Burnie Chronicles

(aka Walyer)

Walyer by Julie Downing. Source: National Gallery of Australia

Tarenorerer, a young Van Diemen's Land Tomeginee woman, known as Walyer by the sealers, became a resistance fighter in 1828. She gathered an army of other disenchanted Aborigines in warfare. She 'hated the luta tawin [white man] as much as she did a black snake', for the injuries perpetrated against her people through massacre, torture, enslavement, incarceration, disease and the stealing of Aboriginal women by sealers.

Born in Tasmania around 1800, it is believed that Tarenorer was sold to white sealers on the Bass Strait Islands in her teens after being abducted by Aboriginal people of the Port Sorell region. She quickly learnt to speak English fluently, and also learnt how to handle firearms during her time with the sealers.

In 1828 she escaped from the sealers and returned to her country, where she gathered men and women from different groups to initiate warfare against the invaders. She personally trained her warriors in the use of firearms and in effective battle tactics against the slow to load guns of her enemies, and introduced guerrilla warfare strategies of killing livestock.

After conflicts with other Aboriginal groups she escaped to Port Sorrell with two of her brothers and two sisters, but was again abducted by sealers and taken to Bird Island. She hid her identity and was known to the sealers only as 'Mary Anne'. In 1830 she was taken to Swan Island after it was believed she was plotting to murder one of the sealers, and her true identity was soon revealed. 'Protector of the Aborigines' George Robinson was elated at her capture and believed it a 'most fortunate thing that this woman is apprehended and stopped in her murderous career'. She was kept in isolation for fear that she would incite a revolt on the island, but she became ill and died of influenza on 5 June 1831.

Henry Hellyer

Henry Hellyer (1790–1832), explorer and surveyor, was one of the first officers of the Van Diemen's Land Company, the principal explorer of north-western Tasmania, and a major founder of Burnie.

When the Van Dieman's Land Company was formed Hellyer was one of the first to sign on, utilising his skills to transform the land of north west Tasmania. He named Valentine`s Peak, designed the now-historic "Highfield House" in Stanley and, most importantly, under the most arduous of conditions, he made a road.

Hellyer and his survey team made numerous treks into the hinterland of north-western Van Diemen’s Land. His dream was to link the remote inland settlements with the growing coastal town of Emu Bay, known today as Burnie. Local legend has it that with little more than a bullock gang and crude hand tools he carved his way through the dense forest into the wild hills. His road was a success and subsequently named after him.

He journeyed along the north coast between Port Sorell and Cape Grim, down the west coast to the Pieman River, and into the mountainous areas. Hellyer ascended Black Buff, walked to Cradle Mountain, and penetrated as far south as the Murchison River.

Hellyer climbed St Valentine's Peak and was impressed with grassed plains which he called the Surrey and Hampshire Hills. As a result, the Company selected a huge block extending from Emu Bay south beyond St Valentine's Peak, with its base camp on the site of Burnie.

But the physical hardships he endured appeared to be nothing compared to the emotional turmoil occurring inside Henry Hellyer’s mind. Hellyer believed he had found good grazing land further north, around Surrey Hills. However, he was wrong: and the Van Diemen’s Land Company incurred great cost attempting to raise sheep and cattle there, and they perished in the winter. In 1832, after a very cold winter, Surrey Hills was “becoming the graves of all the sheep”. Hellyer tried to defend himself; he became oversensitive to criticism; he retreated into himself; and melancholy began to consume him.

There was also a malicious rumour of some kind spread by a convict servant by the name of Harley, who had worked under Hellyer’s supervision previously. Harley had allegedly been a poor worker and was not paid upon the completion of the job. The slander may have been that Hellyer was a homosexual. In the early hours of September 2, 1832, Henry Hellyer committed suicide.

About Burnie

Situated on Emu Bay at the mouth of the Emu River, Burnie is Tasmania's third largest city and port for the rich agricultural and mineral mining activities of the region. Burnie is a major deepwater port for the north of Tasmania, with two permanent container ships making daily crossings to Melbourne. Burnie is very much a city in transition.

Burnie's location - midway along the Bass Strait coast of Tasmania's worth west - makes it an ideal base from which to explore the north west region of the state. It has a wide range of accommodation and a big business and shopping precinct, to ensure every need for the traveller is catered for.