Friends of Maatsuyker Island

by Penni Rockliff

Maatsuyker Island, located off the coast of southern Tasmania, is a place of awe-inspiring natural beauty, fascinating cultural heritage and I reckon a whole lot of magic.

The most significant modern cultural heritage site on the island is the lighthouse, which was built in 1891 and operated until 1996. Alongside are the keepers’ quarters, and quite uniquely to Maat., the outbuildings and other structures associated with the lighthouse also remain.

I was recently fortunate enough to return to Maat as a part of the annual March working bee team. The usual 10 days working bee turned into an extended 14 day trip. Oh inclement weather! These extra few days allowed us to not only achieve more than we planned and spend more time in an incredible place, but also to eat a tub of out-of date supplies – kept on the island for this exact scenario (bonus!).

The working bee team was divided into 3 streams of work – maintenance, weeding (this year with climbers to survey inaccessible areas) and shearwater surveying.

Maatsuyker Island crew – Photo by Marina Campbell

During our stay I asked everyone to tell me their favourite bits of the working bee and their all-round favourite aspects of Maat in general.

These first points relate to the working bee:

  • Working in a great team alongside like-minded and passionate people
  • The huge progress made on the painting works in Quarters 3
  • The location and removal of a huge hebe from a new site
  • The scoping of the whim for future restoration works (the whim is the mechanism which was used to haul people, animals, everything from the ocean onto the island)
  • The warm and welcoming hospitality of caretakers Davey & Di
  • The placing of GPS trackers on shearwaters in order to collect information on their foraging distances/and the subsequent tracks back
  • The opportunity to practice the under utilised skill of upside down weeding for tricky plant encounters

Upside down weeding on Maatsuyker Island – Photo by Penni Rockliff

The island is a wildlife haven with a rich variety of bird and marine life. One of the most magical things to witness is the shearwaters taking off in the early morning.

And, there are many magical things to experience on Maat. These are some of our favourites:

  • Looking east to the pyramid of shimmery muscovite granite, ‘The Mewstone’
  • Watching the fairy prions fly at night and seeing their wings flash blue under the moonlight
  • Listening to the calls of the common diving petrels
  • Seeing the outline of ‘Pedra Branca’ and ‘Eddystone rock’ on the horizon on a clear day
  • Watching and listening to the seals and seabirds in the gulch – mesmerising and loud
  • Gazing on the iconic Needles

Taking part in a Maatsuyker Island Working Bee is an opportunity to make a meaningful contribution to conservation whilst also experiencing an amazing place – a real privilege.

This year FOMI are celebrating our 20th birthday!
Do come and visit our exhibition, showcasing FOMI’s achievements to care for and protect Maat’s natural and historic values.
Maritime Museum of Tasmania, 16 Argyle St Hobart until 30 June 2023, open 9-5 seven days a week.