Surrounded by over 50 mostly uninhabited islands, more than 65 shipwrecks and with over 120 pristine beaches, Flinders Island is a great place for a relaxing, rejuvenating holiday, being set amid the tranquillity of one of Australia’s idyllic natural settings. Not many people live there, and not many people go there, so this is the place to be if you don’t want to share your holiday destination with the rest of Australia.
Around 900 people live on the island, with farming and fishing being important industries. The farmers producing quality beef and lamb as well as clean fine wool and the fishermen harvesting crayfish, abalone, scallops and giant crabs. The major population centres are Whitemark (which has the island’s main airstrip) and Lady Barron (the port). A little over a third of the island is used for farmland, with the remainder being National Park. Bushland, lagoons and coastal reserves provide the visitor with a superb opportunity to explore and images Flinders Island’s little changed natural setting, with an abundance of wildlife and a fascinating history thrown in for good measure.
Where Is it?: Flinders Island is located in Bass Strait off the north eastern tip of Tasmania and is part of the Furneaux Island group.
How To Get There: for most visitors, a trip to Flinders Island starts with a scenic flight from Melbourne (1 hour) or from Launceston, Tasmania (35 mintues) across Bass Strait with Sharp Airlines or charter your own aircraft. It is a breathtaking experience flying across the coastline, fanned out like a long ribbon of waves and beaches, then over the many islands dotted along the way. Approaching Flinders Island is a photographer s delight with the spectacular views of Mt Strzelecki below.
Alternatively, catch the weekly barge with Furneaux Freight from Bridport, Tasmania docking in the all-tides port of Lady Barron.
Whitemark is the administrative centre for Flinders Island and overlooks Parrys Bay on the west coast. The historic Interstate Hotel, built in 1912, is one of the earliest buildings and you will find a good supermarket and bakery, petrol station, post office and other general services. The town is about 10 ten minutes drive from the airport. About 100 flights a week use the airport, with much of the crayfish catch, abalone and muttonbirds taken out by air. A marker placed for a survey is believed to have given the town its name.
Yellow Beach, Lady Barron
Lady Barron is at the southern end of the island and has a supermarket, tennis courts, wharf, and restaurant. There is also Killiecrankie to the North West of the Island with a Cafe opened during the Summer and Autumn months. From Vinegar Hill lookout there are excellent views across the Furneaux Islands from Franklin Sound to Cape Barren Island and the wreck of the Farsund. Facilities include Furneaux Tavern and Restaurant, car hire and the local Flinders Island supermarket/news agent/post office.
Lady Barron is serviced by two boat ramps. One is at the main wharf complex; this is a concrete ramp that has all tide access and a small jetty which is restricted at low tide. There is security fencing to facilitate the loading and unloading of cargo from other port activities. The other ramp is situated at the slipway and also has all tide access; there is more parking available than at the wharf.
Lady Barron is named after Lady Clara Barron, wife of Major General Sir Harry Barron KCMG, CVO (11th August 1847 – 27th March 1921). Major General Sir Harry Barron was Governor of Tasmania from 1909 to 1913, and Governor of Western Australia from 1913 to 1917. Clara Emily, daughter of Major General T. Conyngham Kelly, C.B., and Major General Sir Harry Barron married in 1877.
See and Do
Patriarchs Wildlife Sanctuary
Patriachs Wildlife Sanctuary: is the island’s only wildlife sanctuary. It is home to wallabies, wombats, possums and a variety of birds, including the native Cape Barren Goose (see picture bottom left). Kids can pat the friendly wildlife and feed them straight from the hand.
Of all the beauty spots on Flinders Island, the views of and from Trousers Point must be the most photographed. Here there is a tiny cove sheltered between headlands of apricot-coloured granite. The crescent of beach is of finest white sand where clear waters of aquamarine, intensifying to sapphire, surge onto an often un-trodden shore.
Behind the wooded sand dunes rise the granite faces interspersed with shrubbery of the Strzelecki massif. Across the waters of Franklin Sound are the pale blue mountains of Cape Barren Island. On the north-western side of the point, on Fotheringate Bay, limestones overlying the granite have been water-sculptured into fantastic shapes – a Melbourne Cup, a Hippopotamus Rock.
Palana Beach is the most northern beach on Flinders Island and is a popular holiday destination for both locals and visitors. Enjoy the soft rolling waves, bbq facilities, and golden sand.
Killiecrankie Bay is famous for its topaz crystals (referred to as Killiecrankie diamonds), which can be found at Diamond Gully in crevices between rocks and by sieving the beach sand. This little haven is also perfect for a picnic and romantic stroll along the beach.
About a third of the island is mountainous and rugged with ridges of granite running the length of the island. Mt Strzelecki, the island’s tallest mountain, stands 800 metres above sea level and is a great challenge for walkers of all fitness levels.
Camerons Inlet and the East Coast: this is the nearest beach to Echo Hills and stretches for miles in either direction. It is also renowned for its surf fishing; locals often catch shark and flathead right off the shore. So grab a rod, and have a go.
Castle Rock Walk
The Castle Rock Walk, one of Tasmania’s Great Short Walks, it meanders along the shoreline of Marshall Bay, crossing stunning beaches and coastal hinterlands on its way to Castle Rock, a massive granite boulder. The 2.5 hour return beach walk begins at Castle Rock track and car park just before Allports Beach. Walkers can also begin at the Marshall Bay end via the Marshall Bay Access Track on the left off Palana Road just after the sealed road becomes gravel if you re coming from Whitemark. Park on the hill overlooking the Bay a five minute walk along the dirt 4WD track on your left will bring you to the Castle Rock. Location: from the town of Whitemark travel north (towards Palana) on road B85. Turn left to Allports Beach at a junction 17km north of Whitemark.
Flinders Island Trail
Back in the early seventies an ambitious project created the Flinders Trail running south to north of the island. The Trail included opportunities for horse riding, walking and four wheel driving. While the trail still exists some part are a challenge and need upgrading. Efforts are underway to bring the Trail back as a great outdoor experience and create another unique Flinders Island walk.
The Trail winds its way from the Strzelecki National Park to the North East River and provides the visitor with great walks across mountain ranges and along coastal beaches that include a variety of bird and animal life as well as different vegetation types. There are opportunities to stop off and study the history or find a Killiecrankie Diamond or do a spot of fishing. Flinders Trail can be divided into five sections linked to accommodation at Lady Barron, Whitemark Emita, Killiecrankie and Palana.
Furneaux Island Group
The Furneaux Group contains more than fifty islands, situated in eastern Bass Strait through latitude 40°S in Tasmania s north-east. Isolation, a turbulent history, and a free-spirited independence add a unique flavour to the group’s largely unspoiled natural beauty. In 2005, the Group had a population of 897 mostly living on the three largest islands of Flinders, Cape Barren, and Clarke. Major industries are fishing, livestock, and tourism. Access is by air and sea. Flinders Island has two main towns: Whitemark, the administrative centre, and Lady Barron, its fishing centre and main port.
History and Heritage
Flinders Island was named on 8th January 1799 by British navigator and explorer, Matthew Flinders. The name was given not to honour Flinders himself, as is commonly believed, but his younger brother, Samuel Flinders, 2nd Lieut., Investigator.
When Abel Tasman became the first European to set eyes on Tasmania in 1642, Aborigines had lived in harmony with the island for 35,000 years. Tasman named it Van Demens Land to honour the East Indies Governor-General who had sent him to discover gold and silver. This signalled the end of the Aborigine’s tenure.
Nearly all the early explorers had some contact with the Aborigines but their visits were brief until the arrival of the French expedition of d’Entrecasteaux (1792) and Baudin (1802) who made a proper scientific study of the people and their customs. But it is thought the Furneaux group was uninhabited when first sighted by Captain Tobias Furneaux in 1773. This soon changed when British and American seal hunters began visiting the Bass Strait islands as well as the north and east coasts of Tasmania from the late 1790s. By about 1800, sealers were regularly left on the uninhabited islands in Bass Strait during the sealing season (November to May).
The sealers established semi-permanent camps, which were close enough for the sealers to reach the main island of Tasmania in small boats and so make contact with the Tasmanian Aborigines. Trading relationships developed, and a trade in Aboriginal women soon began. Many Tasmanian Aboriginal women were highly skilled in hunting seals, as well as in obtaining other foods such as seabirds. Some women went willingly but some were taken involuntarily.
After 1803, the population of Aborigines on the main island of Tasmania declined rapidly, primarily through killings by settlers as well as introduced infectious diseases. those Aborigines who had remained isolated in remote areas like the islands were collected and relocated to the Furneaux Group between 1828 and 1834.
Flinders Island is steeped in Aboriginal history and none greater than Wybalenna Chapel. It is the oldest building on the island and has an indigenous graveyard only metres from the chapel. It was here that the Aboriginal Tasmanians were re-settled after being rounded up across mainland Tasmania in the 1830s. The graveyard contains unmarked aboriginal graves along with graves of some of the first European settlers. This place is a must for history lovers.
In 1834 one hundred and thirty five Tasmanian Aboriginals from the mainland were settled on Flinders Island, where as George Augustus Robinson said they were to be ‘civilised and christianised . The settlement was called Wybalenna which means ‘black man’s houses’. They were forbidden to practise the old ways and were homesick for their lost country. Many died of respiratory disease, poor food and despair.
In October 1847 the forty seven survivors of this group were transferred to Oyster Cove, near Hobart. It was springtime, but even the warmer weather did not hide the fact that the former convict station was built in a cold, damp and depressing place. Their houses were little better than slab huts, and in poor repair.
For some, this move was a return to land familiar to them from childhood. Truganini was of the Nuenonne tribe whose country had been Bruny Island and the Channel area of the mainland. Truganini could have stayed in the straits and lived with Lucy Beadon on Badger Island but she chose to return to her country and stay with her companions from Wybalenna.
For many years the chapel was used as a shearing shed until, in 1973, it was purchased and restored by the Flinders Island Branch of the National Trust. Bricks were salvaged from other nearby ruins and similar bricks were brought from Tasmania. While most of the rafters of the restored chapel are original the roof needed new shingles. In the absence of historical records, windows typical of the period were installed.
In the nearby cemetery, the Young Farmers’ club has erected a plaque to commemorate the death of over 100 Aborigines at Wybalenna. Manalargena, last chief of the Ben Lomond Tribe, is remembered on an 1835 headstone. A highly respected chief and warrior, Manalargena had been captured by George Augustus Robinson and accompanied him as one of the “friendly natives” on Robinson’s recruiting mission through wilderness areas of Tasmania. Graves of the local Indigenous people, outside the fence and unidentified, are said to be empty. Some remains were stolen and sold to European medical and scientific institutions where they brought good prices. Some were said to have been smuggled out in bales of wool. Others were taken secretly by their own people and buried elsewhere.
Little trace of the settlement remains apart from the chapel, cemetery, low piles of broken bricks and the spreading patches of blue and white iris among the grass – a lovely sight in early October. Some archaeological exploration has taken place. The area provides a unique combination of relics and artifacts from Aborigines and early nineteenth-century military personnel. An area of 126 hectares has been gazetted as an Historic Site. Under the control of the Aboriginal Community. Wybalenna was returned to the Tasmanian Aboriginal Community, Today Wybalenna is once again Aboriginal Land.