The rocks underlying Waterhouse Conservation Area are dominated by Devonian granites. These form part of a much larger series of granite bodies extending from north-east Tasmania to Wilsons Promontory. They formed during a major continental collision in eastern Australia 370 million years ago.
The granite has in turn been intruded by 165 million year old Jurassic dolerite, such as found underlying Hardwicks Hill. This intrusion was associated with the separation of the Australian and Antarctic plates during the final stages of the the breakup of Gondwana.
The basement rocks of the area are overlain by much younger sandy deposits as a result of coastal processes during Pleistocene and Holocene times (less than 1.6 million years ago). Extensive longitudinal inland desert dunes formed, extending onto what is now the north-eastern coastal platform of Tasmania. Today these sand features can be seen at the northern, broad section of the reserve extending from Croppies Points through to Tomahawk Beach, and consist of undulating sand plains traversed by relict east - west dune formations.
The high coastal sand dunes are of different origin again, being even more recent (Holocene). Sand landforms are very sensitive to disturbance and easily destabilised, and most particularly so in the windy Waterhouse environment. During the last 45 years a major program to restabilise the dunes has occurred.
The spectacular grass tree
The Waterhouse Conservation Area encompasses a mosaic of heathland, wetlands, grasslands, coastal shrubberies, scrub and woodlands. The reserve contains one of the largest areas of heathland on the north-east coast, a vegetation community which has been greatly reduced in extent since European settlement. Many plants found in the region are the southernmost populations of mainland species.The area also contains substantial numbers of species that are rare in Tasmania and species listed in the Threatened Species Protection Act 1995.
A commonly seen species is the spectacular grass tree (Xanthorrhoea australis), which tends to occupy the dune tops. Tall, dense coastal shrubbery is found in more sheltered areas. A wind-pruned woody shrubbery extends for several hundred metres inland on most of the western coast and small herbfields, often grazed to ‘marsupial lawns’, are found throughout.
South of Little Waterhouse Lake the vegetation wages a constant battle with shifting sand. The area is dominated by open sand, sand planted with marram and coastal shrubberies with wetland communities in low lying areas.
The coastal shrubberies change in composition with the distance inland. Close to the coast, the foredunes are colonised by coastal wattle, or boobyalla (Acacia sophorae) and coast bearded heath (Leucopogon parviflorus). Between one and three kilometres inland this is replaced by a dense shrubbery dominated by banksia, while further inland she-oak (Allocasuarina verticillata) and eucalypt become important.
In recent years marram grass, which had previously been planted to stablise dunes, has been increasingly regarded as an environmental weed. The sand ecology of dunes planted with marram is distinctly different to dunes bound by native species, and marram grass is suspected to have infested areas as far as 110 kilometres away from the nearest planting area.
Sea spurge has become a major weed of the reserve, spreading throughout the coastal dune complex, particularly in areas of disturbance.
The diverse habitats of Waterhouse Conservation Area support a rich fauna. A total of 138 birds have been recorded within the reserve, including six of Tasmania’s 12 endemic birds. Nine threatened species of bird are found in Waterhouse Conservation Area , including the wedge-tailed eagle, several species of albatross and shore nesting birds such as little and fairy terns, and hooded plovers. The shore nesting birds are particularly vulnearble to disturbance by dogs, vehicles and people venturing above the high water mark along sandy beaches.
The wetland and open waterbodies provide excellent habitat for waterfowl.
The reserve contains at least three, and possibly four, of Tasmania’s six species of threatened mammals - the spotted-tailed quoll, the eastern quoll, the Tasmanian bettong and possibly the eastern or little pygmy possum.
The reserve may also contain the only mammal considered rare in Tasmania, the New Holland mouse, as there are extensive areas of apparently suitable habitat and the species has been recorded to the west and east of the reserve.
Other fauna species of conservation significance found in the reserve include a fresh water fish - the dwarf galaxias Galaxiella pusilla - listed as rare, and the green and golden frog, listed as vulnerable. Blackmans Lagoon and its feeder creeks constitute probably the single most important site in the State for the green and golden frog.
Aboriginal places and landscapes have a strong and continuing significance to the Tasmanian Aboriginal community. The area contains important Aboriginal sites, including coastal shell middens.
The Waterhouse area was probably within the territory of the Leenerrerter Band of the North East Tribe. The North East people had heaths and plains behind their coast which they kept open and clear by firing. Game included kangaroos, wallabies, emus and possums. The coastline and the associated lagoons and estuaries provided abundant seasonal food resources, such as muttonbirds, swans, ducks, and seals.
During their 1798 circumnavigation, Mathew Flinders and George Bass were the first Europeans to sail past and chart the northeast coast of Tasmania. They named Waterhouse Island for the Captain of HMS Reliance.
During the early 1800s, Furneaux Archipelago sealers were probably the first regular European visitors to this stretch of coast. Sealers made annual visits to conduct trade with Aboriginal groups exchanging ‘seal and kangaroo skins for tobacco, flour and tea.’
The Aboriginal population of the area plummeted under the influence of the European invasion.
The first land grants in the Waterhouse area occurred in 1830s, including the original Waterhouse block granted to Williams Morgan Orr.
In the late 1860s, a stockman employed at Waterhouse found specimens of gold ore on the property, resulting in a stampede of miners. The town of Lyndhurst quickly established near the junction of the Waterhouse Road and Blackmans Lagoon Road but by early 1873 Lyndhurst had become a ghost town.
During the 1950s, significant advances in agricultural technology provided the means for much more intensive settlement and utilisation of the area. The leap in land values associated with the clearance, drainage and development of pastoral properties in the area led to major concern for the huge sand blows on the coast. In places these enormous mobile land forms threatened to engulf and bury new farms.
In 1955 the Sand Dune Reclamation Unit was established under the umbrella of the Lands Department to develop a reliable dune stabilisation system for north-east Tasmania. Over a period of 45 years the unit successfully stabilised vast tracts of land both within and beyond the reserve.
In 1975 the Scottsdale Council wrote to the Minister for National Parks and Wildlife requesting the Crown land at Waterhouse be made a national park. In 1980 the Waterhouse Protected Area was declared.