Friday, January 24, 2014

History Tour

The Windfarm at Woolnorth. NE Tasmania
(The white things in the distance are huge rolls of Hay, not sheep)
I am having a week off for a road trip around Tasmania, an island which according to our Guide on the Arthur River Cruise ( more later ), was originally one big Prison - colonisation of Tasmania began with the establishment of a convict settlement at Port Arthur not long after the first one was established in Sydney, in 1788. Yesterday, overlooking a huge lake in the centre of the island I saw a single grave, a monument to an explorer Pioneer described on his tomb as the "first person" to set eyes on the lake.

Except that there was an Indigenous population here for millennia, ignored by the people who thought they would use the island as "one big prison" and by the Explorer who stupidly believed he was the first "Person" to see the lake.

On the first day of my trip I went to the extreme north western tip of the Island where there is a huge wind farm that I wanted to see. Unfortunately, it can only be visited by Tour groups, and none was running the two days I was in the area, but I drove out there anyway and saw from a distance about 50 of them lined along the cliff tops facing into the roaring 40"s. A notice at the locked gate gave the history of the property they were on, called "Woolnorth", founded in 1829

"Its the kind of place that would defeat most people and yet its here, at Woolnorth Station that one of Australia's oldest companies continues to work the land, turning the grey sands into milk and beef"

The West Coast looking north to the Wind Farm
They make it sound quite magnificent, as all colonial history is meant to sound in Australia, but one clue to another truth is in its name - the property was initially intended to be a sheep station - wool!  It didnt get off to a good start so two things were done to try and keep it afloat - displace the indigenous people from their ancestral homelands, and get rid of the animal that they thought was attacking the sheep, the Tasmanian Tiger.  

What a Beautiful creature 
An extraordinary animal, correctly known as a Thylacine, they disappeared from the mainland of Australia 3000 years ago. They are not a tiger or a wolf but a marsupial, like the kangaroo  the koala and the possum, animals which are almost unique to Australia, and are distinguished by the fact that they give birth to their young at a very early stage of development and then keep them in a pouch, attached to a nipple until they are big enough to live independently. 

But in spite of these measures the business venture was a failure and eventually Woolnorth gave up on sheep. 

And the Tigers?  A bounty was paid for their hides, and inevitably they were hunted to extinction, the last lonely one dying in the Hobart Zoo in 1936. Click here  to see a sad You Tube video of the only known film of a live one. 

And the indigenous people? They were all "deported" to an offshore island (Flinders) and most died of European diseases there.

What a horrible but all too typical story of how indigenous culture and the environment so often are ruined by Capitalist Exploitation. And in a few days its Australia Day, also called Invasion Day by Indigenous activists, but they will get little if any coverage of their feelings about the arrival of Captain Cook in 1770 and of Captain Arthur Phillip and the First Fleet of Convicts on 26th January 1788. Instead it will be wall to wall Flag waving, boozing and a a day off to celebrate.

No comments:

Post a Comment