Driving around Flinders Island, there’s one thing that immediately flags you as a tourist: an absence of The Wave.
It’s gesture many would recognise across regional Australia; with a population below 1000 and geographical isolation from not only the mainland, but the rest of Tasmania, on Flinders it is particularly prevalent.
Wayne Virieux, who grew up on the island, used his hand to demonstrate: it’s not a big sweep, or a rapid shake, just a slight raise.
“When you go to Flinders Island, everybody waves to you,” he laughed.
Growing up on the island, Mr Virieux has had it seared into his muscle memory.
“When I first left there... you know, I was waving at everyone.”
He repeated the gesture faster, passing an imagined line of ongoing traffic on a busy city street – still laughing.
“And no one was waving back.
“See they know if you’re a tourist, they know that, because you don’t wave.”
It’s a lighthearted joke among those who live and have lived on Flinders and the surrounding islands, Mr Virieux said, meant to “take the mickey out of themselves” a little.
It’s also an example of the friendly nature many hope can help draw more of those tourists to the region and hopefully, slowly, convince them to stay.
At 1367 square kilometres Flinders is the largest of the 52 islands within the Furneaux Group, sitting in the Bass Strait off the North-East coast of Tasmania, with Cape Barren and Clarke islands following in size.
The group contains a settlement at Cape Barren Island, and on Flinders at Killiecrankie, Emita, Lady Barron, and Whitemark – the administrative centre of Flinders Council.
Small populated properties exist on the more remote islands too.
One of them, Goose Island, is where Mr Virieux traces his lineage back through a distant grandmother to Europe.
“What we can sort of understand is that her first husband worked for the French government… either that or he disappeared to Mauritius before the heads were chopped off,” he joked.
After he passed, she remarried a captain and they sailed out to Sydney in 1852: his last voyage before taking up a job as the lighthouse keeper on the island, the farthest off Flinders’ west coast.
“I could go back there and live,” Mr Vireux said, recalling his years spent on Flinders Island.
“There’s not many places in the world you can have that space to yourself, but also people around – when you want them.
“I’m hoping we can convince a lot of people.”
Outgoing Flinders Mayor, Carol Cox, hopes so too.
Certainly from a council perspective we’re definitely trying to grow our population.Flinders Mayor Carol Cox
Tourism has two purposes, Cr Cox said: supporting the economy as the historically strong fishing industry shifts away from the region; and showcasing the islands to potential new residents.
She said the council thinks tourism can push their population higher, to help bring further stability and security to their local services.
Cr Cox has been in council on the island for 16 years – the last 11 of those as mayor – after moving from Victoria in 1974 to follow farming opportunities.
“It just seems to be that if you live on the island or islands, they’re in your blood and you keep that connection,” Cr Cox said.
People come and go from the island for several different reasons, Cr Cox said.
“But certainly from a council perspective we’re definitely trying to grow our population, recognising that we need a bigger population to support our services.
“I think it’s working.”
Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics seems to agree.
The population of the Local Government Area (which includes Flinders and Cape Barren islands) sat at 943 in 2017, up from 824 in the 2012 census.
“School numbers are back up over the hundred mark, and they got down to under 70,” Cr Cox added.
“That’s an indication that we’re getting a younger demographic too which is great.”
A list of recent additions to the islands’ attractions also seems to show the people are coming: a mountain biking company, a glamping facility, a successful food and crayfish festival.
But, there could always be more.
Margaret Wheatley was busy packing when she first picked up the phone.
“I’m heading down to Launceston this afternoon,” she said.
“I didn’t want to have the stuff off the display too early in the day.”
Margaret and her husband Alan both grew up on Flinders, and now live at Killiecrankie on the island’s north.
“We look out onto the bay from our house,” she said.
“The colours are always changing.”
The two run a shop in Whitemark and trade in everything from their local “diamonds” to wholesale crayfish – they even offer a mail delivery service.
It’s a portion of this they’ve packed down to bring to Rosevears Hotel for the island reunion.
“We’ve got a couple of small display cases that we’ve got full of stuff, a couple of boxes and a bin.
“There’s a bit of stuff stuffed into our suitcases too.
“I’ve got Killiecrankie Diamonds, miniature cray-pots, photo-cards, and a couple other bits and pieces as well I thought people might be interested in.”
The Furneaux Island reunion event held this weekend, the third since 2009, aims to not only enable island neighbours to catch up, but showcase their home, and wares, to others in the state.
The first was initiated by Mr Virieux and two other past residents, now living in St Helens.
“We had such a big turnout,” he said of that first gathering.
The last two have drawn a similar crowd.
“People can come along and talk to people who live there and have lived there.
“We just hope that people call in and know and look at what we have to offer.”
While, St Helens might be home for Mr Virieux now, but the islands will always occupy a special place.
“If I ever get a bit homesick I can always drive up to Musselroe Bay on a fine day and go out to the lookout.”
“I go to the gardens and Binnalong Bay and those areas a lot around St Helens.”
“The lichen on the rocks remind me so much of home.”
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