From beer to politics, and almost anything in between, a rivalry between Tasmania’s north and south has simmered for centuries, but this regional parochialism has much stronger roots that many are unaware of.
- Soon after British settlement in 1803, Van Diemen’s Land was split into two divisions along the 42nd parallel
- Both counties, Cornwall in the north and Buckingham in the south, were ultimately answerable to the Governor, based in Sydney
- After 1813, the colonies were administered from Hobart, but the north/south rivalry continues
Between 1804 and 1813, crossing the line of the 42nd parallel south — a circle of latitude that cuts neatly through Tasmania’s middle — meant you were entering a different county, Cornwall in the north or Buckingham in the south.
Tasmania, then known as Van Diemen’s Land, was split in two.
Could it ever happen again?
Why didn’t it work out?
Isolated from each other, Cornwall and Buckingham developed independently with their own governments.
The separation was described by the surveyor general of New South Wales John Oxley as “costly and unnecessary”.
“Under one Government both settlements might flourish … in their divided state, each Commandant views with jealousy … any supplies of stores and provisions, which one settlement receives that is not at the same time given to the other,” according to Oxley’s 1810 report.
The formal division didn’t last long, and the island became one jurisdiction in 1813.
Historical roots in north vs south rivalry
Today, hundreds of people cross the 42nd parallel — which is just north of the Midlands town of Ross — every day.
And although Tasmania’s two largest population centres are separated by just 200 kilometres, some believe the division of the early 1800s has played a part in a continuing rivalry between Launceston and Hobart.
Historian Henry Reynolds said the competition for attention and regional expenditure remained.
“[They] have always been strong regional centres and they both have their own hinterlands,” Professor Reynolds said.
However, he said he didn’t think the rivalry had adversely impacted the state.
“In some ways it may well have disadvantages when they compete against each other … but it is most important that each side of the state maintains their sense of identity and difference,” he said.
Is the hatchet buried?
Professor Reynolds said no matter what people thought of the divide, it definitely existed.
“It is surprising how people you would assume would know one another [if they’re] in the same field, but living in opposite sides of the state … they don’t know one another,” he said.
“There is less contact than you might expect.”
In 1959, a pair of hatchets were symbolically buried in Launceston’s Elizabeth Street in an attempt to end hostilities.
Tasmanian political scientist Professor Richard Eccleston said the rivalry has “intensified” over the last two decades, seen through a broadening in an economic divergence between the north and the south.
The latest data shows investment, employment growth and population growth are all much stronger in the south, with Hobart’s population growing at almost twice the rate of Launceston.
“That changing nature of the state’s economy and broader population is playing into politics,” Professor Eccleston said.
“[At the federal election] southern Tasmania moved further away from the Coalition in terms of support, whereas most of northern Tasmania, the swing was towards the Coalition.”
Professor Eccleston said a successful strategy for political parties has been to focus on divisions within communities, and to support one group at the expense of others.
“If the state is going to continue to grow, and if more Tasmanians are going to benefit from that prosperity, our politicians need to bring the state together, and to think about what is in the common interest for the whole state,” he said.
“Any political program or parties, pedalling a parochial agenda, are going to undermine that.”
Could the state be split in two again?
The short answer: it would be very tricky.
Professor Anne Twomey from the University of Sydney said the Australian constitution may permit for the state to be split, but as it has never been done before, the path was relatively unknown.
There are three provisions within the constitution that could come into play:
- Section 121: The Commonwealth Parliament could decide to establish a new state
- Section 123: The Commonwealth Parliament could decide, with the consent of the Tasmanian Parliament, and the approval of the majority of the state’s electors, to alter the boundaries of the state
- Section 124: A new state could be formed by the separation of territory from an existing state
So for Tasmania to be split in two, it is likely there would need to be a statewide vote and the agreement of both the Tasmanian and Commonwealth Parliaments.
“At the moment, because Tasmania is an ‘original state’ from the time of federation, it has a guarantee of equal representation in the Senate (12 senators) and a minimum of five seats in the House of Representatives, which is more than it would otherwise receive on a population basis,” Professor Twomey said.
“This means that a Tasmanian’s vote has a value much higher, in terms of representation, than that of, for example, a Victorian.
“Tasmania is, effectively, over-represented in the Commonwealth Parliament.”
Professor Twomey said it would be “inconceivable” that the state could double its federal representation if it split in two.
“I cannot imagine a Commonwealth Parliament agreeing to such malapportionment,” she said.
“If Tasmania were to split into two states there is a distinct risk that its representation might be reduced, if this act were regarded as negating its status as an ‘original state’.”
The key message — it would be a long and difficult process, and the state would likely be worse off.
Professor Reynolds said he didn’t think the strong regional identities would ever transpose in to demand for becoming two separate states.
“The idea that Tasmania could further divide, I think there would be absolute hostility and opposition,” he said.
“I don’t think, in any way, it is a serious proposition … you would need to totally rethink the nation.”
‘Cramping our style’
So, it doesn’t look like Tasmania could be officially divided anytime soon, but is the rivalry all that it is cut out to be?
Launcestonian Christopher Saxty said he would be for a split: “Hobart has been cramping our style for two centuries now.”
Blake Brenner agreed, saying regional issues could be better addressed by a separate government.
“It could work, there is a large difference between the north and the south that can cause problems. Two separate states would give the north its own government that would be more able to tackle the north’s issues directly,” he said.
This was contradicted by Jan Glover who has lived in both areas of the state and said “the sooner we work together as one, the more progress we [can] make”.
Natalie McCullagh said it was all just harmless fun.
“A bit of friendly banter never hurt anyone,” she said.
However, Mandy Beveridge said leaving divisions behind was the best way forward.
“We should be doing everything we can to be one great state,” she said.