In the previous post I wrote about my valuable training in camping and service in the context of beautiful Tasmania.
The highlight of this, I’m sure for many of those who participated, were the Christian camps for teenagers on Maria Island, 15 km by ferry off the south-east coast of Tasmania.
In the 1960s, “Maria” as we used to call the place, was “Crown land” leased by several graziers, but it had had a colourful history with evidence of aboriginal visits, being named by the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman in 1642 and being used as a convict prison for some years before an Italian entrepreneur tried wine making, silk production and a cement industry. Between 1929 and its proclamation as a national park, the island was part agricultural land and in large part still in its natural state, with day visitors, campers and groups welcomed.
The several mid-1960s weeklong camps in which I and two of the women in my family honed our newly acquired skills (see the previous post) were based in the rundown old hotel. From there we explored local features such as the massive fossil cliffs, town dam, cemetery, and painted caves. We climbed the 700 m (2000’) mountain range and conducted overnight hikes to various parts of the island to map its features and (we hoped) discover forgotten historical relics.
Fifty years later (and after a slow start), the National Park people have done a lot of good work. Coming off the ferry at Darlington (the original and still only community), the 1825 Commissariate Store has been converted to become the “gateway” and interpretive centre. Much work has been done to restore the surviving buildings for use as accommodation, classrooms, and museums. Basic comfort facilities and good signposting have been provided. The island is now a sanctuary for native animals and birds, including wallabies, pademelons, possums, bandicoots, Tasmanian Devils, wombats, emus, parrots and Cape Barron geese. Many of these were very much in evidence.
Sadly, Maria Island has not been receiving the numbers of day and overnight visitors the ferry and national park people would like to welcome.
My parents’ and my family have come to love the place for its beauty, history, romance and memories. Since we moved to Tasmania in 1961 we have visited countless times. It was good to go back to see the developments and major improvements – and the newly settled-in native animal population.