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Fredly’s Australia 001: Tasmania by Nicholas Shakespeare or Snorespeare with moments

July 15, 2014

Tasmania by Nicholas Shakespeare is a book that should have been only sixty pages. But the hook Shakespeare uses is to trace his family roots and show the connection between the history and the current issues of the day. There’s worthwhile reading about the islands history, anecdotes about different escape attempts, one that resulted in a prisoner, Alexander Pearce (1790 – 1824) eating several of his inmates, and who was eventually hung (recounted in several books). I found I skimmed through a hundred or so pages dealing with Shakespeare and his family. His sturdy but monotone prose is workmanlike without any flair at all, typical drawing-room British, and his family is uninterested, and I found his personality somewhere between plaid and dark brown (Fred translation: dull).

If you want to enjoy it: skim. You’ll know when! Trust me.

I’ll share what I learned, Tasmania is roughly the size of Ireland a 140 miles across the Bass Strait. In 1642 Able Tasman, a captain in Dutch East India Company, mistook it for mainland Australia. He originally named Van Dieman’s Land. Tasman after Anthony Van Dieman, his boss. Ah, that wonderful British class system! It became known as Tasmania in 1856. Two celebrities from the area: Merle Oberon and Errol Flynn. Charles Darwin liked it, and wanted to return but never did.

In 1804, Tasmania began with 181 people, 64 soldiers, 74 convicts, 14 children, which eventually became hosted 74,000 convictsThe father of Tasmania, Anthony Fen Kemp, a true scoundrel, who became rich importing and selling rum and tobacco, and using convict labor to build his estate and raise sheep, He forced the soldiers under his command to accept rum and taco as payment instead of cash (which he kept) and if they refused, threw them in jail.

As far as aborigines go, when the British first arrived in 1804, they estimate there were 5,000, by 1831. They started pissing the tribes off because they seized the best hunting grounds of wallaby and kangaroo. The result, convict laborers and settlers suddenly staggered back to their homes with spears in their back and their sheep slaughtered by the natives. And since, the natives didn’t have weapons beyond sticks, and the Brits had guns, disease, and syphilis, the aboriginal population that dropped to 400. In 1868 103,00 Europeans and one full-blooded aborigine.

Here’s your basic, prisoners fell timber, build road, houses assigned to settlers, then were eventually given a ticket-of-leave. Some convicts escaped and became outlaws. There were two beliefs with prisoners, one that the flogging and strict punishment would rehabilitate them (this was based on a Brit Knopwood who looked what happened in France with revolution and justified this treatment, which I guess he didn’t realize was the treatment that provoked the revolution)

Port Arthur (1830 to the mid 1870s operation), and MacQuarie Harbor on West Coast. The Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes is a well-written definitive book on the founding of Australia and the lives of convicts, but Shakespeare maintains the treatment wasn’t as brutal as Hughes describes it, citing the parole system Port Arthur created that allowed prisoners who served their sentences to be given freedom and land to build a life. Surprise, Lachlan Macquarie (1762-1824) kindness and hope worked better than discipline. But Port Arthur created the “Silent System” where prisoners were hooded and made to stay silent in a confined space to reflect upon the actions which had brought him there. Instead, they went insane.

The only fun part of the book is when the author participates in killing mutton birds out of holes, which that might have poisonous King snakes in them. Hunters wait until the eggs hatch, then “harvest” the young chicks, which means kill them and squeeze the digestive fluids out of their guts through their open beaks. The fluid is allowed to settle before the “gurry”is removed from the oil. The oil is strained several times until the final product is pure oil.

Muttonbirds are harvested commercially annually throughout the Bass Strait Islands between Tasmania and Victoria and also around New Zealand. The meat is regarded as a treasured seasonal food resource, especially by aboriginal people from those areas. By product – such as Muttonbird oil has and is still today being used as a liniment, for soap products, honing tools, taken orally for various health complaints, and as a health tonic. The oil is $40 per litre.

Who knew? Anyway, I thought that was cool.

Tasmanian facts:


  • Tasmanian Tiger died in captivity in 1937. Supposedly this “thylacine” (yikes another unnecessary British word) is cited bnty people. Kinda like Bigfoot or the Jersey Devil. Actually, I hope it’s still alive.


  • Tasmanian Devils eat 40 percent of body weight 10 kilogram. It is endanger from a facila cancer and is now being bred in protected environments for release later


  • The environmentalist have protected Tasmania’s environment. 39 percent is world heritage. Over140,000 people a year come to see the Franklin river. (Green movement began 1972)


  • The King Holly tree one of the oldest living plants.


  • Truganimi was the last living full-blooded aborigine in Tasmania (1812-1876), who had a horrific and traumatic life.


  • In 1830, The colonists did a “Black Line” where they tried to form a human-chain formation and literally be a net to herd the aborigines into a section of Tasmania. It failed. They caught three killed or two were caught and later released him. The eventually resulted in removal of the natives to Flinders Island and other places where they died off.


Outside of a few pages where there are some anecdotes and description of floggings, but oddly barely mentions the notorious The Port Arthur massacre in April 1996, where one man went on a killing spree that took the lives of 35 people and 23 wounded. I pretty much saved you a lot of time. Shakespeare rarely touched on the For getting excited about Tasmania I turned to Lonely Planet’s Tasmania, which at least got me excited about seeing this wondrous ark of wilderness and cool people, fairy penguins, and black swans.


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