Every day we have been “on the road” during our 3 months in Tasmania has been special. But days 3 and 4 of the 5 day trip around the western half of the state was extra special for my wife Helen and her sister from Melbourne, as together we revisited their first home in Australia.
But our first stop was picturesque Stanley, with its famous “Nut”. Geologists recognize “The Nut” as a volcanic plug: it rises steeply from the ocean and a sandy isthmus to 143 m, is flat on top with a diameter of almost 2 km, and almost has to be seen to be believed.
The Nut was discovered and mapped in 1798 by the explorers Bass and Flinders: they named “The Nut” “Circular Head” and the settlement became the port for a fertile farming region. The charming and tidy town of Stanley nestles at “The Nut’s” foot and includes many homes and other structures dating from the 1830s and ‘40s. The most visited of these is the birthplace of Joseph Lyons, the only Prime Minister to come from Tasmania and probably Australia’s most loved and respected.
From Stanley we drove 30 km inland to Mawbanna, a small farming community whose main claim to fame seems to be that the last thylacine or “Tasmanian tiger” was shot here in 1930 for encroaching on farmland. The fabled wolf-size thylacine was the world’s largest carnivorous marsupial, and became extinct when the last animal died in a small Hobart zoo 1936.
For our family, Mawbanna is significant because my father-in-law and his 18 year old son found their first employment in Australia there in 1951, building sheds and other farm structures for what was then a soldier settlement. On their arrival in early 1951, father and son had first built a home for the family at Sulphur Creek, about 70 km to the east, and then spent some weeks working around Mawbanna. The family arrived a year later and had a custom-built home waiting for them.
This home in Sulphur Creek was the next stop on our pilgrimage. Several Dutch settlers bought land from a local resident and built or bought homes along the Bass Highway east of the small town. All the homes are located along what was then the only asphalted road, and today many of the 1950s building blocks have two homes on them. The houses the migrants built look small and dated, but they and the generous land allotments were no doubt a big improvement on what the Netherlands could then (and still can) offer most of its citizens.
Helen was an 8 year old and has many memories: how her father built terraces up the hill behind the house and started a vegetable garden, the narrow gauge (3’6”) railway line and beach across the highway, the big cypress trees in which she and her friends played, the local school, the Sunday trips several km to the larger town of Penguin on the back of a small truck: Penguin was where the Dutch people started Australia’s first Reformed Church in December 1951.
By the mid-1950s, several of the families (including my in-laws) had moved to Hobart where there was more work and everyone could benefit from better facilities.