This book covers the history of Australia from the European expeditions in the last quarter of the 18th century to Tasmania's bicentenary, which was observed in 2003/2004.
I became one of the Tasmanian diaspora in 1974, when I left the island as a teenager (as so many of us have) to pursue greater opportunities `on the mainland'. My most recent visit reawakened my interest in Tasmanian history, and this is one of the books I picked up as part of that pursuit of information.
The book includes chapters with the following headings:
1. Extraordinary encounters
2. Fledgling settlements
3. The Black War
4. An indelible stain?
5. The triumph of colonization
6. The politics of Van Diemen's Land
7. The convict system
8. Post penal depression
9. Reform and recovery
10. Federation and war
11. Between the wars
12. Post war Tasmania
13. Towards the bicentenary
While I am broadly familiar with Tasmania's history as a penal settlement, of its mineral wealth and its colonial architecture, I was less familiar with some of the factors that had created Tasmania's relatively rapid growth and prosperity before 1850. I was also less aware of some of the demographic differences that shaped politics across the island. I found this book very readable: the way in which Mr Reynolds has organised material makes it easy to follow.
The viewpoints of both Indigenous Tasmanians and British settlers are presented, as are differences in perspective between the landed gentry (mainly those fortunate enough to receive land grants and have access to convict labour) and the workers whose success depended on their own efforts. Patterns of settlement across the island reflect the diversity of the island and its mineral wealth. Tasmania's geography, as much as its isolation have influenced its development.
Walking around Hobart and Launceston, and visiting properties such as `Highfield House' in Stanley and `Woolmers' at Longford illustrate the colonial architecture heritage which is still so rich in Tasmania.
`Tasmania's economic history diverges from the common Australian pattern. The period of rapid growth and prosperity before 1850 was followed by prolonged depression interspersed with short periods of relative abundance. No other state has been so often in depression or experienced such a persistent loss of population.'
I learned quite a lot from reading this book, including the existence of a convict cemetery very close to where I went to primary school at Glen Dhu, Launceston. I drove past the cemetery earlier this year: until then I knew nothing of its existence. I hope that much more local history is taught in Tasmanian schools now. I've added some of the sources cited to my reading list.