Published: October 27th 2005September 30th 2005
Cradle Mountain from Dove Lake
No coloured filters, no colour adjustment.
As long as the good people of Japan keep up pressure on their leaders to buy woodchip from sustainable plantation forest rather than the beautiful and ecologically unique old-growth forests, unlike Europe, Tasmania may be saved from itself. Finally export revenues from exploitative forestry are under threat and are starting to be replaced by tourism. Apple museums and jam factories are springing up everywhere, along with boutique wineries and gourmet restaurants. The forestry industry that effectively controls Tasmania (at least according to Mark Latham, the opposition leader recently defeated in the national elections, and now doing a damn good job at kiss and tell) is busy desperately planting new trees, after years of getting rich by harvesting short-term and environmentally catastrophic policies. Sadly though, the felling of old growth forest still continues. If this interests you then find out more at The Wilderness Society
Tasmania is a funny old place. It is so little known you would excuse Americans for not being able to locate it on a map. It’s probably about the size of Wales, maybe a bit bigger, and hosts slightly less than half a million people. Reading the local papers you might believe the state government were
the leaders of the Free World, the Queen and the Pope all rolled into one. When I last visited in the early nineties, I found Tasmania a little like Britain in the 1970s. As my hairdresser said, sometimes it seems little has changed.
And yet, without doubt, it is home to some of the most beautiful wilderness scenery the world has to offer. And it also makes some damn fine wine.
Tasmania is roughly triangular, with the apex at the bottom. The capital city, Hobart, is down near the apex, just up the East coast a little. Launceston, the second city is about two hours drive due North. About two thirds of the population lives in these two cities. It takes about three hours drive to reach the North coast from Hobart. The North and East coasts and the central strip comprise mainly rolling farmland, reminiscent of England, perhaps with a bit of Southern Sweden thrown in, except that the native vegetation is totally different. Deserted white sandy beaches surround the coast on all three sides, Bay of Fires recently being voted the 2nd best beach in the World by Conde Naste Traveller magazine. The rest of the
Island, to the West and South, is wilderness, most of which is now World Heritage listed.
This area comprises wild plateaus, dominated by inaccessible pinnacles encircled by dolerite columns, studded with glacial alpine lakes fringed with colourful gardens of cushion plant, button grass and pandanus, pencil pines and snow gums, crossed by steep sided valleys where wild rivers flow through narrow gorges out to the sea. It is raw, savage and remote, with almost no road network, and even today poses a difficult challenge to the most experienced bushwalker.
The accessibility is hampered further by the weather. At forty degrees south Tasmania is directly in the path of the infamous “Roaring Forties”. It is a very windy place, particularly in the west, and the wind brings rapid changes in the weather conditions. Initially we spent much of our time trying to second guess the weather. The forecasts showed an unholy trinity comprising high pressure over the Australian mainland to the North, with fronts, accompanied by very steep isobars, continually developing to both the East and the West. At any given hour of any given day it seemed any of these systems could influence the weather, so we just
gave up watching the forecast.
This blog is split into three parts. The first two tell the tales of some Tasmanian legends, which I hope people will find interesting in their own right. The final part documents our own escapades.
“Chew the meat and hold it down”
One story that summarises the remoteness and toughness of the Tasmanian west is that of Alexander Pearce (1790 - 1824). His story has entered Tasmanian legend. The details provided here have been cribbed from Robert Hughes’ excellent book about the birth of Australia - “The Fatal Shore” although the broad outline of the story is well known. If you only read one book about Australia make it this one.
Bear in mind when reading that the only account of what happened is that of Pearce himself.
Macquarie Harbour is a large natural harbour mid-way down the west coast, miles from anywhere although now it hosts the sleepy tourist town of Strahan, and multi-day cruises around its world-heritage shoreline. The penal settlement there was deemed inescapable, as to leave unsupported by land or by sea would lead to almost certain death.
Pearce was Irish and had been transported for stealing
seven pairs of shoes. He became the only man to escape from Macquarie harbour twice. On September 20th 1822 Pearce grabbed a boat and seven other convicts joined him, several of whom were, like Pearce, known troublemakers and escapees, hence their berth on the infamous West Coast.
The eight men rowed across the harbour, smashed the bottom of the boat and set out into the wilderness with axes and a few meager rations. They were heading for the Derwent River, where they would seize a schooner and sail away. Hobart was only 160km away.
We’ve been into the country they had to cross, albeit briefly. Even today very few venture in there. Progress is almost impossible. Imagine the thick tropical jungle on the steep slopes of a Rwandan volcano and you have an approximation of the density of the bush. However, whilst a machete can quickly dispose of the lush tropical vegetation the Tasmania variety comprises wiry bushes with thick branches which take a lot more work to chop through.
By day the convicts made slow progress over the steep scarp slopes and craggy folded terrain. At night they lit a small fire and huddled around trying
Russel Falls, Mt Field National Park
A difficult set of falls to capture on film, as they actually continue upwards for some distance in staircase fashion.
to get some warmth. After a week they encountered heavy storms and their tinder was soaked. Their rations were finished.
People started to straggle. At night no-one had the energy to collect firewood. Kennelly, another transportee, made the joke “I’m so hungry I could eat a man.” Next morning four of them, including Pearce, were up for a feast. Some discussion ensued and Bob Greenhill volunteered to do it and eat the first piece. Dalton, an ex-soldier, was chosen as the victim as he had been a flogger back at the penal settlement, according to Pearce.
Dalton was killed. At around three in the morning he fell asleep and Greenhill smashed his head with the axe. He was bled, decapitated and disemboweled. His liver and heart were warmed on the fire and eaten by Greenhill and Travers. No others would partake.
Next morning however the need for food won out. They hadn’t eaten for four days. Dalton’s flesh was carved and doled out.
Brown was going slower and slower, and must have presumed he would be next. Kennelly was also afraid of his life, so the two disappeared, hoping to get back to Macquarie harbour. On
October 12th they were found nearly dead from exposure near Macquarie harbour, with pieces of human flesh in their pockets. By October 19th they had both died.
Five men were left and they had been going roughly three weeks. It took them two days to cross the swollen Franklin River. They were in a very rough state but struggled on until October 15th saw them reach an open valley, probably the Lodden Plains. They were still a long way from anywhere. That night it was the sleeping Bodenham’s turn, and Greenhill split his skull with the axe. Ten years later the first official explorer to reach the Lodden Plains found human bones there.
The remaining four men kept marching and by October 22nd they reached the first line of the Western Tiers. They started to see all kinds of game, including kangaroos and emus. However they had no hunting weapons and the frustration of watching all that unattainable food bounding past must have been maddening.
They made a pact that they should all die together, but Greenhill had no intention of honouring it. Mather, weakened by dysentery, took Pearce aside and suggested they escape Greenhill together. However
in the wide-open button grass plains they could not lose him, nor overpower him since he had the axe. In this unholy matrimony of desperation none could escape the others and so they staggered on for another week. Towards the end of October they stopped by a small creek and boiled the last of Bodenham.
Mather was struggling to keep his food down when Greenhill snuck up behind him and hit him with the axe. He was not immediately killed, and fought Greenhill, wrestling the axe from him. Pearce and Travers calmed the situation, and that night the four men shared the camp fire. One can only imagine the mood. Pearce walked away and Travers and Greenhill overpowered Mather. He was given half an hour to prepare himself for a Christian death before Greenhill killed him.
The three remaining men continued on, still heading eastwards. Travers was struggling, having been bitten by a snake, and could no longer walk. He begged to be left with the remains of Mather rather than be eaten himself. Greenhill refused to leave him and they tended him for five days. They dragged and carried Travers for several more days, but in the
end it was useless. Travers made one further plea to be left, but that night he suffered the same fate as the others.
Now there were only two. They had reached relatively green and pleasant terrain not unlike England. Still without food however there could be no doubt that one would eventually eat the other. They walked a fixed distance apart. When one stopped so did the other. There was no possibility to sleep. Pearce states “I watched Greenhill for two nights, for I thought he eyed me more than usual.” Eventually Pearce became convinced of Greenhill’s “bad disposition as to me.”
Greenhill nodded off. Pearce seized his chance and killed him. Taking some of Greenhill’s arm and thigh, Pearce headed off alone. He was now in inhabited lands and after a series of adventures fell in with a couple of bushrangers - wild bandits who roamed the bush. Sadly there was a price on their head and they were soon caught. The bushrangers were hanged and, after telling his story to the acting Magistrate in Hobart, Robert Knopwood, Pearce was sent back to Macquarie harbour. (Knopwood’s is now a bar on the waterfront that regularly hosts local
bands). The authorities didn’t believe the tale, since all convicts must be liars.
Pearce was a celebrity amongst the convicts, being living proof one could escape Macquarie harbour. One newly arrived convict, a Thomas Cox, kept begging Pearce to help him escape. Eventually Pearce gave in, and they escaped, determining to head North along the coast, a case of better the devil you don’t know.
After five days smoke was spotted on a distant shoreline. A boat was dispatched and an exhausted Pearce was collected. He told the commandant he had killed Cox two days prior and had been eating him since. He produced a lump of human flesh weighing about half a pound and then took them to where the body lay. It had been ripped to pieces by Pearce.
Pearce’s account suggests he killed Cox through rage, not hunger or gluttony. When they encountered their first serious river crossing it emerged Cox couldn’t swim, something Pearce had felt he should have mentioned up front. To quote Pearce - ‘The arrangement for crossing the river created words, and I killed Cox with the axe … I swam the river with the intention of keeping to the
coast to Port Dalrymple; my heart failed me, and I resolved to return.”
Pearce was shipped to Hobart, tried and hanged. The head doctor at the Hobart Colonial hospital made a souvenir of Pearce’s head, boiling the skull clean. Thirty years later it was given to American Phrenologist Dr Samuel Morton. Apparently it can still be seen at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia.
“War of the Wilds”
That is one dramatic tale of the rigours of Western Tasmania. Another, more modern and only slightly less dramatic, is that of the conservationist photographers Olegas Truchanas and Peter Dombrovskis. In 2000 Dombrovskis was posthumously inducted into the International Photography Hall of Fame, the first Australian ever to achieve this honour, and one of only forty non-Americans to have done so.
Much of this tale is taken from the introduction to the limited edition book “Dombrovskis”, written by leading conservationist activist and Australian Green Party Senator Bob Brown and published by West Wind Press. Other information has come from other books by the same publisher, and from the recollections of my sister, which are hopefully accurate.
The isolation of Tasmania led to a relatively late industrialization, and the
corresponding awareness of and concern for the environment occurred later still. The arrival of the woodchip industry and the Hydro-Electric commission’s plans to destroy Lake Pedder coincided with Dombrovskis’ maturing as a photographer. His art became a powerful statement of beauty and uniqueness of Tasmanian nature.
It seems likely that Dombrovskis Latvian father was shot at the end of the Second World War, after ensuring his pregnant wife Adele was safe in a refugee camp on the Rhine. After five years suffering the deprivations of war-torn Europe she and the young Peter left for Sydney in 1950. In 1951 they left for Hobart - “to the furthest away city on the furthest island of the furthest away country in the world”. They soon moved up to Fern Tree, a suburb of Hobart on the slopes of Mount Wellington, lush and green, often wet and often snowy. My sister ran the Fern Tree Tavern for several years, and it is here that she got to know Dombrovskis second wife, Liz.
Based in Fern Tree both mother and son were exposed to walking the myriad of steep woodland tracks and trails. At the age of thirteen Dombrovskis and his mother
Slow going, Cradle Mountain
If you look carefully Kim can be seen in the bottom right.
completed the Overland Track through the central highlands of Tasmania. This bushwalk of five days or so is now an easy well-trodden path, with boardwalks and huts and backpackers equipped with the most modern gear. At the time, with minimal equipment, it was an arduous and hazardous journey. However the weather held and both were captivated by the beauty of the alpine scenery and wildlife.
At the age of seventeen Dombrovskis met the legendary adventurer and photographer Olegas Truchanas. Olegas introduced Peter to canoeing and skiing, and they shared some of Truchanas’ easier trips. As Dombrovskis watched, Truchanas became the doyen of Australian wilderness photography.
Truchanas was also Lithuanian. Born in 1923 he was 22 years older than Dombrovskis. He arrived in Tasmania in 1948 and worked as an engineer for the Hydro-Electric commission. Over the next 25 years he became the islands most famous explorer, photographer and environmentalist. He made the first complete kayak trip down the Gordon River to Macquarie Harbour, solo, in 1958.
He had visited Lake Pedder more than thirty times, getting to know it intimately. He knew that neither map nor description could convey the beauty of the place. Not only would
the dam destroy much of this beautiful paradise through flooding, but the increased lake area would allow the loggers cheap and easy water access to areas that were hitherto deemed unprofitable. This included large stands of Huon Pine, a variety unique to Tasmania and soon to be under threat. As a public servant Truchanas was required to support the government’s decision to destroy Lake Pedder, but this he felt he could not do.
He took the decision to stand up and be counted, at a time when the battle between the environmentalists and the government had already been long and fierce. Through his photographs he determined to at least give the people of Tasmania a chance to see what they were about to lose. On eight consecutive occasions Hobart Town Hall was packed out, standing room only.
Dombrovskis was now 26. He was spellbound by Truchanas, and the power and challenge of his message - “Is there any reason why … the ideal of beauty could not become an accepted goal of national policy? … Tasmania can be a shining beacon in a dull, uniform and largely artificial world.” However Dombrovskis was still struggling with his own shyness,
relative lack of maturity and experience.
At the age of six Dombrovskis had been given a 35mm Zeiss camera by Adele, but the genius took a long time coming. Years later, Truchanas took the painter Max Angus to Adele’s house in Fern Tree to ‘visit a boy who’s going to become one of Australia’s great photographers.’ But Max remembers that Peter sat in the shadows and said nothing throughout the slideshow.
On 8th January 1972 Dombrovskis found Truchanas dead. Two days before Truchanas had set out to repeat his epic canoe trip down the Gordon, spurred by rumours that the Hydro-Electric commission were planning to dam the river. At the canoe entry site Truchanas had slipped on a mossy rock, fallen into the torrent and disappeared. After exhaustive searches a temporary weir was built to lower the waters. As the riverbed emerged Dombrovskis spotted his mentor entwined amongst a submerged log. Olegas was 48.
As the years passed the dams were built, the waters rose, and despite worldwide opposition the Lake Pedder National Park was drowned.
At the end of 1972 Dombrovskis published his first photographic work, a pictoral calendar for Tasmania, based on 35mm slides.
It sold out. He switched to the larger format Rolleiflex SL66 with a 2.25 inch square transparency, offering considerably more richness and detail to the resultant prints compared to the more standard 35mm format. At this time he also established his working pattern, five or six two-week journeys into the wilderness every year. “I’d like to think I am carrying on where Olegas left off, in my own way, finishing the work that he started”.
In 1974 he married Gabrielle. They lived in Fern Tree and had five children.
In 1977 his first purely wilderness calendar was published, as was his first book, “The Quiet Land”. He purchased a Linhof 5 x 4 inch flatbed camera, which was to serve him the rest of his life.
His long exposure technique was excellent and pioneering for this area at this time. Many people didn’t believe the effects of the long exposure on transparency film, preferring to think Dombrovskis touched up his prints afterwards.
Fellow photographers who accompanied him on trips noted Dombrovskis’ simple attitude towards camera gear. He could only carry a limited set so he accepted that and learned to use it as well as possible.
During 16 years, with the exception of his tripods, he had the same set of gear - the Linhof camera, three lenses (90mm, 150mm and 300mm), two light meters and two six sheet film magazines.
One effect of this consistency was that he was able to visualize the scene before mounting the camera and lens, something that was almost impossible to do without erecting the tripod first. This became a great timesaver in these long trips.
Typically he would only take enough film for fifty exposures with him, purely to save weight. A large amount of food and equipment is needed to be entirely self-supported in the Tasmania wilderness, which as we experienced can go from bright sunshine to deep snow in a matter of hours. Add to this the weight of a large-format camera, high quality lenses and a tripod solid enough to hold it all and you have a pack that many would struggle to lift, let alone carry for two weeks through some of the toughest country imaginable.
With only fifty exposures available he would only take each scene once. He describes the agony of getting back and realizing he had made a mistake
in assessing the exposure, but this was short lived, and the only way he could work sensibly. From my own experience of the vastly easier medium of digital, which provides instant feedback of results, I can appreciate just how good Dombrovskis’ assessment of the potential of a scene must have been - not just the composition but the available contrast, colour and range of light. It is not at all easy to get results as good as his - as one might expect, my technique is nowhere near, but it isn’t until you try that you realise just how much skill has gone into these photographs. Add to that the simple problem of getting a heavy tripod into position amongst all the rocks, branches and ferns and then getting yourself somehow into position to look through the camera eyepiece.
Near the top of Cradle Mountain I made a half-hearted attempt to get a shot of the arrangement of rocky spires that form the mountain’s spectacular profile. By complete chance it turned out that these were the very same rocks that appear in one of Dombrovskis photographs, of which my sister has a 120-inch print hanging on her wall. I
was suffering the disadvantage of working on slippery snow-covered rocks whilst I guess from his picture the rocks would have been free of snow when he was there. However I still can’t understand how he physically got himself and his camera into the position to get the vastly better composition that he achieved.
Sadly Dombrovskis was to face more tragedy in the wilderness he loved. Alone on the Franklin River he found the body of his friend Les Linsell, the Hobart canoeist who had been capsized and drowned in rock-strewn rapids two days earlier. On Boxing Day in 1981 he found a rafting party of friends from the Wilderness Society on another tributary to the Gordon. The 18-year old activist Roslyn Jones had been swept from the raft in a rapid and drowned. Dombrovskis took command and directed them down the two day paddle of the Gordon to Macquarie harbour, where they were collected by the cruise boat Denison Star.
Dombrovskis despaired at the onrush of logging in the ancient rainforests and tall eucalypt forests of the state, at the destruction of Lake Pedder and the Pieman river. When Hobart’s streets were lined with 20,000 people protesting the
Tentspace, Freycinet Peninsula
Just behind the beach, halfway down Wineglass bay, with Mt Freycinet in the background.
plans to dam the Franklin, and 1500 peaceful blockaders were arrested at the dam site, the Liberal Premier dismissed the wild and beautiful river as ‘a brown and leech-ridden ditch’.
Dombrovskis did not compromise his picture taking for the sake of the wilderness campaign but he did ensure he went to relevant areas to take pictures. At times he eschewed commercial considerations and his own high printing standards for the sake of the conservationists cause. Many publications carrying his donated images sold out.
In a 1983 interview written for the book “Battle for the Franklin” Dombrovskis disclaimed the idea that imagery can match experience.
“What I am showing is visual beauty, but wilderness is very much more than visual beauty. All the other feelings you have there you can talk about, but it really doesn’t mean much until you actually go there and experience it. It’s like trying to tell someone what love is, what faith is; it doesn’t mean anything until you experience it yourself.”
In 1987 Dombrovskis married Liz, a childhood acquaintance from Fern Tree, who had two children Ben and Anna from her own previous marriage. She was to accompany him on most
Grub up, Wineglass Bay
Kim cooking dinner on the deserted beach.
of his trips in his last decade, helping carry the load, especially after surgery to replace his aortic valve.
In March 1996 Dombrovskis went walking solo along the spine of the rugged Western Arthur Range. He had taken six magnificent photographs of sunlit alpine meadows, streams and peaks, when climbing higher his heart gave way and he fell. He was just 51.
Today Liz Dombrovskis still lives at Fern Tree and continues to run West Wind Press and publish Peter’s work. Tasmania is a small island now blessed with many great wilderness photographers, but in my opinion Peter Dombrovskis at his best still holds the edge. Just.
Uncles, Aunts, Nephews, Nieces, Sisters and Psychologists
At some point in his life all the rest of my father’s family moved to Tasmania, leaving him alone in England. I’m told this is a slight oversimplification, but it fits my own self-image more accurately, so it’s how I like to represent things. Bill, his younger brother, and I, had a merry chuckle about this. To add insult to injury, my sister Susan emigrated a little more than twenty years ago, had two children, Tom and Hannah, and now lives in Hobart with
her partner, Andrew, who is a psychologist. Psychologists always make me edgy.
Susan and Andrew live in a wonderfully eccentric and remarkably practical art-deco house on Macquarie Street in Hobart, just down from the Cascade Brewery, the oldest in Australia and still one of the best. The house comes complete with balconies, spiral staircases and round portholes for windows. Susan has rescued the garden which now features a fish pond and a fern garden. Andrew is in a wine club, and is very good at lighting fires. They also spared their second car for our use.
Tom is now twenty and just completing his first year at the local Uni, kept very busy by combining English, Philosophy with Graphic Design. Rock-chick Hannah is now eighteen and in her final year of school. She has moved out, and has already turned her hand to hosting a radio show as well as singing and playing in a local band.
Susan collected us from Hobart airport and after a cup of tea and a natter we sped up nearby Mount Wellington for sunset, as it was a bright clear day. It takes quite a while to drive up the deceptively
From the South End of the Beach, with Mt Freycinet in the background
large mountain, up past the Cascade Brewery and then Fern Tree, through progressively dwindling forests until the car park on the windswept and often snow-covered plateau is reached. From here there are views right across Hobart, to the rocky inlets and headlands of the Tasman Peninsula to the East and the wilds of the World Heritage areas to the west.
Next day Susan took us for a tour of Hobart harbour and Salamanca market - the trendy bit. Sadly, we were unimpressed. The harbour has a lot of potential to host cafes, creperies, and gelateries, for accountants, lawyers and computer programmers to sip Italian coffee and swap internet sites and for Sunday morning promenades dressed stylishly in black. Unfortunately it is rather to full of ships, including the Arctic ice-breaker “Aurora Australis”, so the cafes and shops with expensive modern art have had to be set back a bit. This wouldn’t be a big problem, but the old stonework of the pleasing original buildings has been augmented by some appalling modern architecture. This could almost be “Basingstoke 2000”. Oh well. If I lived here I’d still hang out. But please, if you are going to build more flats keep
them in the traditional style. Sadly, I suspect this will be much too expensive for the developer’s tastes.
Our first real excursion was to Mount Field National Park, Tasmania’s oldest, about ninety minutes journey North West of Hobart and on the edge of the Southwest National Park. We arrived around lunchtime and given this is winter we only had about six hours daylight left. We could have climbed Mount Field West in this time, but chose not to rush and to explore the delightful “Tarn Shelf” instead, which was a good decision.
Mount Field proved an excellent re-introduction to walking Tasmanian style. Boulder-fields were plentiful. Patches of slushy melting snow made going tough as your foot would plunge through to whatever was lurking beneath. Nevertheless it was a glorious day and we enjoyed a full six hours of walking. Tarn shelf comprises a string of small lakes in an elongated corrie, or more probably a series of corries, with large cliffs above and steep-sided valleys below, all adorned with the typical Tasmanian garden-style vegetation. I would have to recommend Mount Field as an excellent day-trip, although it is a bit tough so don’t underestimate walking times.
our fourth day we made an abortive trip to the Tasman Peninsula. We got as far as Eaglehawk neck, where the peninsula is attached to the mainland by a strip only a few hundred metres wide, and inspected the wave-cut platforms of the tessellated pavements and the large Tasman Arch, when the rain descended in force and we came back to Hobart.
On the way back we nearly died. I used to hitch-hike a lot and so have some sympathy with lorry drivers, even though there are many idiots driving lorries on the British roads - just as there are many idiots who drive cars, idiots who ski and idiots who snowboard, idiots who mountain bike and idiots who walk. Sadly I have to say I’m not too impressed with Tasmanian lorry drivers, of which there are many.
A big-rig coming the other way found themselves too close to the car in front when it chose to break suddenly. The driver of the lorry also broke hard, causing the back end to jack-knife in the wet conditions and slide down the road towards us. Mitsubishi didn’t put ABS into their Colts sixteen years ago, so with the choice
of driving off the road at full speed or braking hard I braked, and we skidded, thankfully in a straight line, towards the oncoming juggernaut. Mercifully whoever was at the wheel either had the skill of an Exodus truck driver or the luck of the Irish, as the back-end corrected in time for us to slide to a halt on the roadside. To some extent I could forgive the driver, as I guess this is an easy mistake to make. Hopefully he or she will learn.
The second incident happened a couple of weeks later, on a deserted road in the Tamar valley North of Launceston. We approached a junction from a minor road, the main road doing a ninety degree turn to our right, at the junction. Oncoming traffic had right of way, and should follow the bend around unless indicating. Our road widened at the junction, so that people turning right, as we were, would sit near the centre of the junction. To turn right from the main road onto our road you would have to drive around the bend a little, preferably indicating your intentions.
All this was too much for the inbred hick yokel
Tasman Bridge, Hobart
Got here a little to early, so you can't quite see the bridge. I still like it though.
I strongly suspect was at the wheel of the large truck. Without indicating or slowing he ploughed across the junction into our lane only inches from our wing. Had I turned the wheel seconds earlier we would again be dead.
We are now, understandably, both a bit nervous of Tasmanian trucks, which generally seem to drive too fast for the conditions - which here invariably comprise wet and tortuously bendy roads.
To recover from all this trauma we felt it necessary to go out on the town with my niece Hannah and her boyfriend Reggie. The occasion was a bevy of bands on a Saturday afternoon at Knopwoods’ bar in Salamanca place. The two earnest male rock bands were eclipsed by the inventive and rather unique female-fronted “Hammerclit”, all the way from Launceston. Shaken even further by this experience we headed to the Irish bar next door, but after reading a rather rude notice indicating that tap-water was definitely not available, we made our point and left on principle. It would be hard, if not impossible, to find a bar in Ireland with such an attitude. After a few pies to soak up the beer we set Reggie
the task of finding us a bar showing the cricket. I’m not sure if it was because England were winning but this proved remarkably hard. After a place that resembled Peter Kay’s Phoenix Club, where Reggie wanted “to show us what Tasmania is really like” he managed to find the “Sports Bar”, which he had never been to before. Sure enough there were about ten screens showing Australian Rules football, and one just behind the bar showing the cricket. After pouring me a pint the barman refused to serve me a drink for Reggie, ostensibly because he was too drunk, which was complete nonsense. The more likely cause was Reggie’s Jarvis Cocker-style attire, which definitely didn’t fit into the macho sport’s bar atmosphere. After a bit of persuasion Reggie got his drink but a conciliatory mention of the cricket elicited only a grunt from the barman. At this point we decided it was best to quit whilst we were ahead, and went home.
Following a bit of recovery and a late night watching the penultimate day of the Ashes series, we headed up to Launceston to stay with my Uncle Bill. This of course involved the customary run up
Launceston Gorge, spectacularly swollen after the recent deluge, where Bill showed yet again that he could still “pummel a pommie,” we sat on his balcony, chewing the cud as the setting sun covered the Launceston rooftops and surrounding hills in golden light. It seems odd and interesting that my father and his brother should spend much of their life apart, knowing relatively little of each other, and yet pursue such similar careers. Tales were swapped lest old acquaintances be forgot, and it transpired that Bill’s climbing buddy Peter Booth, ex of Ullswater Outward Bound where my father also worked, knows both Tony Duncan and John Brooks; another climbing buddy John Gayle and his orienteering wife Debbie both went to the same Uni as Kim’s dad at roughly the same time, and Bill himself actually taught top Australian orienteer David Brickhill-Jones.
Bill’s wife Patrice returned from work and we had a pleasant meal until the last day of the Ashes series destroyed our nerves and their concentration. They went to bed and we stayed up to watch the whole day unfold, including the rather farcical ending until finally and mercifully an amateurish prize-giving was cobbled together and we could, after
more than six weeks, at last, rest.
After another day of recovery including a pleasant sunset run around the nearby orienteering area of Trevallyn we set off for Cradle Mountain, the jewel in the Tasmanian crown in terms of accessibility and immediate visual impact. After a pie stop in Deloraine we followed the tourist signs rather than the local’s route via Sheffield, the latter being a longer distance but far quicker and easier driving. Arriving around lunchtime we nabbed the last spot in the car park next to Dove Lake, and set off on the circuit of Dove Lake and Cradle Mountain, via Hansen’s Peak and the Face Track. Deep snow was clinging to the dolerite pillars on top of Cradle Mountain itself making going slow and treacherous, particularly without crampons or dob spikes. We nearly made it to the top, sensibly choosing to “take the light” in the face of an encroaching storm and dwindling daylight hours. As we returned to the high plateau from the mountain proper we were hit by a blizzard, which entertained us until we reached Marion’s lookout above the car park. Kim was about to trudge off when something made me say ‘hang
on a minute’. Sure enough the snow began to stop and the mist slowly cleared, revealing a vision of the dramatic mountain ridge, clad in white and suspended ghost-like in mid-air.
That night we had arranged to visit James’ parents, my Auntie Joan and her husband Henry, in Sister’s Beach on the North West Coast of Tasmania. This was our first real experience of Tasmanian roads in the dark and we encountered an unexpected problem - marsupials. The route between Cradle and Sister’s Beach is fairly devoid of human life but this is made up for by the nocturnal animal community, most of which seem to be drawn to the road as if it were a strip of neon above a dodgy bar. As is the case with all forms of life, the other side of the road appears better than the one you are on, but you’ll only decide to check this out when it is most perilous to do so. I drove slowly and managed to miss all the animals until finally one Wallaby bounded out just as we were passing and went straight under the near-side wheel. Thankfully the car was not harmed but I was
pretty tired from concentrating by the time we reached Sister’s beach.
We found Joan and Henry chipper and in good form, and spent a pleasant couple of nights being fed and pastured, whilst Henry, a GP, and Kim spent many an hour swapping medical war stories. During the day we went and dodged the frequent rainstorms to explore the surrounding coast.
Sister’s Beach is yet another bit of pristine and deserted white sand, sandwiched between two sections of the small but pleasant Rocky Cape National Park. We spent some time before lunch exploring the rocks and crevices of the sea shore, when after lunch Joan directed us further down the coast to Pegg’s Beach, in search of more brightly coloured sea-shells. Surprisingly this absorbed us happily for a whole afternoon. I also realised something about these places was quite special - remoteness. Both of these beaches are easily reached, but keep going and exploring and the already few people get fewer whilst the scenery, from the photos I’ve seen, gets wilder. This isn’t the kind of place you can roll up, get out of your car, say “ah that’s nice”, take a photo and drive off. But if
you are brave enough to spend time here I think you the places will grow on you. There is the excitement of exploration and the excitement of being alone. I was sad to leave and sad that we didn’t spend more time there.
Joan and Henry turfed us out of bed early the next day (in backpacker terms) as they were heading to Hobart to see their daughter and grandchildren and for a haircut for Joan - I wasn’t quite sure which the main event was ;-) It was a clear sunny day and I took the opportunity to go for a run over the Rocky Cape track from Sister’s Beach. Kim, nursing a slight injury, sat by the deserted beach and soaked up the sunshine and wind. Rocky Cape is ideal for running, offering narrow singletrack with a firm sandy base through pristine rolling hills, sea views and the occasional steep slope thrown in as a test. Fifteen years prior and a lot fitter I had managed the track one way in around sixty minutes. This time I was a lot slower but managed half-way and back in seventy minutes, so I wasn’t too unhappy - the signposts
suggest four hours.
With time to kill before returning to Bill’s at Launceston we headed along the North Coast, across the Tamar river valley aiming for the quality vineyards of Bay of Fires and Pipers Brook, about forty minutes North East of Launceston. If you like wine at all then these are worth a visit. Piper’s Brook is the original, and markets its Premium wine under the same name, and the cheaper stuff as Ninth Island. The latter used to be a separate vineyard but has been sold to Hardy’s and is now known as Bay of Fires. The winemaker at Bay of Fires has just been named Australia’s Best New Winemaker and our tasting revealed why. Tassie’s cool climate quite closely resembles many of the top French areas, including Champagne, and from what we tasted Champagne needs to look to its laurels as many Tassie sparklers are vastly better wines than much of what is produced in the classic French region. Give me Tigress over Veuve Cliquot any day. The Bay of Fires Arras 99 at $49 AUD is rated by James Halliday as Australia’s top sparkler and it is easy to see why. It is extremely dry
Apologies for the Wombat pooh
and crisp, yet has softness combined with complex appealing flavours. There are two cheaper sparklers on offer - Tigress at $21.50 and Bay of Fires at $27.00 and both are very good, with similar characteristics - I doubt I could pick the expensive one in a blind test of the three. We tasted all three at room temperature and they didn’t need to be chilled. We bought a bottle of Tigress and drank it later that day with Patrice and Bill, again unchilled, and the quality was only reinforced by the experience. Bay of Fires had sold out of their Sauvignon but also to be recommended were the Tigress Chardonnay 02 at $21.50, the Bay of Fires 04 Chardonnay at $27.00 although this needs a bit of time yet and of course the lovely smooth Pinot Noir 03 at $34, which we’d already had in Melbourne courtesy of James. The Cabernet Sauvignon is also very good, and in fact we found that this classic grape seems to do surprisingly well in Tasmania, producing a lighter drop that retains the characteristic fruit flavours but loses much of the intense spice and tannin.
On the recommendation of the pleasant young man
Ah, here's the culprit
at Bay of Fires, we dropped into nearby Delamere, a tiny vineyard owned and run by the winemaker. He proved an interesting and entertaining fellow, and we stayed nearly an hour having a pleasant chat. On the wine front his sparkler is very good, and in some years has been rated higher than Bay of Fires and Tigress. He is aiming to produce a very clean fresh wine and has succeeded - there is absolutely no cloying sweetness present at all. My only slight problem is that there may be a corresponding drop in flavour, but this is more than made up for by ‘drinkability’ - it stays good right to the bottom of the glass.
We didn’t have much time left when we got to Pipers Brook but the obliging staff helped us bang through quite a few of their extensive range, although we didn’t try the sparklers. For me the three ‘Pipers Brook’ Chardonnays were pretty good examples of how the cooler climate can be used to re-invent Chardonnay as a more subtle, more pleasant drink but the favourite from what we tasted was the 2002 Estate Tamar at $33.95, a ‘Bordeaux’ blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet
Franc and Merlot, although the Cabernet dominates, making it more of a light Cab Sav that is ready for drinking now.
An interesting statistic is that Ninth Island Pinot Noir ($23.50), which is a very light but nonetheless pleasant ‘pop’ style wine, accounts for 40% of all Pinot Noir bought in Australia. Go figure. I think they are as surprised as we were, but they’re not complaining.
The other thing worth mentioning was just how pleasant all the people we met at these wineries were. In Tassie we met lots of genuinely nice folks who enjoyed talking about their wines.
After a pleasant evening at Bill’s we headed to the generally sunnier East Coast and the picture-postcard Wineglass Bay on the Freycinet Peninsula. The descriptive moniker tells it all really - another stunningly pristine white sand beach, this time shaped like a wine glass. Having borrowed some gear from Bill we chose to camp overnight. We had been heading for the official campsite at the South End of the beach, but saw there were already some people there, so we camped in the dunes halfway along, just off the beach. There was no-one to be seen all
Tarn, Cradle Mountain
Just below the face track, but I can't find the name.
evening as we cooked and watched the sun go down on the deserted beach. We took the longer walk back, via Hazards Beach, which is to be recommended if you like beachcombing and avoiding the crowds, and around the south-west end of the Hazard’s Peninsula. This is a longer route but worth it, and I would recommend at least a day walk on Freycinet to everyone who visits Tasmania.
A few days back in Hobart whilst I was struck down by another unexpectedly bad bout of hayfever, and we were off again back up North to take up Bill and Patrice on their offer of a couple of nights in the Blandfordia Hut, in Cradle Mountain National Park, just down from Dove Lake and in sight of Cradle Mountain. We arrived late in the day to find clear blue skies and whilst Kim and Bill went for an hour’s run through the golden glowing valleys I took my tripod up to Dove Lake and hung around with the Japanese from Japan and the Indians from Bangalore to see what kind of spectacle nature would drum up. We weren’t disappointed.
The Blandfordia Hut is a historical curiosity that continues
Possums, cooking up a plan
Blandfordia Hut, Cradle Mountain National Park.
to exist through precedence, goodwill and the efforts of the members of the exclusive ‘climbing club’, of which Bill and Patrice are members. Tasmanian national parks are relatively unique in that no-one, or almost no-one, lives in them, and in fact buildings of any description are scarce, unless they are shelters or toilets for walkers. We felt very privileged to be able to spend time here, inside the boundaries of possibly the most popular National Park in the state, surrounded by awesome scenery and varied wildlife - possums, pademelons, carrawangs, wombats and wallabies. Each night we ate our dinner whilst two pairs of large and hungry eyes peered in at us through the window.
On a grey but clear day the four of us made a good trip up past Cradle Mountain and along the plateau to the pinnacle of Barns Bluff, the fourth highest Mountain in Tasmania. From here we had a 360 degree panorama, through the mountains lining the overland track to the South as far as the renowned Frenchman’s Cap in the Franklin-Gordon Wilderness Area, North to Cradle Mountain, East to the Walls of Jerusalem and West past Mt Murchison through the wilds towards the West
What, Moi? Non non non non non.
I wouldn\'t dream of trying to steal your food. Blandfordia Hut, Cradle Mountain National Park.
coast. As we sat an munched our lunch we were joined by a sizeable wedge-tailed eagle cruising around on the updrafts, curious to see who had joined him on this remote peak in these wintery conditions - after Cradle Mountain we saw no other humans, despite large sections of the walk being part of the famous Overland Track.
The Overland Track, a five day bushwalk from Cradle Mountain to Lake St Clair, has grown in popularity such that most Tasmanians now eschew it. Annual numbers have reached ten thousand, and there is a $100 fee to complete it (you can now book online but I don’t have the reference). Consider that the Corsican Haute Route, only a stone’s throw from the massive population of Europe, only gets around fifteen thousand per year, and you get some understanding of just how much global appeal the Overland Track has. To be fair, this is well deserved, as it travels through very beautiful country, and if given the time it deserves - at least five days if not more, there is plenty of opportunity for exploration and side-trips, escaping the crowds, bagging peaks or simply just sitting and soaking up the quiet
and peace of this true wilderness.
For the second time we abandoned our plans to walk into the Walls of Jerusalem and camp, opting for the more touristy drive down through the World Heritage Area to the sleepy west coast tourist village of Strahan, where there is nothing much to do or see unless you get yourself out on shank’s pony. Rather than stay in Strahan, which was clearly experiencing a slow day, we headed back through the stunningly monstrous minefields around Queenstown, worth seeing just for the straight visual impact alone, back through the Franklin and Gordon Wild Rivers Park to Lake St Clair, where we stayed the night at the pleasant but rather pricey (for backpackers) village of Derwent Bridge. Most of the day had been rainy and windy, and the next day dawned similarly, so we abandoned plans to take the ferry down the lake and walked up to the scenic Forbidden Lake and Little Mt Rufus instead. If you find yourself in similar conditions whilst at Lake St Clair I would recommend this walk highly - much of it is climbing through fairly bland looking bush but once the height has gained you enter the
The lawyers who wrote the EU constitution cut their teeth at the Blandfordia hut.
wild garden of the best of Tassie wilderness, where strange plants and bright colours abound.
Back to Hobart again and this time I was struck down with a stomach bug, but it was short-lived and didn’t stop me getting a much needed haircut. Kim tried to join in the Tasmanian Orienteering Championships on some nearby dunes, apparently it was too difficult to enter us into the computer, and when she got there all the maps for the entry on the day had gone. As it was she managed to borrow a map from another competitor and have a run, which was the cheapest option anyway.
We headed back off to the pleasant sea-side town of Bicheno, just North of Freycinet, to do a bit of ‘cool climate’ diving. On our way to Bicheno we saw two whales, a mother and calf, happily doing whale-type things in the bay at Orford.
We had wanted to dive from Eaglehawk neck on the Tasman Peninsula, which offers some of the more dramatic dive sites, but even after some negotiation the price was just too high. Bicheno Dive Centre had been recommended to us by the nice chaps at the Scuba
Franklin and Gordon Wild Rivers National Park
Centre in Wynyard on the North Coast, whose prices were very reasonable but we didn’t head back that way. For boat-dives Bruce’s prices at Bicheno were similar to Eaglehawks, but Bicheno has a nice safe dive in nearby Warbs Bay, so you can rent the equipment and head out exploring on your own. Full equipment rental for the day was $70 AUD plus $9 for every tank refill, so tackling water temperatures of 12 degrees Celsius without a dry suit we managed two day dives and a night dive - Kim muttering something about wanting a different boyfriend through chattering teeth.
There are three must-sees in Tasmanian diving - the kelp forests, the Weedy Sea Dragon and the Pot-Bellied Sea Horse. We had read in a diving magazine that in most places the kelp forests have died out, although apparently some are beginning to grow back. That’s nature for you. To see the best of what remains you need to take a boat. But the easy dive at Waubs Bay hosted plenty of the other highlights, plus many other cooler water oddities to boot. I failed to get a photo of just how colourful all the kelp and soft-coral
Henty Dunes, near Strahan
A large area of sand dunes, but they are a long way from the shore. I wouldn't bother visiting unless you plan to spend several hours there.
was, even though we had poor visibility in these usually clear waters thanks to the spring plankton blooming. Mimicking the garden like environment of Tasmania’s high plateaus the undersea world is full of reds, yellows, purples and vibrant greens, along with subtle pastel shades, dark greens, blacks and whites. Hiding away amongst the kelp are many varieties of fish that would look quite at home in the more famous tropical waters up the coast. Our sights included Bicheno’s emblematic cowfish, the large and dramatic “long nosed boar fish”, zebra fish, red gurnard perch, blue throated wrasse, rays and a small family of squid, as well as a variety of kelps, weeds and sponges. By the jetty where we entered a number of large sea stars appeared to be slowly devouring the remains of someone’s already eaten-catch from a previous day.
Prior to our night dive we went down to the foreshore to watch another of Bicheno’s main attractions - the Penguins come ashore. At dusk every night, at beaches all around Tasmania and its satellite islands, these tiny birds timidly waddle ashore, wary of predators and often surrounded by curious onlookers, climbing slowly across the rocks to their nesting
The Franklin River
Early on in its life. Franklin and Gordon Wild Rivers National Park.
grounds in the grass at the edge of the beach. Here they can be heard calling to each other, with a strange sound not unlike a baby crying. It was an eerie experience, and whilst we were assembling our kit for the night dive we were surrounded by this plaintive and disconcerting wailing.
Our plan for the next two days had been to visit Maria Island National Park, but this was shelved the next day as they eventually told us the ferry wasn’t running, but not until after they had told us it was running and then kept us hanging around for nearly two hours without any indication of what was happening. When I expressed a little dissatisfaction at being kept unecessarily waiting , the ferry driver invoked the “Ponting Clause” - “none of any of this can be my fault, related to any of my actions and I can’t be held responsible for this appalling customer service at all - oh and you’ve never been on a small boat in 25 knot winds in sea 30m deep have you, mate?” Well, actually, yes I have.
Maybe he was frightened of Australia’s growing litigation industry, and the sharply
Franklin and Gordon Wild Rivers National Park.
increasing costs associated with it. We had heard tales of a sharp drop off in the numbers of golfers due to the spiraling cost of membership. Skiing seems to be just on the edge of affordability for an average middle class family - apparently it is cheaper to fly to New Zealand than to ski in Australia for a week. At first we found this a little scandalous, but having now heard many tales of the unrealistic awards being made by courts we’re beginning to understand at least part of the reason.
Backpacker culture may be one of the first to suffer. The fact that grotty hostels with poor facilities often now cost the same as spanking clean motels with satellite TV, at least for a couple, seems crazy. But when you consider that, after a couple of serious arson attacks at Backpackers plus an award of $55000 AUD to someone who got bitten by a bed-bug in a guest house in Sydney, the cost of third-party indemnity for one hostel we talked to has risen ten-fold in the last five years. Tasmania is still very seasonal - during winter and the shoulder seasons most places have plenty of
rooms whilst in summer there isn’t enough accommodation to go around. I calculated that on a good average occupancy throughout winter it would take three months revenue just to cover the cost of the indemnity insurance alone. Clearly hostels go under or put their prices up - which eventually will lead to many going under anyway - backpackers, after all, have finite budgets, and unless you are working or staying with friends, money disappears fast here.
The editorial in one local Tasmanian magazine covered just this issue. Only recently the Tasmanian Coastal Authority (or commission or whatever) held an event on their foreshore. Their insurance company required that they hand out free sunscreen, lest they be sued for causing their guests sunburn.
The other hot topic recently has been the sharp and dramatic rise in petrol prices - about 15% at its peak. The oil industry has been hitting back, pointing out that Australia enjoys the fourth lowest petrol prices in the developed world - after the U.S, Canada and Mexico. What no-one said was that three of these four countries - U.S, Australia and Canada, also have the three highest rates of carbon dioxide emission per capita
Lake St Clair National Park
in the world. I honestly don’t know if these facts are connected - I suspect there is more to it. Certainly the streets of Hobart and the roads of Tasmania are lined with large white landcruisers and equivalents, admittedly more use in Tassie than on the streets of Melbourne - and Tasmanians certainly make sure their old cars keep running and running and running. However there were times when I had to blink twice, thinking I had seen those all too telling big black letters painted on the side - “U.N.”
In all our driving round the states of Victoria and Tasmania I got to thinking about a little challenge my old mate Bill and I had come up with - we had decided we would try to drink a pint of foaming ale in a pub on every 1:50000 scale Ordnance Survey map in the British Isles. From memory the place is covered by about 250 to 300 of these, and I got up to about 30. Bill I think got further before giving up and going to live in Wellington, New Zealand. Wouldn’t it be great, I mused, to have a meat pie in a bakery in
Lake St Clair National Park
every town in Australia? I’ve certainly made a good start, managing five meat pies during the day we went skiing at Fall’s Creek. For the record the best two were in Mt Beauty bakery in Victoria and the place in Bicheno, just on the right, as you come into the town from the South. Yum Yum.
On our second last day in Tassie Susan arranged a visit to Liz Dombrovskis and West Wind Press. After inspecting the home-based publishing operation and picking up a tip or two we all had a cup of tea and a jolly natter about England, Africa, Photography and life in general - a very pleasant start to the morning. That evening we celebrated my birthday, eating a wonderful feast thanks to the efforts of many, most particularly Susan's multi-talented friend Beth and also Tom, who produced a killer chocolate fudge cake from the deli where he works.
I’ll leave the final question to Kim, who was clearly pondering life as we carried our heavy packs around the Freycinet Peninsula - “Why is sea-water salty?”
Whilst in Tassie we saw a number of great pictures from Tasmanian and Australian photographers. Sadly the likes
Waubs Bay, Bicheno
of Chris Bell, Grant Dixon, Jeff Jennings, Ted Mead and Wayne Paps (tragically RIP, another victim of Tassie's treachorous wilderness) don't appear to have done justice to their excellent portfolios on the web. Rob Blakers
In my view the best of the talented bunch of current Tasmanian landscape photographers. Leave the mouse over the image to see a larger version. Dennis Harding
Also good, but Blakers has a definite edge in terms of hunting out the best locations and making the most of the light. Karen Gowlett Jones (South Australia)
This marine biologist has some stunning photos of Tasmanian sea horses etc but few seem available on the web. The Weedy Seadragon on the link is definitely worth a look though.
Plus a little if very high quality diversion ... Nick Brandt
Stunning Black and White photographs of East African Wildlife. Look out for his book, "On this Earth".
There are more photos below