Tasmania

Tasmania is an Australian state, a subdivision of the Commonwealth of Australia. It is made up of a large island with a few hundred smaller islands, situated approximately 150 miles (240 kilometers) off the southeastern coast of the Australian mainland. Tasmania encompasses an area of 26,410 square miles (68,401 square kilometers), and it is the 26th largest island in the world. It is located at coordinates 42°S 147°E. At its longest point (from north to south) it is 226 miles (364 kilometers) long, while at its widest point (east to west) it is 190 miles (306 kilometers) wide.

The population of Tasmania was approximately 512,000 as of June 2012. Nearly half of Tasmania's people live in and around the capital city Hobart, which is located on the island's southeastern coast. Other large cities and towns of Tasmania include, in descending order based on population: Launceston, Devonport, Burnie, and Ulverstone.

Tasmania is surrounded by the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is separated from the Australian mainland by the Bass Strait, and is closest to the Australian state of Victoria. Tasmania has several “nicknames”, including Dervon, Tassie and Tas (the later two pronounced “Tazzie” and “Taz”, respectively). In the aboriginal language it is known as Lutriwita.

History

Tasmanian aborigines are believed to have been the first people to populate Tasmania beginning at least 35,000 years ago, when the land was still attached to the Australian mainland. The aborigines called themselves Parlevar and they migrated from Australia until about 10,000 years ago, when rising sea levels separated Tasmania from the mainland of Australia.

As neither the Parlevar nor the Australian aborigines had oceangoing capabilities, the Parlevar would develop separately from Australia once the island was isolated.

The first European contact with Tasmania took place in 1642. Dutch explorer Abel Janszoon Tasman, after whom the island is now named, originally called the island Anthoonij van Diemenslandt (Anthony van Diemen's Land in English). Anthony van Diemen, the Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies at the time, had dispatched Tasman on his voyage of discovery.

Other Europeans would explore Tasmania, including French and British travelers. By the early 1800s, the island was settled by the British and became a penal colony. The British settlers would shorten the island's name to Van Diemen's Land (capitalizing the “V” in “Van”) and would make it a freestanding colony, distinct from the Australian mainland.

At the time of the British colonization, there were an estimated 5,000 to 10,000 Parlevar living on the island, each associating itself with one of nine aboriginal tribes. Disease, persecution, intermarriage and other factors reduced the aborigines' numbers to an estimated 300 by the 1830s. One account claims that the last full-blooded Perval was a woman named Truganini. She died in 1876. Another Perval woman named Fanny Cochrane Smith was also thought to be the last full-blooded Tasmanian to die. She died in either 1905 or 1906, nearly 30 years after Truganini passed away.

By the 1850s, the British had given the colony on Van Diemen's Land some autonomy. Some time afterward, the colony renamed itself Tasmania. In 1901, several Australian colonies and Tasmania joined together to form a federation known as the Commonwealth of Australia. Tasmania became a state under this new federation.

Geography

tasmania-satellite.jpg Tasmania is well known for its natural beauty and forested areas, with roughly 40 percent of the land protected as part of either a national park or reserve. It is Australia's most mountainous region, home to temperate rain forests, lakes, rivers and several inactive volcanoes. The highest point in Tasmania is Mount Ossa, standing at 5,305 feet (1,617 meters) tall.

Tasmania is subject to the “Roaring Forties”. These are strong westerly winds found in the Southern Hemisphere, roughly between 40 and 50 degrees latitude. The Roaring Forties have been helpful to sailors at least as far back as the Age of Discovery.

Tasmania's longest river is the South Esk River, which is dammed to provide electrical power. Other prominent rivers in Tasmania include the Derwent River, which ends at Hobart, the Franklin River, the Gordon River, the Mersey River, and the Tamar River.

The climate of Tasmania is cool and temperate. Although rainfall varies across the island, Tasmania is Australia's wettest state. The western side of the island, where most of the rain forests can be found, receives far more rainfall than the drier eastern side. Tasmania has four distinct seasons and most of the rain generally falls during the winter months. Average high temperatures in the summer are 70 degrees F (21 degrees C) near the coast, and 75 degrees F (24 degrees C) inland. Average winter highs are 54 degrees F (12 degrees C) along the coastal areas and 37 degrees F (3 degrees C) inland.

Government

Although Tasmania retains some autonomy, it is governed by the Constitution of Australia, as it is a part of the Commonwealth of Australia.

The Tasmanian government is based on a parliamentary system known as the Westminster System, which is modeled after the government of the United Kingdom. It is made up of the monarchy's representative, a Governor, and two legislative chambers. These are known as the Legislative Council (the upper house), and the House of Assembly (the lower house). The party or coalition with the most seats in the House of Assembly is tasked with forming the government. This usually consists of nominating the party (or coalition) leader for the office of Premier. The Tasmanian Governor will then invite the Premier to act as his or her chief adviser.

Executive power in Tasmania stems from the Governor and the Cabinet, which is appointed by the Governor. Judicial power is similar to that found in the United States. The Supreme Court of Tasmania is the state's highest court. However, the High Court of Australia and other Australian federal courts can override rulings by the Supreme Court of Tasmania.

At the local level, Tasmania is divided into 29 Local Government Areas, or LGAs. The LGAs, which roughly correspond to counties in the United States, include 6 cities and 23 municipalities. LGAs are run by councils, whose members are elected by the voters in their respective areas. LGAs are responsible for managing local functions such as waste and recycling collection, road infrastructure and land planning.

At the federal government level, Tasmania is represented by five members in Australia's lower parliamentary house, the House of Representatives. The state, like every Australian state, has 12 senators in the Australian Senate.

Ecology

Because of its geographical isolation, Tasmania is home to many unique plant and animal species and sub-species. About 70 percent of Tasmania's alpine plants exist only in Tasmania.

For example, there are several types of pine trees found only on Tasmania, including the creeping pine, the cheshunt pine, the King Billy pine, the Huon pine and the pencil pine. Of special note is the Huon pine, which is among the oldest living organisms on earth. Some individual Huon pine trees are believed to be older than 3,000 years.

Perhaps the best known animal endemic to Tasmania is the Tasmanian devil. The Tasmanian devil is a carnivorous marsupial about the size of a small dog. It is covered in black fur and known for making a distinctive, high-pitched screech. Initially, European settlers considered Tasmanian devils a nuisance and almost extinguished them. Today, they are considered an endangered species and are protected by law.

There are many other animal species unique to Tasmania. Some endemic mammals include the eastern quoll, the pademelon, the bettong and the long-tailed mouse. The thylacine, a marsupial canine popularly known as the Tasmanian tiger because of its unique striping, is now unfortunately extinct. Lizards such as the She-oak skink, the Tasmanian Tree skink, and the Spotted skink can only be found in Tasmania.

Economy

The primary industries of Tasmania include mining, agriculture, forestry, electrical production (via hydro-electric facilities), and tourism. Manufacturing, never a big sector to begin with in Tasmania, declined during the 1990s.

An abundance of minerals has always made mining one of the most important economic activities in Tasmania. Zinc, lead, silver, copper, tin, iron, and tungsten are all extracted from mines located in certain permitted zones of the island. Gold is also mined in Tasmania but the island never experienced the “gold rush” seen elsewhere in the world.

Among the earliest economic activities engaged in by European settlers was agriculture. Many areas of Tasmania boast rich soil for planting. When the British first formed Tasmania as a penal colony, many of the original settlers, including the prisoners, went to work developing agriculture. Some of the island's key agricultural products include wine, gourmet beef, cheese, produce and chocolate.

A large number of working-age Tasmanians are employed by the government. Two of the state's largest private sector employers are: Gunns Limited, a forestry company that is currently under voluntary administration, a procedure roughly equivalent to a Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceeding in the United States; and the Federal Group, which owns Tasmania's two casinos and a number of hotels on the island. During the late 1990s, a number of national Australian companies moved their call centers to Tasmania as a result of the availability of cheap fiber-optic connections.

Because of Tasmania's limited number of industries, many of the island's young and talented workers have historically left the island to seek opportunities on the mainland of Australia or elsewhere. This is still true today. Also of economic significance is the fact that roughly one-third of all Tasmanians rely on welfare or government assistance as their main source of income.

Transportation

Tasmania has a comprehensive transportation system for both people and goods. Various sea, air and land travel modes are available. Major sea ports include Hobart, Bell Bay, Devonport, Port Latta, and Burnie. Freight and passenger rail systems connect key cities, as do major roadways. Major national and international airlines fly into, and out of, the island each week.

Culture of Tasmania

Food and Cuisine

The basis of Tasmanian cuisine is British cuisine, influenced by locally available produce. Wines have been one of Tasmania's strengths, as the geography and cool climate of the island have allowed it to produce wines that are distinct from those of the rest of Australia. Global warming has even helped, allowing grapes to ripen progressively earlier in the season, resulting in stronger, more flavorful wines.

Special Events

Tasmania boasts several special events each year. One of the better-known events is the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race (also known as the Bluewater Classic in Australia). This boating event begins the day after Christmas Day (Boxing Day) in Sydney, Australia. The event ends a few days later in Hobart. The race covers 630 nautical miles and is considered very challenging, due to the difficult seas encountered between the Australian mainland and Tasmania.

A day or two after the yacht race, music fans can enjoy the Falls Music and Arts Festival. This event takes place around New Year's Eve at several locations around Australia, including Marion Bay, Tasmania. Some of the acts that have performed at the festival in the past include Blondie, Iggy Pop, the Black Eyed Peas, and De La Soul.

Begun in 2001, 10 Days on the Island is arguably Tasmania's (maybe even Australia's) most important arts festival and cultural event. The festival takes place at 50 locations across Tasmania, every two years.

Sports

Tasmanians enjoy a number of spectator and participatory sports. The most popular spectator sports are Australian rules football, which has some similarities to rugby, and cricket. For men, the most popular participatory sport is soccer (known as Association football throughout Australia). For the women, swimming is the most popular participatory sport.

Cricket Tasmania is the body that administers cricket at the highest possible level in Tasmania (grade cricket, which is the next highest level in Australia after first-class cricket). Cricket Tasmania is responsible for selecting players to the state's first-class cricket team, the Tasmanian Tigers. Players who wish to join the Tigers must prove themselves at the Tasmanian Grade Competition.

Tasmania has a long history in Australian rules football, dating back to colonial days. The state established a long-running rivalry with the team from its neighboring state, Victoria. Unfortunately, there is no “native” Australian rules football team representing Tasmania at the national level today. The only Australian Football League team currently playing in Tasmania is the Hawthorn Hawks, which play their home games in Launceston. Nevertheless, Tasmanians have taken the Hawks under their wings, as it were, nicknaming the team the Tassie Hawks.

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