Stories of the Tamar Valley
Scratch the surface and you never know what you’ll find…
Tasmania's Tamar Valley is full of colourful characters and places in every corner of our region.
One of the more intriguing stories from our region – considered Australia’s first female pirate – is that of Charlotte Badger. Convicted in 1796 and sentenced to 7 years transportation, there are varying stories on Charlotte’s colourful convict history in Australia, but the best comes from Tasmania and what happened there.
Charlotte incited a mutiny and inspired her fellow mutineers to take control of the ship Venus, anchored in the Tamar River, and sail it to New Zealand to start a new life, free from convict bonds. The ship contained many supplies for the fledgling colony of Yorktown, (the year was 1806), leaving them in the unenviable position of a) no supplies and b) a girl stole their ship! Legend has it that Charlotte, her fellow convicts and the crew had a rollicking time with the ships spirits while the Captain was ashore and when found by the Captain, was entertaining the crew with quote ‘an enthusiastic dance’ – rumour has it, the dance of ‘see what’s above my garter’.
Disguising herself as a man while the Captain was distracted (I wish I had seen the moment when Cap’n see-what’s-above-my-garter noticed ‘she’ was a man and hang on, I’m kinda wondering what was going on with the whole garter dance but dressed as a man thing anyway……) she then flogged the Captain with a pistol, raided a nearby vessel and merrily sailed down the Tasman to New Zealand. On reaching New Zealand Charlotte caught the eye of a Maori Chief in the Bay of Islands area who promptly took her in…….in exchange for the crew……to eat. Perhaps a slight embellishment but one very good account has it the Maoris burned the ship Venus to retrieve the scrap metal, cooking the crew over the fire while it burnt. Even with a modicum of truth bending, it’s a great story.
Debonair bushranger Mathew Brady had the honour of being Tasmania’s only bushranger to be invited in by his victims. Known as the fine mannered robber, Brady stole a basket and made a hamper out of rice, butter, bacon and sugar, not exactly a recipe for a romantic picnic, but enough to see him sail to Tasmania for 7 years. Having the distinction of capturing an entire garrison of redcoats, Brady had a handsome sum attached to his reward for capture – in return Brady posted a reward of 20 gallons of rum if anyone could bring him the Governor; fine mannered, romantic and with a sense of humour. On the run for two years until finally captured, the flowers he received in jail while awaiting his hanging is testament to his popularity; all of the flowers were from female colonists, some even victims of his robberies, which suggests he may have provided something as well as taking something during his housebreaking. Mat also had the best perch in the valley with a 152 metre lookout and cave, at surprise, surprise – Brady’s Lookout – and when things go too hot he removed himself to, wow, so original, Brady’s Tree at Notley Gorge – big enough to house his whole gang, plus his ride.
Australia’s oldest colonial graffiti?
With the rather unfortunate, but probably quite normal name for the time, Adolarius Huxley had a rush of power in 1804. Sailing as a mineralogist with David Collins, Lieutenant Governor to Van Diemens Land, to settle Port Dalrymple, because Melbourne had ran out of water (Melbourne had to wait another 31 years for settlement), Adolarius was charged with obtaining fresh water from the Supply River, an inflowing stream into the Tamar River in Tasmania. Being a public servant and the most senior person in the dingy, he instructed the men (probably convicts) to row to a small set of falls and wander upstream to get fresh water – in the mean time, many hours later and becoming rather bored (the men had obviously decided to have a break from Huxley’s authority and grab coffee and croissants) he spent several hours with a hammer and chisel carving out ‘A H 1804’ into the solid dolerite, no mean feat and it’s still remains today, 210 years later. AH saw a rapid rise in the colony and also had the honour of becoming the first victim of infamous bushranger Michael Howe (famed in The Outlaw – Michael Howe movie 2013), much to the delight of all convicts in the state.
Sad but true – Tamar Island
Two rather sad endings for residents of Tamar Island – one, a farmer who, heartbroken after the death of his wife, never worked again, hitching his plough to a large Oak tree and departed the island. One story has it that the tree took on the spirit of the dead wife, embracing the plough tethered to it and is now in a permanent coupling; the only link to her husband she could tangibly hold. The other a complete opposite – the story of Bruno the Bull.
Bruno was an isolated resident; the only large animal on the island which was cut off by the river on both sides. Local residents feeling sorry for Bruno attempted to free him from his solitary life with mixed results. Apparently Bruno quite liked ‘batching’ and saw off many attempts until a vet tranquilised him and moved him to a nearby farm to see out his days. Another more delicious account was that of the Angus burgers released at a nearby takeaway soon after, but unsubstantiated…..
Tug Boats on the Tamar River
"Shocking Catastrophe!" was the headline of the Launceston Examiner in 1874. Thank goodness the apostrophe, when used in conjunction of the death of 8 people, went out of vogue in 1875. The story of Little Nell was the result of a ‘street race’ gone wrong. Little Nell was puffing along the Tamar River near Dilston when she (all vessels are she) encountered a steam tug, the Tamar, and the race was on. Being a tug boat, the Tamar had a distinct advantage and to give Little Nell the best possible chance, the engineer blocked the steam safety valve to create more steam. Not a wise move by the engineer – the safety valve has a critical role, namely safety, and the result of blocking steam escaping has an effect of a pressure cooker without the relief valve. The subsequent explosion literally shattered the vessel, killing 8 people outright, their bodies ‘’flying high through the air’’ with another three injured. A quite different side to the story was of the large cache of gold on board that had locals searching the water for decades after.
Australia’s longest navigable estuary
Tamar River or Kanamaluka in its indigenous guise carries around a dozen of the state’s major rivers water flow – about 15 000km2 of catchment area, which should keep the garden watered for a while. While Tasmania has a few Australian firsts, you’d be forgiven for thinking it couldn’t possibly have the longest navigable estuary in the country, when the whole state could fit into the car park at Chadstone shopping centre. From sea to city it’s 70km of waterway, then you add another 250kms of river flowing into it from the South Esk (although slightly less navigable with the odd dam or two in the way) Famous for its wetlands, Australia’s third oldest colonial settlement, Melbourne was founded from its banks and more recently home to Rebecca Gibney and that bloody pulp mill thing.
Where the West tamar meets the east
Sounding more impressive when told in old school metrics, the Big A rises 299 feet above the water linking the east and west Tamar at Whirlpool Reach. 676 feet long with footings sunk 59 feet into the clay it’s an awesome sight. It’s had its fair share of drama with one gentleman in the 1970’s requesting assistance to help heave a heavy bag over the edge into the water……. which contained his mother, and a trio of eco warriors locking themselves in the frame to protest the pulp mill in the early 2000’s. More famous for its namesake Bat-Man – yes, he really does live in the big concrete abutment – poor old John Batman, the co-founder of Melbourne, wished he had a sidekick called Robin too. For some awesome images, check the online site of the company contracted to do the cable inspections – scary!
On a gin-clear day it’s possible to see along 125km’s of Tasmania’s north-west coastline from West Head. It’s around an hour from Launceston but feels like you’ve travelled to a remote island, well Tasmania technically……The headland has aboriginal middens and stone tools dating back thousands of years, during the warmer months (yes, there are some) there are dolphins, seals and even the odd whale cruising Bass Strait. Noted locally as the place with a nudist beach, it’s not well known but more a part of Greens Beach rather than West Head – check your maps people. There’s a range of walks and beachy options to explore and it’s rare that you’ll see a Bondi-sized crowd to contend with – if you do, go to another. In recent times, a hermit sheep, Shane, has become an attraction in itself and remains elusive to all but TV companies wishing to syndicate the name before Shaun gets pissed off. With 60 metre sea cliffs and some massive dunes along Badger Beach, it’s worth the drive for the epic sunsets alone.
Como, tamar river
In what is one of the more beautiful locations on the Tamar River – Como has 270 degrees of absolute waterfront, it’s own islet and is at the end of a …..dead end (funny that surrounded by water) Holiday home to Prime Minister, Robert Menzies, and also frequented by the English cricket team in the 1940’s (I’m guessing we were being nice to them during the Bradman era) it has beauty, history and if the walls could talk – scandal. Reputed to be the hideout of Russian defectors, Vladimir and Evdokia Petrov in the 1950’s (ironic given Vlad was employed to spy on Russian spies, suspected of defection) in more recent times – the 1980’s – was rented out to a gang of motorcycle riding types who insisted upon having tattooed nymphs, at best scantily clad, lurching around the gardens while experimenting in hay smoking on most weekends.