Sunday, June 25, 2017

Review - Tasmania’s Forgotten Frontier by John Beswick

Tasmania’s Forgotten Frontier, a history of exploration, exploitation and settlement around Tasmania's far north-east coast
by John Beswick

This is an impeccably researched, clearly written history of North East Tasmania, an area rich in ancient culture, maritime history and agricultural settlements. Author John Beswick is a former Deputy Premier of Tasmania and a sixth generation Tasmanian whose ancestors were amongst the first white pioneers in the region.
His obvious affiliation and personal knowledge of the region shines through in the book and he has an especially endearing style of writing about seafarers.
The book covers in detail; first contact, the sealers, the Van Diemonian Wars, the farmers, the industries, and contains a wealth of curious anecdotes.
Some of these include mention of the escaped convicts who became pirates and ran vessels around Preservation Island and that of Mrs Eliza Bowen who is said to have gone grey overnight at seeing the Loch Finlas, a large barque bound for Peru founder and wreck before her eyes. It is said that generations of locals have enjoyed possession of beautiful sets of crockery salvaged from the vessel.
The book, while generally compelling and clearly written becomes a little dessicated towards the end, covering in great detail pastoral leases and details of livestock. It is a little dry for the lay reader. These swathes are luckily broken up with intriguing sometimes poignant stories of individuals and political intrigue whose tendrils still hold the state in sway today, including some innuendo around British Tobacco (BT) and the creation of the Mount William National Park and the involvement of Kevin Lyons, the Deputy Premier, who resigned in 1972 following exposure of his corruption. Lyons received $25 000 from BT to write his memoirs, a book that has not ever eventuated. In separate incidents, Federal Hotels paid $29 000 off Lyon’s mortgage, as well as the offering him a job with an equivalent salary. The latter is covered closely in James Boyce’s recent expose into gambling and corruption in Tasmania, Losing Streak.
While the book contains lots of detail it does not cover the Aboriginal community in the NE, after the decline of the sealing industry. This is an oversight in which author Beswick is not alone. The structure of many books on Tasmanian history focus solely on white settlement alone, rarely glancing at the history in the Aboriginal community, which, in the NE were especially important. An uncomfortable oversight with this particular text is the fact that Chapter One is called ‘The Europeans Arrive’.
The years that Beswick spent on his meticulous research have certainly paid off. This is a comprehensive book that explores in detail an area of Tasmania that does not have many books dedicated to it. Forty South continue to publish strongly, augmenting a rich written Tasmanian history and this book is a prime example. While it is not a book for everyone focused as it is on such a tiny pocket of the world, it is a book for those interested in the region, as well as recent Tasmanian history and development.

An edited version of this review appeared in TasWeekends, June 24, 2017






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