About Deny King and the Deny King Heritage Museum, Melaleuca

Tasmania is sprinkled with mining history. The following article shares the story of the fascinating Deny King and his years of tin mining at the isolated and wildly beautiful Melaleuca. Now his daughter Janet Fenton is playing a crucial role in helping bring the past to life again.


Image Caption: Janet Fenton sorting treasures in the red Engine-shed for planned heritage mining trail at Melaleuca. (Photo Erika Shankley).  The daughters of Deny and Margaret King, Janet and Mary, spent a unique childhood growing up at Melaleuca.

Janet Fenton is the natural fit as the President of the Friends of Melaleuca as the daughter of Melaleuca’s well-known tin miner Deny King, considered the King of the Wilderness.

The remote Melaleuca in Tasmania’s South West, which can only be reached via foot, sea or boat, is renowned for its world heritage area and also for its mining history.  It was a small mining settlement from the 1930s until recently where high grade alluvial cassiterite (tin oxide) was mined.

The volunteer group Friends of Melaleuca was formed in 2009, shortly after Melaleuca was permanently listed on the Tasmanian Heritage Register.   The area is important for both its natural and cultural values.  The site includes the homestead and garden of the late Deny King.  

Janet Fenton said that one of their primary aims was to demonstrate that a mining area can be successfully rehabilitated and used for tourism and education.  The group aims to undertake practical work such as maintenance of heritage buildings and other infrastructure.    At the moment their main projects are a clean-up of the site, and weed control.    They are also organise fundraising events to support their activities. 

Image caption: During the Friends of Melaleuca March working bee, some of the volunteer time was devoted to working towards the museum and mining trail project. 

The Melaleuca Heritage museum and mining interpretation trail are being brought to fruition with the help of the Tasmanian mining and minerals industry.  Bell Bay Aluminium, MMG Rosebery and Grange Resources, for instance, have each donated $2,000 towards it.

“The museum will cover themes such as the progress from hand to mechanical mining and issues around living and working in a cold and wet remote area and straddle mining history, science and conservation,” Janet said.

The self-sufficient Deny King was more than a tin miner.  He was also a highly regarded bushman, naturalist and artist.  Melaleuca was his home from 1936 until his death in 1991. In 1939 he gained a diploma in automobile mechanics from the International Correspondence School, Sydney, while working full time in isolated areas.

The author of The Life of Deny King, Christobel Mattingley, said that twice yearly King made the precarious trip from Melaleuca to Hobart on his boat to transport tin and return with supplies.  In 1955 King undertook the immense job of building an airstrip to help lessen his family’s isolation.

“That unwitting agent of change, King made south-west Tasmania, until then only visited by fishermen and bushwalkers, accessible to mining companies, photographers, journalists, and sightseers. So he built two commodious visitors’ huts,” Mattingley wrote.

“Quietly spoken with a slow drawl, stocky, and immensely strong, King was renowned for his hospitality, humour, and willingness to tackle challenges.”

 Image caption: In 1954, tin miner Deny King had a D2 Caterpillar dozer shipped to Melaleuca for use in his small tin mine. In 1957, with financial support from the Mines Department, he completed a gravel airstrip with the little D2.  Deny King on his D2. - Note the sledge made from a forked tree branch. (Photo Mark Creese) and Deny's 1950s Caterpillar D2 maintenance guide. (Photo Janet Fenton).

Caption: The critically endangered Orange-bellied Parrot which breeds only around Melaleuca, has become a well-known icon of the place in recent years. The Department of Primary Industry, Water and Environment is running a program aiming to bring the pretty little bird back from the brink.  The fire frequency around Melaleuca due to past mining could have suited the parrot. (Photo Geoff Fenton)

Deny King first instigated a recovery program the parrot.

Caption: Deny King with a pump at the old engine shed at Melaleuca, circa 1947 (above) and a volunteer removing rust and oiling the same pump in 2015. (Photos: King collection and Janet Fenton).