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Don Heads

Don Heads is a coastal headland, a natural geological feature offering local history, walks, and a chance to enjoy nature on tasmania’s beautiful north-west coast. Located on the western side of the Don River due west of Devonport (Don Head Road).

Don Heads is an example of one of the basalt flows that helped shape the profile of the Tasmanian northwest coast line. In the Tertiary Period lava filled the deeper parts of old valleys. Subsequent marine erosion produced a scarp coast with cliffs backing a narrow shore platform. A short walk around the headland from the carpark (at low tide) will take you to an example of this wave cut platform. Due to it’s volcanic nature some of the rocks contain small crystals of olivine.

History 

Before white settlement, Don Heads was heavily covered in thick forests comprising of huge eucalypts and other species with dense undergrowth rendering it almost impossible to walk through.
The original inhabitants of the area were the Punnilerpanner people who lived in the De-vonport, Port Sorell area.
The area directly across the Don River from Don Heads is known to be the woman’s area, while the Devonport Bluff (where the light-house is) was the men’s area and now hosts Tiagarra Aboriginal Museum and a walk featuring many rock carvings. The aborigines survived entirely on the food gathered from the local environment. Food such as wallaby, mutton bird, abalone, seals and lizards, in addition to edible plants all formed a part of their diet.

Local historian Faye Gardam’s book ‘Sawdust, Sweat and Sails’ comments on the settlement at Don Heads, “By 1840, only a handful of Europeans had set foot on the now well known and beautiful stretch of land, which lies between the Don and forth rivers, on the Northwest coast of Tasmania”.
The first documented visit of Europeans was by Lieutenant Governor Sir George Arthur with surveyor General Franklin and others when they swam their horses behind a whale boat across the mouth of the Don River at midday on the 21st January 1829.

At the time of settlement and shortly after, clearing land for farming was an ongoing process. Thomas Drew was given ownership of six hundred and forty acres of land at Don Heads on the 4th of September 1843 for a sum of
£384. He was a shrewd businessman making money any way he could, and used the employment of convicts as cheap labor to have his land cleared. The effect of the heavy clearing and introduced plants such as the elm tree’s and English hawthorn is still apparent today. The timber from the native forests was split into palings and shingles, transported to the wharves on the Western point of the Don River mouth by bullock and horse drawn carts (the remians of the wharf can still be seen today). It was then shipped across Bass Straight to build the early township of Melbourne. The cleared land was then used for farming.

A saw-mill was built later at the township of River Don. The logs were brought to the mill by a wooden tramway and then the sawn timber was transported to sailing vessels by barge. In the 1870s the tramway was extended to the wharf.
Thomas Drew built his house on a hill looking out to sea so he could view his ships sailing into the mouth of the river. The wharves were built by Cummings and Raymond, the sawmill company which was situated upstream at the River Don settlement. Thomas Drew owned two ships one being the “Water witch” and the other being named after his wife “Charlotte”. A plaque commemorating Thomas Drew and his wife can be found on a large rock beside the road near to where the Harbor Masters house, and a boat shed were located.

Flora and Fauna

The Don Heads area supports a wide variety of birdlife that enjoy the range of habitats that this site provides. Not least of these are significant colonies of Little Penguins and Short tailed Shearwaters (mutton bird, Puffinus tenuirostris). These remarkable birds breed mainly on the Bass Straight islands and on the Tasmanian mainland fly as far north as Siberia on their migration during our winter. The chicks are raised in burrows and are fed by both parents who go on foraging trips that last 2-3 days and can cover a distance of 15, 000km. The chick may be left alone in the burrow for up to a week at a time. 

You can view Penguins (Eudyptula novaehol-landiae) coming ashore on the west side of Don Heads, on “Lillico Straight” beside the highway on the way to Ulverstone. This is open to the public. The best time to see the Penguins is at dusk when they are returning from feeding.

Other bird species include:

  • Tasmanian native hen Gallinula mar-tier
  • Brown Falcon Falco berigara
  • Superb fairy-wren Malrus cyaneus
  • Little pied cormorant Phalacrocorax melanoleucos
  • Great cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo
  • Chestnut Teal Anas castanea
  • Pelican Pelecanus conspicilatus
  • White-faced heron Egretta naovahol-landia
  • Cattle egret Ardia ibis
  • Pied oystercatcher Heamatopus longirostris

Some trees or shrubs you can view at site are;

  • Coastal wattle Acicia sophorae
  • Paperbark Melaluca ericafolia
  • Coastal saltbush Rhagodia candolleana
  • Prickly box Bursaria spinosa
  • Man fern Dicksonia antactica
  • Boobyalla Myoporum Insulare
  • Sea spinach Tetragonia Implexicoma
  • White correa Correa alba
 

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