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King Island (Tasmania) facts for kids

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King Island
Etymology Philip Gidley King
Location Roaring Forties, Great Australian Bight and Bass Strait
Archipelago New Year Group
Area rank 3rd in Tasmania
Population 1800

The King Island, part of the New Year Group, is one of the islands that make up the state of Tasmania, Australia. It is located in the Roaring Forties and forms part of the official land divide between the Great Australian Bight and Bass Strait, off the north-western tip of the main island of Tasmania, about halfway between Tasmania and the mainland state of Victoria. The southernmost point is called Stokes Point and the northernmost point is called Cape Wickham. There are three small islands surrounding King Island, namely New Year Island and Christmas Island situated to the northwest, and a smaller island called Councillor Island to the east.

King Island was named after Philip Gidley King, Colonial Governor of New South Wales, whose territory at the time included what is now Tasmania. The local government area of the island is King Island Council. The population as at the 2011 census was 1,566.


Captain Reed was the first European to discover King Island in 1799 while hunting seals in the schooner Martha. Matthew Flinders’ first map of Van Diemen's Land and the Bass Strait, which was sent to England (before Flinders had left) and was published in June 1800, did not show King Island. However, before Flinders left Sydney for England in 1800, Reed had informed Flinders of the existence of the island. Flinders’ second map of Van Diemen's Land and Bass's Strait (properly finished en route to England) and published with his Observations in 1801 shows:

"Land of considerable extent has been seen about this situation".

Cape Wickham Lighthouse 1887
Built in 1861, the Cape Wickham Lighthouse is Australia's, and the Southern Hemisphere's, tallest lighthouse.

Although the impressive 48-metre (157 ft) granite tower, Australia's tallest lighthouse, was finished and the light first lit on 1 November 1861, the Cape Wickham Lighthouse was only officially opened in November 2011 at a community celebration of the light's 150th anniversary.

Captain John Black also visited the island just after Reed and named it King's Island after Governor Philip Gidley King. Captain John Black was sailing in the brig Harbinger, after which the dangerous Harbinger Rocks off the island's north-west coast are named. It was found to abound in both fur seals and Southern elephant seals which were soon exploited to local extinction.

Governor King, knowing that the French navigator Nicolas Baudin was going to head for the island, when he left Port Jackson in 1800, sent the Cumberland from Sydney to formally claim the islands for Britain. The Cumberland arrived just before the French and the British had hastily erected the British Flag in a tree. Baudin still circumnavigated and extensively mapped the Island in 1802, giving French names to some localities which are still in use today like "Phoques Bay" on the north-west coast.

As a result of this incident, British settlements were established at the River Derwent and Port Dalrymple in Tasmania and later Port Phillip.

Sealers continued to harvest the island intermittently until the mid-1820s, after which the only inhabitants were some old sealers and their Australian Aboriginal wives who mostly hunted wallaby for skins. The last of these left the island in 1854 and for many years it was only occasionally visited by hunters and more often castaways from shipwrecks.

The first submarine communications cable across Bass Strait in 1859 went via King Island, starting at Cape Otway, Victoria, it made contact with the Tasmanian mainland at Stanley Head, and then continued on to George Town. However it started failing within a few weeks of completion, and by 1861 it failed completely. A later telephone and telegraph cable across Bass Strait operated via King Island from 1936 until 1963.

In the 1880s the land was opened for grazing. A township developed at Currie and the post office opened on 1 June 1892 (known as King's Island until 1903, King Island until 1917, thereafter Currie). Currie, on the west coast, now has the only post office on the island, but in the past Grassy, in the southeast (1918–35, 1943–91), Naracoopa on the east coast (1920–62), Pearshape to the south (1946–59) and Egg Lagoon in the north (1925–67) replacing Yambacoona (1922–25) all had official post offices. The other localities of King Island are Bungaree, Loorana, Lymwood, Nugara, Pegarah, Reekara, Sea Elephant, Surprise Bay, Wickham and Yarra Creek. All share the postcode 7256.


Cataraqui wreck
Wreck of the Cataraqui, Australia's deadliest maritime disaster with 400 victims. 314 recovered bodies lie buried on King Island in five graves.

Situated in the centre of the western entrance to Bass Strait, King Island has been the location of over 60 known shipwrecks, involving the loss of over 2,000 lives. Many King Islanders are descendants of shipwreck survivors. Notable shipwrecks include:

  • 1801, large unidentified three-masted full rigged ship, probably a whaler. No survivors known.
  • 1835, Neva, convict ship 327 tons, 225 lives lost.
  • 1840, Isabella, full-rigged ship 287 tons, no lives lost.
  • 1845, Cataraqui, full-rigged ship 802 tons, 400 lives lost.
  • 1854, Brahmin, full-rigged ship 616 tons, 17 lives lost.
  • 1854, Waterwitch, schooner 134 tons, no lives lost.
  • 1855, Whistler, American clipper ship, 942 tons, two lives lost.
  • 1855, Maypo, brig 174 tons, two lives lost.
  • 1865, Arrow, schooner 166 tons, one life lost.
  • 1866, Netherby, full-rigged ship 944 tons, no lives lost.
  • 1871, Loch Leven, iron clipper ship 1868 tons, one life lost.
  • 1874, British Admiral, iron clipper ship, 79 lives lost.
  • 1875, Blencathra, iron barque, 933 tons, no lives lost.
  • 1910, Carnarvon Bay, steel full-rigged ship 1932 tons, no lives lost.
  • 1920, Southern Cross, timber, three-masted brigantine, 257 tons, at least 9 lives lost.

The island today

Currie Harbour-King Island-Australia
Currie Harbour, 2007


Currie, the largest town and administrative centre, is situated on the west coast of the island.


The township of Grassy, on the island's east coast, is approximately 32 km south east of Currie. It was a thriving mining town where scheelite was extracted from an open cut mine until 1974 when two underground mines were brought into production. After the mine closed in 1990, the mine site was rehabilitated, the town sold and the pit was allowed to flood.

King Island geology
surface geology of King Island

In recent years the Grassy population has increased again and consists of local families, sea-changers, a campus of Ballarat Clarendon College and holiday makers. The town boasts a large, heated indoor swimming pool, laundromat, the Grassy supermarket opposite King's Cuisine at the Grassy Club, the Grassy Emporium, E J Motors and Fuel, Kelp Craft and King Island Holiday Village for accommodation in the town, and a bed & breakfast and art gallery at the Portside Links, near the harbour. There is a free barbecue, sheltered eating spot and public toilets in upper Blackwood Street. Grassy is also known for the little penguin rookery near the port (safe harbour) and platypus at the Upper Grassy Dam. The MV Searoad Mersey services the island with a weekly shipping service between Melbourne, Devonport and Grassy Harbour.


The village of Naracoopa is situated on the east coast about 20 kilometres (12 mi) from Currie and is known for its beach, jetty (fishing), holiday accommodation and eateries such as Rocky Glen, Baudins and Bert's Cafe. There is a sheltered BBQ area and public toilets on the foreshore. Along the foreshore adjacent to the 100-year-old jetty, is Abalone Art, the location for unique King island made gifts.

Naracoopa was the chief bulk fuels port and depot and is the site of a mineral sands deposit from which rutile, zircon and ilmenite were extracted between 1968 and 1977. The attractions of Naracoopa are the Naracoopa Jetty, blow hole and calmer weather.


The island is noted for its production of cheese, lobsters, bottled rain water, kelp, and beef. The island's beef industry was seriously impacted by the closure of the island's only abattoir, owned by Argentinian company JS Swift, in September 2012. It is a safe harbour for passing yachts and the site of the Huxley Hill Wind Farm operated by Hydro Tasmania.

The island has a football competition, The King Island Football Association with just three teams, Currie, Grassy and North, competes annually in the Stonehaven Cup boat races, the Imperial 20-foot race, Queen's Birthday Weekend Pheasant Season and many other activities.

The island was the proposed location for the development of Australia's largest windfarm. This wind farm split the community into those for and against but eventually proved uneconomic to construct. The proposal was shelved in late 2014.

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