Friday, April 08, 2016

Explorations in darkest Castra – Day 7 Almost done, and so is my car



Leaving the known world

Wherever the Central Plateau – that rocky shield which occupies much of the centre of Tasmania, dips down towards the sea, you are likely to find spectacular gorges and waterfalls. I had already seen some of the more famous ones – Liffey Falls, Meander Falls and Westmoreland Falls, but there was a whole clutch of them in the hinterland behind Ulverstone which I had never heard of before. Passing through evocatively named farming communities such as Promised Land, Paradise and No Where Else, I eventually came to the Leven Canyon Road and then continued on through Upper Castra to Nietta. It is in the rich soils of these foothills, that much of Tasmania’s produce is grown.  
Top of Silver Falls

There are four waterfalls here on a track originally put in by Forestry Tasmania, but which had fallen into disrepair. In 2013 volunteers resuscitated it and put up track notes at the start, but three years on, some of the flagging tape had disappeared and I found myself wandering around in the bush for a while after crossing the creek. I did go left first, rather than right as the track notes advised, because the old book I’d seen at Meetus Falls had suggested leaving the biggest falls till last. Although I came across a colourful array of flagging tape in pink, blue and yellow on reaching the top of the hill, none of it seemed to lead anywhere in particular. It was only the sound of not too distant forestry operations and log trucks rumbling by, suggesting the presence of a road, which led me out of the wilderness and back to the carpark. The track notes warn that even the official maps for this area incorrectly name the falls and are in error about their location. 

Lower level - barely a trickle, though these are quite high. Looks like all the rain fell in the east for change
The track notes also say that abstraction for irrigation or electricity generation may cause low flows in these falls, which was indeed the case, though I could imagine how they would look after a little more rain. The right hand fork towards Castra Falls was much easier to follow, but I didn’t see the sign until I was on my way back from the first mission.  This track mostly follows an old forestry road, before coming to the first set of falls. I was a bit worried when I saw the sign for Step Falls. Though it said “10 minutes – easy,” I found myself looking down the maw of a steep hill

Yeah, right!

Down, down, down - I was already halfway down when I took this picture. Getting back up was the problem

Step Falls
 At least Step Falls did not disappoint, but I was even more alarmed when I came to the next turn –off.  The track notes promised it was going to be “steep, slippery and rough” and  in bold “Take great care on the final descent from the falls lookout as a slip here would be a grave misfortune.  There is a new safety rope.” 

Can you see the safety rope leading down to the falls?

Terrible photo but lovely falls

Though the falls were lovely I didn’t really relax until I had clawed and hauled my way back up.  The track for the fourth waterfall – Secret Falls, was to start from here but I couldn’t see any sign of a path – very secret indeed, so I followed the circuit route which eventually linked up with the one I had taken earlier. It passed through pretty fern and myrtle forest, crossed the creek here and there and then ended up with a steady climb back up to the carpark. Doing both tracks separately took about six hours in all, whereas doing them in one sweep is supposed to take four. 

Any sensible person would have stopped right there, but there was another waterfall marked on  an old map I had and thinking it unlikely that I would be coming this way again in the foreseeable future, I thought I should take a look at that too.  Waterfalls were not usually marked unless they were significant and comparatively easy to get to. This was shown as being on another road that led south off the Leven Canyon Road. 

Not promising  - the last of the houses on this stretch
This too was an old forestry road*. After passing a few desolate houses, it got progressively worse. What signage remained was covered in the lichen we call old man’s beard and it  looked like no one had been this way for years. The road doesn't lead anywhere or connect to any other. It wasn't looking good. The last straw came after I crossed a creek. I must have only been about one or two kilometres from the falls, but despite the care with which I negotiated this hazard, my car developed a new clunk. Since I was more likely to encounter aliens from the planet Zog here than helpful strangers, breaking down in this neighbourhood was not an option, so I very, very carefully turned around and made my way back.
 
*So why doesn’t Forestry look after these roads anymore?  
 It’s a long story which has divided Tasmanians for over four decades, but the short version leaving out any hint of scandal and corruption, goes roughly like this: 

Forestry has had a long history in this state -starting with the convicts supplying timber for ship building and those glorious colonial buildings you see everywhere, but until the 1960's it was generally carried out by the small saw mills which were a feature of every country town. They selectively logged small coupes held under 99 year leases and paid royalties to the State Government via Forestry Tasmania  or vice versa.

This changed with the introduction of large scale clear felling in the 1960s. Under this regime run by large corporations, small saw mills could no longer obtain logs for milling and many closed, though some loggers previously employed in the timber industry invested in heavy equipment in order to work as contractors.  The rapid deforestation and devastation which followed led to widespread protest and eventually resulted in a considerable portion of the state being protected under World Heritage status, especially the globally rare temperate rainforest which contains unique species not found anywhere else.

Although logging contractors received around $45 million in compensation for this, some loggers continued to log and protests continued, despite protestors being fined and or gaoled.   Most recently the Federal Government acting on behalf of the loggers, sought to overturn the hard won Forestry Agreement reached in 2014, but this was rejected by UNESCO.

Partly or mainly because of our beautiful scenery, tourism is now the major contributor to the state’s economy – at $1.3 billion (equal first with mining, not including sales of food, drink, wine and specialty products) but this has not substantially benefited those who were previously engaged in  the timber industry. Though Forestry itself has begun to venture into tourism with the Tahune Airwalk in the South and Dismal Swamp in the North West, its revenues are now miniscule, leaving it unable to service its 13,000 km of roads - about half the state’s road network, which it previously managed.

It seems to me that the obvious solution would be that since loggers have the skills, the equipment and the experience to maintain these roads and tracks, perhaps we should stop paying compensation to prevent logging, and  instead have former loggers  paid to work on maintaining them, thereby not only enhancing  tourism but reducing rural unemployment. This would also leave Parks and Wildlife free to do what they do best – looking after our flora and fauna and enabling visitors to appreciate them also.

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