Furneaux Islands' shipwreck 'graveyard'

The steel-hulled shipwreck of the Farsund is slowly rusting into the sea

By Rosemary Grant - Radio Australia

Tasmania's rich maritime history can be seen in the wrecks dotted around almost every treacherous stretch of the coastline, but the Furneaux Group of islands in Bass Strait is especially notorious for leaving vessels in ruin.

The wreck of the trader the Sydney Cove in 1797 put the area on the map — even before British navigator Matthew Flinders charted the islands in 1798.

From then on the local sealing and mutton bird industries boomed, and ships were regularly trading in the area. The Furneaux Maritime History Association now wants to establish a permanent artefact display near the coast at Lady Barron.

Sixth generation local Gerald Willis grew up fascinated by the shoals and wrecks and is part of the group keen to see more of the area's history on display.

"My father was born on Puncheon Head, which is Cape Barren Island, lived there until he was three, [then] came to Lady Barron," he said. "Mum's father was a Welshman but her mother, through her side goes back through six generations [of] early settlers on the islands.

The shipwrecks around the island have always intrigued Mr Willis.

"There's countless wrecks, we've got the shoals to the south-east of Flinders Island called the Pot Boil, which is an area where the sea bottom is sandy, very hard sand, the channels shift and you really need local knowledge to get through them," he said.

"They've been a problem for seafarers for a long time."

Over the years lighthouses were peppered around the islands to aid the safe passage of ships sailing between Europe, South America and the east coast cities of Sydney and Newcastle.

But they could not save the iron barque, Farsund, which was headed to Sydney from La Plata, Argentina, early last century.

"There are still signs of the Farsund, a wreck that went aground in 1912, that's on Cape Barren Island," Mr Willis said.

"It's still there, it's falling to pieces, the stern is falling off, 20 metres or so of the rear has fallen and just gone into the sand, and wiggled its way down towards the centre of the Earth.

"It's a dangerous sort of ship to walk on because there's so much rust — it's just falling to pieces.

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