THE ISLANDER WAY
Flinders Island is the social and economic heart of the Furneaux Islands group, an archipelago of more than 52 islands in the Bass Strait. The Furneaux Group of Islands forms the Municipality of Flinders, a local government area of the Australian State of Tasmania. Flinders Island is the largest and most populated of the Furneaux Islands, with Cape Barren Island second. Flinders Island is a 30-minute flight from Launceston, Tasmania, and approximately a 65-minute flight from Melbourne, Victoria.
The islands of the Bass Strait have a long and interesting geological, environmental and cultural history. Until approximately 12,000 years ago, the islands formed a land bridge that joined what is now Tasmania to the Australian mainland. First Nations people traversed the land bridge until around 8,000 years ago when sea level rise isolated the First Nations people on the big Island of Tasmania.
From the time of European settlement, a dark period of history followed, when the government of the day gathered up the Indigenous people surviving the frontier wars between them and European settlers. These Aboriginal people were transported to Flinders Island, to a settlement referred to as Wybalenna. For most of the Indigenous people at Wybalenna, the conditions were detrimental to their health and well-being, and the majority died there.
Thus today’s population of the Furneaux Group of Islands includes: Aboriginal people, descended from a combination of original Indigenous people, and sealers, convicts and traders; soldier settlers following the war ending in 1945; and residents from more recent times.
A TIPPING POINT
With approximately 1020 residents, Flinders municipality is the smallest local government area in Tasmania. The Island has difficulty attracting and retaining population, especially young people, and the economy is heavily reliant on farming, which has evolved from the soldier settlements. It is generally believed that the Island’s population, together with its lifestyle, is potentially unsustainable if the current trajectory continues.
A report produced in 2019 about the economic, business and social structure of Flinders Island highlighted key concerns regarding the long term economic and social sustainability of the Island’s community, including:
An ageing population
A declining number of residents of working age
A potential tipping point in 7–12 years when there may not be enough workers to support social and community services
A shortage of skilled workers, especially tradespeople
A shortage of housing.