Ferry good idea for ex-thief

BRIDGE VIEW with Mike Kerr

LESS than four kilometres south of the new Bridgewater Bridge is the original crossing of the River Derwent, at Austin’s Ferry. James Austin, convicted and transported for stealing 30 shillings-worth of beehives, was released in 1809 and granted 12ha of land on the west side of the river.

Joined by a cousin, John Earle – also a thief of beehives – the pair set out to make new lives in farming and ferries. They did well. By 1816, they’d established the first cross-Derwent ferry service.

At first, travellers were rowed the 1.2km across the river, but as traffic increased, Austin launched his first large boat, a flat-bottomed punt capable of transporting 30 head of cattle, or two carts and 16 oxen. As the sole method of crossing the river on the main route between Hobart Town and Launceston, Austin’s ferry was very profitable. With that income, the size of the vessels and frequency of crossing increased too.

The next iteration, in 1821, could carry five loaded carts and their teams of ox, or 100 head of cattle or up to 300 sheep.

In 1826, a survey of the Hobart-Launceston road by the state’s Land Commissioners pointedly noted the cost and delays involved in the crossing. They even recommended a bridge be built at Black Snake – the same point where the new Bridgewater Bridge is being built today. That proposed bridge was not to be, and Austin’s ferry services continued to be profitable for another decade. It remained core to the main north-south transport route until completion of the Bridgewater causeway in 1838.

Today, what remains of James Austin’s hard work and enterprise is the suburb that bears his name along with his original home, a tiny sandstone cottage that’s been preserved and restored as a tourist attraction by the City Of Glenorchy.

It’s just a few hundred metres from the Austin’s Ferry Yacht Club. Go see it!