Monday, March 27, 2017

Waterfall Bagging 2 - A disappoinment, then two beautiful falls

Once more into the Rainforest
Apart from an impromptu stop at the Mole Creek Market, where I spent most of my money, the next day proved to be rather disappointing.  I had managed to find someone who had not only heard of, but been to Sensation Gorge Falls, but apparently he had only succeeded by clinging onto bushes and hauling himself up a cliff face. Undeterred, I went along to the rangers’ office at nearby Maracoopa Cave. Though they went to great lengths to show me where the track began, they also warned me that the last time someone had come to cut the track, they had given up after encountering four snakes in the first few metres. 

Enthusiastic worker at the apple juice stand, Mole Creek Market

Ever hopeful, I soon I found myself at a dry scrubby creekbed beset with knee high grass.  Having a pathological fear of snakes, I was about to put my gumboots on, when it occurred to me that if there was no water in the creek, there was probably not going  to be a waterfall either.  As I drove away I recalled that only the day before while passing a very pretty road called Muddy Creek Road, I had lamented the fact that so many places had such uninspiring names. What for instance, did a name like Dismal Swamp, do for real estate values I wondered? It certainly didn't make me want to rush to see it. Sensation Gorge on the other hand, could well be a case of the opposite - great name, depressing place, but of course I hadn’t actually seen the gorge. I spent the rest of the day driving around aimlessly on a tangle of forestry roads looking for the upper entrance to a waterfall where we used to swim, but which was now owned by a trout and ginseng farm, and then headed for Meander, where I spent the night. 

Salmon and Ginseng Farm at the base of Montana Falls - the food was lovely and I bought salmon rillettes and some pots of ginseng honey, but couldn't quite bring myself to pay for the tour which would have allowed me to photograph the waterfall
Next morning in the Meander Forest Reserve, I especially avoided Meander Falls even though it is the main fall in this area and one of the highest in the state. I had once gone there with a group of Gung Ho Bushwalkers when I still lived in Deloraine. That ladies and gentlemen, is a six hour walk on a good day, but I also had my then two year old daughter in tow. Every time I managed to pant to the top of a rise carrying her on my back, the bushwalkers who had already waited (and rested) impatiently for some time, would say, “Right then,” and take off again.  Now I am sure those falls were spectacular, but all I could think of was getting back again. I only ever attempted to go with a Bushwalking Club on one other occasion, when my sons were small and the outcome was much the same.
Not only were the boys much too chirpy while serious birdwatching was in progress, but while we were waiting on a bridge for some other walkers to join us, my youngest son, who was playing Poo Sticks and running from one side of the bridge to the other, managed to do a perfect swallow dive right into the foaming water. Since it was the middle of winter in the highlands we were lucky we didn’t all die of hypothermia as quite a few of us were now wet to the skin and those that weren't had to sacrifice pullovers and jackets to those who were.  Going by all the tut –tutting, I am pretty sure we were universally hated. I guess that’s one of the reasons why I like to travel alone. Good to see though that Waterfalls of Tasmania has a new section on child friendly waterfalls!  Where were you when I needed you?

Wild berries - these might look tasty and may even be edible but the flavour and texture are like polystyrene

The rock formation that gives Split Rock Falls its name - there are many stunning features like this
Not having walked much for the last year or so, I thought I would start with the two and a half hour walk to Split Rock Falls which I hadn’t seen before, followed perhaps by Smoko Falls and possibly Chasm Falls, later in the day. It was however, all uphill, so progress was slow and while I didn’t check the time, I would say it took me closer to four hours.

Shower Cave Falls looked inviting
There was some very pretty country along the way however, and there were also some truly amazing rock formations – huge boulders and overhangs, some with water, some without and one unnamed waterfall above. I wasn’t sure whether one of them was Shower Cave Falls, but eventually there was a faded sign, so I knew there was another one to go. It was hot by now and after the long uphill slog I was very tempted to stand under it, but I could hear children bounding up the hill, so it was onwards and upwards again. Split Rock Falls was much higher than can be seen in the photograph with another high fall up above it too and both had a good flow of water going over them - then it was down, down, down again.

Worth the walk - Split Rock Falls, but by the time you get close enough to take a photo, you can no longer see the upper level which is even more spectacular
 If I thought the way back would be easy, I was mistaken. Places where I had had to climb hand over hand on the way up were even more daunting on the way back, but at last I was back at the suspension bridge which crosses the Meander River. When I came that morning there was no one else in the parking area, so I hadn't paid much attention to how I parked. Now it was chock -a -block with cars and a note was stuck on my car. “Nice Parking” or some such, with “Be more considerate next time.”  As with Liffey Falls, I would never have suspected that the place would be so busy, but I obviously wasn’t the only one pleased that the bridges were open again.

It was a different story at the Smoko Falls parking area, a couple of kilometres further on. There wasn’t a soul and it was now somewhat late in the day. Although I wasn't in bad shape, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to tackle another waterfall on the same day, especially when the last one was described as moderate and this one was listed as hard. There was no point waiting around either, because rain had been forecast for the following day, so very reluctantly I turned for home. I do hope they will still be there next time I come. 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Waterfall Bagging 1 – Liffey Falls

Waterfall baggers delight - Main Fall at Liffey. These photos taken too late in the day, do not convey its true beauty

We all know about  peak - baggers- those intrepid souls who like to climb every mountain. Then there are people like me who belong to the secret society of waterfall -baggers. There are more of us than you might think. I am just mesmerised by falling water. It’s not just the water however. Nor is it  the challenge of simply ticking another one off a list. It is also the beautiful scenery that goes with it – the richness of the vegetation -the tree ferns, the mosses, the tall trees and the thrill of discovering another of nature's wonders.  Craig Doumouras, creator of the beautiful Waterfalls of Tasmania website, puts it very well,
" For me personally, having been a sufferer of depression for many years, chasing waterfalls fills my soul with a sense of freedom I never knew existed..."
I couldn't agree more.

Liffey is really a series of of waterfalls and cascades - there's quite a big fall just out of sight on the left
This time I travelled over the roof of Tasmania via the Lakes Highway. This is a hard but stunning drive on a good day, but dangerous if there is ice or snow. It isn't much good either if you need a regular supply of fuel or coffee along the way.

While reading up the night before I discovered that many of the waterfalls I had planned to visit - particularly those along the Mersey Forest Road, were no longer accessible due to the terrible floods and bushfires which Tasmania had last year. Bridges were out, roads were washed away or more landslips had occurred. Meadstone Falls  and Holwell Gorge were still out as were Winterbrook Falls, but now neither Ralphs Falls nor Mathinna Falls which I had just managed to see, were no longer accessible either. Even the usually easily reached lower picnic grounds and track of Liffey Falls were closed due to flood damage, so I now found myself driving down a  treacherous unsealed road from the top of the Central Plateau.

At the next turnoff there was a sign ”Short wheel based vehicles only,”  but I didn't understand the significance of that until I was part way down picking my way around boulders, hairpin bends and potholes but there was nowhere to turn around. I doubt that short wheel based compact cars would have managed it better and at least I had higher clearance. For a while I feared that I would be stuck at the bottom of the hill, signalless and alone, but no, the parking area at the bottom the was like  Grand Central Station. There were at least six vehicles, two of them vans that were bigger than mine.

The top of another
Alas, it was rather late in the day, so my pictures aren’t great and there was the usual problem of the great contrast between bright light reflecting from falls while the bush remained dark, but it was all I had hoped for – lush ferns, tall trees, the smell of the rain forest and abundant falling water – well worth the twenty minute walk and the anxiety provoking drive.

And another....
After several shorter falls and more walkers the last big fall came into view – the main Liffey Fall – a lovely sight, but I was surprised to see a young Japanese girl sitting on the final set of steps, nursing a head injury from slipping over on the rocks in the river. Luckily she hadn't been knocked out and after establishing that she didn't have concussion, I was able to help her with a couple of things from the First Aid kit. Though I detest carrying a pack, I was pleased that once again some of its contents were useful to someone. You never know when you might need bandaids for blisters, insect repellent, stuff to soothe bites or sprains, torches, aspirin, the EPIRB or maybe some biscuits, dried fruit, or a jacket to keep out the rain, and that's just for a short walk! From here on the track normally continues down to the lower carpark and picnic ground – about another forty minutes, but the access to it across a small footbridge, was still closed.

I stayed for a while thinking how sad it was that not even waterfalls are the permanent features I always thought they were. How many were already lost, not just to natural disasters but also due to dam building, development or just plain neglect, with the tracks growing over from too little use?
One waterfall we used to swim in at Montana is now in private hands and others known only to select cadres of bushwalkers would be forgotten with their passing, were it not for sites like Waterfalls of Tasmania. I too have old books and maps showing falls which are no longer on current ones e.g. Rueben Falls, down south, which has been blocked by a landslip for years or Mavista Falls on Bruny Island which can no longer be reached by normal mortals despite being only a short distance from the road.

Things I love to see - waterfalls in their (almost) natural habitat. There is something to be said for a decent track. At least you can't get lost!
The good news is that the bridges over the Meander River leading up to the Forest reserve there have finally been replaced after washing away in the 2011 floods. Perhaps I should take a look at those waterfalls before the next big flood washes the bridges away again.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Going down - Why reducing incomes won't save the economy

Sign of the Times

Pardon me, I’m not an economist, but I fail to see how cutting the wages of low paid workers and the poor will save the economy.

According to Stephen Koukoulas of The Guardian, Australia currently has around 725,000 unemployed people and 1,067,000 people who are underemployed, not counting those who have given up looking. You are officially 'employed' even if you only work one hour a week. Even if and it’s a big if, employers do put on another worker, also on a low wage, where will the extra money come from to buy more beer,  another coffee or more things? The same goes for cutting pensions.  Our retirees, unemployed people and those on disabilities have also come in for their share of cost cutting, so less money will be spent in the community, especially as all other costs are rising, and wages have barely moved since the Global Financial Crisis, despite significant increases in corporate profitability. 
Instead, it will be like a reverse stimulus package which will make everyone poorer, including those businesses crying poor mouth now. And if the national accounts don't balance now, how much worse will they be with even less taxes coming in from wage earners, especially if we also cut taxes.

There’s no guarantee that tax cuts will save the economy either, since 20% of our capital comes from overseas and the profits are also likely to be repatriated there. In the years which followed US tax cuts during the Reagan and Bush eras, the deficit ballooned, despite social programs being cut.
It’s just one more magical belief from the enchanted world of economics, just like those others – that wealth will “trickle down” or that the “invisible hand” of the market will benefit all, workers and capitalists alike. If you believe that, then I have a bridge to sell you. The only evidence I can see for the workings of an invisible hand is the one reaching into my pocket. Health insurance is going up another 5%, power bills are up and my water charges have gone from $47 a quarter when they were introduced in 2013 to $185 for the latest one. If we are going to rely on Adam Smith's text from 1776 for our economic well being, perhaps we should also read what Robert Green Ingersoll, lawyer, statesman, Civil War hero and proponent of the eight hour day, had to say in his 1871 essay “ Hard Times and the way out" after observing the effects of unrestrained capitalism.

“If everything is to be left to the blind and heartless working of the laws of supply and demand, why have governments? If the nation leaves the poor to starve, and the weak and unfortunate to perish, it is hard to see for what purpose the nation should be preserved. If our statesmen are not wise enough to foster great enterprises, and to adopt a policy that will give us prosperity, it may be that the laboring classes, driven to frenzy by hunger, the bitterness of which will be increased by seeing others in the midst of plenty, will seek a remedy in destruction.”

I like to think that serious investors would prefer a country which offered stability and certainty, rather than gross inequality, unrest and volatility. That seems to be working for Sweden and Denmark whose energies are more focused on innovation and high societal returns by investing in education and social cohesion.

With over to 40% of our jobs likely to disappear over the next fifteen to twenty years under combined pressures of globalisation and automation (not to mention economic rationalism), we would do well to look at other possibilities. France has sought to tackle this problem by reducing working hours since the 1990s, although this has  recently come under threat from business interests who plead that the shorter working week will render its industries less competitive.
Noting the advances being made during the industrial revolution Ingersoll also wrote,

“The man who wants others to work to such an extent that their lives are burdens, is utterly heartless. The toil of the world should continually decrease. Of what use are your inventions if no burdens are lifted from industry -- if no additional comforts find their way to the home of labor; why should labor fill the world with wealth and live in want?
Every labor-saving machine should help the whole world. Every one should tend to shorten the hours of labor.”

 The truth is that humans will never be able to compete effectively against machines, nor against  desperately poor countries where education, adequate medical care, health and safety, and pollution  control are not yet, or cannot afford to be considered basic necessities of life. If individual governments are too weak to stand up to those corporations which pit them against one another, then other remedies must be sought and not necessarily within the narrow straightjacket of traditional economics. Finland for example, and several other countries such as the Netherlands and parts of Scotland, are experimenting with the idea of a Universal Basic Income.

At the very least this would save on  the administrative costs of hounding the poor,  plus considerable amounts in terms of law enforcement, health care, especially mental health, and loss of productivity due to suicide and stress, family breakdown etc. The environment would also benefit due to reduced production, commuting and manufacturing, though by the present quaint accounting standards, these  count as contributions to Gross Domestic product, not the negatives which they in fact are. Perhaps we just need a different accounting system. It wouldn’t be the first time Australia has led the world in radical reforms – think universal suffrage, secret ballots, the International Harvester Decision which ensured a living wage. Wonder whatever happened to that ideal?

All it takes is real statesmen, rather than politicians. As Ingersoll said in his “All I want for Christmas Essay”
 I would like to see all the politicians changed to statesmen, -- to men who long to make their country great and free, -- to men who care more for public good than private gain -- men who long to be of use.”
PS: Brownie points to Lush and other companies who are NOT cutting the wages of their staff. I also fondly recall a company whom I worked for many years ago when a recession loomed, where those in the top ranks elected to reduce their salaries by 10% so that no one in the lower ranks would have to be sacked. Employee satisfaction and lower staff turnover are also valuable commodities.