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.
The word ‘wilderness’ has different meanings depending on context. Dictionaries offer a range of similar meanings:
- An uncultivated, uninhabited, and inhospitable region. Neglected or abandoned. A large area of land that has never been developed or used for growing crops because it is difficult to live there. (Oxford)
- An unsettled, uncultivated region, especially a large tract of land that has not been significantly affected by human activities. A barren or desolate area; a wasteland. Something characterised by bewildering vastness, perilousness, or unchecked profusion. (The Free Dictionary)
- A wild, uncultivated region, usually where humans do not live. Any desolate tract or area. (WordReference.com)
- A tract or region uncultivated and uninhabited by human beings. An area essentially undisturbed by human activity together with its naturally developed life community. An empty or pathless area or region. (Mirriam Webster dictionary)
From Old English used in the 13th century, the word ‘wilderness’ is derived from wild dēor ‘wild deer’, wilddēoren ‘wild beasts’, and from wildēornes, ‘land inhabited only by wild animals’. From Middle English, wildern is ‘wild’.
Reflecting on these varying definitions, I realise some of the meanings ring true particularly in relation to the land along the Derwent River between Lake Catagunya and Derwent Bridge (I anticipate this part of the River will take at least 8 days to walk, over three stages).
The sides of the River will be uncultivated and uninhabited. Its dense forest, littered with generations of massive tree falls, will make some sections relatively inhospitable. The only markers of human kind will be parts where old growth logging has or is occurring, and where the infrastructure associated with dam construction across the Derwent River has occurred and is being maintained. The area will not be barren, desolate (although I might feel desolate when penetrating some of the denser bush hour after hour), and it is not neglected, abandoned nor a wasteland. This wilderness will be rich with flourishing flora and fauna, have profound connections with the original indigenous population pre-European settlement of Van Diemen’s Land, hold a social history with the settlers who moved inland in the 1800s and 1900s, and include an occasional contemporary history with photographers, tourists and fishermen.
The United States of America has proclaimed special legislation. ‘The Wilderness Act bans all kinds of motors, roads, and permanent structures from large tracts of American territory. It provides a legal definition of wilderness, as land that’s “untrammelled by man” with a “primeval character and influence”.’ You can read more at this site. What is the Australian situation?
The Wilderness Society of Australia summarises our state-based rather than national legislation in relation to the wilderness. ‘Dedicated wilderness legislation exists in NSW and SA, which allows the nomination, assessment, declaration and management of wilderness. In other States, such as Victoria, Queensland, WA and the ACT, management of wilderness is provided for under general nature conservation legislation, with varying degrees of usefulness in terms of actually ensuring identification and appropriate protection.’
In Tasmania we have a range of legislation including the most recent Tasmanian Forest Agreement Act that was negotiated to include the requirements of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area (TWWHA) – that is, those parts of Tasmania which have been recognised with World Heritage listing for their natural and cultural heritage that is important to the world community. Tasmania’s Nature Conservation Act talks about biological and geological diversity, and historic sites and provides regulation for our fauna (and strangely it also covers animals which do not live in Tasmania such as dingos and wolves) and flora. The word ‘wilderness’ does not appear.
The land on which I will walk has been walked for thousands of years originally by our indigenous ancestors and more recently by their descendants and European settlers. However, there will be parts on my trek which will not have had many footfalls because of the isolation and the forest density. Unless there was a purpose such as surveying the Derwent River as part of planning to build dams, sensible people would travel from Lake St Clair towards the coast via the region around the township of Ouse, or by more hospitable routes. With or without the word ‘wilderness’ being written into our state legislation, much of the inland edges of the Derwent River edge are undoubtedly genuine wilderness.
The early non-indigenous settlers in Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania), almost all of whom were formerly residents of the typically rainswept and cool British Isles or had lived in hot India, documented their thoughts on the weather.
Their descriptions of our weather were usually based on comparisons with the situation from which they had relocated. Generally the impression given is that the weather on this island is temperate, irritatingly variable, and considerably easier to live with compared to that experienced in the settlers’ original homelands. For example, in James Bischoff’s “Sketch of the History of Van Diemen’s Land” written in 1832, there are many references to the climate and its relationship to agriculture and animal husbandry. More generally he says: ‘To one accustomed to the moist climate and plentifully watered countries of England, Scotland, and Ireland, Van Diemen’s Land, at first sight, may present a dry and unproductive appearance; but upon a nearer acquaintance, it will put on a more inviting aspect.’ It was ‘the regularity and salubrity of its climate’ which Bischoff found attractive. The author also claims that ‘A book was published at Calcutta, in 1830, giving an account of Van Diemen’s Land, principally intended for the use of persons residing in India, and shewing the advantages it holds out to them for their residence; the following is extracted from that work: Its climate seems so well adapted to the renovating of the constitution of those who have suffered from their residence in India, that it only requires to be pointed out, and the easiest manner of getting there made known, as also the cheapness and comfort of living, when there, to turn the tide of visitors to the Cape and the Isle of France, towards its shores.’
Godwin’s “Emigrants Guide to Van Diemen’s Land more properly called Tasmania” held in the collection of the State Library of Victoria, written in 1823, offers the following: ‘This island has to boast of perhaps the most salubrious and congenial climate of any in the known world, for our European constitution: It has been ascertained by the thermometer to be similar to that of the south of France; the general temperature being about 60 degrees Fahrenheit, and the extremes from 43 to 80 degrees. The spring commences early in August, the summer in November, the autumn in March, and the winter in May. The winter, therefore, is not of more than three months’ duration, and the severest part only six weeks.’
Ros Haynes writes on a University of Tasmania site in 2006 ‘In most areas there was adequate rainfall, the climate was more conducive to growing the crops they were used to …. The temperature was also considered more invigorating than the heat and humidity that enervated settlers in the other Australian colonies. Van Diemen’s Land was soon marketing itself as the ‘Sanatorium of the South’, famous for its flowers, fruit and healthy inhabitants.’
John Dixon, in his 1839 book (available as an E-book) “The Condition and Capabilities of Van Diemen’s Land, as a Place of Emigration: Being the Practical Experience of Nearly Ten Year’s Residence in the Colony“, explained, ‘Lingering illness is seldom heard of in Van Diemen’s Land: and, in consequence, the deaths always seem to be sudden. These seeming sudden deaths may contribute to praise of the climate: for they may improve its salutary influence, by sustaining the body in health longer there, than in the climate of another country.‘
These days we would describe our climate as being cool temperate with four distinct seasons. However, across the island, our temperature and rainfall ratings vary according to topography, nearness to the coast and time of the year. Despite Tasmania’s capital city Hobart being the Australian capital city located closest to South Pole, it is known as the nation’s driest capital city. By contrast, parts of the west coast of Tasmania expects rain for more than 300 days each year – I lived in Queenstown once and it rained for three weeks straight leaving me feeling very sun deprived.
When you visit Tasmania for the first time, you will find any and everyone will be happy to talk with you about the weather – for many minutes at a time. Such conversations may help you to make new friends. However, please avoid some pitfalls. If you normally live in a super cold climate it may not be appropriate to say our weather is so mild and lovely here, when powder snow tops our mountains in the distance and light drizzle saturates the ground – because we may not think highly of the weather under those circumstances. Similarly if you come from a very hot climate it may not be appropriate to say the weather is so gorgeously moderate here when we have a 35 Celsius degree day, because it is likely we will consider that to be a hot day. I guess we all have our peculiarities.
My last post generated lots of interest so this post should clarify my intentions.
Principally, I plan to gather information about the aboriginals who frequented the area along the Derwent River, from the mouth to the source of the River. My research aims to collect and collate reliable and authentic information about the life of the indigenous communities prior to European settlement in Van Diemen’s Land/Tasmania. In so doing, I hope to be able to understand the value of the River to early indigenous peoples, as well as the way the topography influenced their lives.
This study will not consider –
- interactions with new settlers, convicts or any other non-indigenous person
- the effect of European settlement on the lives and practices of the indigenous community
- the history of mainland indigenous peoples
I suspect I may be challenged to present a ‘before and after 1803’ scenario of the situation for aboriginals. Others have researched and written on this aspect generally although not specifically focused on the Derwent River, and I am seeking a fresh perspective which is not encumbered by conflict with European settlers in early Van Diemen’s Land.
The periods of history about which I want to collect information, are –
- before European settlement
- at the moment of European settlement in 1803
- some years after 1803 to later in the 19th century – this is deliberately loose to allow for non-indigenous people many decades later who have a first-hand experience, to contribute any information they have about any authentic aboriginal practices – but I will only be looking for those indigenous practices which do not seem to have been altered as a result of European settlement.
This quest will occur intermittently because it will compete with the priorities of my other projects and commitments.