Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Exploring the North East – Day 5 Stumbling upon the trail of the Tin Dragon

First glimpse of  Derby, pronounced Derby, not Darby
Resisting the urge to travel over yet another unmade road - mileage unknown, to the state’s most northerly point – Cape Portland, I headed south east through two more former mining towns, Gladstone and Pioneer, which have not yet capitalised on their tourist potential. To be fair, Pioneer did have BBQ facilities on top of the hill, and Derby, which I visited next, looked much like this the last time I saw it almost two decades ago. Their importance should not be underestimated either. Not only did such small towns contribute enormously to the wealth of the infant colonies and permit them to forget their convict origins and forge a nation, but they led  the way out of depression and a life of rural servitude, greatly improving the lot of most people’s lives .

Derby, Main Street, looking east
Although known since the Bronze Age and mined in small quantities for rustproofing tools, weapons and kitchen utensils, production of tin really escalated in the late C18th. with the invention and widespread adoption of canning for the preservation food. This was in great demand by the French, Dutch and British navies since it enabled men to remain at sea for much longer periods.  According to Sue Shephard, author of Pickled, Potted and Canned quoted in fascinating account on this topic in in the Seven Years' War in the 1750s, died of malnutrition.”  As Geoghegan writes “Supplied to the Royal Navy in 1813, they (cans) changed warfare and, later, exploration and diets.”

Main Street, Derby looking west

Though I can't find specific proof, I am fairly certain that colonial demand for vast quantities of cheap roofing and fencing material which tin was able to provide, would also have contributed, as would as would the making of machinery and eventually car parts. Since demand was particularly high during wartime, I assume that it was also used in the manufacture of planes and weapons. Tin was also used in the making of plate glass, another burgeoning industry, for bells and musical instruments, and for soldering of plumbing and electrical components.
Although 50% per cent of cans are still made from tin and it is still  a major component in the manufacture of  cars and electronic goods such as ipads and iphones,  several events conspired to render these little villages obsolete.  Where the mines were not completely worked out, competition came in the form of the discovery of large deposits in other countries such as Bolivia and Malaysia and,  (w)ithin half a century of the tin boom of 1870-72, the industry was almost dead in the face of foreign competition.”

Derby's modest architecture is frozen in time
 While some mines enjoyed a brief renaissance after the introduction of advanced machinery and techniques such as open cut mining and the use of explosives, the advent of aluminium cans, recycling, and the use of other materials such as polymers led to lowered demand. (I would venture to suggest that the  widespread adoption of freezing for the storage and transport of food introduced by Clarence Birdseye in the 1920’s, may also have contributed, though a quick web search has failed to confirm this either).
The final blow for many mines came in 1985, when the International Tin Council which guaranteed prices for suppliers, collapsed and returns fell to below the cost of production, resulting in the closure of almost all tin mines in Tasmania, with the exception of Renison Bell on the West Coast.  Today most of the world's tin comes from China or Indonesia, with small amounts still being mined in  Bolivia, Australia and Peru.

Small galleries and coffee shops abound
There, I bet you weren't expecting all that. That's what happens when you start wondering why is this place here? And then what happened? But I digress. Derby  (pronounced DERBY, not Darby as you might expect, though it does have an popular Derby Day, pronounced Darby in October), provides a startling contrast. Its Briseis* Mine was  one of the largest  tin mines in the world from the late C19th  to 1930 and supported around three thousand people.  
*Named after the 1876 Melbourne Cup winner, in case you were wondering. 
Though the population had fallen or grown to 208 in 2011, and the town was almost deserted the last time I came, I now had great difficulty getting a parking spot on the main street which positively bristles with small shops, cafes and of course, one or two large pubs.  Its architecture now attractively restored and painted, remains frozen in time and though it never reached the grand heights of say, the Empire Hotel in Queenstown or the Gaiety Theatre in Zeehan, what it lacks in grandeur it makes up for in charm.

Museum in the old School
There’s a museum in the old schoolhouse and a new one - “The Tin Dragon Interpretation Centre, " set down below the main street, which pays tribute to those who lost their lives in Derby’s great flood and the many Chinese workers who came. It was lovely to see this little town all spruced up and buzzing.
Did I mention that Derby was bicycle friendly? It also has a world class mountain bike circuit
Inside the Derby Tunnel, an engineering feat when it was built in the late 1800's since the workers had to pick and shovel their way through 2000 ft. of granite. I stupidly forgot my cap  lamp and have a lot of pictures like this

Looking out from the tunnel
From there I travelled west through Scottsdale, (population 2461), the largest town in the North East and definitely its service centre – Eureka, I even had a signal on my phone, though I didn’t linger long. Instead, I turned west to Lilydale where there was another waterfall marked on my map.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Young Neighbours' Easter Tree

Happy Easter Everyone!

Beware of the Dog!
I wanted to give the Easter Bunny a bit of a helping hand on Saturday night. My young neighbours had made a pretty Easter Tree decorated with painted eggs, and I thought it would be fun to add a couple of chocolate rabbits.
I had no sooner let myself in the front gate when I heard their dog bounding up. I had never actually seen this dog, only heard it's fearsome bark on the other side of the fence, so when it lunged at me I feared the worst. Then it tried to lick me to death. 
Great watch dog! That's the last time I'm going over there at night.

Exploring the North East – Day 4 Eddystone Light and Mt. William National Park

Eddystone Light (1888) at the most easterly point of Tasmania - looks pretty impressive. Can't understand why Australian Geographic left it out of their recent feature on lighthouses, unless it had something to do with the road
Although I promised my van that if it lived, I would never, ever make it go on unmade roads again, it wasn’t long before I broke that promise.  With more people arriving at the Bay of Fires, I decided to go further north. Friends who had had a shack at Musselroe Bay had long waxed lyrical about that area, although they had since sold the shack.
There was a kind of Hobson’s choice from here. Do 52 km over unsealed roads or do approximately 97 km over sealed roads via the main highway to Gladstone and then 23  km of unsealed roads, though the map wasn’t at all clear on the mileages in this area. No points for guessing which one I took. In my defence,  I will say that the C 843 was partially sealed at the St. Helens end and ever the optimist, I rather hoped my map was out of date and the road had been sealed since it was published. Besides, according to one Mt. William National Park website “…for those prepared to travel on "less than perfect" roads, a wonderful stretch of unspoilt coastline with some glorious and beautiful beaches…” awaited.
Though my optimism was slightly dented by the sight of a large Land Cruiser that had obviously come the other way, shipwrecked at the side of the road and having its tyres replaced, for the most part, this road was no worse than other country roads in Tasmania – some unexpected potholes, stretches of corrugation, loose rocks and a bit of rough ground near the creeks.
The real bone -shaker was the 12 km detour I made to Eddystone Light which was rough and badly corrugated all the way.  I would thoroughly recommend this road for immediate resuscitation and have lots of wobbly footage to prove it, should any statutory body or a bloke (or female for that matter– let’s not be sexist here) with a bulldozer and a couple of hours to spare, be interested.  It’s a shame really, because Eddystone Point is not only historic and scenic, but the most easterly point in Tasmania. I particularly wanted to see this lighthouse because both it and the one at Bruny Island had been omitted from a recent feature on lighthouses by the Australian Geographic.
Not as isolated as one might expect
Despite the hellish drive, Eddystone Point was far from deserted. It was heavily populated by boat people – not the kind who risk life and limb in leaky boats to escape persecution, but the kind who  tow expensive cabin cruisers around on trailers. Since it was now hot and sunny, I had hoped for a swim, but I couldn’t find a parking spot, much less a bit of shade.  After a few happy snaps of the lighthouse – no selfies, thanks, - I resumed my journey on the C 843, now passing through parts of the Mt. William National Park.
Compared to the Eddystone Point road, the unsealed 23 km to Musselroe Bay was bliss having apparently been recently graded. This sleepy fishing village straggles along the shores on two sides of a point and seems to be populated by birds, fishermen and holiday visitors in that order, though I saw very few of the latter. Although there was free camping here, the site wasn’t particularly attractive with no trees and just sags underfoot. Instead, I paid camp fees to stay in the National Park along Stumpy’s Bay where there are four camping areas bordered by beaches. You need a Parks Pass as well for this.

Pelicans and powerboats  at Musselroe Bay- I saw very few people
 All the good spots closest to the beach were taken at the first site. The second was like a goblin forest - all dark tea trees and with no one else in it. I was beginning to feel like Goldilocks. I didn’t look at the third, but the fourth, three kilometres further on, had BBQs, a shelter, a big tank and toilets nearby, and only one or two other campers tucked away in the trees. Perfect!

View from Stumpy's Lookout from which you can see the chain of islands which were most probably the route Aborigines used to pass between Tasmania and the Mainland until  sea levels rose about 10,000 years ago
Miles of untracked beach on the ocean side

Although I had been looking forward to a swim all day, I was too tired after the day of hard driving. I just cooked myself a meal and settled down for the night. However, I didn’t sleep well at all. It was too hot and there was a constant buzzing like swarms of angry bees.  I had heard it earlier at Stumpy's Lookout on the way here. Although I could also see the lazily turning arms of the new Tebrakunna Windfarm (visitors welcome) on the northernmost tip of the island, the noise didn't seem to be coming from there either, and since it was still going at night, I knew it couldn't be bees. It turned out that that incredible racket was probably being made by armies of frogs which had taken up residence in the many lagoons.

It was certainly the place to see kangaroos. The road in is called Forrester Kangaroo Drive and there were plenty of those on the road. Just drive slowly! A little joey and it's mother (most likely a Bennetts Wallaby) stayed close while I cooked dinner - not in that begging way, as they do in some places where they have come to look to visitors for food - which is very bad for them by the way, but in that totally unselfconscious way that animals have, when they haven't had a single bad experience with humans.

My little dinner companion

Friday, March 25, 2016

Waterfalls of the North East - Day 3 – Epitaph for a town, one waterfall and other diversions

Looking like Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium, the Cranks and Tinkerer's Museum, St. Marys
I was lucky this time. After chatting for a couple of hours in the mechanic’s workshop -as you do in the country, while he worked on other jobs – and you must never rush these things, he finally took a look at the van. He tightened the fan belt, cleaned out the fuel filter, checked the tyres, laid a skilled hand upon it here and there and after a test drive, pronounced it good to go. Alas, when I rang my friend to tell her the good news, she had already decided to go by bus.
Feeling all dressed up with nowhere to go, I decided to continue where I had left off. Back in Fingal, I sought out the Forestry Offices but was dismayed to find the building not only closed but for sale. Undeterred, I drove on to the Meadstone Falls turnoff but here there was only a very large sign saying “Road Closed.”

Coal Miners' Commemorative Wall at Cornwall
Since I was now three quarters of the way to St. Marys, I continued in that direction, making the small detour to Cornwall where the last coal mine had recently closed. Most of the mining equipment had gone, but along with a clutch of cottages, there was a nice little memorial in the park to the miners, together with BBQs and a shelter, though beware of the super stroppy black sheep with horns next door! Looking at the few remaining cottages, it’s hard to imagine what the place must have been like when coal mining was in full swing until you look over the black and white photos and read the affectionate recollections in the shelter.

“The township of St. Nicholas and two thirds of Cornwall are lost forever. The majority of houses along with the churches, schools, tennis courts, shops,  butcher, baker, post office and the old original coal mines are only a heap of rock or broken concrete and those who hold their memories are fewer each year.

But Cornwall holds on with forty houses which all date back to another time when people knew no other life but to work hard, be devoted to their families and contribute to their communities in a loving sharing way. When a shake of the hand or a man’s word was law and children jumped to their father’s commands…

“Let us all hold on to what is left of Cornwall because the walls of the remaining houses are full of  memories and stories that should be sought out, told and preserved because the heritage of the Tasmanian Coal Industry and indeed the town of Cornwall, both of which played a significant role in Tasmania’s history, will end up lost in a pile of rocks and broken concrete like the homes, shops and churches so lovingly built by our forefathers, or pushed into  heap and burnt like the pine trees that once stood so proud in recognition of our war -time heroes.”

Irresistible - the entrance to the Cranks and Tinkerer's Museum
Just outside St. Marys I came upon the delightfully named Cranks and Tinkerer’s Museum housed in the former railway station. It is now chock – a –block with the most weird and wonderful things -things to make you think; things which remind you of the past; and many more things you never knew existed. Friendly and knowledgeable curator, Ian Summers has not only restored many of the exhibits himself, but is a dab hand at making models of ships and planes. He interrupted the making of a minute spiral staircase for a Mississippi sternwheel paddle steamer to show myself and another couple some of his favourite pieces.  A former teacher, Ian also gave me a couple of impromptu banjo lessons, but that little movie came out sideways. Thanks for a lovely interlude Ian, should you ever happen to read this.
Curator of the Cranks and Tinkerer's Museum, Ian Summers at work on another one of his models
Hands up if you guessed that Ian was a teacher in a former life
 St.Marys, population 550, but now one of the fastest growing places in the state, used to be the  railhead for all that coal and produce from the Fingal Valley. Now it is a charming, bustling tourist stop at the junction of two major highways. Besides the impressive old pub, there are lots of coffee shops, little boutiques and craft places and so many food offerings that it was hard to make a choice.  An inexplicable craving (and no, I am not pregnant) for an old fashioned pastie such as I used to have as a child, eventually led me to the bakery, and for dessert I  finally opted for some locally made Elephant Pass Fudge, though again, having to choose between all the flavours  was enough to give anyone the vapours. 

St. Mary's Hotel dates from 1916
Lush garden at the Purple Possum Cafe
Inside the Elephant Pass Fudge Factory Cafe
At the bakery I found out how to get to the beautifully named Grey Mare’s Tail waterfall on the outskirts of town which I had also read about in Fingal. Just as well I asked, because the slight track at the head St. Mary’s Pass is easy to miss. The lady at the bakery also warned me about the leeches but I still ended up spending half an hour picking the little suckers off my clothes when I got back to the car.
From there it was down the dizzying curves of St. Mary’s Pass to Scamander where, feeling a bit guilty about the morning’s indulgences I picked up some fresh strawberries at the berry farm, carefully averting my gaze from the blackboard with its promises of cakes and ice cream. Usually I lose weight on my travels, since I walk a lot, but for some reason this has not happened on this trip. At least now that I was near the sea and it was almost wall -to -wall holiday accommodation all the way to St. Helens, the temptations were fewer. 
The Grey Mare's Tail Waterfall is only ten minutes off the highway but easy to miss. Watch out for the leeches too
 St. Helens (pop. 2019),  is the largest town on the East Coast and also growing fast. Begun as a whaling station, the town received a big boost when coal was discovered nearby in 1874. The influx included over 1000 Chinese miners who are commemorated at Weldborough and Derby on the road to Scottsdale and Launceston.  Now it is the service centre for the surrounding pastoral community, fishermen and a vast number of holiday makers. It has long been a favourite with Tasmanians - even before Europeans came, because its climate is somewhat milder than the rest of state. Now that it was a long weekend it seemed like the entire population was already here.  As a friend who had been there a few days earlier remarked. “It seemed like every bad driver in the country had converged on that one main street.” 

A wedding party complete with Highland Pipe Band arrives at Binnalong Bay. 
There was still no signal on my phone, but the library had  an internet connection where I could at last send a brief message of reassurance to my family. I also shopped, picked up the papers and bought Easter eggs, then went on to explore the very popular Bay of Fires, notable for its fine white beaches and its remarkable orange lichen covered rocks.

'Organic" is the only word I can think of to describe these granite outcrops in the Bay of Fires

I had my long awaited swim at Binnalong Bay, body surfing on huge rollers of ice blue (colour, not temperature) water until the beach was invaded by wedding guests complete with Scottish Highland Pipe Band, who had come for a barefoot wedding. Cosy Corner further along the coast, had been recommended as an overnight stop, but I doubt that you could have squeezed a paper plate between those densely packed RVs. Instead, I elected to spend the night at a little spot at the far end of the road. What it lacked in facilities, it made up for with the luxury of a little vegetation between campsites and better views - blue waters, white beaches, those sculpted rocks and several lagoons where large seabirds flew. 

Near Sloop Reef - fewer comforts perhaps, but more space-

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Waterfalls of the North East – Day 2. Four waterfalls and a bit of history

A study in desuetude - my first glimpse of Rossarden, reputedly the 'crime capital' of Tasmania

Royal George was the first of several former mining towns I was to pass that day – Avoca, Fingal, Mangana – site of Tasmania’s first gold rush in 1852, and many others which have faded away. Not only gold but tungsten, coal and tin were mined in the region which displays evidence of former wealth in substantial churches, old hotels and elaborate shops, despite many of them being closed. The valley communities fortunate enough to have fertile soils and water, or at least passing tourists on their way to the East Coast, have continued to survive if not exactly thrive, while those set back in the hills have disappeared or become ghost towns or mere shadows of their former selves.

Rossarden was one of the latter. I was somewhat intrigued by Rossarden, home to Tasmania’s biggest tin mine between 1930 and 1950,  since it has the somewhat dubious distinction of being hailed as "the crime capital" of Tasmania. I asked a man in the street at Avoca why Rossarden had such a bad name. Rubbing his nose and looking furtively over his shoulder, he whispered, “There’s more bodies in them mine shafts than you could poke a stick at.”  “The museum’s good though,” he called, as I drove away. 

Some of the other cottages under the shadow of Ben Lomond
The forest darkened and the hills crowded in as I drove up into the mountains, the landscape looking very like Walhalla in Victoria, another old mining town. At last, there was a clearing where scattered cottages nestled beneath the ‘sleeping dog’ form of Stack’s Bluff. Some cottages were neatly painted and sprouted a variety of dishes and antennae. Others reclined in various stages of desuetude surrounded by blackberries, rusting car bodies and leaning fences. At the top of the hill there was a nicely painted blue and white church where two alpacas gazed at me curiously, but otherwise my visit appeared to be unremarked and was uneventful.  I saw no evidence of any illegal activity – any activity in fact, unless it is the last resting place of all the state’s stolen cars. I was almost disappointed. 

The museum down a side street in the former Primary School, was closed when I finally found it. Although there were phone numbers listed to call, I, as usual, had no signal. Instead, I read the signage in the little park next door which recounted the town’s history. The mine had been dormant since the price of tin dropped in the 1970’s, but townsfolk were very hopeful when Rossarden Mines took over from Aberfoyle in 1981. Alas, a year later most of the workforce was sacked, the mine closed and to add insult to injury, the whole town was put up for auction. Within a few months the population had fallen from around 500 to 90, though the numbers have been slowly rising since. With the possible exception of the Post Office, no services remain. 

There was one curious note.  Back in 1993 with help from Forestry and the Northern Midlands Council, around 400 car bodies were dragged out of the bush, crushed and removed. I don’t want to knock a little town that’s just getting back on its feet, but if Sims Metal were to return today, I am pretty sure they would be similarly enriched. I would have liked to have taken more photos of these and some of the buildings but was a bit reluctant to leave my car. Hats off though to people who stayed.

The only bodies I saw were those of cars
 I drove back to Fingal via Mangana. Fingal has a great little RV park complete with coin –in –slot showers, right in the middle of town. In consequence, I refuelled there and spent over $100 on food knowing that I would be away from shops for a few days. I mention this only so other communities which do not have such facilities appreciate the benefits.The information booth there also showed an alternative route to Meadstone Falls, but I wanted to wait until after the weekend so that I could check with Forestry first before embarking on another trek into the wilderness to my south.

Heritage -listed Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Church, Mangana,  dates from 1912
Instead I drove I drove north east to Evercreech Forestry Reserve, listed as one of Tasmania’s Great Short Walks. Though the road was terrible for the last few km.  this is a delightful picnic area with something for everyone, not to mention  a large shelter, toilets and electric BBQ’s. There is a ten minute walk to the “White Knights-” a stand of tall white Eucalypts saved from logging by local people.

Love those fern gullies

 Liked this caption too:
“The White Knights have been building Evercreech Castle for 300 years...” 
This walk is even suitable for strollers and wheelchairs. For the slightly more energetic there is a 20 minute circuit which allows viewing from the top. For the even more enthusiastic there is the 90 minute walk through fern and myrtle filled gullies to Evercreech Falls.

Though not particularly high, Evercreech Falls have a secret intimate feel

The fungi were going wild here too, though they didn't look as edible as the ones I found the day before

The next waterfall necessitated going over Clayton’s Road unless I wanted to backtrack over about 25 km of gravel and loose rock and then drive up again a little further to the north. Perhaps the name refers to that adult soft drink “Clayton’s, the drink you have when you don’t want a drink.” This is the road you have when you don’t really have a road. It did however, cut the trip to about 15 km.   The last kilometre of the track into the Falls is excruciating, but the falls are worth it, being somewhat higher than those at Evercreech, provided your wheels don’t fall off. Quite a few women were travelling on their own. I met one coming the other way on this stretch which gave me hope and another in a van like mine at Evercreech.

Mathinna Falls - higher, but a bit more difficult to access

Next stop Ralph’s Falls, one of the highest in the state and another famous Short Walk. It's within the Mt. Victoria Forest Reserve, from here a rather gruelling drive away via gravel roads, though they can also be accessed  from Pyengana in the east. The C423 however, is the only link between these two regions with a high mountain range - Mt. Saddleback, in between.

It was a relief to come down the mountain into the pretty dairy country of Ringarooma
The section over Mt. Victoria is one of those roads which starts off well and then inexplicably deteriorates for around five kilometres before becoming almost good again. Originally convict built, it still has dry stone walls made by them along its steep sides. Maybe we need a few more convicts or Work for the Dole Schemes. That's the way most of the roads in this state were built, though bridge -building and "Roads for Recovery" programs are underway in several places.

There are excellent facilities at Ralph’s Falls including a very pleasant shelter with water and BBQs. These falls were very popular with interstate and overseas visitors. Unfortunately it was a bit drizzly when I got there, so the pictures aren’t the best. The short walk takes only about 10 minutes to the lookout while the longer walk which takes in Cash’s Gorge (named after Martin Cash, Tasmania's most famous bushranger) and other spectacular scenery, takes around 90 minutes. 

Stunning Ralph's Falls - though popular, it's a shame the road has been allowed to deteriorate

Cash's Gorge - not only did our most famous bushranger get around, but he had a predilection for high places from which he could watch for the arrival of suitable stage coaches to intercept

Further down, the same road also leads to St. Columba Falls which are around 300m. high and very powerful. Again the photos do not do it justice, but you get the idea. These can be reached via a sealed road from Pyengana, rather than coming down from Ralph's Falls.

St. Columba Falls (300m) can be reached by sealed road from Pyengana

Though there was another waterfall in this area which involved a one and a half hour walk, it was already getting dark as I came down the mountain. Just as I was about to call it quits, my phone rang for the first time since leaving home. After I got over the shock, it turned out to be a friend saying as it was a long weekend, did I still want to take her to Lake St. Clair as I had vaguely promised some time ago.  As I reached the main highway to head back to Hobart, I noticed that the car wasn’t its usual sprightly self. I could barely reach 80 kph, let alone the 110 speed limit. I was already thinking head gasket, a missing cylinder perhaps, and visualising those dollars with wings heading out the window. Rather than rushing off to the West Coast with a dodgy car, I stayed in Campbell Town -almost the only town left on the Midlands Highway, to have it checked over by a mechanic in the morning.