A case study: The Hobart Rivulet

I have not shared any blogs for our 73 challenge recently. There’s a reason; unlike my friend who issued this challenge, who is just diving in wherever he fancies, I am working my way through the list in order, and I have come to number 8: a case study.

I struggled over this – struggled over what or who to do as a case study. I’ve written a lot about writing and I wanted a new challenge… and I found one! It has worked out rather long, so I split it into three and posted the parts a couple of weeks ago.

Now it is complete, and here is my case study; I have not chosen a person to look at, but a river…

The Hobart Rivulet

Wherever you go in Hobart you can see kunanyi – now known as Mount Wellington. In the winter it is covered in snow and it must look strikingly marvellous. We saw it in the middle of summer, a reassuring presence overlooking the busy city. We took a trip to the top… on a day which was wet and rainy, and all we saw was cloud and mist… it was tremendously atmospheric – literally, and although yes, I would like to travel up to its peak again on a good day to see the view, there was an almost mystical sense of it being a special place.

The first people who lived here were the mouheneener people and the pure fresh water flowing down the mountain was a precious resource… It flowed down and joined the mighty Tasmanian river, timtumili minanya

… and then at the end of the seventeenth century wooden ships sailed into the bay bringing white people who would colonise the area, and eventually the whole island. This land was then named Van Diemen’s Land. The English colonists, mainly prisoners from Britain’s overflowing jails and soldiers to guard them, had tried to establish a settlement at piyura kitina, which they called Risdon Cove, but lack of drinking water sent them in search of a more ‘suitable’ site. They found it at the confluence of that little fresh water river, where it joined the timtumili minanya, which the new arrivals named The River Derwent.

It wasn’t many months after their arrival that a flour mill was built on the rivulet in 1805, and by 1820 there were three more. The settlement was called Hobarton and was named after Lord Hobart who was the British secretary of state for war and the colonies – or to be precise, Robert Hobart, 4th Earl of Buckinghamshire, the Lord Hobart. Hobarton became Hobart, and the river flowing off the mountain became the Hobart Rivulet. Originally the Rivulet met the Derwent at what became Franklin’s Wharf, but later is course was altered, the water piped and culverted and it now emerges into the river near the Cenotaph.

Now the area is named the English way, any mouheneener names have been forgotten although many features are being renamed with new Aboriginal names. The Hobart Rivulet flows from its source on the slopes kunanyi, over O’Grady’s Falls and the Strickland Falls until it reaches an imposing edifice opened in 1828 as a prison for female convicts (and their children), a prison and workhouse, the Cascades Female Factory. In actual fact it was originally supposed to be a distillery – what does a distillery need to operate? Water – and what as flowing past the proposed site? Pure mountain water. However, by the time the owner arrived from England and opened it in 1824, there were at least sixteen other distilleries already operating and he went out of business. The Cascade Brewery, which still is there today, was opened in 1824, again using the fresh pure water to make its world-famous beers, lager and cider.

In the early days the Rivulet served many purposes apart from providing water for drinking, for power and for domestic and industrial purposes; it was used to transport people and goods, and it was also used – (as so many watercourses worldwide in the past and still today) as a sewer. This dire situation was inevitable, despite Lieutenant Governor David Collins (the founding Lieutenant Governor of the Colony of Van Diemen’s Land) best efforts; the day after he landed in February 1804, he gave out that no-on was to pollute the river at all, in any way, by any means.

However, his fine words and sensible pronouncements were soon ignored; it wasn’t just domestic sewerage (the Rivulet was declared a sewer in 1843) but as industry increased, especially with the introduction of steam-powered machines, other waste, including from tanneries, quarries and sawmills – as well as the original flour mill – along the Rivulet rendered it so foul that people living nearby complained. Various not very successful efforts were made to improve it the situation, but didn’t prevent several typhoid epidemics breaking out during the latter part of then nineteenth century. Action was only taken in 1912 – almost within living memory, when a drainage and sewerage system was introduced.

As the city grew bridges were built over it at key points until it became necessary, or was deemed necessary to send the water through pipes and tunnels under the buildings and streets of the state capital. When we visited we noticed this as we walked around the city, we kept finding bridges over the hidden river, and could sometimes glimpse it as it ran towards its meeting with the Derwent. It seemed sad to see it, sometimes having to peep through a little viewpoint from above, spoiled with rubbish and bits of branch and twig, leaves and grass choking it.

The Rivulet is four and a half miles long, and descends over one thousand seven hundred and eighty feet from its birthplace on the mountain. There is a riverside walk which is delightful; as I mentioned it we loved our amble along its course until it disappeared under Molle Street. We saw plenty of birds, on the water, on the grass, in the shrubs and trees, but we sadly didn’t see any platypus which live in the Rivulet; apparently further up there is a wonderful range of Tasmanian creatures, devils, quolls, wombats and Bennett’s wallabies… we saw no sign of any of these!. We were not the only ones to enjoy the walk on that day in February; there was a constant stream of walkers, joggers, pram pushers, bike riders, people young and old – people who obviously lived in the area and visitors like us. Before white people came to this place, the first people would have followed this same path from the mountain to the river, going back generations.

I hope I have made this sound idyllic, a credit to the city, an insight into history, and the people who have lived and worked here. I hope I have encouraged you to wander along its banks as we did, should you be so fortunate to visit the city.

I hope also that you will now share my disbelief, horror, and outrage, when I mention that a programme of ‘tidying’ up has been going on which has included council workers spraying chemicals, including glyphosate, along the banks of the Rivulet, chemicals to kill weeds. It is important of course it is to keep the banks clear – there have been terrible floods in the past – but using toxic sprays in this sensitive and important area? Risking the lives of the animals – birds, fish, reptiles, amphibians and mammals who live here, and risking the health of the people who enjoy the area – is that right? Is it ethical? Is it sensible or safe? I suggest the answer to these questions is no… A resounding no.

I am going to write to the city council asking if this is their policy, and if it is to consider changing it. It impacts not just on the local people and wild life – but it may impact directly on a burgeoning industry – tourism. There are various other ecological wars being fought in and around the beautiful state of Tasmania – the use of toxic weed killers and herbicides is not attractive to potential visitors! It’s very wrong, and it’s also very stupid.

© Lois Elsden


    1. Lois

      Thank you Richard! It was a very interesting exercise, and something I wouldn’t normally do – the 73 is worth it! We could challenge John to write 73 poems, but he might job at listicles!!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.