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Take a walk on the historical side, in an area of Tasmania that’s also a gourmet food and ecological haven. Alison Elliott goes exploring

u Inside History | Nov-Dec 2011 |


Isthmus. We got a taste of the wildlife treats to aria Island is one of Australia’s most unusual follow as dolphins followed us much of the way, and beautiful wilderness areas. Just off the east playing in the wake of our boat. coast of Tasmania, this national park with heritage The isthmus is about 3km long and joins the credentials is also a destination for gourmet, island’s two parts. Mount Maria, the highest point ecological walking tours. It’s tiny and mountainous on the island, is some 700m above sea level. with a wealth of attractions for the historian — and Our four-day walk tracked from the isthmus to without resorts, restaurants, shops and traffic. historic Darlington at the northern tip of the island. Maria’s Isle, as it was known in the early 19th The first day we walked an easy 8km, ending at century, was named by Dutch explorer Abel Tasman after Anthony van Diemen’s wife, Maria van Diemen. the Casuarina Beach Camp, where dinner included delicacies such as risotto and local scallops, Tassie Tasmanians pronounce Maria as Mar-i-a rather than wines, local cheeses and other goodies. We slept the Italian Mar-ee-a. The island has a rugged in heavenly beds as light rain coastline, pristine beaches, pattered on the canvas roofs sparkling waters, a range of “Maria Island was of our safari tents. animals and birds — and a dark, There is no sense of roughing it yet well-intentioned history. named by Dutch with The Maria Island Walk. The You can visit the island explorer Abel Tasman tents are small wood and canvas independently travelling by ferry, after Anthony van cabins nestled in secluded bush or join one of the hosted walking tours, as a friend and I did. Diemen’s wife, Maria.” settings. The simple mess area has the charm of a bush campsite with We treated ourselves to the the facilities to produce gourmet luxury of The Maria Island Walk fare. And the eco credentials of The Maria Island for a wonderful hiking and eating experience — Walk meant we left nothing but footprints. spectacular scenery, exquisite local food and wines, and luxury “tent” accommodation. All this was a far cry from the desperate conditions of the convicts breathtaking beaches interned on the island in the early and mid 19th The second day we covered 13km with some long century and the less desperate, but harsh conditions stretches of beach walking. The water was sparkling, of the workers and farmers during the ill-fated the rain had cleared and the wildlife was out in industrial and agricultural ventures of the late force. We saw it all — fat wombats, cute Tasmanian 19th and early 20th century. pademelons (a small wallaby-like creature), sleek eastern grey kangaroos, red-necked wallabies, and flocks of birds. An optional detour down a steep the first steps rocky path to the old whaling station revealed several Our walk started with a 16km boat trip across the tiny penguins nesting among the boulders. Mercury Passage from Triabunna to McRae’s



Photography Darren Dickson, James Emms, George Apostolidis, Southern Cross Television and Tourism Tasmania


From chatting to rangers from the Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service we learned that some Tasmanian Devils unaffected by the devil facial tumour were transferred to the island in 2005. They are protected by the rangers and confined to secure areas out of sight. The second night’s stop at White Gums Camp was more of the same impeccable service — candlelight, good conversation, and the best of Tasmanian produce.

Into the heart of history The third day was probably the most interesting as we made our way to historic Darlington. Here, the main attraction is the early convict heritage and later industrial ventures. In July 2010, the Darlington Probation Station became one of the 11 Australian convict sites added to the UNESCO World Heritage List. Described as “rare and significant”, it is “Australia’s most intact example of a convict probation station”. Maria Island was first visited by French explorer Nicolas Baudin in 1802 and later by seal hunters and whalers who reported encounters with local Aboriginal land owners and mainland visitors. The island’s Point Maugé is named after René Maugé, Baudin’s zoologist who died and was buried on the island. Maria Island’s first convict era lasted from 1825 to 1832. Darlington’s convict station was built because of increasing pressures on other penal settlements. Later, the Darlington Probation Station was built to accommodate the new probation system. The Darlington precinct covers some 361 hectares and has remained relatively unchanged since the convict era. Much of its convict period landscape settings have been retained, including views and vistas, topography, plants and built elements, all of which combine to provide a physical chronicle of its eventful and dramatic past. The buildings are mostly old colonial Georgian-style — simple, white and functional. According to the Australian Heritage Database

(AHD), the probation system was designed as a staged path to rehabilitation. It provided both punishment and opportunities for “reform and betterment” using “classification, segregation, education, religious instruction and stages of punishment to reform and manage convicts.” Established under the auspices of Governor Sir John Franklin in 1825, it replaced the assignment system of convict discipline which had been condemned by a British parliamentary committee enquiry because of its cruelty and futility. The probation system was unique to Van Diemen’s Land and Norfolk Island. The Darlington precinct was originally one of 78 probation stations before transportation to Van Diemen’s Land ended in 1853. The AHD states that the probation system had “three stages.. at least two years at a probation station away from free settlers including a systematic course of moral and religious instruction; two to four years on public works receiving wages and allowances; then two to four years working as a free person but required to report to stations and work in government services between employment... A ticket of leave, conditional or absolute pardon could follow... Each convict, regardless of sentence, had 

Page 59 The Commissariat Store houses the visitor centre and is the island’s oldest building, dating back to 1825 This page Finish a day of walking with a swim in one of Maria Island’s crystal-clear beaches Above The Darlington Probation Station, a precinct that was added to the World Heritage List in 2010

Inside History | Nov-Dec 2011 |


to go through each stage and could be reverted a stage for bad behaviour. “Gangs of men were divided into classes from best behaved to chain gang and crime class. The classes were separated for labour and had separate sleeping quarters. All convicts participated in prayers twice daily and divine service twice on Sundays. Convicts were treated according to class, the first class sleeping in out-huts, eating in the mess hall with knives and forks; the middle class slept in large wards and ate in open yards with no tables or seats and only plates and cups; while the lower class slept in separate wards (some on account of ‘unnatural propensities’) where they also ate their meals”. The 13 largely intact buildings that accommodated the probation system give the island its heritage significance. Among the convicts at Darlington was the Irish nationalist leader William Smith O’Brien. He and four colleagues arrived at Maria Island in October 1849. You can see his cottage at Port Arthur where he was interned after he attempted to escape the island on an American whaler. At its peak, there were 492 convicts at Darlington. After the end of the probation system the island was opened for public leasehold and there were various industrial and agricultural ventures. Our third night was spent at the historic and beautifully restored Bernacchi House, where we enjoyed a veritable banquet. The house was the home of Diego Bernacchi, who planned an ambitious industrial venture on Maria Island in the late 1880s. Bernacchi’s venture was similar to the British industrial town models of the mid-19th century. It was a planned “company” town, with residential,

educational, and recreational facilities for workers. The main industries were silk and wine production and a cement factory, using limestone deposits from the nearby Fossil Cliffs. The still intact Bernacchi’s Terraces (1886) and the Coffee Palace (1888) are examples of these facilities. At the turn of the century there were several hundred residents in Darlington, but by 1929 these ventures had failed due mainly to the economic downturn of the Great Depression. From the mid 1930s to the late 1960s the island was dominated by sheep and cattle farming. The Maria Island National Park was proclaimed in 1972 and extended in 1991 to include part of the surrounding sea. Two centuries ago, Maria Island was an area dreaded by those who were sentenced there. For our walking party, it was a place we didn’t want to leave. Four days of fabulous local food, pristine scenery, and fascinating history left us feeling rejuvenated and in love with a little — but important — part of our heritage.  ✻ Professor Alison Elliott teaches at the Faculty of Education and Social Work at The University of Sydney and is editor of Every Child magazine.

MORE The Maria Island Walk operates tours from October to April. The four-day walk costs $2150 per person. For more details on what’s included and to book, visit www. or call 03 6234 2999.

This page A wallaby explores the historical buildings that dot Maria Island



Issue 7: Maria Island Heritage Travel  

Take a walk on the historical side, in an award-winning area of Tasmania that’s also a gourmet food and ecological haven. Alison Elliott goe...

Issue 7: Maria Island Heritage Travel  

Take a walk on the historical side, in an award-winning area of Tasmania that’s also a gourmet food and ecological haven. Alison Elliott goe...