Tamar Valley Geology Determining the First Peoples Occupation of Northern Van Diemen’s Land
Ian Pattie, November 2020
The forces of nature – volcanic, glacial, fault and the like – lay down a rough-hewn sculpture upon which other weathering forces produce a landscape for the evolution of flora and fauna. In Tasmania, the evolution of millions of years became more complex about 40 000 years ago with the advent of the First People of this land.
Accepting huge portions of the geological backdrop, the First People set about managing the environment to meet their needs. The rivers and valleys, the high country and the treed plains were accepted and adapted and features within the environment were brought into ceremony as required.
NB A comprehensive analysis of the geology of the Tamar Valley may be found in:
Corbett, K.D. 2021 (2:vi): Channel to the Strait: the geological history of the Tamar Valley–Launceston area. Papers and Proceedings of the Royal Society of Tasmania 155(1): xx-xx. ISSN: 0080-4703. 35 Pillinger Drive, Fern Tree, Tasmania 7054, Australia. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Part of the North Esk delta from Ravenswood. This one-time part of the Church of England Glebe was the location of some of Launceston’s first farms, Ian Pattie photograph, 2020
Read More Understanding how First People’s viewed their world
Dutch, French, and British explorers set foot in Van Diemen’s Land from 1642 bringing with them a range of preconceptions and prejudices about what and who they might find.
Hunting by men was often one of a fortuitous meeting a quarry and resulted in a lack of success having to return to camp empty handed, but not to worry, the ever-reliable women filled the void with smaller fauna, possum and edible flora.
The Tasmanian Aborigines occupied their island home for at least 40,000 years but it is only the last 2,000 years that is considered here and only mainland Tasmania and offshore islands.
When Lieutenant-Colonel William Paterson brought a group of white settlers – soldiers, convicts, and farmers – to Port Dalrymple, Van Diemen’s Land, the English were in a mindset of domination or mastery over other races.
Britain was the world’s naval power, the coming industrial power, the greatest empire builders and affectionately described amongst themselves as the chosen people and the Protestant Protectors.
British settlements, based on the traditions of British farming and shipping, needed arable land and protected anchorages for long-term survival. Well-watered farmland was not to be found easily near the mouth of the Tamar, near York Town or George Town, where the best port facilities were available. In contrast, good port facilities were not to be found at the head of the Tamar where well-watered farmland was available.
When William Collins sailed down the waterway now known as the Tamar, in January 1804, he eventually reached and entered a river to the East, the North Esk, and wrote in his logbook.
It is tempting to apply modern terms like ‘sustainability’ to Indigenous practice however the key to understanding First People’s attachment to country is adequacy.
First Peoples did not expend energy on wasted accumulation but on a vast Estate that provided the needs of a robust population using minimal exertion. “It depended on preferring to reduce rather than increase material wants.”
Europeans have always had difficulty in grasping a concept of religion in Indigenous practice and even denied until the mid 20th century that you could apply the term ‘religion’ to Aboriginal practice – magic and sorcery but not ‘religion’.