YOUNG, OLD & ANCIENT: The future of tourism on Flinders Island
PART 1 – What our elders say
Story by Matt Sykes. Photos by Sean Whitehill.
Guests climbing Pillingers Peak, view north.
Ten thousand years ago you could have walked from Melbourne to Launceston. It would have taken a while, but you wouldn’t have needed the Spirit of Tasmania, Jet Star or Virgin. In fact, during the last fifty thousand years Aboriginal people have migrated south during several periods. However, at the moment the Bassian plain is inundated and a chain of over fifty islands (called the Furneaux Group) running from Wilsons Promontory (in Victoria’s south east) to the Bay of Fires (in Tasmania’s north east) is all that remains of the land bridge. Flinders Island sits smack bang in the middle, less than one hour’s flight from either side, perfectly placed as an eco-tourism destination. This article explores the tourism dreams of the Island’s elders as well as young entrepreneurs.
Part 1 of this story starts with the ideas of Flinders Island’s older generations.
No younger person can explain with passion and knowing the stuff that older people know. There’s nothing that replaces personal experience.
Yarning with Vicki Green is like hanging out with a really hip grandmother. You know the kind, they’re full of energy, nothing can embarrass them and they’re an inexhaustible source of wisdom. As a young woman, you’d be saying, “When I get old I want to be just like her!” Vicki is a proud Tasmanian Aboriginal woman, she was born and bred on Flinders Island, left to study and is now watching over its emergence as a world-class sustainable tourism destination. Vicki welcomes tourism but only if it is based on cultural resources as much as natural.
Ornaments or food or tools? Flinders Island offers the opportunities to learn Aboriginal cultural interpretation from Aboriginal people.
As a Tasmanian Aboriginal woman Vicki has traditional responsibilities that are set by the seasons. From January to April you’re likely to find her wandering the Islands’ shores scouting for shells to make traditional necklaces. The moon’s phases influence local tides and for those months her lifestyle is set by nature’s rhythms. She also actively maintains other cultural and economic traditions like muttonbirding, gathering native plant fibres to weave traditional baskets, making dyes from plants as well as researching and writing stories of her ancestral history.
Basket weaving and shell necklace making can be traced back to a handful of Aboriginal women who were forcibly taken from their land and community by British sealers working on the Furneaux Islands from the late 1700s. These islands also became the sites of several government-run missions during the early to mid 1800’s, most notably Wybalena on Flinders Island. These Aboriginal women were forced to stop speaking their language and practising their culture. History now portrays them, their skills and knowledge, as critical in ensuring the sealers’ survival and their success as some of Tasmania’s first entrepreneurs. In time, the Aboriginal women and sealers laid the foundations for Tasmania’s contemporary Aboriginal community. (Patsy Cameron’s book ‘Grease and Ochre’ sheds more light on this important chapter of our history.)
Vicki is quick to point out that the Aboriginal story is the longest story of the Furneaux Islands, both pre-invasion and post-invasion. She is calling for Aboriginal elders to be engaged as storytellers by tourism operators coming to Flinders Island, under commercial agreements. The last point is important. Tourism has the potential to bridge two cultures but only if the values of each are recognised, respected and heard. Vicki is of the mind that young members of the Island’s Aboriginal community are often busy raising families, working, and studying, while it is the elders who have the cultural, historical, communal and familial knowledge and time to invest in tourism consultancy. She sees tourism as a great economic opportunity particularly for older Aboriginal people.
Mt Strzelecki (left) viewed from the saddle.
As a key catalyst in setting up the University of Tasmania’s Riawunna Centre for Aboriginal Education and a graduate of that organisation’s first Bachelor of Arts – Aboriginal Studies degree (covering Tasmanian Aboriginal anthropology, archaeology, history as well as Aboriginal language) we think Vicki would be a prime candidate. Watch this space.
It’s like the outback but it’s the coast.
Another person who you might find walking Flinders Islands coastline is Ken Martin, a mainlander who first came to walk the island’s mountains thirty years ago. He fell in love with its beauties and now migrates seasonally from his base on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula and Killiecrankie on Flinders Island.
Ken is a writer, carpenter, bushwalker and astronomer. His latest book ‘The Treasures of Beachcombing’ is an A to Z of flotsam and jetsam that you’re likely to find on your daily island beach walk, plus a few rare discoveries. One example was the time Ken found a naval flare washed up on the beach, prompting an army explosives specialist to fly in and detonate it. An avid naturalist, he also found a dead penguin that had come from Phillip Island (Victoria) and was later aged by scientists as twenty-three years old, practically ancient in penguin terms!
Over recent decades Ken has seen change on the Island, many more houses along the coast for starters. (Side note – out of necessity he built his own family shack from driftwood. These days, driftwood is harder to find because we’re better at managing our waste at sea.) Like Vicki, Ken believes ‘the Island needs to go ahead and tourism is the key.’ From a tourist’s standpoint he explains that bushwalking can run all year and Ken has even written a book to facilitate that, titled ‘Walks of Flinders Island’.
Guests walking down from the summit of Mt Killiekrankie.
What he really recommends for visitors is night walking. Flinders Island’s remoteness and small population ensures an absence of light pollution, which means you can view the Milky Way in all its intricacies. Ken’s amateur astronomy CV includes the sighting of comets, a partial eclipse and even aurora australis. The boy-like wonder with which he recalls these memories illustrates the power of Flinders Island to win people over with her rawness and majesty. Guests be warned: when you do one of our 2017 Flinders Island Walking Tours, you may never leave!
Part 1 – Summary
The older generations share Trek Tasmania’s vision for tourism on Flinders Island, in fact they want to help us kick-start it. There’s a real sense that they want to show the younger generation the proper ways of seeing and caring for Country. If the young listen well, they’ll happily share their responsibilities. What is vital now is to negotiate the terms of the ongoing working relationship across generations.
Stay tuned for Part 2 – What the young folk think.
Guide Joel Kovacs looking down at Trousers Point.