Jane Beeke explores Devonport’s maritime history in her residency

Jane Beeke is one of our 2017 Young Writers in the City, and she is spending her residency exploring Devonport’s Bass Strait Maritime Centre.

Here, you can see some photos of her residency journey and some excerpts from her blog, in which she is documenting her time and discoveries on this historical journey.

Jane spent her childhood in rural and remote communities in Tasmania, Western Australia and New South Wales, before moving to Sydney to study Archaeology. Jane still lives in Sydney with her husband, Alex, and daughter, Emmeline. She works as a museum guide and enjoys telling stories about the past.


So what am I looking for at the Bass Strait Maritime Centre? What I love about museums and historical places is seeing or hearing something that totally changes everything I imagined about some aspect of the past. I’m looking for those special stories or objects that really challenge all the assumptions I’d made about what it was like to live a long time ago. I want to be surprised.

The Bass Strait Maritime Centre occupies what was once the Devonport Harbour Master’s residence, built in 1920. This explains why there is a signal mast in the front yard. From the glassed-in front room, the harbour master had a clear view out to Bass Strait past the Mersey Bluff Lighthouse; and, turning slightly to the right, he could monitor the ports and shipping yards that lined the banks of the Mersey River, and the narrow shipping channel that ran between them.

This history adds another interesting layer to this project. My piece could reflect the building’s past as a Harbour Master’s residence, its current use as a museum, or both. I’m not yet sure how I’ll resolve this.

People living in Devonport in the the 19th century had far more contact with Melbourne than they had with Hobart, their own capital city.

Although ships from Devonport occasionally visited Hobart, and vice versa, it was nothing compared with the literally dozens of ships leaving every day for Melbourne, Sydney, and the Bass Strait Islands. The whole focus of Devonport’s maritime community would have been towards cities over the Strait. This is reflected so much in the city’s layout, with streets and houses all focused towards the port and the Strait. The town is, very literally, outward-looking.

I’m interested in using a historic shipwreck as the plot driver for my creative work. I think it would be a useful catalyst to explore the connections within the community. I’m also thinking about the dichotomous relationship so many people would have had with the Strait – as a means of making a livelihood, but also a source of misery and danger.

Because I want my story to be about community, I want to start ‘mapping’ the Devonport community in the year my story will take place. I want to visually chart all of the connections between people, places and ships – who owned what boats, who was working at which shipyard, who was married to who, and so on.

I have the beginnings of a concept for my story, so hopefully completing these steps will let us see the shape of things to come.