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Chapter 10

I discuss a nightmare journey, inspect an antique at Latrobe, come to a town that copied Lazarus, and tell the founder of Launceston what he should have done.

"Which way are you making?"
"South," I replied.
This very brief conversation in the parlour of the Club Hotel at Burnie was the occasion of one of the assembled company of three presenting the real Tasmania in a manner that few would have thought of. The questioner was a bronzed bushman from the west coast and the occupant of the third chair was a tourist from Queensland.
"Not due south, I hope?" queried the bushman, with a smile.
"Why do you hope not?" queried the Queenslander.
"I don't want the gent to lose his life-that's all."
The visitor looked surprised. "There are no wild animals nor headhunters in this State."
"It's not animals, but the absence of 'em," the bushman explained. "Our friend would die of starvation.
"But, hang it, the 'Speck' is only 150 miles across. You are pulling our legs. A man could carry enough for a week."
"A hundred and fifty miles is a good guess," agreed the bushman, "but a week to get through is well out of it. I know this island as well as any man in it, and I wouldn't take it on for all the tea in China. The twelve hundred miles of your state would be easier than our hundred and fifty."
The stranger appealed to me to explain, for he was evidently mystified.
"A map will settle it, I think," I said, for I began to see what the coaster was driving at. I went to my room for my map and spread it on the table.
The bushman produced a stub of pencil, picked up a long cribbage board from the mantel, and proceeded carefully to rule a straight line from Burnie, as nearly due south as he could.
"Now we start," he began, "and I hope your tucker isn't too heavy, and that you won't have to throw away your sleeping bag, for there are going to be some frosty nights and 'whips' of snow. After the first day out, you won't meet a living soul, for you will be the only lunatic abroad. You climb this little range just to get your hand in, go over Mount Housetop, strike a track for five miles-the last track you will see-skirt Mount Everett, cross Mount Tor and part of Black Bluff, wade through the middle of Lake Lea, miss Bond Peak by a shave, cross Fury Gorge-God help you, I'll not tell you about it-go straight over the top of Barn Bluff (a mere 5,114 feet) and then wrestle with a dozen or so unnamed mountains. Here is Eldon Range to scale with its horizontal forests, another range south of it, and then your ghost crosses the west coast road. This is where what is left of you will be tempted to throw up the sponge, for tucker will have run out long ago, and you will have done the only part of the trip that is really possible.
"Let us suppose, though, that you get a fresh supply of food here, so you follow the Collingwood for ten miles or so, lose yourself in the thousand-feet canyons round Frenchman's Cap, cross the Jane River, go through the last letter of the word 'Unexplored' on the map, scale this Denison Range, cross the River Gordon-how? -well, never mind, it's got to be done. You negotiate the Junction Range, swim or wade the Harwood River, cross Counsel Mountains, flounder in button-grass bogs, have the distinction of being the first to climb these peaks north of Port Davey, and there you are in no-man's land. You have finished the wager route, but your food bag is empty, your clothes torn to rags, no soles to your boots, and you are still several days from civilisation. Not even your skeleton, which the devils will have picked clean, will be found for a century or two."
"I don't care for such picnics," the Queenslander admitted "Let's have a drink." And that being the only sensible proposition made during the evening, we had it.

If I attempted to write of each town of the rich north-west that I passed through or stayed at, I should be risking tedium for the reader, for they are, in a sense, made off the same last: though I wish to make it plain that the journey is through perhaps the very sweetest farming country in the whole of Australia. The story of these now well~stablished and populous towns is, first the explorer taking his life in his hands and pushing into the wilderness; then the adventurous settler of the early days gambling with fate for a living from mining, farming or timber-getting; and finally the business communities that formed the nucleus of the towns that are the hubs of the outlying farming areas. If you had just walked with me for the dozen or so miles from Ulverstone, on the Leven, across the Forth and the Don to Devonport at the mouth of the Mersey you would see the why and the wherefore of the settlements. The land is all in small holdings, the soil as rich as butter. Into the front doors of the dwellings blows the ozone from the sea sparkling a few yards away; then for five, ten or twenty miles stretches a belt of undulating chocolate earth, and behind that the mountains that so effectively prevent extension of settlement south-ward. Every farm has a permanent creek or else is on the bank of a broad river. Each town seems to have a harbour
-either for big ships or small-and when I passed by, on all the wharves there were such stacks of potatoes that I concluded I must be right if I addressed the name of "Mick" to any inhabitant I chanced to accost. Devonport, built on both banks of the Mersey, is the last of the towns right on the coast-and about the biggest of them-and then you dip inland.

Latrobe might be labelled, like the hymn-books, "Ancient and Modern". I found several antiques in it, both animate and inanimate, the first being a piece of machinery. Johnny Hicks proudly exhibited to my curious inspection an Oldsmobile motor car-the oldest on the coast, and perhaps in the island-bearing the date 1895. It was a one-cylindered contraption, with the crank-handle on the side, the engine at the back, and if you opened the top of the bonnet you discovered it to be the "boot" of coaching days and filled with sundry impedimenta. Thirty miles to the gallon and twentyeight miles per hour were statistics imparted by the owner who had just done a trip to Launceston; many years ago the vehicle penetrated to Great Lake, an area then guiltless of a road for the last twenty-five miles of the way.
Among the many activities of Latrobe are agriculture, shale, talkies, church missions, tourists, Christmas cycle championships, and, in January, a Henley. On Henley Day all roads lead to Latrobe. If you rise early to get behind the scenes you will notice a quiet bustle. Behind closed doors proprietors of establishments make ready, children dress for the parade, horses are groomed, cycles furbished up. The hotel maid, eager for a half holiday, makes your bed whilst you are in the bath. Decorations proceed at Bell's Parade, the cafeteria prepares for a hungry horde, picnickers choose shady spots and hefty axemen exercise their muscles and sharpen their weapons. Puffing trains unload arrivals from afar and strings of motors elude vigilant policemen at crossroads. As I entered the sports ground I noticed blocks being prepared for the con-tests, the three inches of water at the diving place being inspected prior to the incoming tide, and motor boats, gaily apparelled for prizes, being propelled expectantly before the crowd. When the programme begins, the one trouble is that you have failed to come equipped with an extra pair of eyes, for at times the events are proceeding two at once.
I congratulate myself that I happened on Latrobe on its gala day. Country people do not take their pleasures sadly. They drink enjoyment to the dregs and it is good to be among them. "Blase"' is a word for city dictionaries only.

The very first settler hereabouts was a lady, Miss Moriarty, who had a grant of 2,000 acres in 1836, and it is fitting that a nearby township is named after her. On 22 February 1861, Latrobe was named by Proclamation, and two years later the population had reached 29. The Mersey was originally known as "Second Western River", the Meander being the first.
The Latrobites remind you proudly that they were the first on the coast to have a gas supply, but they have forgotten that in railway construction they figured in a dead-heat for the honour of being first in the field. The rich grain-producing lands of Deloraine were responsible for a contest between the ports of the Mersey and Tamar for the export trade, and in 1862 a meeting was held at Latrobe to form a company to build a railway to Deloraine. The Government offer to grant two square miles of land for every mile constructed was too alluring to be turned down without a struggle, but the unbusinesslike company, beginning their job in the middle, backed a forlorn hope. However, the Mersey and Deloraine Tramway Company duly built twelve miles in the middle of the route and ran their first train in February 1871; and in the same month the more substantial Western Railway Company opened its line from Deloraine to Launceston. Deloraine coquetted with both fairy godmothers. The bright idea behind the Mersey project was that it would link up the intervening miles to Deloraine by horse-drawn carts, but the bush track in winter was a gluepot and the company soon went bankrupt. Fifty thousand pounds were sunk in the mud, but what the misguided company did with its 12,360 acres of land (part of which was at Deloraine) I have not enquired.
Perhaps some mathematician will work out the amount by which the taxation of Tasmania would be lessened if the island had not been sprinkled all over with Lost Endeavours - roads beginning and ending nowhere and now growing good crops of gum trees; tracks opened and obliterated by disuse; canals cut and smothered by sand; har-bours built for ships that never used them; railways whose main work was to lose money; piers pushed into the sea to rot; bridges that invited floods to bear them away; shafts sunk where there was no metal; towns built and aban-doned! Doubtless other countries have guided their in-habitants into blind alleys and left them there, but surely none can have a record in this respect to beat Tasmania 5.

Thirteen miles take you from Latrobe to Port Sorell, once a penal station, but now a popular seaside resort. You wind over hill and dale, pass orchards and farms, get vistas of bush and crops and seascape, pass chocolate paddocks nurturing heavy-fleeced sheep and fat cattle, and envy the owners of the comfortable holdings. You thread Wesley Vale and Northdown and come on the picnic grounds with their score of cars and sundry tents, notice swings working overtime, swim suits parading on shapely bodies, nets drying, boats going down to the sea for 'coota and cod, and thus explore the indentations of Port Sorell harbour.
Then you cross the Rubicon, and if you do as I did you sleep under a hedge near Frankford, for it is too far to walk comfortably to Beaconsfield in one day.
It is not often that the miracle of resurrection is performed on a dead mining town, but Beaconsfield is an exception. The earth that once contained gold has proved itself capable of growing apples and stock feed, and Beaconsfield, once the third largest of our towns, has slipped back only fourteen places. Gold was discovered in 1877 by William Dalley, and so rich was the mine, known as the Tasmania Gold Mine, that in the next seven years it paid no fewer than sixty-six dividends. By the time it ceased working in 1913 the shareholders had received 772,000. They chased the metal down 1,500 feet, but then the water beat them. There really seemed to be another River Tamar down there, and so the hopes of the shareholders, many of whom had practically lived on their dividends, were eventually drowned.
After walking through this district I came to the conclusion that Paterson and his confreres of 1804 were a parcel of incompetents. As I have described in Chapter 4' there was a triangular contest for the distinction of being chief town of the north between York Town, George Town and Launceston. Had Paterson moved just five miles and called what is now Beaconsfield Launceston it is quite possible that today it would have been the larger city and perhaps the capital. The site is suitable for building and for extension, the land good for agriculture, and Beauty Point can berth large ships. Water conservation might have cost a lot, but not so much as the Marine Board has had to spend. If Launceston had been planted near Beauty Point the city might have had the honour of entertaining the ocean liners and other leviathans, and a ship like the Loongana on which tourists were for many years expected to enjoy the sport of crossing the straits would have been designated a mere dinghy. Melbourne would have exported a thousand passengers per trip at holiday times. Paterson moved about thirty miles too far, but the consolation is that he chose at Launceston a most lovely spot.

Chapter Eleven

 

 

 

Tasmania by Road and Track - by E T Emmett was originally published by Melbourne University Press.
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