitutes our Derwent River – where does it start and stop? What is the location of its mouth? I have become so used to thinking of the Derwent River starting in the Lake St Clair area and ending around the Iron Pot that these ideas have shaken me up; they are making me question my position. Does it matter to you? I wonder what others think.