Tracks into Hobart’s history


The peace and quiet of Hobart’s Eastern shore was shattered on a Sunday evening in January 1975 by what some thought must have been a bomb going off. The noise was in reality the sound of sections of the Tasman Bridge crashing into the River Derwent after a ship, the Lake Illawarra, had strayed off-course and collided with the bridge’s eastern piers. In an instant, the city was cut in two. Twelve people were killed, including drivers and passengers of vehicles that plunged into the abyss as well as crew on the ship.

Tasman Bridge Memorial at Montagu Bay
Tasman Bridge Memorial at Montagu Bay

The disaster, which had a huge impact on Hobart, and in particular on residents of the Eastern shore who were faced with a detour of many miles to cross the river, is commemorated with the striking contemporary artwork. The memorial, by local artists Kelly Eijdenberg and Travis Tiddy, is located at the point where the Clarence Foreshore Trail passes Montagu Bay; its three rings represent the violent separation and subsequent gradual reconnection of the community.

Hobart offers a wealth of tracks and trails, offering abundant scenery and close encounters with key historical events and figures. Charles Darwin visited Hobart in 1836. He climbed Mount Wellington / kunanyi, but his visit aboard the Beagle is best commemorated on Hobart’s Eastern Shore, where his steps can be retraced by following the Charles Darwin Trail through the riverside suburbs of Bellerive and Howrah. On the walk, one can contemplate picture-perfect views of Hobart, its river and the mountain behind it, and compare the view with those depicted by colonial artists such as Norwegian forger Knut Bull, who seems to have conflated two separate views in scenes hanging in the Colonial Gallery of the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery.

English artist John Glover brought his family to Van Diemen’s Land in the early 1830s, where he was instrumental in helping European eyes see the Australian bush, and particularly its trees, more clearly than earlier colonial artists had been able to. Among several significant works in Tasmania’s public collections, his The River Derwent and Hobart Town of around 1831, also hanging in the Colonial Gallery, offers a view of the young town from a valley behind West Hobart.

The Glover Trail, a few steps from Hobart’s back doors, leads to tracks and views that would be familiar to residents in the early 1800s

A short trail from the top of Poet’s Road, a brisk uphill stroll or brief taxi ride from the waterfront, has been christened The Glover Track, celebrating Glover and this painting, although the success of efforts to control weeds by bush care volunteers has resulted in the view being almost invisible, hidden by the vigour of the returning native species. Nevertheless, it is a lovely walk, which can be extended further into the Knocklofty Reserve and on to Mount Stuart, with wonderful views over the city and the River Derwent.

Panels on the Hobart Linear Park track offer glimpses into the area’s convict and industrial past.

The experiences of women convicts who were marched from the waterfront to the Cascades Female Factory in South Hobart were less cheerful, but nevertheless significant in the development of Tasmania. The Hobart Rivulet Linear Park leads from Molle Street near the centre of Hobart along the Hobart Rivulet, once the town’s main water supply and a corridor for industry. Short detours along the way lead to South Hobart’s cafes, and near its western end the Cascades Female Factory is now a World Heritage Site offering tours and insights into the tribulations of those convict women and their children. After stories of such hardship, strolling a little further up the rivulet through attractive gardens brings the visitor to the historic Cascade Brewery, with offers of brewery tours and refreshment.

The fountain at Hobart’s Railway Roundabout is the major gateway from the city to the Queens Domain

The Queens Domain is a hilly area between the River Derwent and central Hobart, a largely open expanse which  includes inner suburb The Glebe, major sporting and recreational facilities, a campus of the University of Tasmania, the Cenotaph,  Soldiers Memorial Avenue and the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens. Established in the earliest days of European settlement, the Gardens were initially a Government farms, established to study the growth of plants and trees in the local climate in order to develop crops and feed the colony.

Stephen Walker’s memorial to French exploration of the Southern Ocean at the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens

Staff at the Gardens continue to develop our understanding of local ecology as well as conserving Tasmania’s unique plant species. A sunny north-facing area contains a large timber water feature, a memorial to early French exploration of the southern ocean by the late Tasmanian sculptor Stephen Walker. The legacy of these voyages is imprinted on Tasmania’s coast through the persistence of many of the names they bestowed, perhaps most famously Bruny Island (named for Antoine Raymond Joseph de Bruni d’Entrecasteaux, the eighteenth century French naval officer and explorer) and the East Coast’s Freycinet Peninsula (for Louis de Freycinet).

A careful crossing of the highway that separates the northern edge of the Gardens from the River Derwent leads to a couple of tracks leading further around into Cornelian Bay. Eschew the busy cycleway for the quieter shaded walking track that runs a little closer to the shore. A few minutes brings one to the brightly painted Cornelian Bay boat sheds, once utilitarian jetties now used primarily for relaxation and occasionally changing hands for large sums without ever being advertised.

Cornelian Bay’s boatsheds in the afternoon sunlight

A little further on past a beachside café, the Cornelian Bay Cemetery occupies an entire headland the northern side of the bay. This sprawling necropolis has been Hobart’s major burial ground since the 1870s, but also contains memorials and remains from earlier cemeteries around the town which were closed to make room for a growing town. It is the final resting place for many individuals and families who have played significant roles in shaping Tasmania.

George Adams, of Tatts lottery fame, is just one of the many historically significant people buried at Cornelian Bay Cemetery

Visiting the Colonial Gallery at TMAG before heading out on these walks offers a chance to view landscape paintings compare how much has changed, but also how much is still recognisable from the early days of settlement, as well as get an overview of Tasmania’s natural and cultural heritage. Other fine collections of early landscapes can be seen at Launceston’s Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery and in Hobart at the Allport Museum, hidden away at the rear of the ground floor of the State Library in Murray Street.

The Greater Hobart Trails website has information and maps for more than 80 trails in the Greater Hobart area. Even more are listed on the websites of the Hobart, Clarence and Kingborough Councils, as well as from the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service. Care of the environment and attention to safety and preparation should always be exercised when undertaking any outdoor activity in Tasmania.

While Mount Wellington/kunanyi offers stunning views of Hobart and Southern Tasmania, tracks at lower altitudes offer scenery plus fascinating encounters with history