The North-West Passage

Words Sean Connors

The land echoes with refrains of the past. There are songs here in the north-west passage that few have heard. The birds make their voices known. The waterfalls rumble in the depths of the rainforests. The waves crash against the shore. The sounds of society are far away, like whispers on the wind. This is an old land.


The north-west coast of Tasmania is a majestic place, far away from the busy inner-city life of Hobart (which itself looks sleepy compared to the major cities on the mainland). Before my trip up there, I had not been to the north-west in nearly 15 years. The last time I visited was for a family vacation to Ulverstone, where I was so unwell that the whole thing is a blur in my mind. Yet this year I made the pilgrimage up, alongside my partner who had lived and grown up in that end of the state and wanted me to see the sights.

The first thing that struck me on arrival was the coastline, and how its great blue expanse stretched out into the depths of forever. What lies beyond that horizon? The cynic’s answer would be the mainland, of course. But looking out at the deep blue sea, what hit me was the endless possibilities, branching out into infinity. You could get lost gazing into those waves if you’re not careful.

Stanley - 'The Nut' from Highfield House - Photo By Vanessa Ollington.jpeg

These stories live in the land, persisting on. Take for example the town of Stanley and the nearby Highfield House. The house was the sight of the first north-west settlements on the island, operated by the Van Diemen’s Land Company for raising sheep. Their tale is one of tragedy, blood, and the horrors that were inflicted on the traditional owners of the land. While walking around the area, you can feel it, in the earth and in the air. The land remembers.


Across the trip, nature struck me as the most prominent part of the north-west. There’s fields, and farms, and wilderness. You have lush forests with tall timber and flowing falls. It feels old, as the leaves block out the sunlight, and the damp clings to the air. On the coast in Stanley you have the colossal sight of Munatrik, otherwise known as ‘The Nut’. It towers over the small town, a steep volcanic plug still standing tall after millions of years couched between the land and the sea. It watches like a sentinel, overlooking the slumberous locale that feels caught somewhere between the present and the past.

This connection to the past is reflected across other towns across the coast. Smithton is the last town before the wilderness and feels like it is another world away, with a view looking out at the spattering of small islands off the north-west coast. Even Burnie, one of the larger cities of the region, feels small with its city centre consisting of only a couple of blocks each way and the main street merging abruptly with suburbia. There are no high buildings acting as anchors for direction, with the only marker being that deep blue shoreline stretching into infinity.

That image of blue infinity is like a clarion call to my thoughts, and one day I hope to gaze upon those sights again.


This is an old land. Older than the families that live there. Older than the buildings. Time feels in flux here, as these places echo the past. They are part of history, bound by it, stuck between the old forests and the roaring waves. For the land is older than all and carries the memories of the past with it.

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