Tasmania is geologically similar to the Australian continent and was once connected to it. The climate is equable and the rainfall moderate. The island is mountainous with considerable forestation; Legge Tor (5,160 ft/1,573 m) is the highest peak. Great Lake in the interior is the largest lake and the reservoir of an important hydroelectric plant. Tasmania has the highest proportion of national park land of all Australian states; a little less than half the island is protected.
Sawmilling and woodchipping industries are important. Agriculture is confined almost exclusively to small farms; among the crops grown are opium poppies for medicinal drugs. The raising of sheep for wool in the east and dairy farming in the northwest are also important. The mining of copper, zinc, tin, lead, and iron has increased in recent years. The state's major manufactures are metals and metal products. Tourism also is growing in significance, due in part to better ferry connections to the continent.
The island was explored in 1642 by the Dutch navigator Abel Tasman, who named it Van Diemen's Land. Capt. James Cook visited the island in 1777 and, in 1803, Great Britain took possession and established a penal colony. The indigenous population, which had been on the island some 35,000 years, numbered about 5,000 at the time of colonization; they were subsequently decimated, with only a few mixed-race survivors. Governed by New South Wales until 1825, Tasmania was then constituted as a separate colony. The transportation of convicts ended in 1853 as a result of local opposition. In the 1850s the British established constitutional self-government in the colony and the name was officially changed to Tasmania. In 1901, Tasmania was federated as a state in the Commonwealth of Australia. The nominal head of the state government is the governor, appointed by the British crown on advice of the cabinet; however, actual executive powers are exercised by the premier and the cabinet, who are responsible to the bicameral state parliament.
Tasmania is promoted as the Natural State and the "Island of Inspiration owing to its large and relatively unspoiled natural environment. Formally, almost 37% of Tasmania is in reserves, National Parks and World Heritage Sites. The island is long from the northernmost point to the southernmost point and from west to east.
The state capital and largest city is Hobart, which encompasses the local government areas of City of Hobart, City of Glenorchy and City of Clarence. Other major population centres include Launceston in the north and Devonport and Burnie in the northwest.
Much of the island is composed of Jurassic dolerite intrusions (upwellings of magma) through other rock types, sometimes forming large columnar joints. Tasmania has the world's largest areas of dolerite, with many distinctive mountains and cliffs formed from this rock type. The central plateau and the southeast portions of the island are mostly dolerite. Mount Wellington above Hobart is a good example, showing distinct columns known as the Organ Pipes. In the southwest, Precambrian quartzites are formed from very ancient sea sediments and form strikingly sharp ridges and ranges, such as Federation Peak or Frenchman's Cap. In the northeast and east, continental granites can be seen, such as at Freycinet, similar to coastal granites on mainland Australia. In the northwest and west, mineral rich volcanic rock can be seen at Mt. Read near Rosebery, or at Mt. Lyell near Queenstown. Also present in the south and northwest is limestone with some magnificent caves.
The quartzite and dolerite areas in the higher mountains show evidence of glaciation, and much of Australia's glaciated landscape is found on the Central Plateau and the Southwest. Cradle Mountain, another dolerite peak, for example, was a Nunatak. The combination of these different rock types offers incredible scenery, much of it distinct from any other region of the world.
Tasmania was first inhabited by the Tasmanian Aborigines, and evidence indicates their presence in the region, later to become an island, at least 35,000 years ago (rising sea levels cut Tasmania off from mainland Australia about 10,000 years ago). The Aboriginal people in Tasmania were divided into nine main ethnic groups. The indigenous population at the time of British settlement in 1803 has been estimated at between 5,000 and 10,000 people, but through war, persecution and disease, the population had dwindled to 300 in 1833. The entire indigenous population was moved to Flinders Island by George Augustus Robinson. Truganini (1812-1876) is generally recognised as the last full-blooded Tasmanian Aborigine, although there is strong evidence that it was in fact Fanny Cochrane Smith, who was born at Wybalena and died in 1905.
The first settlement was by the British at Risdon Cove on the eastern bank of the Derwent estuary in 1803, by a small party sent from Sydney, under Lt. John Bowen for the purpose of preventing the French from claiming the island. An alternative settlement was established by Captain David Collins to the south in 1804 in Sullivan's Cove on the western side of the Derwent, where fresh water was more plentiful. The latter settlement became known as Hobart Town or Hobarton, later shortened to Hobart, after the British Colonial Secretary of the time, Lord Hobart. The settlement at Risdon was later abandoned.
The early settlers were mostly convicts and their military guards, with the task of developing agriculture and other industries. Numerous other convict-based settlements were made in Van Diemen's Land, including secondary prisons, such as the particularly harsh penal colonies at Port Arthur in the southeast and Macquarie Harbour on the West Coast.
Tasmania was badly affected by the 1967 Tasmanian fires in which there was major loss of life and property.
In the 1970s, the state government announced plans to flood environmentally significant Lake Pedder.
On 28 April 1996 in the incident now known as the Port Arthur massacre, lone gunman Martin Bryant shot and killed 35 people (including tourists and residents) and injured 37 others. The use of firearms was immediately reviewed, and new gun ownership laws were adopted nationwide, with Tasmania's law one of the strictest in the nation.
Tasmania has been volcanically inactive in recent geological times and has rugged mountain ranges over much of its land area.
The most mountainous regions are the Central Highlands and southwestern areas, which cover most of the central, west and southwest parts of the state. The Midlands in central east Tasmania is fairly flat by comparison and is predominantly used for agriculture, although various types of farming activity can be seen all around the state.
The West Coast has a high rainfall which powers most of the hydroelectric projects, and its earnings from mineral activities are significant. The West Coast Range has some of the better known West Coast mines on its slopes – notably the Mount Lyell mine.
The Southwest region, in particular, is densely forested, the National Park holding some of the last temperate rainforests in the world. Management of such an isolated and inaccessible area has been made easier and more reliable with the advent of satellite imaging.
Tasmania is separated from the Australian mainland by Bass Strait, which is typically rough, primarily a result of its shallow depth (typically around 60 m) and its susceptibility to Southern Ocean currents and swells.
Tasmania is located at , right in the pathway of the notorious "Roaring Forties" wind that encircles the globe. The Tasmanian climate is extremely variable with high fluctuations in temperature and wind speed during the average week.
Summer lasts from December to February when the average maximum temperature at sea level is . Winter is from June to August with an average maximum temperature at sea level of . Inland, temperatures are much cooler. Liawenee on the Central Plateau is one of the coldest places in Australia with temperatures even in February ranging between to . In winter the Central Plateau ranges from around to .
Rainfall in Tasmania follows a complicated pattern rather analogous to that found on large continents at the same latitude in the northern hemisphere. On the western side rainfall increases from around at Strahan on the coast up to at Cradle Valley in the highlands. There is a strong winter maximum in rainfall: January and February typically averages between 30-40% the rainfall of July and August, though even in the driest months rain usually falls on every second day and the number of rainy days per year is much greater than on any part of the Australian mainland. Further east in the Lake Country, annual rainfall declines to around , whilst in the Midlands, annual rainfall is as low as at Ross and generally below . Here the rainfall is more evenly distributed than in the west, and most months receive very similar averages.
The densely populated northern coast is much drier than the western side, with annual rainfall ranging from at Launceston to at Burnie in the west and Scottsdale in the east. Most rain falls in winter, and in summer the average can be as low as per month in the Lower Tamar. The east coast is wetter than the Midlands, with an average annual rainfall ranging from at St. Helens to around at Swansea. Here the rainfall is evenly distributed over the year but can be very erratic as heavy rainfalls from the warm Tasman Sea are quite frequent. Whereas a three-day fall of occurs only once every fifty years the north coast, it occurs on average once every four or five years around Swansea and Bicheno, and on 7 June-8 June 1954, there were many falls as large as in two days in that area. The east coast is sometime called the "sun coast" because of its sunny climate; there is a rain shadow caused by the prevailing westerly winds and mountain ranges lying to the west.
Several sections of inland Tasmania, together with Flinders Island, were declared drought-affected areas by the state government in 2007.
Despite the presence of some Quaternary glaciation, Tasmania's soils are no more fertile than those of mainland Australia, largely because most are severely leached and the areas with driest climate (thus least leaching) were unaffected by glaciation or alluvia derived therefrom. Most soils on the Bass Strait Islands, the east coast and western Tasmania are very infertile Spodosols or Psamments, with some even less fertile "lateritic podzolic soils" in the latter region. Most of these lands are thus not used for agriculture, but there is much productive forestry - which remains the economic mainstay of the state.
On the north coast, apart from some relatively fertile alluvial soils used for fruit growing, there are also deep red, easily workable soils known as "krasnozems" ("red land"). These soils are highly acidic and fix phosphate very effectively, but their extremely favourable physical properties make them extensively used for dairying, beef cattle and fodder crops.
The Midlands and the Lower Derwent present a different story from the rest of the state. Owing to a relatively dry climate and alkaline (mostly dolerite) parent material, these soils are relatively unleached and contain lime in the deeper subsoil. They are mostly classified as "prairie soils" or "brown earths" and bear some resemblance to the chernozems of Russia and North America, although they are much lower in available phosphorus and somewhat acidic in the surface levels. Their higher nutrient levels, however, allow them to support productive pasture, and large numbers of sheep are grazed in these regions. Some grain crops are also grown in the driest areas. In the alluvial areas of southeastern Tasmania, rich alluvial soils permit apples to be grown.
Tasmania is also home to some of the tallest and oldest trees of the world. While individual Huon Pines are believed to be more than 2,000 years old, which is impressive by itself, a stand of male Huon Pines at Mount Read has maintained itself by vegetative reproduction and is estimated to be more than 10,000 years old. The tallest trees in Australia are found in the Styx Valley and Mountain Ashes on the island are more than tall. As these are still growing, there is hope they will surpass the tallest tree ever measured in the country, a Mountain Ash growing at Thorpdale, Victoria measuring more than before it was felled in 1884.
The island of Tasmania was home to the Thylacine, a marsupial which resembled a wild dog. Known colloquially as the Tasmanian Tiger for the distinctive striping across its back, it became extinct in mainland Australia much earlier because of competition by the dingo, introduced in prehistoric times. Owing to persecution by farmers, government-funded bounty hunters and, in the final years, collectors for overseas museums, it appears to have been exterminated in Tasmania. The last known animal died in captivity in 1936. Many alleged sightings have been recorded, none of them confirmed.
The Tasmanian Devil is a carnivorous marsupial found exclusively on the island of Tasmania. The size of a small dog but stocky and muscular, the Tasmanian Devil is characterised by black fur with white patches. It has a loud and disturbing screech-like growl, possesses a vicious temperament and is predominantly a scavenger. The Devil survived European settlement and was considered widespread and common throughout Tasmania until recently.
Like a lot of wildlife, fast vehicles on roads are a problem for Tasmanian Devils, which are often killed while feeding on other road-killed animals such as wallabies.
As of 2005, the Tasmanian Devil population has been reduced by up to 80% in parts of Tasmania by the devil facial tumour disease, which is gradually spreading throughout the island. It is believed the majority starved when the tumours spread to their mouths, and that the tumours are spread by fighting between devils over carcasses they feed on – typically, fighting devils will bite one another's faces.
There is no known cure for the disease, and intensive research is underway to determine its cause. There is also a captive breeding program being undertaken by the Tasmanian government to establish a disease-free, genetically-diverse population of Tasmanian Devils outside Tasmania. This has been relatively successful so far.
In the 2002 state election, the Labor Party held 14 of the 25 available seats. The Liberal Party saw their percentage of the vote decrease dramatically, claiming only 7 seats. The Greens won four seats, with over 18% of the vote, the highest proportion of any Green party in any parliament in the world.
On 23 February 2004, the Premier Jim Bacon announced his retirement, after being diagnosed with lung cancer from smoking. In his last months he opened a vigorous anti-smoking campaign which included many restrictions of where individuals could smoke, such as pubs. He died four months later.
Tasmania has numerous relatively unspoilt, ecologically valuable regions. Proposals for local economic development have therefore been faced with strong requirements for environmental sensitivity, or outright opposition. In particular, proposals for hydroelectric power generation proved controversial in the late 20th century. In the 1970s, opposition to the construction of the Lake Pedder impoundment led to the formation of the world's first green party, the United Tasmania Group.
In the early 1980s the state was again plunged into often bitter debate over the proposed Franklin River Dam. The anti-dam sentiment was shared by many Australians outside Tasmania and proved a factor in the election of the Hawke Labor government in 1983, which halted construction of the dam. Since the 1980s the environmental focus has shifted to old growth logging, which has proved a highly divisive issue. The Tasmania Together process recommended an end to clear felling in high conservation old growth forests by January 2003.
Tasmania's erratic economy was first experienced by colonists in the early 1800s. The reasons have been many and varied over the years. More recently the reasons have been attributed to: lack of federal infrastructure highway, lack of a gold rush, lack of open immigration initiatives, lack of population, decline in the wool and mineral economies, lack of early colonial initiatives, or lack of foreign investment. For the length of the history of Tasmania there has been a continuing exodus of youth to mainland Australia in order to seek employment opportunities.
Traditionally Tasmania's main industries have been: mining, including copper, zinc, tin, and iron; agriculture; forestry; and tourism. Significantly in the 1940s and 1950s there had been a notion of 'Hydro-Industrialisation' embodied in the state by Hydro Tasmania. These all have had varying fortunes over the last century and more, involved in ebbs and flows of population moving in and away dependent upon the specific requirements of the dominant industries of the time.
There had been a decline in manufacturing during the 1990s, leading to a drain of some of the island's trained and experienced working population to mainland Australia. The major urban centres such as Melbourne and Sydney are popular destinations.
Since 2001, Tasmania has experienced a positive turnaround. Favourable economic conditions throughout Australia, cheaper air fares and two new Spirit of Tasmania ferries have all contributed to what is now a booming tourism industry.
Today, a significant number of employed Tasmanians work for the government. Other major employers include the Federal Group, owner of several hotels and Tasmania's two casinos, and Gunns Limited, the state's biggest forestry company. In the late 1990s, many national companies based their call centres in the state after obtaining cheap access to broad-band fibre-optic connections.
Apparently the state's housing market was undervalued in the early part of 2000, and a large boom in the national housing market finally made Tasmanian housing prices rise dramatically. This has in part been attributed to increased levels of interstate and overseas migration. A shortage of rental accommodation has caused problems for many of Tasmania's low income earners.
Small business is a large part of the community life and it is believed by many that the business environment in Tasmania is not an easy one to survive in. However there have been many success stories, such as International Catamarans, Moorilla Estate and Tassal.
From 1986 the Abel Tasman made six weekly overnight crossings between Devonport and Melbourne. It was replaced by the Spirit of Tasmania in 1993, which performed the same route and schedule. The most recent change was the 2002 replacement of the Spirit by two Superfast ferries - Spirit of Tasmania I and Spirit of Tasmania II — which brought the number of weekly overnight crossings up to fourteen, plus additional daylight crossings in peak times. In January 2004 a third ship, the slightly smaller Spirit of Tasmania III, started the Devonport to Sydney route. This service was axed by the Tasmanian Government in June 2006 quoting low passenger numbers. Two container ships owned by Toll Shipping also make daily crossings between Burnie and Melbourne. The port of Hobart also serves as a host to visiting cruise ships.
The state is also home to International Catamarans, a manufacturer of very high-speed aluminium vessels (commonly known as SeaCat) that regularly broke records when they were first launched. The state government tried using them on the Bass Strait run but eventually decided to discontinue the run because of concerns over viability and the suitability of the vessels for the extreme weather conditions sometimes experienced in the strait.
Tasmania, Hobart in particular, serves as Australia's chief sea link to Antarctica, with the Australian Antarctic Division located in Kingston. Hobart is also the home port of the French ship l'Astrolabe, which makes regular supply runs to the French Southern Territories near and in Antarctica.
In order to foster tourism, the state government encourages or supports several different annual events in and around the island. The best known of these would be the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race, starting on Boxing Day in Sydney and usually arriving at Constitution Dock in Hobart around three to four days later, during the Taste of Tasmania, an annual food and wine festival.
Other events include the road rally Targa Tasmania which attracts world-class rally drivers and is staged all over the state, over five days. Rural or regional events include Agfest, a three-day agricultural show held at Carrick (just west of Launceston) in early May; and the Royal Hobart Show and Royal Launceston Show, both held in October annually. Music events held in Tasmania include the Falls Festival at Marion Bay (a Victoria event now held in both Victoria and Tasmania on New Year's Eve), and the Southern Roots Festival held in Hobart each Easter. A recent addition to the state has been the 10 Days on the Island arts festival.
The dominant sports in Tasmania are cricket and Australian rules football. Tasmania has produced two prominent international cricket stars, David Boon and current Australian captain Ricky Ponting. The Tasmanian Tigers cricket team, which plays home games at Bellerive Oval on the eastern shore, represents the state in limited overs and first-class cricket competitions. In the last few years they have had significant success, winning the ING One Day Cup in 2004-05 for the first time in 10 years (then again in 2007-08), and the Sheffield Shield for the first time in 2006-07.
Despite Australian rules football's huge popularity in the state, Tasmania does not have a team in the Australian Football League (AFL). They do have a team (the Tasmanian Devils) in the Victorian Football League, and a team in the national league is a popular topic among supporters as well as the state government (one of the potential sponsors of such a team). In 2008, the Tasmanian Government submitted a bid to the AFL for a Tasmanian team, although it is unlikely to be accepted in the near future. From the 2001 season onwards, some AFL teams have played scheduled games at Aurora Stadium (at York Park in Launceston). Since 2007, the Hawthorn Football Club has been in a sponsorship agreement with the Tasmanian government to play four home games per year in Launceston. One of the notable matches to be played at York Park was an infamous match between St Kilda and Fremantle which was controversially drawn after the umpires failed to hear the siren.
In basketball, the state has not been represented in the National Basketball League since the demise of the Hobart Devils in 1996; however, strong representation from the state can be found in the South East Australian Basketball League. Two men's teams—the Oasis Hobart Chargers, and the Northwest Tasmania Thunder—are joined in the women's SEABL by the Launceston Tornadoes and the Women's NW Tasmania Thunder.
In Tasmania, there is a motor racing circuit in Launceston called Symmons Plains Raceway. It holds rounds of the V8 Supercars, the YMF Loans Australian Superbike Championship, Australian Formula 3 Championship and the CAMS Nationals.