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matthew flinders

Grim by name but not by nature - `Cape Grim', North West Tasmania


Grim by name but not by nature - `Cape Grim', North West Tasmania

Time for another trip in the new truck, and our first ferry - overnight from Melbourne to Davenport - the treacherous Bass Strait an ominous black chop.

With an early dinner and a cosy twin cabin our morning port of Davenport lay sleepy and cold.

By midday we're 180kms to the west, the most northwest point of Tasmania, with an annual rainfall of almost 1m and according to one of only 3 'Baseline Air Pollution Stations' on the planet `THE CLEANEST AIR IN THE WORLD'.

We've passed rolling green fields of wind turbines, over 50 of the gangly beasts producing 12% of the state's power; each 60m tall, with rotors the span of a Boeing747 and generator housings as big as a bus.

Next it's the old Van Dieman's Land Company homestead - once a great wool empire. There's a deserted shearing shed and echoed footsteps from a dust-laden floor. There's a rambling shearers' quarters and a gap in a dark row of cyprus wrent by a recent tornado, miraculously leaving the old kitchen intact, the photos of black folk with missionary garb and blank bewildered stares.

And finally we're up here on the coast, the goal of our journey; buffeted by fresh salty air and the crash of grandiose southern oceans.

To the south lay the Antarctic. To the west, the famed 'Roaring 40s' winds, blown all the way from Argentina past the southern tip of Africa to get here; those same gales lashing our faces. We've wool and possum fur beanies pulled down tight, flapping Goretex jackets all buttoned up. I wonder at the wrecks that must surely be buried in paddocks of kelp that sway on sub-sea tides.

We gaze northward, to a tall natural rampart topped by rich green grass, grey and white waves crashing at its base - this is 'Suicide Bay', where a band of the indigenous Pendowtee people were shot in 1828, their bodies thrown over the edge of the 60m precipice; the culmination of a series of events beginning with the harassment, abduction and rape of Pendowtee womenfolk.

So we really are at `Cape Grim', evocatively named by the intrepid English navigator and cartographer Matthew Flinders, from his 8m open whaling boat... for the wild weather and bitter winds, the huge swells, hissing foam and boiling cauldron seas, or maybe the treacherous rocky reefs... or could it really have been named in honour of a Mr 'Grim'?

There are flashes of sun on shining seas, the salt and spray a timeless presence. Broken clouds race on eastward, shedding shadows dark, on grassy tussocks and rolling pastures painted in hues of emerald green.