Prue Slatyer thought Tasmania was missing an incredible opportunity to capitalise socially and economically from its regional historical assets. So she went back to university to change that. 

An avid traveller and established architect with a strong background in design and planning, Tasmania’s fascinating past was a great drawcard for her to return to study.

Tasmania is a wonderful outdoor museum. In other places around the world communities have been reinvigorated by long walks that connect and showcase their historical assets. The Camino de Santiago is a classic example.

“I want to plan a long distance walk that capitalises on our history. I think living here and seeing the wonderful heritage buildings and places we have gave me a strong interest in history. 

Prue enrolled in a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in History and is now completing her Honours project, which focuses on Tasmania’s southern midlands.

 “My thesis explores the history of the development of cultural landscapes in Van Diemen’s Land through the use of maps as the main primary source material,” she said. 

“There’s little recognition of cultural landscapes and their heritage significance in Australia. Objects such as buildings and structures are much easier to define and understand than spaces such as landscapes.

“Cultural landscapes can range from quite large regions to small-scale spaces. 

“They might include conservation areas, recreation spaces, settlements, buildings, transport infrastructure and small scale landscapes. They are created within social, political and economic contexts, and thus imbued with cultural history.

“Tasmanian cultural landscapes are under threat from changing land use like transport infrastructure and agricultural practices. But they provide a tangible reflection of history.

I believe there is great potential for them to contribute to an understanding of the history of European settlement in Van Diemen’s Land, and for the interpretation of this history to contribute to Tasmania’s tourism opportunities.

Prue said maps tell us so much more than simply the location of landmarks, cities and towns.

Maps provide a wealth of information, transport networks, administrative districts and topography. They tell of the attitudes and perceptions of the time, and represent another layer of history.

“Place names are one of the most potentially fruitful components in maps.

“These have the potential to contribute descriptive information about the landscape, as well as to provide clues to the cultural perceptions of the landscape, emotional responses and attitudes. 

“Typology developed for Australian place names includes three types of place names that are relevant for this type of study, descriptive place names, (for example Serpentine Valley), evaluative (like Lovely Banks), and shifts, where a place name from another location is used, (for example Brighton). 

“As settlement progresses, you see people’s names start to come into place names."

I think there’s great potential in Tasmania to plan a long distance walking trail. We’ve got a lot of long distance bush walking trails, but nothing that looks at our cultural heritage.

“I’m hoping Honours will give me a deeper understanding of Tasmanian history and the ability to plan the long distance trails in Tasmania, particularly with the interpretation, which is an integral part of the walk. 

“The people in the UTAS history department are very knowledgeable. We have more people actively involved in researching and writing about Tasmanian history in the department at UTAS than anywhere else I think.

I didn’t have any anxieties about returning to University. I love study. I think as you get older, it’s important to keep your brain active. I’d recommend it to others.

“We had a great class group, ranging in age from 21 to 65 and we all got on well together."