Hobart Accommodation

History

For around 30,000 years Tasmania hosted an indigenous population, the Palawa, which, although numbering only around 10,000, was nevertheless well-tuned in to the environment. Several groups of culturally, linguistically and physically distinct, albeit socially connected, people lived in clearly defined territories. Nothing much is known of their prehistory, but it is reasonable to suppose that the Palawa were a well-resourced and happy people until their dispossession by Europeans. Sadder even than that of their distant relatives on the mainland, their relationship with white settlers was characterised by violence and brutality, extreme even for the times.

Although the Dutch, notably Abel Tasman after whom the island was eventually named (he called it Van Diemen's Land), and the French (Marion du Fresne and Bruny d'Entrecasteaux) made 'discoveries' that brought the island into European consciousness, it was the voyages of the British – Tobias Furneaux, James Cook, William Bligh, John Hayes, George Bass and Matthew Flinders – that led to the establishment of settlements and the claiming of the land for the British crown.

Tasmania's history since 1803, when the British established a settlement at Risdon Cove, is inextricably linked with the cruel penal system of British justice which prevailed in the early nineteenth century, and with the quest for colonial lands that characterised European exploration of the time. Convicted felons were brought to Van Diemen's Land and set to work building with the local sandstone, much of which survives today. Port Arthur is the most famous of the convict settlements and today there is an excellent visitor centre to guide you around the well-preserved ruins. Sarah Island and Maria Island also have interesting ruins.

Very few convicts managed to escape, and even if they did, they mostly fell victim to the wild and inhospitable land. One or two survived and became outlaws, known in Australia as bushrangers, most notably Martin Cash. However, many amongst the well-behaved were pardoned or, having been assigned to free settlers as workers, achieved freedom through knowing the right people. Many of the historic figures of Hobart were in fact ex-convicts, and the colony benefited greatly from their skills and expertise.

The discovery of gold, coincidental with the abolition of convict transportation in the 1850s, increased the population and joined whaling and sheep farming as an established, if short-lived, industry. Towards the end of the nineteenth century apples and forestry were added to mineral exploration and the export industry multiplied.

Since World War II industries reliant on cheap energy and/or plentiful water, such as paper-milling and aluminium smelting, have set up shop and prospered. Tasmania's high rainfall and steep terrain has lent itself to the establishment of numerous hydro-electric power stations which have sustained to some extent the state's economy. However, they have not come without a high price, and the flooding of valleys and destruction of rivers by the HEC (hydro-Electric Commission) has caused governments to fall.

Even during the dark times of cruelty and environmental destruction, Tasmania's beauty was remarked upon by overseas visitors, notably Mark Twain, who described it as “a sort of bringing of heaven and hell together”.

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