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
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
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.