Tasmanian Devil

Tasmanian Devils meet Year 9 Beelzebubs

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Tasmanian Devil

Fifteen Tasmanian Devils were released on Maria Island last week in a bid to save them from extinction. The Devils are declining rapidly in Tasmania due to a highly contagious cancerous facial tumour and the Government is relocating healthy animals  to remote locations to breed and, hopefully, repopulate a devastated population.

Unfortunately, the Tasmanian Devils were not the only wildlife released upon the island.

It’s the height of school camp season and that means teenagers–lots of them.

School camps are often hazy memories from our youth – mostly forgettable – but a rite of passage nonetheless. However, for teachers like me it is a 24 hour operation because (despite their lack of facial tumours) the teenagers were determined to start a breeding program of their own.

Maria Island lies off  Hobart’s coast and is an hour by ferry. It was formerly a penitentiary for (mostly) political prisoners sent from England and Ireland to serve time in the colonies and they spent their incarcaration making bricks. These bricks are a beautiful rich, red hue and they were used to construct the small prison cells and officers’ buildings (now historical ruins)  as well as accommodation on the mainland.

There are no shops or facilities  so everything must be taken in and out by visitors. This includes food, camping equipment, first aid kits, bicycles and cooking utensils. Once on the island there is a camping ground, an undercover barbecue area, toilets and a couple of showers. There is no way off the island except for the ferry service twice a day and there are no medical facilities. It is about as remote as you can get whilst still being a part of civilisation. Maria island is also home to strong and frequent winds, Cape Barren Geese, wombats, wallabies, poisonous snakes, possums and native hens.

Most visitors come for the bushwalking tracks, bike riding, swimming, fishing and historical significance of the island. It is certainly untouched by traffic, pollution or noise except for the frightful sound emitted by Cape Barren Geese, particularly at night. The geese plonk themselves outside the tents, honking throughout the night — mostly when you are fast asleep so that you awaken suddenly wondering if you’re about to be attacked by a wild boar.

Having said that, it was just as well the geese were noisy as it provided an opportunity to check the girls’ tents to see whether they had snuck into the tents inhabited by boys from another school. These Year 10 boys (and a full year older than our contingent of males) had more confidence and were more attractive to our girls. Our Year 9 boys were no match for these older, testosterone-driven males who hung around the girls like dogs on heat.

“I dont’ care what you do in your private life”, I reminded the girls on several occasions, “But while you’re on school camp you stay in your own sleeping bag. Alone!”

When the students weren’t flirting or trying to add these boys as Facebook friends, we spent the time swimming, cycling and bushwalking. The students were also involved in cooking and looking after themselves. However, most of them just brought along pot noodles and sweets and ran out of food, drinks and energy within a few days. This meant by  week’s end they’d became much more docile.

Since the ratio of three teachers to 15 students was more than enough, we were able to split into groups with each teacher taking a small number of students with them for each activity. There were enough fossils, painted cliffs, mountains, bike tracks and fishing opportunities to keep everyone occupied.

On the last night, we saw one of the Tasmanian Devils. It had come to the campsite scavenging for food. Like the students it had run out of supplies but, unlike them, it sure won’t be catching the ferry home.

Author: Sue Bell
Sue Bell is an entertainment writer and author of Backpacked: A mostly true story, Beat Street and When Dreamworks came to Stanley.

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