Monday, January 26, 2015

Tasmania in summer

North West coast looking towards Stanley

Big fat burgundy cherries, gorgeous apricots, a rain-spattered windscreen, creeks tumbling like boisterous puppies, black swans, dim green light of a rainforest, walking along the sand in the rain with friends, the nip in the air, recently felled forest. I was in Tasmania in January and  these were some of my impressions. I took some walks, first in the North West. One wet day Julie and Roger and I attempted to find the fossils at Wynyard’s Fossil bluff, but failed because

a) it was high tide
b) it was not well signposted.

Come on Wynyard! Get your tourist act together!  On the way back the walk along the Inglis river was lovely, even in the rain.

It’s a well-maintained track with little sidetracks  to view the river - the grey herons lifting away - the tide shifting. At the bridge the river track can go in two different directions, further up into the ( wet) bush or back along the river, through the park to town, where there was wharf and beach and shelter and cafĂ© society with our friends.

The Inglis river towards town on a nice day

A few days later I was up in the hinterland, at Waratah where the Tarkine wilderness begins. Yes, wilderness - that is a very contested word nowadays in Tassie. The economic heart of Waratah, and of the west coast, is mining. A rich lode of tin was discovered in Waratah in 1871 by James ‘Philosopher’ Smith, and after some very hard years it became a booming town. There are two main features: Mt. Bischoff nearby, which looks gnawed, because that is where the tin was, and the lovely waterfall right in the middle of it.  This was put to use in the refining of the ore. I had heard that the first hydro-electric plant in Australia was established here, and that furthermore it used Tesla coils. Waratah’s  “... ore dressing plant was the first industrial plant in Australia to be lit by hydro-electricity. This was installed in 1883 and reported in the Examiner of June 18 and 23 that year.” (1)

Jim offered to take me on a walk to the plant down in the gorge.  After some scrabbling around, he found the track. It had been built for the donkeys which lugged the pieces of the hydro down to the stream. First we crossed a race - a ditch which carried water for some industrial purpose. Then we went down a gentle gradient on a disused but well-formed track.

leatherwood blooms

 This was not old growth forest, the surrounding hillsides having been comprehensively stripped by the mining operation, but there was leatherwood in bloom. Memories of the honey...

We found that the regrowth operation is also applying itself to the plant.  A tree had fallen on the back of the building, exposing even more of the machinery to the weather. This heritage of industry and human ingenuity is important, and worth preserving. Jim explained to me in rough terms how it all worked.

In the picture below, you can see that the equipment came from Zurich - imagine that journey in the 1880’s! The Tesla coil which is the wheel to the left, contains magnets and copper, the reaction between these two when they’re spinning produces electricity.

These coils would have been installed later as Tesla (a genius from Croatia)  did not complete their invention till 1891. The river, which you can hear in the video, gave food for thought. There was a slip on the other bank.  Isn’t that what happens when the ground, such as the mountain looming above us, is gnawed at for its riches? It is destabilised. Jim told me that the locals are still discovering tunnels from the mine face which the miners made, and most of them led to the pub. Later I wondered about the effect downstream of the years of tailings washed into it. The Waratah river is in the Arthur river catchment. How do you balance the need for these minerals,  the need for employment with the need to leave some places just as they are, in their wild state, where wild things can live?

And the next day we  went down a track where human intervention has been minimal. It is not far along the road to Corinna, and leads to Philosopher Falls ( named after aforementioned prospector J. Smith). Here is old growth forest in dim green light and..

“Beautiful wood!”
but it’s a bird call
stops me in my tracks

This track goes down to a stream and then follows a race which was built for the Magnet mine. The precious ore at Magnet was silver. Trees at every stage of life, myrtle  leaves carpeted the track. The stream threw itself off the cliff with gay abandon, leatherwood blossoms dangling out into the void.  On the way back we pondered wilderness. In this area,  compass needles are disoriented by the amount of magnetic material in the ground, but somehow one’s own internal compass is righted, points true north, by being in a forest like this, just walking and looking.

green, yes -
the fallen tree mostly moss
ferns and fungi


Life is full of mistakes. I drove down to Hobart and nearly ran out of petrol. Over and over again we make the same mistakes. Lucky for me, Tasmanians are friendly kind people.


A cheerful woman dispenses out-of-hours petrol
heavy rain falls beyond the forecourt roof
You’re very lucky, she says
and over and over I agree
I’m so lucky

As the bowser meter clicks over
my desperate Plan B’s fade:
phone calls, hitchhiking, seeking help
at the pub, a cold night
squashed up in the back seat -

Lucky when there’s rain on the windscreen again
a dappled steeple beyond,
a picturesque unknown town
with two pubs full of handy men
with cans of petrol in the back of their utes -

Lucky to find the exit, or should I say
re-entry to a darkening Bass highway
where huge haulage trucks
will dump swimming pools of water
onto my little rental car
in drive-by splashings
and I’ll feel lucky.

I drove on bearing  gifts of rasberries, cherries, apricots for my host, Rachel. Was it the following day I drove around the Huon valley area? There were great gobs of foam running down the creeks that led to the Huon river. Swans didn’t mind the rain at Cygnet. Stone fruit growers received a hammering from the heaviest rainfall in three years. Every time I had to get out I would manouevre into my raincoat, open the door and meet the full-throttle wind. Rivers, creeks, the D’Entrecasteaux channel, the mouth of the Derwent river - water everywhere.

he looks asleep
black wet nose to tail
the roadside pademelon


You can see Mt. Wellington from Rachel’s backyard. Julie, Roger and I decided to walk on it, the following day. Lucky! the rain had eased into a cool overcast day. We didn’t have a particular ambition but chose to walk to Fern Gully and then up the Pinnacle track until we were sick of walking.
There might be more rain,  warned a biking local, an older woman,  up the top there.
Off we went to the gully, following the rushing creek which was spilling brown foam like a good head on a beer. Jim calls the ferns “man ferns”,  in NSW we call them “tree ferns”, and in NZ we call them “ponga”. Their trunks were as thick as jetty piles, twisted and dense. I recalled a fellow Kiwi once recounting how kids would say of another, He’s got legs like ponga trunks.

The vegetation changed, shortened as we went up. We could gradually piece together the jigsaw puzzle of places seen at ground level - the d’Entrecasteaux channel, Bruny Island, where the Derwent meets the sea, the Tasman bridge, the quay where a titanic ocean liner had been berthed a day or two ago. Hobart town, houses in wallets of bush everywhere you looked.  We imagined the tourists spilling out of that cruise ship, their wallets opening again and again,  what an economic boost! A far distant curve of land like a melon skin, rind of sand and the sea appearing dammed - the further Tasman peninsula.

Then we saw a feral cat. She was small and black, crouched high up the track waiting for her second kitten. The first skipped and picked its way up the track then disappeared. We stopped, dismayed ( and wishing we had guns).

Going on, I recognised myrtle,

leatherwood ( blossoms carpeted the track) , but what is that shrub with the bright pink berries? I’ve also seen it in the North West. Then we glimpsed a quick pair of flitting birds, one with a breast as red as a fiery sunset - flame robins. Upwards -and  the track now became a creek, yesterday’s rain tumbling down the rocks of the track. We picked our way carefully through the torrent. 
photo Roger Whittaker

Further up, and a huge boulder the size of a garden shed had rolled down from the high slopes,  across the track and down a bit. It was held from further descent by a thin wire. We sat here for morning tea, I was looking around for another bird.

the invisible bird
tantalises with it song;
no feral cat meal

We were enjoying ourselves, the clean Roaring Forties air, the views, so much so that we kept on going. So were a number of other walkers. Then a trail runner, heaving for breath, passed us - Why? asked Julie. But just beyond the fern gully had been a memorial for a young man who had died in 1901 on the ‘Race up Mt. Wellington’. Up we went, and it seemed we’d make the pinnacle. I managed to recognise dog rose - Bauera genus. And then, where rocks took over from plants, the alpine level, a few hardy Brachycomes with their purple daisies. 
photo RW

But we couldn’t figure out where an amazing scent was coming from. It was an incense of honey, spice and rhubarb,  I thought, thick and dreamy. But the diversity of plants simplified as we climbed closer to the peak, and it became obvious.

tough shrubs blossoming
at the rocky peak -
 a frenzy of bees

That last stretch had been quite steep. Sweat and effort took us out of the shelter of the slope.

like a razor
shaving Mt. Wellington’s peak
cold wind

they hunch in the wind
conquerors of  the mountain -
droves of drivers

We didn’t last long at the top either. We turned around after a quick look and headed back down the track for lunch. The beauty of the walk back down was to have that glorious view, a maze of islands, landforms and sea right before us. When we got into the shrub level again, we found a dismal little spray of feathers, indicating a killing. A cat had had a meal of rosella. 

Oh, the pain near the end - sore feet, sore kees, sore legs - I’ve just got to make it to the car. And we did.

That night I went to a literary event which was crackling with culture. A huge crowd, about two hundred people, turned up to Fuller’s bookshop in Hobart to launch “Transportation: Islands and Cities”, a crowd-funded collation of short stories edited by Rachel Edwards. I drank cherry, strawberry and pear cider, and listened to selections by several of the writers. I heartily recommend this book. Here is their website:

Mistakes. Once again I forgot to take my pocket knife out of my handbag before I boarded the plane. Lucky for me, I had time to rush back to the check-in counter and send it into the bowels of the plane in my handbag. It was a vile take-off and climb, because of the strong winds assaulting Hobart. 
 A guy on the plane said to me, We can do much more than we think we can.
“Yes.” Waratah is a place where schoolchildren walked around in gumboots in winter because of the  deep snow, in its heyday.  Long-time resident Spence said to me, “It only snowed twice here this winter”. The day before the flight I had climbed up 800 metres and then down again. I didn’t think I could do that. So maybe we can even slow the pace of climate change.

(1) p.18 “Waratah - pioneer of the west  Margery Godfrey  2nd. ed. 2007

thanks RW