Burnie: Fern Glade Reserve

For a place with the reputation of being a hard-working industrial town, Burnie has a surpriding number of parks and natural bushland reserves close to the city centre, and this is one of them. Tucked in behind the light industrial areas of Wivenhoe and South Burnie, Fern Glade Reserve is a gem on a strip of virgin bushland on the banks of the Emu River less than a kilometre back from where it empities into Bass Strait.

Myrtle forests and tree ferns line the river's banks, a 4 kilometre walking track with no steep sections and a good surface winds its way up the river valley. Not surprisingly, it is a wildlife haven. Early in the morning or at dusk, the duck-billed platypus may be seen walking along logs on the bank, or swimming upstream. Other animals seen here include quolls, poteroos (a small wallaby) and wombats. It is also a bird sanctuary - chances are you'll see the Tasmanian native hen scuttling across the pass as it hears you coming. Though common throughout the state, it's rather timid and this is one of the few places where it can be seen up close.

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Fern Glade Walk is a 1.2km, grade 1 return hike and should take approximately 30 minutes to complete. More than a dozen species of native orchids can be found noted along the walking track, which offers a longer three-hour bushwalk through native vegetation in a minimally developed state for the more adventurous.

Facilities at the reserve include parking, a river vieing platform, walking tracks, toilets, picnic tables and barbecues, making it a great place to enjoy some peace and tranquility.

To find Fern Glade reserve, turn left off of the Bass Hwy, onto Old Surrey Road, then take the first left onto Fern Glade Road. There are 2 carparks at Fern Glade, the first on your right as you cross the bridge on Fern Glade Road and the second about 200m further along the road, also on your right. The reserve is open from 7:30am til Dusk.

Fern Glade Reserve has strong associations with the founding of the city of Burnie. The first white man to enter the area was Henry Hellyer, an official of the Van Diemen's Land Company that took up a large land grant in the north west corner of Tasmania in the 1820s. Hellyer entered the area in 1827 in search of suitable land to graze sheep, as well as a site for a port. He camped overnight at what today is Oakleigh Park, a short distance away from the Reserve, but it was the Emu River, with its abundance of fresh water, that convinced Hellyer that the bay into which the river flowed was a suitable site for a settlement and port.

He named it Emu Bay, and the river that flowed into it, the Emu River, due to the large number of Tasmanian emus he encountered there. The settlement on Emu Bay would later be re-named Burnie, after William Burnie, the chief director of the Van Diemen's Land Company under whose direction the settlement in Van Diemen's Land was founded.

The Emus of Emu River

The Tasmania Emu, after which the river and the bay on which Burnie stands were named, is believed to have been a smaller sub-species of the mainland emu. The external characters used to distinguish it were its whitish instead of a black foreneck and throat and an unfeathered neck.

The Tasmanian Indigenous people’s sustainable relationship with the emu also suggests emu population numbers were significant. The Tasmanian emu was regularly symbolised in Indigenous art, in their ceremonies it was common practice for Tasmanian Aborigines to dance and characterise emus by stretching out one arm to emulate the long neck of the bird. Feathers were used to decorate inside Aboriginal huts, and served as insulation and floor coverings.

The indigenous people used a substance called ‘patener’, made from a ground metal mixed with emu fat/oil, to mark their heads and bodies. Emus featured in stories and songs, and there were many different names for them, including gonanner, ponanner and tooteyer. There are many references to the emu in early colonial records too, with many place names recalling it, eg. Emu Hill, Emu Heights, Emu Point.

Like the Tasmanian Aborigines with whom it had co-existed for thousands of years, the Tasmanian emu suffered a calamiltous fate with the arrival of white man. By the time of Hellyer's encounter with emus at Emu Bay, southern Tasmania's emu population was already in decline and within 40 years the species would be extinct. Though Emu Bay was once a stronghold for these flightless birds, their populations also diminished quickly after white settlers moved in. When the settlement was surveyed in 1846, the Tasmanian Emu was almost gone. The species survived in the wild until 1865, and the last captive bird died in 1873.

During those years, land was being cleared at an astronomical rate. The emu's habitat was quickly destroyed to make way for grazing land for sheep. By 1840, there were 280,000 sheep in Tasmania.

The introduction of dogs is also considered a major contributing factor to the fast extinction of the Tasmanian emu. Though it was a really important food source for the Aboriginal people who hunted emus, it was in relatively low numbers. Emus were pretty hard to catch, they were fast runners and could defend themselves. That all changed with the introduction of the domestic dog. Prior to the arrival of Europeans, Van Diemen’s Land did not have a domestic dog, nor was the dingo present. But the Europeans had dogs and guns and that combination proved deadly for the emu and hastened its extinction.

A watercolour by William Porden Kay depicts emus at Stanley during the 1840s.(Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts, State Library of Tasmania)

Makers Workshop

There are not too many places in Australia - or the world for that matter - that offer the visitor something so unique you will be hard pressed to find anything like it elsewhere. The City of Burnie has managed to achieve this in one of its premier visitor attractions - Makers' Workshop. Drawing on the city's heritage as a leading industrial centre, Makers  Workshop salutes the role of paper manufacturing in its past, while honouring the skills of its makers, innovators and artists of its present and future. Location: Bass Highway, Burnie.

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Burnie Regional Art Gallery

Serving the north-west and west coasts of Tasmania, the Gallery has a fine permanent collection, and the focus is on works on paper, including many fine prints by some of Australia,s most famous artists. This reflects the importance of the paper industry in Burnie's past history. Location: Burnie Arts and Function Centre, Wilmot St, Burnie.

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Little Penguin Observation Centre

There are a number of Fairy or Little Penguin nesting grounds along the north-west coast of Tasmania, including one in the city of Burnie itself, which makes it one of the most convenient places to see these cute creatures in their natural habitat. Located at the end of West Beach and the boardwalk behind the Makers' Workshop and University of Tasmania facility is Burnie's Little Penguin Observation Centre, which overlooks the nesting area.

From the Centre and surrounding boardwalk, it is possible to view little penguins each night around dusk, particularly between the months of October to March. During those months, volunteers guides are on hand and point out the penguins with their special torches, as well as provide any information not found on the informative display panels at the Little Penguin Observation Centre. The winds blowing off Bass Strait can be quite cold at nights, so be sure to wear clothing that will protect you from the wind. The boardwalk is wheelchair and children friendly.

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Burnie Art Deco Trail

Burnie is a city that exploded at the peak of the international architectural movement known as Art Deco. It is a celebration of the modern age and an advertisement for the bright future that was to come about as a result of industrialisation of the age.

Most significantly the potent hydro electricity generated by Tasmania's Hydro Electric Commission (HEC) was able to attract new industry despite the depression years. In Burnie that new industry came in the form of the Australian Pulp and Paper Mill, known locally as "the Pulp". Between them the Hydro and the Pulp were responsible for a series of striking commercial and industrial buildings and also for a network of smart private homes to comfortably house the new executives that came to town.

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