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.
The Furneaux Group has a Mediterranean climate but is subject to the Roaring Forties. The mountainous granite backbone supports extensive lowlands and a wide variety of wildlife with over 150 bird species, including muttonbird and Cape Barren goose.
Approximately a third of the islands are dominated by ridges of granite, including the striking features of the southern part of the Strzelecki Range, Darling Range, Mt Killiecrankie, the Patriarchs (Flinders Island) and the higher parts of Cape Barren Island. Half of the islands in the group are coastal sand dunes. Estuarine beds composed of sands, clays and gravels can be found in the many low lying areas with many lagoons existing on the eastern coast of Flinders Island and Cape Barren Island, being filled by the seasonal winter rains.
With such variety of land formation and variable environmental conditions there are over 800 species of plant to be found across the Furneaux Group of Islands. The islands also have a scientific significance being that they form a species boundary , ie being the southern-most location for some species and the northern-most location for others.
The Furneaux Group is one of four groups of islands in this area of Bass Strait, the others being Curtis, Hogan and Kent Groups. The Furneaux Group contains the only islands with permanent residents, these are Flinders Island, Cape Barren Island and Clarke Island. Flinders Island has the largest population.
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.
Wreck of the Farsund, 1988
The treacherous waters of Bass Strait, the narrow channel between Tasmania and mainland Australia, are challenging to divers, but equally rewarding. The Furneaux Group, of which King Island is the biggest, have many superb diving sites with wreck and marine life aplenty.
Dive centres and diving charters operate from Lady Barron on Flinders Island. The Kent Group s islands have sheer cliffs that continue into the depths of Bass Strait. Here there are small caves with crayfish, most of which are unexplored. The wrecks of the Bulli of Erith Island and the Karitane (parts of the wreck underwater and on the beach) in Squally Cove on Deal Island are excellent dive sites.