Mr Steve McNulty (56) was scuba diving with his partner of 13 years, Vicky Spokes, also from Burnley, when a wave knocked them off course.
The couple, who had moved to the island near to Australia three years ago, were on a family holiday on its east coast when they began the dive around lunchtime at Skeleton Bay.
Both experienced divers, the pair got into difficulties following the wave but managed to steady themselves when Steve told Vicky not to panic and float on her back towards the shore.
But when she reached the safety of nearby rocks she saw Steve was lying motionless on his back. A post-mortem examination showed he had drowned following a head injury.
Speaking to the Express from Tasmania, a distraught Vicky said: “Steve was a strong man, physically and mentally, and although I had panicked I would never have thought this would happen. It is a pure tragedy and we are all heartbroken.
“Steve and I had found a new life here which was just idyllic. He was a character who enjoyed a drink and cigarette but he loved the outdoor life here.
“We both enjoyed diving and kayaking, and Steve had started to grow vegetables. It hasn’t sunk in yet that he is gone.”
A former Barden High School pupil, Steve worked for 22 years at Norweb in Burnley. The couple met in the Baltic Fleet pub in Briercliffe Road, where Steve was a regular, and moved to Spain where they lived for six years before settling in Tasmania.
One of eight children, he leaves his parents John and Lillian, children Anthony, Danielle, Liam and six grandchildren who all live in the Burnley area. Daughter Laura lives in Tasmania. Another son, Mark, died from cancer several years ago.
Vicky reflected on how the family’s perfect day turned to tragedy. “It still seems surreal. Steve, Laura and I live on the north-west coast of Tasmania and were on a family holiday for new year in a place called Scamander on the east coast.
“Everything was perfect. The weather was glorious and we asked locals where the best place to dive was. It’s a beautiful spot and everyone said Skeleton Bay was good for diving.
“We were with my mum Linda Spokes, our daughter Danielle, who is working here for a year, her boyfriend John, Laura and two other friends. Steve and I were the most experienced divers so we went out first to test the water while the others relaxed on the beach. We’d been out for 15 minutes when we saw two large rocks close together. We went into the gap when a big wave washed us out into the ocean.
“We were only about 30m. out though and we surfaced. Steve told me not to panic. We had our wet suits and regulators on. He told me to float on my back towards the rocks but when I scrambled up he was laying motionless on the surface. I shouted for help and we managed to get him out of the water. Some men performed CPR but they said he had gone. He must have banged his head on rocks and drowned. Steve was a rough, tough man but underneath was a softie. We’re all devastated.”
His funeral will be held in Tasmania on Monday and Vicky said some of his ashes will be sent home to Burnley.