If we remove the Bass Strait waters from the picture, Tasmania is actually part of the Eastern Australian Highlands, for back in the days of Gondwana we are believed to have been part of one great southern landmass, until separation from mainland Australia occurred about 10,000 years ago, when the sea level rose with the ending of the Ice Age, flooding the Bassian Plains between Tasmania and Victoria.
Existing over 180 million years ago, Gondwanaland included most of the landmasses in today’s Southern Hemisphere, including the Antarctica, South America, Africa, Madagascar and the Australian continent. Also included were the Arabian Peninsula and the Indian subcontinent, which moved entirely into the Northern Hemisphere.
The Diverse Island of Tasmania
We are the 26th largest island in the world, and we lie 240 kilometres south of mainland Australia. Our population is around 510,000 people, of which almost half this number live in the Hobart and surrounding regions. The land area of Tasmania today is 62,409 square kilometres, though including all our offshore islands this figure grows to 68,401 square kilometres, our state includes 334 surrounding islands! There is no point in Tasmania where you will be more than 115 kilometres from the sea. Tasmania is 364 kilometres long from its northernmost point to its southernmost point, and 306 kilometres from west to east.
Taswegians, Separated by Bass Strait
Today, we are an island state of Australia, separated by the Bass Strait, named after George Bass after he and Matthew Flinders passed through the strait whilst circumnavigating Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania) in the ship, The Norfolk in 1798-1799. Though many Tasmanians will tell you we are a race of our own, Taswegians! Like much of our surrounding waters, the Bass Strait has been known to be notoriously rough. The waters surrounding Tasmania hold many graves for shipwrecks lost during the 17th to 19th Centuries, early exploration and settlement days, in these treacherous waters.
Mountains, Lakes and Rivers
A very mountainous island, with vast stretches of lowland plains between, our highest mountain is Mt Ossa at 1617 metres, located in the Central Plateau, where substantially the greater part of the plateau regions lies above 900 metres. Tasmania is home to 27 mountains which exceed 1,220 metres in height. There are over 4,500 lakes and tarns in Tasmania, many man made, or enlarged through damming our rivers to create water catchments for our Hydro Electricity supply.
Due to our rugged mountainous terrain and high levels of rainfall, Tasmania holds a very large network of rivers, the South Esk River being our longest at 201 kilometres in length. Almost all the major rivers begin in the Central highlands and flow to the coast. The Derwent River flows southeast and flows to the coast at Hobart, the Esk and Tamar Rivers flow north to Launceston and the Mersey River flows to Devonport. The famous Franklin and Gordon rivers flow west to the coast at Strahan. The Franklin River is our only major river still undammed along its entire length.
Climate and Forests
Our climate is very different to that of mainland Australia, mainly due to our latitude and exposure to the Southern Ocean. Generally wetter and cooler, it was these conditions which attracted the 19th Century settlers from England, who found our climate very similar to that of their homeland. The majority of the time our weather tends to come from the west, south westerly in Winter we tend to get a steady stream of cold fronts from the Southern Oceans, north westerly in Summer the tendency is to high pressure systems moving south from Central Australia. The highest levels of rainfall occur in the Central Plateau region, home to Cradle Mountain–Lake St. Clair National Park, the mountainous West, Southwest and mountainous regions in the North East of the state. The high levels of rainfall promotes the growth of the extensive cool temperate rainforests Tasmania is famous for, such as the beautiful wilderness areas of The Tarkine in the West, Mt Field National Park in the Southwest and the Weldborough Pass region in the North East. The more southern midlands and the east of the state is much drier, and often prone to severe drought.
First Tasmanian People
Tasmania was first inhabited by an indigenous people, the Tasmanian Aborigines. Evidence shows this race of people were present in this region at least 35,000 years ago. When Tasmania became separated from the mainland, these indigenous people became isolated and a society developed with their own unique cultural practices, beliefs and traditions. The aborigines were a mainly nomadic people and followed the seasonal changes for food supply, mainly being shellfish, seabirds, wallaby and a vast variety of edible native plants. European explorers began visiting this land during the 17th and 18th centuries, then the British settled in the south of the island in 1803. Sadly, this also began the history of a destructive interaction between the Aboriginal people and the European settlers. In 1803 the aboriginal people of Tasmania consisted of nine major ethnic groups and the indigenous population was estimated to be between 5,000 and 10,000 people.
European contact brought with it infectious diseases to which these people had no immunity, and through this, war, persecution and inter-marriage (marriage of the indigenous people to European settlers), the population declined to just 300 aborigines by 1833. By 1835 the remaining population of Tasmanian Aborigines through both force and persuasion, had been moved to a new settlement on Flinders Island, called Wybalenna. Sadly, this was to be the cause of the demise of this race of people. A woman named Truganini (1812–76) is still today generally recognised as the last Tasmanian Aborigine, but today it is known that the last survivor was another woman, Fanny Cochrane Smith, who was born at Wybalenna and died in 1905, the last full-blooded Tasmanian aborigine.
All photos strictly ©Carol Haberle, H&H Photography. You can follow Carol on Facebook at Haberle Photo Cards. Carol writes feature articles for this website about all things Tasmanian. If you’d like Carol to visit you, please contact Think Tasmania.