MSS archiving volunteer Mary Williams reflects on Tasman Island visit

Women in beanies and jacket on boat

What a great privilege and joy it was, to recently travel with Bernadette Wallis MSS, and Julia Walsh, Assistant Archivist for the MSS, on a trip to the iconic Tasman Island. Bernadette had suitably prepped us on the drive to the Tasman Peninsula by playing a recording of Pat Quinn’s recounting of that initial journey.

Embarking from Eaglehawk Neck with Pennicott Wilderness Journeys, a truly appropriate name, our approach to the Island was southward along the coast. We were captivated by the rugged sea cliffs and caves, and the variety of bird life, seals and seaweeds.

Meanwhile, the movement of both the water and the boat was a small physical reminder, albeit a very comfortable one comparatively, of just the start of that epic journey that our brave Sisters had experienced many years before.

As we rounded the final headland to our destination, there before us was the towering, imposing, majestic, and as we drew nearer, very intimidating Tasman Island.  As we approached ever closer, the small rock island, about the size of a quarter tennis court, where the base of the flying fox had been anchored, became apparent.

We could still see evidence of that now removed structure. As we passed through the passage between the rocks and the landing on the Island, I was able to truly appreciate the precariousness of the situation described by Pat, of the bobbing dinghy, the swinging basket and their no doubt ungainly, uncomfortable and scary scramble to get safely into the basket. What courageous women they were to follow through, seeing the actual reality of what they had to endure to get to the top.

We continued out into the main waterway between the Island and the mainland and then turned back, this time approaching the Island from the northwest. From this direction the haulage, with its acute angle and starkness became very apparent. Again, trying to experience the Sisters journey to the top through Pat’s eyes, gave me that queasy, pit of the stomach sensation.

The physical and mental struggle of the situation they were in on the trolley, of standing up/lying down, on hard boards, at a 45° angle, with no restraint, nothing to hang on to, totally exposed and only a narrow footboard for support, is hard for me to get my head around.

Then to learn when they reached the top, that the trolley had been known to come off the rails… and they still had to make the return journey! Words fail me to imagine the myriad of thoughts that must have been going through their heads at that point, yet they calmly went about their task of visiting with the Ruston family.

In this instance, their efforts to fulfil their ministry, were definitely over and above – no pun intended. But, as an outsider looking in, I have learnt that giving all is part of the charism of the MSS. Thank you ladies. You have enriched beyond measure, the lives of so many.

Photos of Tasman Island courtesy Mary Williams. That’s Julia and Mary (on the right) in their beanies and red jackets on the boat!