Latitude 40: Redesigning tourism on a small island

The pull of the mutton bird - Lois Ireland

September 06, 2022 Dianne Dredge Season 1 Episode 4
Latitude 40: Redesigning tourism on a small island
The pull of the mutton bird - Lois Ireland
Show Notes Transcript

Lois Ireland shares her unique family heritage on Flinders Island as a member of the third generation of the Bowman family owning and running the general store.  Lois reflects on the "pull of the mutton bird" that has drawn her and others back to live on the Island in Bass Strait.
Lois describes the sort of visitor she’d like to see on the Island,"people who come with a genuine interest in finding out about how the place ticks … someone who's got an inquiring mind and is interested in what happens ... more like your family visitor than a tourist who just comes and takes the last fish.

Lois believes the Island's negative experience with tourism several years ago has served as a catalyst for regenerative tourism.  Feeling the effects of an excessive number of people with their boats and campervans who descended on the Island, Lois says locals felt affronted by visitors who were not respectful of their environment and community.

Lois talks about the inevitability of change and the need for the community to embrace change, to shape the future of the Island, to control their own future, and guide government decisions.

Show notes and links
Bowman's General Store Celebrating 100 years' in The Tasmanian Tuxedo, 4 November 2021|
Muttonbirds or the short-tailed shearwater, The Muttonbirds of Bass Strait, CSIRO (1956) I
Songlines of the Moonbird, TasEducation, 14 March 2014 |
Furneaux Museum |
Interstate Hotel, Whitemark |

This podcast is created for Designing Tourism by Debbie Clarke and Josie Major from GOOD Awaits. Audio Production is by Clarrie Macklin. Check out their podcast:
Music by Judy Jacques, The Mesmerist; Wybalenna Prayer  from Making Wings  © 2002 with kind permission of the artist.
Extract from the Islander Way read by Jana Monnone co-created by the local community with Brand Tasmania as part of the Flinders Island brand story.
Original photography by Sammi Gowthorp.
The Islander Way project is funded by the Tasmanian Government. We also acknowledge our partners, Flinders Council, Visit Northern Tasmania and The Tourism CoLab and the support of Flinders Island Business Inc.

If you'd like to provide feedback on this podcast, we'd welcome your comments at


Josie Major, Debbie Clarke, Lois Ireland, Jana Monnone

Jana Monnone  

Welcome to Latitude 40: Redesigning tourism on a small island.

In the spirit of reconciliation, we acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of country throughout Australia and their connections to land, sea and community. We acknowledge the palawa people of the trawulwai nation, and recognise their continuing connection to the land, waters and culture of the Islands. We pay our respect to their Elders past and present, and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples today. 

The first thing you will notice on Flinders and the Furneaux group of islands is the breathtaking scenery. In every direction, what you see is like nothing else in the world, it's deeper than quiet beaches and coastlines, mountains and mist. These islands have a rich and dark history, and an intensely passionate community that wants to reckon with its past and build the right future together. No one is here because it is the easiest place to live. Everyone is here because it's different. When something works on these islands, it tends to be small and special. As the rest of the world chases growth, we chase meaning. We have a complex relationship with change, because we understand what it can bring. It's different here. And we make different invitations to visitors for an unforgettable time on Flinders Island. Learn to be one of us for a few days a week, or the rest of your life. Slow down, listen, get lost, contribute. Don't try to change this place. Let this place change you. 

Josie Major  

I'm Debbie Clarke, and I'm Josie major. We're honoured to be your hosts for this Latitude 40 series sharing the stories of the Flinders Island community and the Islander Way regenerative tourism Living Lab.

Lois Ireland 

Hi, I'm Lois Ireland. I was a Bowman and I'm still a Bowman, which on Flinders Island is quite a thing. We're a family that had been on the island since my grandfather came here in 1913 and then set up a business Corner Store, which has become quite well known now. We're in our 101th year now. So because of that, continuity, and I have four brothers that still live on and around the island, we were one of the founding families, if you like. We've always been involved in a variety of community things like being on Council, on the local, had a stint on the local Council 20 years ago. And being involved in lots of community groups like the show society and the pony club, and Parents & Friends. And I work now running and managing and owning the Bowman store, along with my daughter, who's just come back to the island in the last five years, which is great. I did qualify as a speech pathologist and worked with the Education Department in Tasmania for 10 years before my husband and I and our young family came to the island 35 years ago. 

Josie Major

That's so wonderful to hear that. So interesting to hear that family history, and I didn't know the depth of that with the General Store. Can you tell us I mean, you're probably one of the best placed people to talk about this. But can you tell us about life on Flinders Island? What's what's unique about it? What do you love about it?

Lois Ireland 

So my husband and I came back, he came to the island, I came home. I grew up here, and back in the 60s 70s all of the kids at High School age were flown to Launceston for school. And then after that, a lot of people didn't come back, they sort of go off and do their own thing. And like I did, you get an education, and you work, work for 10 years with the Education Department in Tasmania, and then your husband wants to be his own builder, rather than the carpenter and the local builder on Flinders retires and you go, “well, you know, maybe we could go back to Flinders, and you'd be your own boss, and I can help out in the shop and still work at the school a bit, and kids might like the life” - which is what we did 35 years ago, and our children love Flinders Island. And they had a life of horses and freedom and beaches and boating. And so when our son-in-law wanted to be his own electrician, rather than work for someone else in Launceston, they went through exactly this nearly the same dilemma that we did you know, “if we went to Flinders, what are the pluses if we stay, you know, or what are the negatives?” Our daughter and her husband moved here with their children, the same age as they had been when we came back. And they were going to stay for five years, five years ago. They came in January, and by Easter, they bought a block of land. And they've only just they've just now moved into a beautiful home underneath Strzelecki with the view of the bay. And they love it.

I think also, there are lots of other families here in their 30s and 40s, who one or other of the partners grew up on the island and that draw that they call it ‘the pull of the mutton bird’ because every year the mutton birds come back from their journey around the world up into the Arctic and back around the Pacific. And the muttonbirds come back to the same burrow with the same mate every year. So it's called locally the ‘pull of the mutton bird’,  the ‘pull of the islands’, that the islands draw you back.  So we have, there's something, I know it's something in the air, there's something in the communities and the values of the community. But the place, it's a good place to live. 

My grandfather used to say about the people who live on Flinders Island, he wasn't sure if it was the damned, or the damned lucky that lived here. And I think this is from a man who'd been through the First World War and come home gassed. But it's home, you know, A lot of people choose to live here because they come and have a holiday and love it and want it to be like it was when they first arrived whether it was 5, 10 or 15 years ago. And for those of us who it's home to - people that come on holiday, forget that we still have to get up in the morning, go to work, do our work, pay our bills, go home again. And they tell us how lucky we are. But then when you go to the city, you think, I am lucky. This is where I want to … Flinders is where I want to be. There's so much freedom for our children and our grandchildren. They're the most amazing beaches and walks and things. There is nothing really there's nowhere else I've really been that I got that feel, but then I didn't live there.  I think a sense of community is probably the strongest thing. And my husband (Guy) and I realised the strength of that community last year, 14 months ago when he had an accident - fell through a roof and became a paraplegic. And so the community just gathered around us, it has just been amazing the support that we've had. And that happens to everyone, whatever happens. You know, people who you might just wave out to in the street, want to come and do your gardening for you. You know, it has just been a warm wrap-around community feel. And there's so much positivity whenever Guy’s (husband) out and about on his new bike, you know, quad bike, we really feel the warmth coming back from the community. And I think that keeps us staying here. Apart from the fact that we've buried in businesses, and we can't get out of them.

Debbie Clarke  

Wow, that speaks volumes, doesn't it?  That's probably the definition of community, right, that people come together and take care of each other and look after each other in those times of need in good and bad times. Yeah. So you mentioned the store is 101 years operating. Can you tell us about can you tell us about the store and what does it mean to you and enter the community as well? Yeah.

Lois Ireland

Yes. Bowman's Store was, as I said, started in 1921 by my grandparents, and it's changed over the time as soon as Ireland has changed. As we got new population with the soldier settlement  scheme in the 50s. The old shop was taken down, a new one built and knew stock put in and ‘people from away’ as they were known, the new settlers, they wanted a whole lot of goods that the old store didn't have. So the family had to change and move on. And my parents then were sort of beginning to be in charge. So that changed and adapted. But what we are really is like a little mini Myer (major department store). We have, we are not a very big shop, a shop and a storeroom, and we have the newsagency, we've got clothing, linen, some shoes, children's toys, and games and things, household items, mops and brooms, and China. So there's a bit of everything in this little shop. People just think of it, they go, ‘oh my goodness, it's just like a store we used to go to as a young child.’ And there's a great deal of longing for the past really, when people come in and they go, it’s just like the store inn …  where I grew up. And you don't find shops like this anymore. Because people used to go into a mall where there's one shop that sells soap, one shop that sells socks, we've got the lot. But also, in our position here, we are also sort of the centre of community activity in a lot of ways - where you go to drop off your ad for the Island News, which is our local fortnightly paper. And we're the place where you come to buy your Island News once a fortnight, where we do the bookings for the Country Women's Association rooms across the road. When it's showtime, we take the show entries and hand out the booklets. And there's always other things that we do that are just something that we do and people are always dropping in a raffle book or asking if they can drop something here for a friend who's coming to town. And so we're very much part of the community. And I did it one time as an April Fool's joke just to make the point, get a For Sale sign and put it in the window in the morning of 1st of April. And I had people coming in, in tears, they could not believe that Bowman's would go out of the family or that Bowman's would sell. I had to ask them, “what day is it?” “Oh, no. 31st of March?” “No, it's the first of April.” Then they were really cross with me but it brought home how you can't do that.  “Your family has been so great to my family” because we used to sell groceries up until the mid 70s. It was also the grocery store and then the supermarket opened. And the idea of having someone standing at the counter running to get your goods was a bit archaic. So obviously they gave that away. And, you know, I think my grandparents and my parents have sustained quite a number of families through some tough times. “We know we can't afford to pay for our groceries this week. Can we pay next month?” You know, and then they'll get a bit of work and they'll be able to come and pay for it. So I think there's been a lot of that kind of support given out as well. Yeah, I think we're a Flinders Island institution, I think that’s it. And we had a wonderful party, November last year. We had our hundredth party.  Quite a number of extended family were able to come and loads of people in the community came to support us and with an old fashioned afternoon tea. It was a great event. Wonderful.

Debbie Clarke  

Thank you for the beautiful picture you paint for us. That's it. I feel a longing as you're talking. You know, it reminds me of my childhood community. Yeah. Okay, go ahead, Josie.

Josie Major  

It's such a beautiful picture. I love the way you describe everything that's in the store I can feel like I'm looking around at so wonderful. So can you talk to us a bit about what what it means you know, you're obviously really embedded in the community and like you say store as an institutional part of that and can you talk to us about what it looks like for Flinders Island to be thriving,  perhaps your vision for for a future Flinders and what that looks like.

Lois Ireland  

I think I need to preface this I didn't haven't said yet that I've got two rental accommodations that I rent out on the main rental market, but also have three new apartments that my husband and I built two years ago. So …, we need visitors to the island in order to have an income. And the shop needs visitors to the island to get sales through the door. You know, while the locals are supportive, they don't always need all the things, and we notice it now it's wintertime and there aren't so many visitors or hardly any, so daily sales go down. As a businesswoman, we need people to come to the island to visit us, to stay in our beds and drive our cars and eat our food and buy books or clothes or whatever it is they need from our shops. So the increasing visitors to the island is currently quite tightly controlled by the cost of getting here, the airfare is not cheap. But then once you're here, apart from your bed and your food and your car rental, and it's the $5 to get into the local museum, that is the only money you need to actually spend, you can get out in in the environment, walk, swim fossick for diamonds, just sit down and soak it all in and it doesn't cost you anything. It's not like the city where you've constantly got your hand in the pocket. But what we have had a bit of an issue with lately is the type of visitors. We really want, not tourists. We don't want tourists. We want visitors.  We want people who come with a genuine interest in finding out about how the place ticks. We don't want to flop and drop visitors (well they can come if they like), but it's the type of person we're really after, is someone who's got an inquiring mind, is interested in how we tick, what happens, where does their water come from? How do you get on and off the island. How does school work? And these are the people that we find really interested in us and we find ourselves interested in them. And they are more like your family visitor rather than a tourist who just comes and takes the last fish. We do have people on the island who think that the next visitor will take the last fish. My mother said that in the 1960s - that there were people doing that - and they still are. And we have had a run of campers last Summer, not this one gone, the one before. An excessive number of people came with their boats and campervans and all their fishing tackle and they didn't respect our island. So there were people that came camping that did not respect the island, that left a mess, pushed their way into bushes, left their rubbish behind and caused a great deal of angst amongst the community. And that I think is the catalyst of where the regenerative concept has come out of the community, lots of people who before were just happy to go about their lives and be farmers and fishermen and retirees and were quite comfortable - felt affronted by these people that were not respectful of our environment and our community. And the other end of that is the really high roller types who come in with their nose in the air and go “quaint'' and then wander around our shop and go “ooh, isn't it sweet” and then walk out again without even responding when you say good morning to them. So I don't know how you get around that, I think.  But there are definitely changes in the air. Change is inevitable. And someone said to me once, “if you don't get change, you die”. And we don't want to do that. We want to maintain that level of visitation that allows our hospital and our doctor’s surgery and the school and all of the ancillary things that hold this community up -  we need a certain volume of monies coming in from off island that will allow us to continue all of those things.

I had someone in the shop: a 40 year old who said she hates change. She wanted to stay just like it was when she was a child. And I said, but you can't do that. She would not have been on the island if her grandparents hadn't come here when the soldier settlement scheme was introduced to the island in the 1950s. The island went from a few 100 people who knew each other closely and were probably mostly related to each other, to almost in a couple of years, to 1500 people. And we're back down to around 1000. Now, but these people all had families, you know, mom and dad and a few kids, most of them. And a lot of those people are now still here on the island, like this woman I was talking to. And my mother explained to me the change that the shop had to go through when the soldier settlement scheme was here. And there were people from large country towns in New South Wales, or quite sophisticated women who wanted more in their shopping experience than had previously been supplied by the shop. So the shop had to pick its game up and change and develop and, you know, accommodate those needs. And, and then, you know, over time, there's been other changes that have happened. You know, when she was here as a child, we didn't have power around the island. Everyone had a generator? Would you like to go back to that? If they were, we were once we had one plane? Three days a week? Did you want to go back to that? Or was she more comfortable being able to fly to Launceston for the day, fly out in the morning and fly back in the afternoon? Oh, oh, I hadn't thought of that. But I think what's happened is maybe there's been a rush and it's happened really quickly, there's been a kind of a sudden rush, and people haven't got a chance to kind of either get to grips with it, or get used to it, or feel they're not in control of it. And I think that's where the community, through the Council and the Flinders Island Business Association and general community consultation, need to look at how we, as a community, have an effect in controlling that change and putting stoppers on it, or somehow, filters or something. You know, there's a concern that new shipping company will be able to bring more campervans and trailers and boats, like 10 instead of two, every week, so that would kind of bulk up because we don't have the infrastructure is not there. Like Parks and Wildlife do what they can with the staff they have, but they don't have enough staff. There's no budget for it. And so the camping areas that there are that they'd like people to stay and get full. And then people go bush and make their own little camping space down a track, which then creates all that sort of degenerative issues. So we need to be in control of our change. Looking to sort of guide our governments, I suppose in how, where to direct funds to make sure that they're used in the proper way. 

 Josie Major  

I'm wondering what you do you think the visitors' role in that is like, what if you were going to speak to visitors about what it means to be a part of this change for your community and to be a good visitor on Flinders Island? What, what would that look like?

Lois Ireland 

The ideal visitor that I would see would be someone who comes with no high expectations. I think we've had some advertising done that gives people an expectation that there is crayfish crawling down the street waiting to be picked up and someone will cook it for you and put it on a plate or that there's you know, abalone are just there to be  - reach down there and grab one off a rock, and you can cook it over an open fire and it looks so romantic. So there's been a sort of image used in advertising, they don't actually say, there are crayfish available, but they give the impression that there are. And the crayfish season is short, we've only got one fisherman that fishes locally. So there is a real limitation on that. But people come with an expectation that there will be fine dining because of that advertising. And they find that we've got a local pub that do a great bistro meal, got a couple of cafes that open, not all the time and not all day, that do fantastic food, but it's not always there when people want it. And they need to be aware that they need to be prepared - to prepare themselves and find out what's available. And their hosts, if they're staying in accommodation, their hosts need to be telling them, “you know, on Sunday, there's actually nothing available, nowhere to eat in Whitemark. So you need … and the supermarket closes at 12 on Saturday, you need to have got yourself prepared for food over the weekend.” We don't want people to go away saying I was starving because no one told me. So we've been working on getting that information out. And tours is another thing - like people expect they'll be able to go catch, they'll come one day and be able to ring up a tour person and get a fishing trip organised, or a boat trip around the island. And again, we've only got two operators, and quite often the weather's not conducive, or it's not cost effective unless they've got, say 10 people, and there's only a couple. And that's something that we also on the island could, I mean, there's a business opportunity for someone. But you know, it's a lot of money to put forward and you need to be able to see a future in it. So I think it's in preparedness, making yourself aware of what is here, or just being aware that when you come that we are a small, isolated, remote community on an island that gets serviced by air every day, but by boat only once a week. And so if you go to the supermarket the day before the boat comes, there probably isn't a lot to choose from. But rather than going - throwing hands in the air and saying, “oh, there's nothing to be had”. Say “oh, this is interesting. So tomorrow, I'll buy that today.” But tomorrow, there'll be more things. And visitors, sorry we do get bad ones. There are those that will go to the coffee shop and complain if there isn't a particular type of cake or their particular type of savoury when there's an array of food that anyone would be happy to see. I think these people are difficult wherever they are. I think it's having people who can come in and appreciate that they are in this remote place that the services are limited. And make the most of the services that there are, and for people to find, you know, if you talk to people, locals, whether it be in the pub or the shops or out in the street, people are more than happy to tell you that little bit of extra information that will perhaps help you have your holiday be improved. Because we do want people to go away with a good, we want them to be good ambassadors for the island and to tell their friends and family that it's a great place to come to.

Lois Ireland 

So this is a poem written by my mother, Elvie Bowman, who came to the island as a bride in 1942. And she loved the place. She really did. So, this one is called Furneaux Islands

In the Furneaux Group of Islands, Flinders stands out tall and clear,
Like a mother with her children, little islands gather near. 
Nature gave us Flinders Island full of beauty everywhere, 
We are proud to say its our land in its bounty we all share. 
Where the granite mountain ranges carve their image in your mind,
Rolling down to sunlit beaches, there's peace and happiness to find. 
Feel a certain kind of magic in these islands scattered ‘round,
They still hold their share of mystery full of history they abound. 
You remember days in Springtime, crystal clear each distant sight,
See the sparkle on the water when the Summer sun is bright. 
In the calmness of the Autumn, sunset colours paint the sky,
‘Til sparkling stars of winter, light the shining heavens high. 

That I think encapsulates what my mum thought about Flinders Island.