Tasmania's journal of discovery

A devil of a time

TIM DUB:

A scream of chilling ferocity shatters our comfort. I leap to my feet, goosebumps and neck hair rising — a jelly of inadequate reflexes.

The high-pitched prolonged howl has a souless abandonment that is not of this world …

The soothing beat of waves that thump-crash onto the shore a couple of hundred metres away is punctuated only by an occasional solo riff from the wind.

In a fisherman’s shack, enjoying a glass of red and an abalone bouillabaisse, I am relaxing with my host Geoff King.

“My friends call me Joe … that’s … jo.king …” suggests Geoff, in a lazy drawl with an undertow of good humour.

Outside, the dusk gathers, here in the NW of Tasmania, and the beauty of the rugged coast fades into the silhouetted outline of cathedral-sized rocks against the black expanse of a night sea.

A scream of chilling ferocity shatters our comfort. I leap to my feet, goosebumps and neck hair rising — a jelly of inadequate reflexes.

The high-pitched prolonged howl has a souless abandonment that is not of this world — as if the devil himself had laid seige to us and is already in the room.

“They’re here,” cries Geoff rushing to the window. Sure enough, not one, but two Tasmanian Devils are arguing over their supper of wallaby carcass illuminated by a floodlight, only a couple of metres from the shack window.

A microphone, artfully concealed, is relaying to us every sound, now more muted and affable, as the devils tear, munch and crunch their way through the hapless roadkill that Geoff pegged down a couple of hours before.

Geoff’s one good eye glints with excitement as he delivers a stream of fascinating facts about the devils and their carrion role in the delicate ecosystem of countryside Tasmania.

“Here, finish your soup before it gets cold,” Geoff remembers, adding cheerfully, “there’s plenty of time to watch the devils later, wallaby are better than possum, they don’t tear apart so easily.”

I decline his offer to resume my meal, leaving the chowder to cool undisturbed, a wise decision because after a renewed bout of furious squabbling, the devils are now pulling cooperatively, like a couple of pups with a sock, on a metre-long strip of intestine and I am beginning to understand Geoff’s earlier advice:

“Best not to bring the kids — they can get a bit upset.”

What is it that causes a beef farmer in such a conservative part of Tasmania to remove his cattle and set aside 336 hectares to run nature tours? Perhaps, part of the answer lies in history.

In 1824, King George IV ‘gave away’ the North West of Tasmania to a group of British aristocrats who, by establishing farms in new parts of the world, intended to insure themselves against problems in their regular supply of wool.

This area became known as Woolnorth. In 1834, John King was on the boat from England to Australia to take up a post on Woolnorth, but it was recorded that he was ‘too friendly’ with the working men during the passage.

Two years later, he bought his way out to become the first settler in nearby Wynyard. It was on a property settled by the Kings in 1880 and slightly to the south of Woolnorth, that the same spirited independence of thought and action were to re-emerge some 150 years later, in the robust and genial figure of his descendant — Geoff King.

Geoff’s upbringing was typical of the area and he enjoys a nearly typical lifestyle now. He has a beef farm down the road, is a keen cricket supporter, was a passable footballer and has drunk, shot and off-roaded with the best of them, but now Geoff is an increasingly passionate conservationist, motivated by his concern for the natural and cultural values of his land:
“I don’t poison, I don’t shoot and I don’t drive on the foreshore. The numbers of animals and birds are steadily increasing,” he says.

Unlike many who share his views, he has the moral authority of the insider. No-one can dismiss him as an ignorant blow-in; his roots are as deep in this deeply traditional rural community as European roots can be.

As well as his nocturnal Tassie Devil tour, Geoff runs a daytime tour that is difficult to characterise in any simple way. His tours combine an appreciation for the flora, fauna and history of this special strip of coastline.

“Truganini and Robinson would have crossed the land just about here after she pulled him out of the river when a band of Aborigines tried to kill him,” Geoff tells me, referring to the troubled partnership between the Aboriginal woman, wrongly reputed to have been the last of the full-blood Tasmanian Aborigines, and the English missionary, George Augustus Robinson, whose attempt to save and ‘civilise’ 135 Aboriginal survivors ended in tragedy.

“This coast is rich in Aboriginal history,” Geoff adds. “There are middens and other evidence of Aboriginal occupation, that go back 6000 years.”
A crucial ingredient of the success of his tours is the man himself. It is exciting to see a profusion of plants and wildlife.

Intriguing … and fascinating

It is intriguing to see regular cubes of wombat turd, arranged precariously on prominent sticks, or catch a glimpse of a quoll at night. It is fascinating to learn history — but what makes the experience unforgettable is Geoff’s passion — his love of the place — a quality as evident after five years of running tours, as it was on day one.

But Geoff is not some woolly-haired idealist, lost in nostalgic fancy or romantic dreams. The transition from cattle to eco-tourism has proved an astute business move, the income far exceeding its previous yield.

Beneath the patina of humour and the easy-going charisma, is a thoughtful and resolute man of character and determination, essential qualities in an area where the off-roading community has been disgruntled by restriction of 4WD access along the foreshore and the shooters irritated by the proliferation of wildlife that many regard as suitable only for target practice.

Poignant public role

Geoff has expanded his influence to sit on several committees including re-election as president of the Tasmanian Conservation Trust.

His most poignant public role is on the committee established to coordinate research and action to find a cure for an agonising disease that is killing Tasmanian Devils with grossly disfiguring facial tumours.

The causes are not known, nor are there any known cures and although so far limited to the eastern part of Tasmania, the risk of spread of the disease to the whole island is real enough for a ‘Noah’s Ark’ program to breed devils in captivity on Maria Island, in case the disaster wipes out the wild population.

“Look at that little beauty,” says Geoff. “She’ll have young nearby, she’s seen the rest off.”

Sure enough, a little Tassie Devil is applying herself vigorously, working her bulging cheek muscles hard, as she finishes off what remains of the carcass. Her work done, she gives a good sniff in our direction before turning promptly on her haunches to set off back into the bush, accompanied by a receding fanfare from the ever vigilant plovers.

Only a small stain of blood is left as evidence of the evening’s drama.

“Ah well. That’ll be that,” says Geoff. “Best be going home ourselves.”

Bookings essential. Ordinarily, meals are not provided. A Geoff King “Tassie Devil Feeding Tour” costs $75 pp, for groups enquire. September to April.
Contact: Geoff King, c/o Post Office, Marawah, Tasmania 7330 Phone/fax: 03 6457 1191

Accommodation is available at nearby Glendonald Cottage — contact Geoff or Margo for details.

Photography and words by Hobart-based freelancer Tim Dub

Next entry: A devil of a time

Previous entry: Cheeky: Round Two

<< Back to main

STAY IN TOUCH. Sign up to be alerted when new content gets uploaded to Tasmania's online magazine. Enter your email address. We'll do the rest. We respect your privacy and this information will only be used for email alerts.

Pendragon Hall
Roaring 40s
Meadowbank Wines
Ruth Waterhouse jewellery
Slim Ink Book Rental
Mayfair on Cavell
Bush Beats: a walk on the mild side
Guided walks with experienced bushwalker and passionate naturalist, Alison Moore, who will interpret the secrets of the landscape and its living systems. Full day walks, half-day walks or two-hour walks.

Rod & Fly Tasmania
Mike Tanner, a 30-year veteran flyfisher, shares his skills at introductory classes, or guides the more experienced on Tasmania's renowned Central Highlands lakes. (03) 6266 4480

Attitude Taxis
Relax in luxurious leather seats as we deliver you in comfort to your destination. Airport transfers, Tours & Day Trips can be arranged. Call 0417 516 419 or 0409 783 343

Get Firefox!
Diamond Island
Norfolk Bay Convict Station

Tasmanian Jobs
Elizabeth College
Ray White Hobart
Book City Hobart
Stanton Bed and Breakfast
The magnificent convict-built country manor, Stanton, was built in 1817, and is situated on one of Tasmania's first land grant sites — 16 acres of pasture and orchards at Magra, in the heart of the historical and beautiful Derwent Valley.

Red Tag Trout Tours
Roger Butler leads this one-man Tasmanian guiding operation which caters to flyfishers, from all over the world, who share a common goal: getting a wild brown trout to hand.

Cobbers: mates on a mission
We've been looking at the future and it isn't working. But we can fix it, one blog at a time.

Bed and breakfast in Tasmania