History & Culture

As a visitor you will notice the unique lifestyle of island residents and how strongly their attitudes and values are related to the quality of the natural and cultural setting.

The Furneaux Museum at Emita provides an insight into the early history of the islands and its inhabitants. The Museum has a complex of historic and replica buildings containing information and artefacts from all over the region, including sealing history and World War 2 farming settlement development. Bowmans History Room is also a great place to step back in time as you have a look at the origins of the island’s oldest continuously trading store E M Bowman & Co.

Originally called Great Island, Governor King renamed it Flinders Island in the early 1800’s.

Flinders Island was named after the English sea-captain Matthew Flinders, he charted much of the waters around the islands and named many of the islands, including the small pyramid-shaped Island upon which we see the sun set Mt Chappell Island after his wife Anne Chappell, however he never actually visited Flinders Island.

Flinders Island represents a microcosm of Tasmanian rural social development. The isolation and remoteness has meant that in general the region has lagged behind the rest of Tasmania and the Australian mainland but this lends charm to the island experience.

Wybaleena

ABORIGINAL AND EUROPEAN HISTORY

When the Eastern Bass Strait islands were still a land bridge between mainland Australia and Tasmania the region was a highway for travelling aboriginal groups. With the flooding of the land bridge the Tasmanian aboriginal community was separated from their mainland cousins and they developed their own culture and practices.

The history of Flinders Island begins with the Tasmanian Aboriginal people who were the first residents 35,000 or more years ago. About 4,000 to 9,000 years ago for reasons uncertain the Tasmanian Aboriginals ceased to be full time occupants of the Furneaux group of which Flinders is the largest island.

The next human contact was when Tobias Furneaux discovered the islands in 1773. However, he did not land on any of the islands.
In 1797 the merchant vessel “Sydney Cove”, en route from Calcutta to the fledgling colony at Port Jackson, was beached off Preservation Island (south of Cape Barren Island) this saw the discovery of large quantities of seals and the start of wholesale sealing in the region.
Thus began the first export industry for Australia namely sealskins and oil and the first European settlement, of sealers, south of Sydney at Kent Bay (southern coast of Cape Barren Island).

By 1810 the sealing industry had passed its peak. Some of the sealing fraternity remained on the smallers Furneaux islands and took aboriginal women as their partners and these men became known as the Straitsman.

Meanwhile from 1803 onwards Tasmanian Aboriginals living on mainland Tasmania (Van Diemen’s Land as it was called then) experienced considerable harassment from the white settlers as these Europeans steadily pushed into aboriginal lands. Understandably there was retaliation by the aboriginal people. Later this period was referred to as the Black War.

In 1830, Governor Arthur, with the help of George Augustus Robinson attempted to ensure the survival of the aboriginal people by exiling them to the Furneaux Islands. Eventually by 1833 after first trying Swan Island, then Gun Carriage island (now called Vansittart) and then the Lagoons at the southern end of Flinders, this place of exile was Wybalenna, meaning Blackman’s Houses, on Flinders Island.

This settlement was far from successful. Of the 200 odd aboriginal persons that lived at Wybalenna over 150 died due to exposure to dieases like influenza and pneumonia to which they had no natural defence, to heartbreak and being forced to live an alien lifestyle. They are buried in the Wybalenna cemetery. In 1847 the remaining Aboriginal people were transported back to Tasmania to Oyster Cove where one by one they died.

Evenso the Tasmanian Aboriginal people, many with Straitsman ancestors, live on and much of their culture survives. Over 16% of the population of Flinders is Tasmanian Aboriginal.

The restored Chapel is the only building remaining from the ill fated Wybalenna settlement but the sites of the other buildings can be easily found with the aid of a map drawn by George Augustus Robinson.

For more information please phone:
Flinders Island Aboriginal Association (FIAA) on 03 6359 3532
Cape Barren Island Community Association on 03 6359 3533

STRZELECKI NATIONAL PARK

The Mt. Strzelecki was named after the Polish explorer, Paul Edmund Strzelecki. who visited Flinders Island and climbed the highest peak in 1842. The Strzelecki National Park, which is approximately 7,414 hectares, has only two trails in it, one going to the top of the highest peak and one along the rocky headlands of Trousers Point. The rest of the area is bush, and hides some great surprises.

SOLDIER LAND SETTLEMENT SCHEME

Two influxes of settlers, the first just prior to the first World War and the second due the Soldier Land Settlement Scheme subsequent to World War II had the effect of stepping up both production and population. The population reached to “high” in the early 1960’s when census figures showed 1406 but, largely due to the completion of the Soldier Land Settlement developmental work with a resultant drop in the labour force, there has been a decline to about 1000 people. For the most part the population is engaged in primary industry and large numbers of fat cattle,lambs, bales of wool and fish are exported each year. Fish caught and exported consist mainly of crayfish, abolone, shark and scallops. The book A job worth doing by Claire Konkes provides an insight into the families and includes ten stories from the Flinders Island Soldier Settlement Scheme 1952-2002.

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