Bert Spinks


Bert Spinks is a writer, poet, storyteller and bushwalking guide from Launceston, Tasmania. He finds stories in all sorts of places. He is chasing local lore through his "Field Guide to Falling in Love in Tasmania", and has roamed the world looking for good beer to spin yarns about. He writes short fiction, has performed poetry everywhere from Latvia to Los Angeles, and contributes to a blog about the great sport of Aussie Rules football. In 2014, he was the first recipient of the Woods Conservation Fellowship in Santa Cruz County, California, and spent a month on a flower farm learning about the ecological history of the region. See his work at www.storytellerspinks.com.


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The Plague of Blackberries

Settling new country was seen as a heroic act by the early Europeans in Australia, and there were few more heroic in that mould than James Fenton of the Forth. He was brought out on the Othello by his father, James Fenton snr., who was following his cousin Michael to Van Diemen’s Land.

The “Fighting Fentons” (as they charmingly called themselves) were Protestants from Ireland, their family of French ancestry. Michael had served in India and Burma before coming to Van Diemen’s Land in 1828, and reported very favourably of it. They left Liverpool in 1833; James snr. died at sea. James jnr. and his mother and brothers arrived in Hobart Town in February 1834.

Soon after, the eldest sister had married and taken up land on the north coast, west of the Tamar. Visiting, James took great interest in the country further west, which was still covered in heavy timber, an intricate ecosystem of wet sclerophyll. Anywhere with slightly less forest had been taken by the Van Diemen’s Land Company. Yet in 1840, James Fenton delved into the depths of this country, and bought a thousand cheap acres from the government on the Forth River. He was the only settler in the district; the nearest civilisation was about eighty kilometres away.

Fenton’s technique of land management was unique and innovative. In 1846, now in his mid-twenties, he married Helena Mary Monds, the sister of successful settler capitalist Thomas Monds. (Fenton and Monds would go into business in the 1850s, exporting palings to Victoria for accommodation on the burgeoning goldfields.) They were exposed to threats: for example, when the felonious personalities Dalton and Kelly appeared off the beach near the mouth of the Forth.

Gradually, other settlers entered the region. Fenton had helped and housed explorers such as Nathaniel Lipscombe Kentish as they tried to push back the unknown parts of the region. In the 1850s, settlements pushed further west than Fenton had, adopting his system of ring-barking old growth trees and burning the undergrowth. Fenton’s techniques became the model for the new pioneer community living on the north-west coast.

Removing the forests had revealed surprisingly rich, ruby-coloured basaltic soil, ideal for farming. Berry bushes and fruit trees were planted; Fenton later confessed to have introduced blackberries to that part of Tasmania. “I trust the gentle reader will not throw up the book when he discovers that the writer…was one of the miscreants who inflicted the blackberry plague on the district,” he worries in his Bush Life in Tasmania, which today remains a wonderful read on the European settlement of the Forth country.

Of course, we know that Fenton’s career in Forth country wrought irrevocable changes. He notes in his pioneering memoir that although a previous explorer had frequently seen emus, he never saw a single one. Henry Hellyer had been able to ‘rout’ emus, Fenton reflects, almost constantly. “It is a very singular fact that those emus have all disappeared from some unknown cause.” It seems almost wilful naiveté to us.

Fenton briefly left the Forth to try his hand at the Victorian goldfields in 1852, but returned quickly, and didn’t leave again until 1879, deeming himself too old for farming. He retired with his wife to Launceston and began to write. A drawing of James Fenton in this time of retirement – in his late sixties – shows him with thick features, kind eyes, and a mighty beard.

James Fenton and Helena Mary Monds had three daughter, and one son, Charles Monds, who opened a store at Forth in 1869: a sign of the times, of the development of the region and the growth in settler population there less than three decades after his father had adventurously decided to move there.

The Australian Dictionary of Biography says of James Fenton jnr. (1820-1901) that “the beautiful farm lands carved out of the north-coast forests are his best monument.” Looking out of the patchwork of poppies, potatoes and pyrethrum, the apples and cherries and carrots, all the cows and sheep, one can read the land in a variety of ways. Ultimately, they are the remembered and recorded map of this era of intense change of landscape management on the island.

Meditations on Winter Customs

There are those who hate winter in Tasmania. It is, they say, too cold, or too wet, or too windy, or too dark. It is as bleak as Siberia. It is the most depressing place on Earth.

But there are others who cherish these days when the sky hangs low like a big-bellied whale over the towns, and some days the mountains rise like white-capped waves. It is good, they contend, to see the grass turn bright green, to don the thick woollen socks and down jackets, to feel frost crunch beneath your feet, to smell the spice of woodsmoke in the air and to sit by the fire yourself with a cosy over the teapot.

The change in weather is a chance to cultivate new habits. Some of them are idiosyncratic: one gentleman I know takes to boiling eggs on winter mornings and putting them in his pockets as he walks to his place of vocation so they warm his hands.

Other customs may seem familiar. For instance, one winter when I was short of money, I spent my spare hours scrounging around for good firewood. And on those crisp, starry nights when the weather has cleared but the air is still cold, I would feed sticks and logs into my pot-bellied stove and sit around it with an Irish coffee, sometimes with friends, watching the embers pulsate like melting caramel and tinkling like thin glass cracking in the changing temperature.

And we should not forget that for thousands of years, this is what people have done in Tasmania during the months of June, July and August, these lunar cycles when the night seems to have more strength than day, when it is cold and wet and windy and dark, and Rowra hovers in the silhouettes of the eucalypts just beyond the room of firelight.

Yes, for millennia, Tasmanians have had their rituals, their customs, their diets, their ideas, their politics and their dreams flex and change with the weather.

So as you wipe the hoar off your car window, get a soup going in the slow-cooker, pull out your stripy longjohns, or invite the girl you flirted with all summer over to watch a movie on your laptop beneath a patchy quilt, remember that these details are part of what it is to be a human being in your time and your place. And that though customs have changed dramatically, at times with violence and force, the little behaviours that you share with your contemporaries are significant, full of memory and therefore full of meaning.

Even the boiled egg hand-warmers. (They will end up in an Ethnographic Museum sometime, somewhere.)

Perhaps in these months you will look out your window and see the European trees that have dropped all their leaves, and it will makes you feel something of a sense of loss.

Perhaps you will stand over the Liffey or the Clyde in full flow, and know the trout are spawning, and feel hopeful for what is next, maybe even to the point of impatience.

Perhaps you will see snow on Mount Wellington or Ben Lomond and long to feel the mist clinging to your hair and your shoes fill up with slush.

Whatever it is you do and feel from now until the wattles are in blossom, this is the Tasmanian winter to which you belong.

James Kelly – The Father and Founder of Whaling

In the December 1815, James Kelly set off with four convicts from Hobart to complete a circumnavigation of Van Diemen’s Land.

Born in New South Wales, Kelly was apprenticed as a junior mariner at the age of 12, and had made several voyages out of Sydney by his adolescence. He was employed as a sealer, and then served on a  trading vessel to Fiji. When was 18 and his apprenticeship was over, he sailed to India.

Kelly returned to sealing for a voyage to Macquarie Island in the Campbell Macquarie, which was wrecked; Kelly was rescued, and taken back to New South Wales. Shortly after he was married and became a master mariner, in 1812, commanding the sealing boat Brothers to the Bass Strait. He is said to have been the first white Australian-born master mariner.

His lasting connection to Van Diemen’s Land came through employment by Dr. Thomas Birch, who had him as master of the Henrietta Packet, a schooner which sailed between various colonial ports. Now, Kelly and his family relocated to a house on the Hobart Town Rivulet.

While Kelly’s nautical career continued, his circumnavigation of the island over the summer of 1815-16, in the whaleboat Elizabeth, is well-remembered for its accounts of contact with Aboriginal Tasmanians. The day after they set out, attempting to pull into Recherche Bay, they were met with ‘a tremendous volley of stones and spears’. Kelly’s narrative of the journey, published five years later, offered insights into the life of the first Tasmanians that could only have been witnessed by that small party journeying around the ragged coastline of Van Diemen’s Land in the early years of the young British colony.

Of course, anthropological concerns were not Kelly’s primary motive. His ‘official discovery’ of Port Davey and Macquarie Harbour on the west coast gained his employer a monopoly contract over the trade of the endemic Huon Pine. And Kelly’s own knowledge of sealing and whaling waters increased dramatically as he spent a year around the Vandemonian coast.

James Kelly would be known as the ‘father and founder’ of whaling in Van Diemen’s Land, with his official duties on the Derwent River including pilot and harbourmaster. He also inaugurated the Derwent Whaling Club, and developed agricultural interests on Bruny Island. His ‘Kelly Steps’, built to connect waterfront Salamanca Place with the houses of Battery Point, are a picturesque feature of the Hobart streetscape today.

But Kelly’s fate ended poorly – much like the industry he was involved with, and, for a time, its product. His wife died in 1831, his ship Australian was wrecked in 1834, his eldest son was killed by New Zealand Maori in 1841, and the economic depression of the 1840s left him flat on his back. He died at age 68, suddenly. His funeral was well-attended.

Of course, there is no whaling or sealing industry in Tasmania today, and the numbers of these creatures in Tasmanian waters is thankfully growing. If you look closely, you will see seals – dozens of them – on the rocks of the Friars in this photograph. These are just south of Bruny Island in the Southern Ocean. An easy target for James Kelly and his band of sailors in the 1800s… today that threat is gone.

 

 


 

SUDDEN DEATH OF A VERY OLD COLONIST -21st April 1859 – The Hobart Town Daily Mercury

via http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/3254540

Yesterday morning the city was shocked by a report of the sudden death of Mr. James Kelly, better known as Captain Kelly, who it was stated had dropped down dead in the street, The report was true to some extent, for although he did not instantly die, he expired on the way to the Colonial Hospital.

It appears that about ten o’clock Mr. Kelly, who held the office of wharfinger, left his residence as usual to proceed to the New Wharf, and when near the junction of Liverpool and Argyle-street, he was seen to stagger and then fall ; on proceeding to his assistance it was discovered that he was in a fit, and it was proposed to convey him to the hospital as the nearest place of succour ; before, however, he reached the gate life, as we have stated, was extinct, and in all probability from a fatal attack of apoplexy.

Perhaps no person was more generally known by name at least, both in and out of the colony, than the deceased, who for many years was the principal pilot to this port, and in several of the works descriptive of Van Diemen’s Land in the earlier stages of colonization ” Kelly the Pilot’s good humoured face” is mentioned   as a welcome sight after a long, and in those days, tedious voyage, especially as he invariably brought with him to the ship an acceptable present from his farm at Bruni Island. At one time the deceased was a wealthy man; he was a shipowner, extensively engaged in whaling, and a large portion of the land at Battery Point, now covered by Kelly and other streets, was his sole property ; adversity, however, from which no one is exempt, placed its stern and icy hand on poor Kelly, and like many others his fair possessions passed away to others : latterly he was wharfinger at our port, the duties of which office he fulfilled with general satisfaction.

The great event of Captain Kelly’s life was an excursion round the island in a whale boat, detached descriptions of which, compiled from a rough log, have been published at intervals in the news- papers. During this bold and hazardous trip he discovered the Gordon River,  Port Davey, and other places to the westward, which have retained the names given to them by the adventurous explorer. Poor Kelly used to narrate with great glee some of the rather strange incidents which occurred during the voyage,  especially with the natives, of whom a large number were then in existence in the unsettled parts of the colony.

The deceased has for a long time had engraved upon a stone in St David’s burial ground, marking the spot where his wife is interred, his own name and, as he used to say himself, “all filled up but the   date.” He was a native of N.S.W. and was we believe, nearly 70 years of age; he was about to rent from the crown DeWitt’s Island, for the purpose of establishing a   fishery there, and was also on the point of refitting his old vessel the “Dogo” now lying at Kangaroo Point.

An inquest will be held on the body to ascertain the precise cause of death, altbough it would appear that it was caused by apoplexy; his remains will, no   doubt, be followed to the grave by a large concourse of mourners.  

 

The Arrival of Hops and the Family of Water Willie

It was William Shoobridge II who first brought hops – humulus lupulus, a crop used almost exclusively for adding flavour and aroma to beer – to Australia.

His son, Ebenezer Shoobridge, bought an estate between the Derwent and Styx Rivers in 1863. Bushy Park Estates is still Australia’s largest producer of hops, and is known worldwide for its successful hop production, as well as for unique Tasmanian varietals of the plant.

And although Ebenezer was producing an intoxicant that (it could be said) created negative social effects throughout his native island, he was a godly man. To offer his workers spiritual encouragement, the hop kiln was adorned with sandstone plaques bearing scriptural sayings. ‘Unexpectedly,’ said one employee of the hop farm later, ‘as you looked up from the work of emptying a bag of hop flower catkins ready for drying, your eye would catch a verse placed at eye level…’

One plaque extolled the unity of the Shoobridge family. And it was a family affair.

Ebenezer and his wife Charlotte (nee Giblin) had a task ahead of them to make the six-roomed homestead comfortable for living and raising children.  Some years in, the roof collapsed under the weight of pigeon shit.

But it was a good life for the children. The ‘young ladies’ of Charlotte and Ebenezer’s clan would be the driving force for the annual Farm Tea and Strawberry Feast events. Along with their little cat Twissy, they would prepare and present a seemingly endless feast of sweet cakes, pies and tarts.

And son William Ebenezer Shoobridge, born in 1846, would go on to be one of Tasmania’s most innovative and prolific figures towards the end of that century. Engineering unique irrigation schemes at Bushy Park and other family properties (the water races at Bushy Park today are his designs, are heritage listed), he also invented a technique for pruning  fruit trees, and came up with new designs for the hop kilns. His role in Tasmania’s burgeoning apple industry was equally important to what he was doing with hops. And he became involved in politics, representing in parliament and promoting agricultural policy including the government regular of water supplies.

For this, he became known as ‘Water Willie’.

Perhaps he was inspired by those verses chiselled in sandstone on the beautiful kiln house. The Shoobridges perhaps knew more keenly than anyone the truth of one biblical injunction, which you can still see there today:

‘THE EARTH IS THE LORD’S
AND THE FULLNESS THEREOF…”



Hops are a climbing plant, originally from China, grown extensively for its use in beermaking. The female flowers, which superficially resemble small pine cones, have been added to beer in Western Europe since at least the 700s. It chemically suppresses bacteria that compete with the yeast in the brewing process, and makes for a tangy, fruity flavour to the beer. The first Australian hops were planted in the upper Derwent Valley in Bushy Park, Tasmania by Ebenezer Shoobridge in 1867. This farm produces hops to this day, and is a major contributor to Australia’s one percent of world hops productions. Hops are a member of the cannabis family, Cannabaceae.

– From Plant Hunter at the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens

The First Muslims in Tasmania

 

The first Muslims to come to Tasmania were an Indian seaman named Saib Sultan and his wife, whose name is not known to history. Sultan was shipwrecked in 1795 and ended up on Norfolk Island; in 1807, he transferred to Van Diemen’s Land and was awarded 27 acres of land at New Norfolk. He also ended up with the name Jacob. [Editor’s note – it’s unclear as to the religious affiliations of Sultan’s wife]

Zimran Youram (but one of the many spellings his name went through) was another Indian Muslim who came to Van Diemen’s Land, although through different circumstances. Born in Hyderabad, Zimran went to England for reasons unknown, got in trouble with the law, and was sentenced to transportation in the Third Fleet, arriving on the Atlantic. Like many convicts, though, after acquiring his ticket-of-leave in 1813, Zimran made a radically different life for himself. He acquired 40 acres of land in Norfolk Plains – around what is now Longford – and became a wealthy landowner, most likely growing wheat.

 

But Zimran’s life ended violently and tragically. A conspiracy between convict labourers Patrick McDonough and John Jordan to clean Zimran out ended in what a newspaper journalist described as a “systematically planned and cold blooded murder”. Zimran Youram was believed to be in his 89th year of life when he was killed.

It seems that Zimran ordered some new boots from the 22-year-old Jordan, a shoemaker by trade. Knowing that the old man had a fortune in his house, the thieves tried to drug him, slipping laudanum into his cider. The conspiracy failed. Several further attempts also didn’t come off. Six weeks later, however, on July 6 1848, McDonough belted Zimran Youram with a wrench. They found nearly £50 in total, in various hiding places around the house.

Upwards of 100 people went to the funeral, and Zimran left everything to a child in Norfolk Plains, 12-year-old William Saltmarsh. It is supposed he did not have a family in Van Diemen’s Land.

Muslims from Oman, Iraq, Mauritius and South Africa also came to Australia as convicts. Their names almost always disappear from the records. Perhaps they changed them as they assimilated into Australian society, or maybe they managed to return their homelands.

These days, 900 Muslims are estimated to live in Tasmania – only 0.3% of Australia’s Muslim population.