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(TASMAINIA) Rugged coastline has claimed many ships since the early years, some estimates put the number of wrecks at more than 1,000 #AceNewsDesk report

#AceNewsReport – Jan.31: Many are well documented and protected by heritage laws, but the Tamar River in the state’s north has its own unique set — an area called the Burial Ground.

‘Tamar River is home to a ‘ship graveyard’, but these vessels were deliberately sunk in a row’

ABC News Posted 54m ago

Aerial view of sunken vessels in a river bed.
The shapes of the vessels are visible from above with one, the Platypus, visible from the public boardwalk.(Google Earth)

Such is its reputation for silting up, the Tamar has been referred to by locals as the river that floats upside down, and over the yearsgovernments have poured millions of dollars into fixing the problem.

In an early attempt to create more flow in the river’s main channel, at least 14 vessels were sunk in a line between the 1920s and 1970s.

The sunken ships at Tamar Island.
The sunken ships at Tamar Island make up one of Tasmania’s largest ship graveyards.(Supplied TAHO)

Parks and Wildlife Service Historic Heritage section leader Mike Nash said the area in the Tamar Wetlands was one of the largest ship graveyards in Tasmania.

“The idea was if they put those vessels on the western side of the river near Tamar Island, you would force the current to come around the eastern side,” he said. 

“The Tamar for shipping is not that great because it is constantly silting up.” 

Aerial view of sunken ships in Tamar River.
The vessels were sunk in a line over a 50 year period.(Supplied)

The vessels, mostly wooden lighters and barges, were burnt to the waterline and then sunk. 

A three-masted sailing ship, the Zelateur, and a floating dock were also discarded as part of the scheme.

Mr Nash said most of the vessels were out of use, making it a convenient spot, rather than towing them out to sea.

“Each of the ships now acts as a little floating island. Most have completely silted up and are covered with weed and growth,” he said. 

Dredging operations were originally based on Tamar Island itself, with workers living in huts. 

As the number of ships using Launceston’s port increased, the area was used as a site to dump silt.

It’s estimated at least 115 watercraft were deliberately discarded in Tasmanian waters between 1808 and 1997.

Mr Nash said the Tamar Island discard site was only outdone by the ship graveyard near Betsey Island in Storm Bay in the state’s south, where at least 18 unwanted vessels were scuttled.

Environment adapts to manmade barrier 

A metal steam dredger, known as Platypus, is the only vessel visible from the public boardwalk to the island, with the shapes of the others visible from above. 

“Wildlife has adapted, and it is a perfect resting location for birds, like cormorants and egrets,” Mr Nash said.

“They’ve sort of become part of the natural environment.”

Mr Nash said the scheme’s successful was a topic of contention, but major floods in 1929 breached the barrier. 

“Eventually overtime the hulls will rot away and the timber will collapse,” he said.

“They seem to have stood up fairly well over the last 100 years, but the wrecks themselves will be there for a very long time.”

A pelican and swan on a wetland
The wetlands are home to many birds which sometimes use the wrecks as a resting site.(Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Services: Helen Jones)

West Tamar Mayor Christina Holmdahl said not many people knew about the Tamar Wetland’s unique history.

“It’s a wonderful tourist attraction that you won’t find in many other parts of the world, where you can have this fabulous area that is full of both history and natural beauty,” she said.

“Most people see it as just a sleepy river, but there is so much more to the history that we have in the Tamar Valley.”

The boardwalk to Tamar Island is 1.5 kilometres long, with the Burial Ground in the area north of the third bridge.

Flooding in 1929 on the corner of Holbrook and Forster Streets, Invermay
Flooding in 1929 on the corner of Holbrook and Forster Streets, Invermay(Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office)

#AceNewsDesk report ………..Published: Feb.01: 2021:

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