A Travel Legacy – Bernacchi House, Maria Island, Tasmania
Travel isn’t just about going somewhere. The point of moving out of our comfort zones to explore new horizons involves not just physical relocation, but often emotional and spiritual challenge and connectedness. Some of our most memorable holidays are those which have moved us, not just externally, but internally as well, and taken us on a path never imagined – an authentic travel journey which unearths a legacy and becomes part of who we are going forward.
Trekking in remote locations, combined with a bit of luxury to smooth the rough edges, never fails to enlighten my mind and soothe my soul! And often these experiences can be so unexpected in so many ways.
Trekking on Maria Island provided one such experience for me. The four-day, three-night guided Maria Island Walk, part of the Great Walks of Australia, involves both beach and mountainous terrain, in all kinds of weather, in beach camps and a cosy cottage, on a tiny island off the east coast of Tasmania. My husband and I joined a group of six others, whom we had never met before, with which to bond over the ensuing days. These sorts of arrangements can go either way – it is a risk to travel with both friends and foe and strangers can be even more precarious. On this occasion, we were thrown together with a mixed bag of gender, professions and ages, and luckily, we all fared well. Our guides commented at the end of the trip that they had never had a group which laughed so much! That had a lot to do with one of our group, a retired reno-surgeon, who regaled us with many medical puns, and a psychiatrist, who was a veritable encyclopedia of both valuable and trivial tit-bits.
But perhaps what was most surprising about this trip was the wealth of history which provided an authentic backdrop of harsh reality to the rugged yet beautiful landscape in which we were indulging. There is Aboriginal history and convict history, but most interesting for me, was the agricultural past, and particularly that of a pioneering Italian – Angelo Giulio Diego Bernacchi. His only surviving legacy is his family home, Bernacchi House, in which our group stayed on the last night of the trek.
The son of a wealthy landowner and lawyer, Bernacchi arrived in Tasmania with his wife and three children in 1884. Why he thought that Maria Island would be a good place to realise his entrepreneurial dreams is a mystery, but what ensued were many years of endeavours, including wine production, fruit growing and cement production. The township of Darlington, where Bernacchi had settled, was renamed San Diego in his honour, and at the highpoint of his enterprises, it was a thriving settlement of 250 people, many employed by The Maria Island Co, with a coffee palace, post office, school and even a hotel. At one point, the island was known as the Ceylon of Australasia, and a Tasmanian Eden. However, by 1892, The Maria Island Co. had gone into liquidation. Undeterred, Bernacchi established the Land Development and Cement Co. of Tasmania Ltd to produce cement on the island. However, a financial crisis, the depression and over-optimism led to its failure. San Diego became a ghost-town, its name reverting to Darlington. In 1897 the Bernacchis left the island, however, by 1918 Bernacchi had returned as Director of the National Portland Cement Company. Soon after he became ill and died in Melbourne in 1925, with the company ceasing business in 1930. Although prosperous when he had arrived on the island, Bernacchi was a gregarious risk-taker who never enjoyed much prosperity, and unfortunately none of his endeavours gained the success he imagined.
Luckily for us, however, is this rich history, and the legacy of Bernacchi’s optimism and pioneering spirit, which perhaps can teach us a lesson about focus, commitment and an unrelenting desire to take ourselves out of our comfort zones, to learn and grow and live life to the full. What remains too are the haunting buildings which still stand proudly in Darlington today, including the cosy and welcoming Bernacchi House.
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Note: This blog is part of Tiffin’s A-Z Guidebook – a collaborative project whereby travel bloggers can share their experiences on a journey through the alphabet. This month’s letter is “B”.