Tasmania's Treasure Island - catching the ferry to Bruny by Winsome and Graeme Andrews

Over the years we have managed to visit many of the interesting islands that are part of Australia. There are many yet to visit but in March 2010 we briefly ‘sampled’ Bruny Is, long on our wish list.
Bruny Island is an hour-glass shaped island off the east coast of Tasmania, to the south of Hobart’s Derwent River. It is a quiet place with an even mix of tarred and dirt roads and a local brochure that proudly notes that the island has an area about that of Singapore and by comparison, that the population is about 640 permanent residents.
The wineglass configuration of the island depends upon a picturesque isthmus, which, if Global Warming is ‘fair dinkum’ may well result in Bruny becoming Upper and Lower Bruny Is.
Several famous navigators have used some of the fine anchorages of the island, among them Captain Tobias Furneaux RN in 1773 and the rather better known James Cook who used an anchorage described by Furneax during his second visit to the Pacific.
Anchorages abound on the island and the marina at Kettering across D’Entrecasteaux Channel from Bruny probably has enough private craft available to set up a mini-Dunkirk Operation if they all went out at once. If a similar maritime area existed north of Sydney or north of Brisbane there would be many thousands of private boats but at Kettering there are probably less than 1,000 – winter in the area is only for hardy sailors.
Kettering marina is an expanding and busy place.Kettering is the access point for Bruny, perhaps 30 minutes by car from Hobart.
Vehicle access to the island has existed only since 1954. Before then any of those few residents who needed a car could arrange with one of the area’s river steamers to deliver a vehicle and unload it by crane. The first roll-on/off ferry to the island was the converted river steamer Melba (1921) which was, amazingly, converted into a diesel-powered vehicular double-ender. Interestingly, easy vehicular access to Bruny began some three years before cars could drive onto and off from a vehicular ferry between Melbourne and Tasmania! Melba lasted a long time and was still available to fill in when Hobart’s Tasman bridge was severed in 1975.
Easier access meant more traffic and island produce one way and visitors the other, meant that Melba generated more work than she could handle.
In 1961 a newer and bigger ferry arrived. The very much travelled Mangana started life in1930 in Sydney as one of a pair of identical sisters. George and Francis Peat were the first purpose-built diesel car ferries in Australia and were intended for the Kangaroo Point river crossing across the Hawkesbury River, before the road bridge was built. They were a great success, so good at their job that the Australian Army was quick to take them over when war came to the New Guinea area. They carried large loads at reasonable speed and their diesel engines gave them an extended fuel range.
After a 15 minute run Mirambeena reaches Bruny Is.
By the time the war was over the Hawkesbury Road bridge was open and the Peats were redundant. They were sold to Auckland which was yet to build its own harbour bridge. They worked in Auckland until 1959 when Auckland’s bridge was opened and, once more, they were redundant.
About 250 steps each way, Winsome nears the top of the lookout.Francis Peat was sold to Tasmania for use on the Bruny run but sank while being towed from Auckland to Hobart. George Peat (ex-Ewan W. Alison) survived the next tow and began a long period of successful work out of Kettering with Melba as back-up. Mangana could carry 37 average cars or a combination of vehicles and took about 35 minutes from Kettering to the hamlet of Barnes Bay on Bruny. The name Mangana commemorates the father of Truganini who is generally considered to be the last living full-blooded Tasmanian aborigine.
When the bridge fell down the Tasmanian government commenced a masterly display of dithering about providing a ferry service. Eventually it provided an ex-Hong Kong car ferry called Man On which at 25 years of age was towed to Hobart and used as a foot passenger ferry. As Harry O’May it was not considered to be a success and when the bridge was intact once more it was sent to the Bruny Is run where it replaced Mangana which then became back-up.
The view across Cloudy Bay at the south end of Bruny.In 1983 the Bruny Island landing place was transferred to Roberts Point, which was nearer to Kettering, and the travel time dropped from about 35 minutes to about 15.
Both Mangana and Harry O’May presided over considerable economic action on Bruny Is. Visitors could come by car and did. Accommodation at various levels soon developed and tourism became an important part of the area’s economy.
Full load on the top deck.In 1991 the first purpose-built vehicular ferry for Bruny arrived. Mirambeena was built in Tasmania and has an upper and lower deck. She is propelled by twin Voith Schneider drive units which, to the uninitiated look rather like two kitchen blender beaters vertically under the craft – one at either end. Mirambeena is very manoeuvrable but her masters fear having one engine break down as she has no rudders. As master of a vessel with similar units on Port Jackson I had trouble in this manner. Mirambeena is 52m long and her turn-around time at either end is quick and efficient.
On the day we went to Bruny, she carried a full load of cars on the upper deck with a mix of buses, trucks, monster mobile homes and cars on the lower deck. She took about 15-20 minutes to unload and load and away we went.
As a first time visitor I regretted the vessels’ shorter trip as the view is beautiful. I’ve never sailed in the area and I never will but I envy those that can.
Many penguin tracks lead to each hole.With Mirambeena in service, Mangana was sold and became a work punt in Hobart. Harry O’May was sold and became involved in an abortive vehicular ferry service on the Tamar River, down stream from Launceston. She has been laid up in Launceston for many years.
With a range of commercial ro/ro ferries at work in the rest of Australia, there is no need now to maintain a standby ferry. A variety of landing craft types can be chartered to pinch hit and the original Queenscliff–Sorrento car ferry Peninsular Princess has been regularly used during annual survey periods.
In 1978 Bruny ferries Harry O’May, at rear, and Mangana take it easy at Kettering.So what did we like best about Bruny? The beaches and the coastal scenery, followed by the drive through the island’s temperate rain forests and the visit to the penguin rookery stand out. The variety of views into the D’Entrecasteaux Channel is amazing. The rookery is on the isthmus and we didn’t expect to see the nocturnal inhabitants but we saw their footprints and burrows – thousands of them.
We probably won’t make it back to Bruny because we still have a few other sites to achieve but we’d happily return, particularly if we could magically invent our own boat to do it with. Oh well.