• Faraz Shibli

What’s in a (place) name? Tasmania’s Bay of Fires

Travelling through Tasmania, I’m struck by its fantastically wacky place names – Bagdad, Break-Me-Neck Hill, Suicide Bay and Hell’s Gates, to name just a few – and I find myself wondering about the stories behind them.

Take the Bay of Fires on the east coast. Some people say it takes its name from the dramatic orange lichen-covered rocks that line its beaches.

But apparently, the real reason involves Aboriginal people, European exploration and the search for a mythical continent.

Crates of Mellus, a Greek philosopher and creator of the earliest known globe of the Earth, hypothesised in the 2nd century BCE that huge landmasses existed to the south of Europe, Asia and North Africa.

Despite much evidence to the contrary, other thinkers developed this idea over the centuries, leading some to imagine a southern continent enclosing the Indian Ocean and balancing out continental land in the Northern Hemisphere. This mythical place was marked on maps of the world well into the modern era as Terra Australis Incognita (Unknown Southern Land).

As part of a voyage commissioned by the British Government in the late 18th century, Captain James Cook sailed around the far south of the globe in HMS Resolution, demonstrating that Terra Australis couldn’t be located in temperate areas, as previously thought, but must lie well within the polar region if it existed at all.

Captain Tobias Furneaux, who accompanied Cook in another ship, HMS Adventure, sailed past Tasmania in 1773 after the two vessels became separated in Antarctic fog. He spotted Aboriginal fires burning along the east coast – from which the Bay of Fires takes its name.


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