Kent Group

The Kent Island Group lies off the north-east coast of Tasmania, between the Furneaux Group and the Victorian mainland - 72 kilometres west of Flinders Island and 70 kilometres due south of Wilsons Promontory in Victoria. The group comprises seven islands and islets - all but one is uninhabited - and rarely even appears on conventional maps. This island group is an important Australian fur seal breeding site and is the largest of only five sites in Tasmanian waters. It is especially significant because, unlike other sites, it is secure from high seas when pups are young and vulnerable. The islands are also important sanctuaries for the common diving petrels and fairy prions, and are home to significant colonies of short-tailed shearwaters, little penguins, sooty oystercatchers, cormorants and terns.

Some have compared the Kent Islands to the Galapagos, a place where the wildlife has no enemies and few humans to disturb them, so they are not afraid. Just about anywhere you go you'll see wallabies not only grazing, but they don't run away when they hear you coming. Cape Barron Geese can also be viewed at close range; birds you never see on the mainland flit in and out of the trees and bushes.

Dover Island is the least impacted by fire and human activity. It is largely covered with low forest, closed scrub and heath and it is almost totally free of weed species. Erith Island exhibits the most human influence. Until 1996 the island was the subject of a commercial grazing lease and underwent frequent associated firing. The island is largely covered by open Poa grassland and a high number of invasive exotic species.

The Kent Group was discovered by Mathew Flinders in 1798, during a voyage to Preservation Island to rescue survivors of the wreck of the Sydney Cove. It was the investigations of Mathew Flinders that led to the discovery of the vast Australian Fur seal colonies around the Kent Group of Islands. The further exploration of Bass Strait soon followed this. Some of the sealer settlements in Eastern Bass Strait were amongst the earliest European Settlements outside Sydney Cove.

The Kent archipelago was named after William Kent, commander of the Supply, by Governor Hunter, although others claim that the nomenclature was chosen by Flinders himself. Some of the sealer settlements in Eastern Bass Strait were amongst the earliest European Settlements outside Sydney Cove.

Deal Island

A world away from modern life, Deal Island is Tasmania's most remote national park. There are no mod-cons here, and the phone and TV only work when the wind blows in the right direction. Home to Australia's highest Lighthouse (it stands 320 metres above sea level, even though the lighthouse itself is only 20 metres tall), the island has a resident population of two - volunteers who come to spend three month-long stints weeding and looking after its spectacular natural heritage - who are joined by boaties and fishermen who visit the island from time to time.

Location: 80km off the coast of Victoria, and 80 kilometres north west of Flinders Island, Tasmania

Situated in the middle of Bass Strait between Wilson Promontory in Victoria and the north eastern tip of Tasmania, Deal Island is the biggest (nearly 6km long and 4km wide) of the mainly granite islands that form the Kent Group, which makes up Tasmania's northernmost National Park. It is also its most remote. Deal Island is about 1,450 hectares in size, consisting of granite cliffs rising to 260 metres on the southern side, gradually descending over the island northwards in rolling hills and grasslands to several white sandy beaches. The interior of the island consists of limestone layers with a thin layer of top soil on the upper reaches.

In 2000 the Parks & Wildlife Service (PWS) started a caretaker role for the island, with caretakers staying for 3 months on the island with transport by boat from Flinders Island (4 hours) and return provided by Parks. Caretakers have to be self sufficient in food for 3 months and all requirements are brought on the boat to the island. The house is fully self contained and radio and telecommunications are provided. The main role for caretakers is to provide a presence  on the island and maintain a maintenance program for the structures on site (such as the island s museum) and continuing weed control works and other tasks required at the time.

East Cove

A small museum can be found in the lighthouse superimtendent's cottage. It was set up by Melbourne couple Jack and Gladys Lierich who eloped in 1958 and spent four years living there. The museum is maintained in the summer months by a group of Victorians who make annual pilgrimage to Erith Island for a little isolation and tranquility. The lighthouse was de-activated in 1992 and replaced by beacons on two rock islands nearby. Unfortunately health and safety issues have led to the closing of the lighthouse to the public, but the views from its base are still pretty spectacular.

How to get there: The island is accessible only by boat or helicopter, so visitor numbers stay at about 1,000 a year, mostly coming from the Victorian mainland. With the weather patterns of Bass Strait, most visitors arrive from September through to Easter, with some times up to eight yachts anchored in East Cove during calmer days. Visitors who come ashore visit the museum and lighthouse and often have a barbeque at the end of the jetty at East Cove.

Erith Island

Erith Island, the second largest island in the Kent Group, is a densely vegetated and unpopulated 323-hectare (800-acre) granite island with steep slopes, located in the Bass Strait. The explorer Hovel1 was shipwrecked on Erith, Oxley visited it, but nowadays it is uninhabited. Though contained within the Kent Group National Park, Tasmania's northernmost national park, Erith has been highly modified for cattle grazing and is mainly covered by exotic pasture. Grazing ended with the acquisition of the lease in 1997 by the Australian Bush Heritage Fund, which subsequently relinquished it to the Tasmanian Government for incorporation in the national park.

Recorded breeding seabird and wader species include little penguin, short-tailed shearwater, Pacific gull, and sooty oystercatcher. Mammals on Erith are the southern brown bandicoot, long-nosed potoroo and common brushtail possum. Reptiles include the metallic skink, eastern three-lined skink, White's skink and white-lipped snake.

There are no facilities on the island apart from Erith hut, very basic beach shack. Built in 1958 and maintained by Friends of Erith, it provides basic, comfortable accommodation with a glass front wood heater and good drinking water.

Dover Island

Dover Island, the third largest island in the Kent Group, is a densely vegetated and unpopulated 295-hectare (730-acre) granite island with steep slopes. Unlike its companion islands, Deal and Erith, Dover has never been grazed by stock or cleared, so retaining its original cover of native vegetation and almost completely lacking exotic species.

Although Erith and Dover are joined at low tide by a pebbled spit called The Swashway, they are separated from Deal by the deep and dangerous Murray Passage which is flanked on both sides by high cliffs. Named for the explorer John Murray, the passage has long been used by ships to shelter from gales in Bass Strait, but it is a dangerous, partly open, roadstead, and many ships have been wrecked after sudden changes in wind direction and speed. Others have hit the island either while attempting to shelter or through poor navigation in darkness or bad weather, several with heavy loss of life.

Brief history
The Kent Group of islands were once tops of mountains in a strip of land that connected Victoria and Tasmania. Between 10,000 and 14,000 years ago, some of the polar ice melted and the land bridge was flooded. There are traces of aboriginal inhabitation, but the greatest changes occurred after Europeans arrived. The Kent Group of islands was discovered by Matthew Flinders in 1789. He and George Bass sailed past again in the next year during their circumnavigation of Tasmania in 1789, and then sailed past again a year later during their circumnavigation of Tasmania. Bass seems to have been rather unimpressed with Deal Island. His journal reads:

"This small group (of islands) appears to be formed of granite, which is imperfectly concealed by long straggling brush, and some few still diminutive trees, and seems cursed with a sterility that might safely bid defiance to Chinese industry itself. Nature is either working very slowly with those islands, or has ceased to work on them, since a more wild deserted place is not easily to be met with. Even the birds seemed not to frequent them in their usual numbers."

The advent of sealers probably coincided with an increase in fire frequency on the island. Nearby Dover Island is densely vegetated and has never burnt, whereas Deal Island and Erith Island have both been burnt and grazed, and there are introduced plants including weeds like sea spurge, ragwort and arum lilies and snowdrops. Since the lighthouse was built in 1846 there have been grazing animals on the island, with associated pasture improvement, which explains the large expanses of open areas today. Of all the different plants recorded on Deal, about a third are introduced. Rabbits were put onto the island for wrecked sailors so that they wouldn't starve to death.

The remains of the St Nicholas on the beach in West Cove, Erith Island

Numerous wrecks occurred in Bass Strait in the colonial era, and about 20 shipwrecks have been recorded around the Kent Group. The most well-known are the wreck of the Bulli, which sits upright on the bottom of West Cove near Erith Island, and the steamship Karitane, which crashed into cliffs near Squally Cove below the Deal Island lighthouse on Christmas Eve, 1920. During the Second World War an RAAF Airspeed Oxford twin-engine training plane also crashed on Deal Island near the light, killing four crew, and there are still parts of the wreckage visible.

With an elevation of 305 metres, the Deal Island Lighthouse is Australia s highest. Its tower is not very high (22 metres), but its location high above the island s cliffs gives it its elevation. The lighthouse is in fact so high that at times it has been unable to function adequately as its light is often shrouded in mist. Built of local granite in 1846, it is starting to deteriorate as no maintenance has been carried out since it was deactivated and demanned in 1992. One of the lighthouse keeper's cottages houses a museum.

Erith and Dover Islands were originally referred to as the Western Islands. Erith Island was first referenced by John Lort Stokes in 1846, Dover first appeared on the 1886 charts of Comm. Richard Frazer Hoskyn of the survey ship HMS Myrmidon. In his notes of 1842, Stokes referred to Deal Island as Eastern Island, but in his published diaries of 1846 he called it Deal. Erith, Deal and Dover are all names of localities in Kent, England. From 1860 to 1863 Stokes commanded the ship HMS Rose surveying the coasts of the English Channel, which might give a clue as to why these islands were named after places visited by Stokes at that time.

Deal Island lighthouse

Deal Island

Deal Island

Deal Island

Erith Island hut


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