Have you ever seen those postcards with a map of New Zealand – showing the North Island, the South Island, and the West Island (Australia)? In Tasmania I saw postcards with Australia identified as ‘North Tasmania’. As this suggests, the attitude of Tasmanians to the mainland is not so different from the New Zealand attitude to its bigger brother.
But what about the relationship between New Zealand and Tasmania? In a tour of Te Ara I found many links. In the animal world, the forest-loving black possum is a Tasmanian import; and so is New Zealand’s most common frog.
Abel Tasman himself provides a first human link, sailing as he did between the island he named Van Diemen’s Land and the west coast of the South Island – he took 19 days.
Tasmanian aborigines had an even tougher time of it than Māori in New Zealand once Europeans came to stay. But it’s striking to see parallels to the Ngāi Tahu experience – intermarriage, and the survival of muttonbirding on offshore islands through many generations. Those offshore islands also drew sealers and whalers – many of whom worked in both Tasmanian and New Zealand waters.
The convict experience differentiated the two colonies. For convict-free New Zealand, self-government in 1854 was a fairly easily gained status. However, for Tasmanians 1853, the year the transportation of convicts ended, was fundamental. Even the colony’s name was changed – from Van Diemen’s Land – as a way of burying the convict past.
Through the later 19th century, the human traffic went both ways. Tasmanian-born Gabriel Read, who made the first important gold strike in Otago in 1861, in fact spent most of his life on Tasmania, apart from four or so years in Otago.
Cross-dresser and confidence trickster Amy Bock also hailed from Tasmania (born in Hobart in 1859), as did trade unionist Stephen Boreham (born 1857). Retail baron John McKenzie was in business in Tasmania when he came on a motorcycling tour of New Zealand and decided to migrate, opening his first store in Dunedin in 1910.
People who crossed in the other direction included missionary son and New Zealand official George Clarke Jr, who was a church minister in Hobart from 1851 and, at the turn of the century, chancellor of the University of Tasmania for nine years.
A more unusual ‘crossover’ was that of W. B. Perceval, New Zealand’s agent general in London from 1891 to 1896. Replaced without warning by William Pember Reeves, he served as agent general for Tasmania for another two years.
For the contemporary visitor to Tasmania there are reminders of New Zealand links. The British 99th Regiment, based in Hobart from 1846 to the 1850s, erected a memorial, still in the grounds of the Anglesea barracks, to the 24 of its number who died in fighting in New Zealand in 1845–46. (Jock comments: it’s Australia’s very first war memorial.)
There are Mawhera and Waimea streets in Hobart – and at the top of the latter a Waimea Heights primary school. Otago Bay is at one remove – named after the only ship ever commanded by mariner and novelist Joseph Conrad, which was broken up at the bay in 1931.
Tasmania, like New Zealand, has a settlement called National Park. When the park – now called Mount Field National Park – was established in 1916 it was the only one, just as Tongariro once was in New Zealand.
A recent theatrical link was Wellington actor Stuart Devenie’s performance in Geoff Chapple’s play on Joseph Hatch’s controversial exploitation of Tasmania’s remote Macquarie Island (1889 to 1920), which was performed to acclaim in Hobart in April 2009. A few months later, when I visited, a television reviewer was recommending the ‘quality Kiwi series’ Go girls, whilst a dress shop owner’s favoured label was that of Trelise Cooper of Auckland. And everyone seems to be wearing Kathmandu branded clothing - there are three outlets in Tasmania and countless others through the mainland states.
But one New Zealand product that you can’t find in Tasmania are our apples – though that’s not too surprising in this, the biggest apple-producing state in the Commonwealth.