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Tasmania’s Stories

Kids join archaeological dig

Edition 194_KerrieLodge

Young archaeologists-in-training have joined the dig at an important excavation as part of an innovative education initiative.

This group of lucky youngsters has been working alongside archaeologists at one of Tasmania’s most significant convict excavations, The Kerry Lodge Probation Station, just south of Launceston.

Road-gangs who toiled on the old Midland Highway from Launceston to Hobart were chained up overnight at Kerry Lodge. But it was also a brutal working station where convicts smashed rocks into road base and hauled enormous blocks of stone from a nearby quarry for a bridge that still stands.

This history came alive for 34 ‘young archaeologists’ – from Invermay and East Tamar Primary Schools in Launceston – who spent a day at Kerry Lodge as part of the Children’s University program.

Among the group were eight-year-olds Bonnie who liked “digging and getting the bones, rocks, forks and wood,” and Aliyah who enjoyed “drawing and tracing the old plates and drawing the patterns.”

The Children’s University encourages youngsters – like Bonnie and Aliyah – who might not normally get the chance, to consider university as a future option.

They take part in a wide variety of extra-curricular activities, such as the dig, as a way to expand educational horizons.

“Working alongside archaeologists and actually looking for artefacts with them is an authentic learning experience,” Marcel Kerrison from the Children’s University said.

“This is all about connecting children, and their parents, to higher education and getting them to see that this is something they can aspire to.

“We want them to view university as something that is accessible.”

The Children’s University is a world-wide phenomenon.

The program has only been running in Tasmania for a little over three years, but it has already touched many lives with more than 450 students taking part. 

It is a collaboration between the University of Tasmania (UTAS) Peter Underwood Centre for Educational Attainment and state schools.

And there is also one definite highlight: “The students even get to ‘graduate’ in a real-life university ceremony complete with mortar board and gown,” Ms Kerrison added.

Meantime, as well as being part of a unique educational experience, our ‘young archaeologists’ are helping to unlock stories about life in Van Diemen’s Land.

“We are hoping this archaeological dig will help us find out more about the everyday life of convicts working on road gangs,” archaeologist and UTAS lecturer, Dr Louise Zarmati, said.

“You don’t get these stories from historical records.”

One puzzle archaeologists are trying to solve at Kerry Lodge is how the convicts hauled enormous blocks of stone, some weighing tonnes, up the steep slope from the quarry to the bridge they were building.

“Did they use human labour? Did they use horses? Did they use something with wheels?” Dr Zarmati asks.

“We just don’t know.”

However, what we do know is that infrastructure in Van Diemen’s Land really took off in the wake of the Black War which left settlers free to expand unhindered by attack from aboriginals.

“Everything really went gangbusters from then on,” Dr Zarmati explained.

This included work on the old Midland Highway and construction of the Kerry Lodge Probation station in 1843 which involved accommodation for some 40 convicts and an overseer’s cottage.

Excavation of the site began in 2015, and archaeologists have already uncovered remains of a kitchen from the cottage, but no signs yet of the wooden caravan with bunk-beds that they believe housed the convicts.

Other interesting items have been excavated: flint from a military issue rifle, glass from gin and beer bottles, and broken pieces of pottery including plates and pieces of pipe.

This latest dig at Kerry Lodge was carried out during April, and Dr Zarmati said the importance of the work cannot be overstated.

“We need to understand where we came from, and we need to preserve these things from our past for the future generations,” Dr Zarmati said.

The Kerry Lodge excavation is a collaboration between UTAS, the University of Manchester, the Launceston Historical Society and the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery (QVMAG).

Recovered artefacts will be displayed at QVMAG in Launceston.

Image courtesy of Adam Kerrison

8 May 2018, Edition 194

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Facts about Tasmania


Tasmania is the southernmost state of Australia, located at latitude 40° south and longitude 144° east and separated from the continent by Bass Strait. It is a group of 334 islands, with the main island being 315 km (180 miles) from west to east and 286 km (175 miles) north to south.


Tasmanians are resourceful and innovative people, committed to a continually expanding export sector. In 2012–13, international exports from the state totalled $3.04 billion. USA, China, Taiwan, India, Japan and other Asian countries account for the bulk of exports, with goods and services also exported to Europe and many other regions.


Tasmania is similar in size to the Republic of Ireland or Sri Lanka. The Tasmanian islands have a combined coastline of more than 3,000 km.


The main island has a land area of 62,409 sq km (24,096 sq miles) and the minor islands, taken together, total only 6 per cent of the main island’s land area. The biggest islands are Flinders (1,374 sq km/539 sq miles), King, Cape Barren, Bruny and Macquarie Islands.


About 250km (150 miles) separates Tasmania’s main island from continental Australia. The Kent Group of Islands, one of the most northerly parts of the state, is only 55km (34 miles) from the coast of the Australian continent.


Twice named ‘Best Temperate Island in the World’ by international travel magazine Conde Nast Traveler, Tasmania has a mild, temperate maritime climate, with four distinct seasons.


In summer (December to February) the average maximum temperature is 21° Celsius (70° Fahrenheit). In winter (June to August) the average maximum is 12° C (52° F) and the average minimum is 4° C (40° F). Snow often falls in the highlands, but is rarely experienced in more settled areas.

Annual Rainfall

Tasmania’s west coast is one of the wettest places in the world, but the eastern part of the State lives in a rain-shadow. Hobart, the second-driest capital city in Australia, receives about half as much rain as Sydney.

Annual Rainfall

Annual rainfall in the west is 2,400 mm (95 inches), but hardy locals insist there is no such thing as bad weather, only inadequate clothing. If you travel 120 km east to Hobart, you experience a much drier average of 626 mm (24 inches) a year.


The 512,875-strong community spreads itself across the land; less urbanised than the population of any other Australian state. Hobart, the capital city, is home to more than 212,000 people.

Capital City

Hobart nestles at the foot of kunanyi / Mount Wellington (1,270 m / 4,000 ft) and overlooks the Derwent Estuary, where pods of dolphins and migrating whales are sometimes seen from nearby beaches. Surrounded by thickly forested rolling hills, the city is home to the state parliament and the main campus of the University of Tasmania.

Capital City

Its historic centre features Georgian and Regency buildings from colonial times. Hobart is home port for coastal fishing boats, Antarctic expeditions and vessels that fish the Southern Ocean.

Land Formation

Mountain ranges in the south-west date back 1,000 million years. Ancient sediments were deeply buried, folded and heated under enormous pressure to form schists and glistening white quartzites.

Land Formation

In the south-west and central highlands, dolerite caps many mountains, including Precipitous Bluff and Tasmania’s highest peak, Mt Ossa (1617 m / 5300 ft). More than 42 per cent of Tasmania is World Heritage Area, national park and marine or forest reserves.


Vegetation is diverse, from alpine heathlands and tall open eucalypt forests to areas of temperate rainforests and moorlands, known as buttongrass plains. Many plants are unique to Tasmania and the ancestors of some species grew on the ancient super-continent, Gondwana, before it broke up 50 million years ago.


Unique native conifers include slow-growing Huon pines, with one specimen on Mt Read estimated to be up to 10,000 years old. Lomatia tasmanica, commonly known as King’s holly, is a self-cloning shrub that may well be the oldest living organism on earth. It was discovered in 1937.


Tasmania is the last refuge of several mammals that once roamed the Australian continent. It is the only place to see a Tasmanian devil or eastern quoll (native cat) in the wild and is the best place to see the spotted-tailed quoll (tiger cat), all carnivorous marsupials.


The eastern bettong and the Tasmanian pademelon, both now extinct on the Australian continent, may also be observed.


The Tasmanian tiger, or thylacine, was Australia’s largest surviving carnivorous marsupial and is a modern day mystery. The last documented thylacine died in captivity in 1936 and although the animal is considered extinct, unsubstantiated sightings persist.

History and Heritage

Aboriginal people have lived in Tasmania for about 35,000 years, since well before the last Ice Age. They were isolated from the Australian continent about 12,000 years ago, when the seas rose to flood low coastal plains and form Bass Strait.

History and Heritage

Descendants of the original people are part of modern Tasmania’s predominantly Anglo-Celtic population.

History and Heritage

Tasmania was originally named Van Dieman’s Land by the Dutch explorer Abel Janszoon Tasman in 1642. The island was settled by the British as a penal colony in 1803 and the original name was associated with the convict era. It was changed to Tasmania when convict transportation stopped in 1853.


A resourceful island culture has generated leading-edge niche industries, from production of high-speed catamaran ferries and marine equipment to lightning-protection technology.


Tasmanians produce winches and windlasses for some of the world’s biggest ocean-going pleasure craft; large-scale inflatable evacuation systems and provide specialist outfit-accommodation services to the marine industry.


The Wooden Boat Centre at Shipwrights Point has re-established the skills and traditions of another age and attracts students from around the world.


Tasmania is a world leader in natural turf systems for major sporting arenas and in areas of mining technology and environmental management. Its aquaculture industry has developed ground-breaking fish-feeding technology and new packaging.


Tasmanians sell communications equipment to many navies and their world-class fine timber designers and craftsmen take orders internationally for furniture made from distinctive local timber.


The state is a natural larder with clean air, unpolluted water and rich soils inviting the production of 100 varieties of specialty cheeses, as well as other dairy products, mouth-watering rock lobsters, oysters, scallops and abalone, Atlantic salmon, beef, premium beers, leatherwood honey, mineral waters, fine chocolates, fresh berry fruits, apples and crisp vegetables.


Tasmania is a producer of award-winning cool-climate wines, beers, ciders and whiskies. Other export products include essential oils such as lavender, pharmaceutical products and premium wool sought after in Europe and Asia. Hobart is a vital gateway to the Antarctic and a centre for Southern Ocean and polar research.


The industries in Tasmania which made the greatest contribution to the State’s gross product in 2010–11 in volume terms were: Manufacturing (9.4%), Health care and social assistance (8.2%), Financial and insurance services (7.2%), Ownership of dwellings and Agriculture, forestry and fishing (each 7.1%).

Getting to Tasmania

Travel is easy, whether by air from Sydney or Melbourne, or by sea, with daily sailings of the twin ferries Spirit of Tasmania 1 and 2 each way between Melbourne and Devonport throughout the year.

This site has been produced by the Brand Tasmania Council © 2014

Brand Tasmania

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