Tasmania Island of Treasures – a collection of collections

Showcasing the state's impressive local history

By Kerry Scambler
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Tasmania - Island of Treasures by Sue Atkinson

Tasmania - Island of Treasures by Sue Atkinson


In a state that boasts over half the country's heritage buildings, it's no surprise that hidden historical treasures abound. This superb book, a treasure in itself, is a trove of the collections and museums that scatter Tasmania.

Sue Atkinson, author of Tasmania, Island of Treasures, is a museum consultant who has been visiting, advising and training volunteers throughout the state to set up and run community museums and history groups. And with so much history literally laying around as well as a growing interest in connecting with the past, there are certainly plenty of them.

Personally I love old stuff – poking around in old wares and collectable shops wherever I travel is a favourite pastime – and I confess to having my own large assortment of family items (or 'stuff' as my long-suffering partner calls it) as well as a collection of old dolls and bears.

I’ve also always hankered after owning an old house: from my childhood holidays at Swansea on Tasmania’s East Coast my dream was to do up the then neglected Schouten House. Alas it became someone else’s dream come true.

So for me this book is already a much treasured trove with the welcome thought of so many more collections to discover right around the state. But it’s not just me – with MONA revolutionising the cultural landscape and the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (TMAG) just re-opening after a major, superb upgrade, more Tasmanians than ever are being drawn into this fascinating world.

Through 187 pages, Tasmania Island of Treasures showcases an eclectic mix of all sized collections from sporting to agriculture, mining and even chocolate. They range from small sheds in small towns to historic estate and through to the beautiful Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery in Launceston, Port Arthur, TMAG and of course, MONA .

Each museum or collection features on a page with a background information, contact details and beautiful images of their favourite treasures. Many of these groups/collections are so small they have no website or glossy brochure to let people know they exist so this book acts as a wonderful guide for locals and visitors alike.

The objects featured range from the magnificent, the quirky and the highly unusual to plain everyday things from yesteryear. My somewhat eccentric neighbour Don, himself a collector of a vast array of things, has a saying that even if something was created yesterday, it’s now part of the past and could one day inform others of its part in our daily life. His point is illustrated by his large collection of catalogues ranging back decades which show us the fashions (and pricing) of the past.

So thank goodness for collectors, we’re often a misunderstood bunch but what we hold dear often shines a light on the past. Combine all the collections in Tasmania Island of Treasures and you get an amazing moving picture of where we have come from and the myriad of things that have brought us to this point in time. 

An example of recent history in the book lies with the Bothwell Historical Society, one of the state’s oldest. Not only is it custodian of books from Bothwell Literary Society from the 1830s but also holds a collection of tapestries from 1988, created by members of the local community ranging in age from 5 to 90, to celebrate the bicentennial.

There is so much to discover and learn as well: the Grote Reber Museum celebrates the life of the man who was the father of radio astronomy. He came to Tasmania in the 1950s for its location and spent the next 40 years making a remarkable contribution to science.

The West Coast Pioneers Museum at Zeehan is another remarkable collection and our last visit there, planned for a quick look around, turned into over an hour and a resolution to return with more time. Another favourite is the Waddamana Power Station. The Hydro Electric Scheme contributed more than just power and engineering to Tasmania's history – it brought migrants who made the state their home and added another distinctive dimension to the social fabric.

Here are a few more interesting inclusions of the 133 in the book:

  • The Australasian Golf Museum, located at Bothwell, is home to the country's oldest golf course, Ratho Golf Links (renowned for their tees being fenced off to keep the sheep out!) and traces the history of the game from Scotland to international prominence and popularity.
  • The Sorell School Pioneer Village features an operational blacksmith shop, drapery and selection of costumes, post office and settlers hut, all developed to inspire a love of history in the students.
  • There are a myriad of historical societies around the state: Southern Beaches, Sandy Bay, Bothwell, Oatlands, Port Sorell, Franklin and more.
  • Agriculture has and continues to be a big part of Tasmanian life: Tasmanian Wool Centre, Vintage Tractor Shed, Pearn's Steam World and others.
  • The Beaconsfield Mine and Heritage Centre has some10,000 artefacts in fascinating displays of social and industrial history from heavy equipment through to everyday life things (and of course, the incredible replica cage and rock fall from the Beaconsfield mine disaster).
  • St Marys Cranks and Tinkerers is a collection of cars, motorcycles, buggies, model aircrafts and boats, books, cameras and more. The group members catch up for a chat each week and to work on the exhibits themselves.

In summary, this is a simply fabulous book for anyone with even a vague interest in history, whether you're a Tasmanian or an intending visitor to the island. It’s also testament and a fitting tribute to the huge contribution that people, some professional but many amateurs, make to preserving our history.

I can see my Tassie travels will include many more stops to add some history to my wine, food and natural experiences – thanks Sue!


Stop press: Tasmania Island of Treasures received a Highly Commended Award at the Museums Australia Multimedia and Publication Design Awards in May 2013, well deserved recognition for the work of designers Beverly Waldie and Kellie Strachan.

Tasmania Island of Treasures by Sue Atkinson is published by 40 Degrees Publishing (Hobart, Tasmania; hc,187pp) and retails in Australia for  RRP A$58. It is available through good bookstores and or contact the author via email museumconsultant@bigpond.com or on 0407 976 359 or to order your copy direct ($50 +postage $10), or via your local museum who are selling copies as a much-needed fundraiser.

Scroll down for links to some of the quirky and amazing places mentioned.





  • Hobart (TAS)

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April 15th, 2013
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