In a journey of oddly familiar exploration, Cllr Pauline Batstone is on the other side of the world visiting old names with very new faces
One recent afternoon my Australian friend, Maureen, and I set out for a little drive round Dorset. We visited Bridport on the River Brid, Weymouth with its lovely stretch of golden sand, and Lulworth, which is a bit more rocky. We didn’t have time to go as far as Dorchester and Holwell, not least as it was getting dusk and we took very seriously the road warning signs to beware that endangered animal the Tasmanian Devil. Plus there were wallabies around …
Dorset in Tasmania is a beautiful part of the world – it’s a pity it is so far from our Dorset! The original European settlers must have thought so too – they commemorated our Dorset in a number of the place names they chose. The area seems mainly to have been settled by our own Dorset folk, either as free settlers with an ‘assisted passage’, as deportees (we have all seen the threatening signs on our Dorset bridges), or they came as sailors. I have found a number of Roses and Trowbridges in the phone book. Also settling here were the Scots and the Cornish – hence the town of Launceston on the River Tamar!
The original inhabitants of Tasmania – previously known as Aborigines, now referred to as the First Nation – were mercilessly slaughtered by those early settlers. I saw no one in our six days in Dorset who appeared to be a First Nation resident, apart from one lady at Launceston airport. Australians are working hard to address the wrongs committed against the First Nation, of which there are something like 60 identified tribes and 500 languages and dialects. It is not easy, with discussion raging at present over the merits or demerits of positive discrimination, and a referendum coming up shortly over whether First Nation Australians should be given an additional voice. Having said that, Australia is by far a more diverse nation, both culturally and racially, from when I first visited in 1971 – and it is all the richer for it.
Dirt road rally
The countryside of this Australian Dorset is beautiful, with its stunning beaches and inlets, its fields of contented cattle and sheep, its forests, mountains and waterfalls. It’s a great place for walkers, with well-marked walking trails and even its own version of our Trailway.
Locals have embraced the Airbnb movement and there seems no shortage of good value accommodation.
One thing I had hoped to do was to attend the September meeting of the Dorset Council (the Tasmanian one!) to hand over the gifts sent by our Dorset Council chairman Cllr Val Pothecary – one glass paperweight with the Dorset crest on it, one book of photos of Dorset and a gift specifically from me about the six Dorset labourers otherwise known as The Tolpuddle Martyrs. All six were transported and George Loveless was actually sent to Tasmania.
Unfortunately, our flight had problems and we were very late reaching the county town of Scottsdale, in spite of Maureen’s rally-driving skills in the dark on the part of the highway which up here is effectively a mountain track (in the end I dropped the gifts into the council offices the following day). The Tasman Highway is currently being upgraded but there were some very exciting white knuckle rides – it was wise not to look over the side, and to hug the other side of the road as much as possible, praying no one was coming the other way! Thankfully very few did, the roads are pretty quiet up here – although the locals do travel at speed.
My trip to Tasmania is a side quest – I planned to visit my friends and relatives in Western Australia this year, and having learned that there was an Australian Dorset council I wanted to come across and investigate. Maureen decided joining me was a good way to celebrate the anniversary of her first visit to Dorset in the UK when we became friends – a friendship which has continued for more than six decades as we have visited each other’s homes a number of times on the opposite sides of the world. She didn’t think my grasp of the Australian language was good enough for me to tackle ‘Tassy’ on my own! I was thankful she did come in the end – her experience of driving on dirt roads was invaluable. The main routes are bituminised, but off those anything can happen …
I thoroughly recommend this beautiful part of the world to anyone who can make the journey – the main drawbacks being the extreme distance and therefore the cost.
I should warn prospective travellers that, despite the signs, damaging Sturminster Newton Bridge no longer guarantees you free passage.