Shag Bay on Hobart’s eastern shore is at the southern edge of the East Risdon Nature Reserve, just around the corner from suburban Geilston Bay in an area known as Bedlam Walls. The light scrub and grasslands are in stark contrast to the industrial heart of Hobart in the form of the zinc works and the huge white tanks of the oil wharf visible just across the river.
I have known Shag Bay since my school days when we were required to jog there and back on cross-country runs as part of winter PE classes. While not the fastest, I could complete the course from the high school gymnasium, across the creek (no bridge in those days so we had to splash across as best we could), around the point to Shag Bay, up the opposite hill, along the ridge, back down into the gully and back around the point, in something under 45 minutes.
We did not pause to consider its past, despite the remnants of an industrial history in the form of rusted boilers and some twisted metal scattered about. (Local historian and filmmaker Angus Thornett has included the story of the exploding fertiliser factory in one of his excellent YouTube videos, well worth a look). Occasionally at low tide there were glimpses of remnant ribs of a sailing vessel visible at the bottom of the shallow bay; the Clarence Council’s website tells me that it was the British naval ship Nelson, once the pride of the fleet, but beached here in the 1920s and broken up for scrap.
We certainly didn’t consider any pre-colonial occupation of the area as we jogged through, so my first exposure to the area’s significance to indigenous Tasmanians came in 2019 when I joined a history walk conducted by the Clarence Council, on which elders and community members highlighted its importance as a hunting, gathering and meeting place. The sharp hard rocks of the headland was formed into stone tools.
That heritage story is now available to all visitors through a series of thoughtfully written and designed interpretive panels and landscape design elements along a 700 metre pathway across the headland. The storytelling touches on the first massacre of indigenous people by British colonists at nearby Risdon Cove in May 1804 and on the ongoing significance and connection to the land of the Tasmanian aboriginal community. Each panel has a QRcode on it; using a smartphone, walkers can hear readings from the panels in palawa kani language. The readings are also available from the Council website.
It is well worth a look, and slowing down to absorb the stories and the sense of place. takara limuna / Sheoak Walk is a valuable addition to the short list of places within Tasmania where people can learn about and engage with its indigenous heritage and the ongoing connection of aboriginal Tasmanians to their country.
More information: www.ccc.tas.gov.au/community/culture-history/takara-limuna/