Fleeting Hopes: A History of Port Davey

South West Tasmania, Volume One

by Tony Fenton

Paperback, Forty South Publishing


Port Davey, in Tasmania's rugged South West Corner, is roadless even today. Such a wild landscape suggests an untrodden past, yet Tony Fenton has unearthed stories of human hopes and schemes, courage and folly, avarice and downright hard work. A lost history, that of the Aboriginal people, is glimpsed from George Augusts Robinson's diaries as he made his persuasive journey into their country. Explorers, whalers and track-cutters came and went. The Huon pining industry brought families to settle at Port Davey, and prospectors hunted for mineral riches. Sailors were washed ashore on an uninhabited coast, to live or to die.

Tony Fenton has woven ground-breaking research into an intriguing narrative that reveals an unexpected past alive with people and plans, set in an impressive but unforgiving landscape.


“The Port Daveyites have a proverb: those who drink the button-grass water, will always come back again.” - Tony Fenton

Tony Fenton is the grandson of legendary bushman and pioneer of the Southwest wilderness, Deny King. It seems that history and exploration are in the Fenton blood; his mother, Janet Fenton, is also a historian. Tony grew up in the wilderness realm of his grandfather and became intrigued by the history of Port Davey and Melalueca. This book, resulting from over a decade of research and work, is a tribute to Tasmania's remote South-West and the people who came, with varying ambitions and desires, to explore and live in this most trying of wildernesses. The narrative is rich with detail and rollicks along like an improbable adventure story, rather than a meticulous historical text.

The book launch, held on a cold night at Fullers Bookstore in Hobart and hosted by Bob Brown, was standing room only. Bob Brown described the book as “a must for anyone wanting to set foot on the west coast.”

At the launch, Fenton described investigations in the archives, asking 'curly' questions of archivists, and his firm belief that technology could not replace human experiences in historical research. Tony concluded that he “had the audacity to write 'volume one' on the front cover” and in doing so was “committing (himself) to another five years of writing. (I) have already started researching again – it's an addiction.”

The book was crowdfunded and supported by grants from 40o South, and the Arts Council of Tasmania. 

(Words: Priya Kitchener)





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