home | tasmania by road and track | flinders island | sydney | sailing the channel

Chapter 11

I visit a lavender farm, see what the floods did, take tea with the world's oldest clergyman, pass Australia's biggest orchard, and tell of some old Inns.

There are two roads from Launceston to Scottsdale, and I was sorry I could not manage both. The most picturesque is that by way of the Sideling, with its matchless peeps from hilltops and its forests of myrtle and fern. I turned this down with reluctance, for I wished to give myself the pleasure of strolling under the pear pergola of the Lalla orchard and along the paths of the Bridestowe Lavender Estate, at Lilydale.
Lilydale curls snugly in a saucer of hills, and on a sunny morn it is a riot of colour. Willows, poplars, oaks, black-berries, Virginia creeper and hosts of others flaunt their sun-kissed foliage, and scarlet apples hang on leafless branches. I walked under what seemed a mile of pears and accepted the invitation of the owner to pack my kit with as many as I could carry.
The proprietor of Bridestowe is a transplanted Englishman. This bundle of energy set to work with a dozen or so acres of bushland, and now you walk through fields of French lavender without a weed in them. Round the homestead are well-tended flower beds and trellises of roses. The owner combines artistry with business instincts, a combination that is rare. He has successfully established the only industry of its kind in Australia. Oil of lavender is distilled on the premises and fragrant sachets of the plant are made up in thousands in the workroom.
It was fairly late when the lights of Scottsdale winked their welcome, for it is over twenty miles from Lilydale, and it was with relief that I threw off the swag that had seemed so light after breakfast. The town is one of the most solid in the island; mixed farming and timber getting are the main activities. It is a great dairying area, as the busy staff at the butter factory indicate.
About fifteen miles off the north-east coast is the Fun-ders Island Group, named after the first circumnavigator of Tasmania. Tasmanians refer to "Flinders Island where the mutton birds come from", and that is all the majority know about it. On the islands of the grouj) time is meas-ured by the "birding seasons", and the folk engaged in the business speak of "the hirding season before last", or remark that such and such an event happened "just before birding". The mutton bird-really a sooty petrel-is one of the most interesting denizens of the coasts and islands. Between September and November they come ashore to clean out their nests and prepare for sitting. In the eve-ning they seem to be dropping from the sky in thousands, and at break of day out they go again in "never ending line" on their trek to the ocean. On 24 and 25 November the mother bird, with an unalterable exactitude that would have appealed to the Medes and Persians, lays her one egg, and male and female work in shifts in sitting to hatch it. In the autumn the nests are robbed of the chickens, and the casks you see lying at every port and in every backyard do not betoken drunken population, for if you sniff them the odour is oil, not beer. And these salted mutton birds that you buy in winter from your grocer make a most appetizing, if somewhat rich, dish. They may be a little too fat to suit all tastes; but a grilled leg of mutton bird is far from a bad start for the day, according to my own tastes.

Soon after Scottsdale you pass through miles of the best dairying land in the island till you come to the tin mining area at Derby. Poor Derby went through Noah's experi-ence in April 1929, and was nearly washed away. The dam at the Briseis Mine, containing some 360 million gallons of water, burst, and inundated the countryside. I met a man who told me that he and his wife, escaping from their cottage just in time, stood and saw a stable contain-ing nine horses and six men washed away. Horses and men were all drowned. The great crater of the mine filled up with water and debris and that was the end of the Briseis. Mining has slumped all around, mainly owing to the low price of tin. I wonder where all those three thousand Chinese have got to who used to foregather at Weldbor-ough at New Year in the Joss House that is now derelict. Perhaps they are growing vegetables or ironing collars somewhere.
Between Weldborough and the next town is a myrtle forest that is a revelation, and again I was glad I could not afford a motor car. If you are better supplied with wealth, buy a seat in a touring car and ask the driver to make his speed five miles an hour round here, for those ferns and that foliage were not meant for those in a hurry. This little bit is the gem of the whole east coast road.

Pyengana, the main population of which is cows, has two claims to distinction. It has one of the finest water-falls in the island (St Columba) and it once claimed the world's oldest clergyman, who died in '935, in his Io7th year. The Rev. C. F. L'Oste lived at St Helens, where I had the honour of meeting him on a Sunday afternoon at a house where three clergymen met for a weekly chat over their tea and pipes. I gathered that for his longevity he thanked tobacco and the fact that no woman had led him to the altar-as yet. As I peered at the centenarian through the haze of four pipes, the bright idea came that I might earn a bonus from the proprietors of the particular brand of tobacco he smoked, but it was an illusion, for in answer to my query regarding brand I learned that- in keeping with his lifelong attitude towards womankind-he had no favourite. All was tobacco that came to Mr L'Oste's pipe, but though he admitted that some brands were too strong for him, an extra mild tobacco kept him smoking all day long. He was an enthusiast in this regard, and de-clared positively that all poets, all scientists and all the best brain workers are smokers. When I mentioned that our mutual friend the Bishop also enjoyed his pipe, the old man promptly enquired how I imagined that a man who had the Bishop's worries could possibly do without a pipe. Presuming that he was of French extraction, I was in-fo?med that his ancestors had crossed the Channel follow-ing tjle Edict of Nantes and that his great-great-grand-father was Bishop of Lowry. His first Tasmanian parishes were in the Huon district and at Bruny; afterwards he was at Waratah, and from 1881 for 25 years he was Rector of St Helens, performing the long journeys to outlying parts-including Weldborough~on a bicycle till the age at 8o. It was after his hundredth birthday that he enjoyed a trip in an aeroplane, peering down with eager interest at the hilly roads of the diocese travelled a quarter of a century earlier on his old "boneshaker".
St Helens is surprisingly big, and when you enquire what it lives on residents scratch their heads. Some tin mining, dairying, a dozen fishermen, and tourists - these seem to be the main source of income. The streets are planted with shady. trees, roads encircle the bay, houses nestle on the hillsides, sleeping, catlike, in the sunshine which the recorder certifies as treating St Helens to a high average of hours daily. When I retire I shall take my wrecked rem-nants to St. Helens. I shall buy two acres and equip my establishment with a boat and a wheelbarrow so that fish for table and wood for firing will cost me nothing. I here extend a cordial invitation to all readers to visit me on '8 May 1971, for I should like a merry party on my hun-dredth birthday.

As I walked through a peffect afternoon of sunshine, and on into the dew of evening, over the dozen miles of road between St Helens and Scamander I congratulated myself for the thousandth time that I was not motoring. The little stretch might be selected as typical of hundreds of miles of the northern coasts where the roads, like impressionable human beings, are reluctant to wander far from the seashore for fear of losing themselves in the forests and ravines of the interior. The way is nearly level, and exhibits its love of variety by threading little groves of gums, skirting lagoons where surely myriads of wild duck have been shot in the years since settlement, dipping occasionally almost on to the beaches and traversing miles of flowery plains where the brilliant red heath, powerfully scented blossoms and star-shaped yellow florets combine with their taller brethren, honeysuckle, mimosa, oaks, native cherries and boobyalla in stocking this garden of the bush. On this par-ticular evening in the lagoons, smooth as glass, the hills and forests and sandbanks were mirrored, and as the creeping dusk heralded a gradual extinction of the glories of the day, the gathering gloom showed that it, too, has its beauty. The hills around St Marys changed from green to blue, from blue to black, and faded slowly from black-ness to oblivion.
Scamander consists of a dance hall, an hotel, and a river that strenuously objects to being bridged. When I passed it was midday, and there had not been a drop of rain for a month. Looking at the wrecked ends of the several bridges that a puzzled Public Works Department has thrown across from time to time, you wonder what could have persuaded the middles to move further towards the sea and protrude an unsightly wreckage above the placid surface. The Scamander wears as innocent an expression as Barney, the Bucking Mule, before the first unwary urchin bestrides him. But the Scamander goes berserk every now and then. When the snows melt and the rains descend, changing dry gullies into raging torrents, the advent of these racing newcomers excites the usually sober parent stream. His amble becomes a canter and then a gallop, and in his bolting career he drags with him great trees and driftwood, and many a bridge has been carried away in the mad rush. The Scamander has made a pact with these dwellers that they shall have an acquaintance with the great ocean, and thither he bears them in company with the piles and planking that long-suffering taxpayers have fashioned into a bridge. The philosophic Public Works Department rested awhile in the contest, and for a time a punt coughed
its way across the gap with vehicles and passengers until another bridge was built and has remained-so far.
From Scamander you ascend the half-dozen miles of St Marys Pass, looking back now and then over the tree tops to the ocean, and, after you have sampled the pretty little town, make away from it down Elephant Pass to sea level. Were you driving a shying horse or a car with weak steering gear this Elephant Pass would give you sufficient thrills to spoil your slumber for one night at least, for the gorges are deep and the road in places unfenced. But for a pedestrian who needs neither brake nor steering-wheel the descent is an hour or so of sheer delight. Nearby is the green forest, and away beyond it gleam the white beaches of Bicheno rimming an ocean of blue that outdoes the Mediterranean, as many a traveller has declared.

As has been shown before in these pages, some of the towns that bid fair to flourish a hundred years ago have belied their early promise and remained stationary, but Swansea is an exception. It was in July 1820 that George Meredith and his family were recommended as settlers and they established themselves at Great Swanport, taking with them as helpers Adam and John Amos and their families. There was a clash with one Talbot, who ran up a building to establish his rival claim, but the Governor finally de-cided the feud by giving Mr Talbot a thousand acres in another part of the colony, and Meredith, the first settler, remained in undisturbed possession. You must admire the big hearts of these pioneers, pushing themselves nearly a hundred miles from the port of entry into a land devoid of roads, with several quite substantial rivers to cross, and always the chance of being murdered by escaped convicts or by the natives. I am glad that a river in the district has put George Meredith's name on the map for ever.
As I swung into the little town in the late afternoon and watched the ~ys of the setting sun lighting the mountains of Forestier Peninsula across the sweep of Oyster Bay, I marvelled at the beauty of a country that can possess a score or more of such scenes. At first I told myself that this was quite the finest coastal sight yet, and then I remem-bered others north, south, east and west till my memory was just a maze. But if you catch the sunlight just right this view will ravish you. I had come forty-three miles round about from Cole's Bay, though across the harbour it is only about ten miles. The Hazards show grandly, and still more imposing rise the peaks of Schouten Island, a ser-rated chain of cobalt blue, with a fringe of white breakers on the seaward side. There is enough granite in those mountains to build a couple of Londons.
Swansea lives partly on tourists, and there are comfort-able guest-houses and an hotel which faces on to the beach. In the evening I plunged from modernity right into the past by paying a visit by way of the ghostly moonlit golf links to century-old Schouten House, once the Swansea Inn, In this great building-exposed to all the winds that blow, and which might serve as a counterpart to Don Byrn's Hangman's House-then lived an octogenarian lady. Miss Mitchell had a small museum of curios and antiques which she loved to show to visitors, and the pro-ceedings opened-rather like taking the savoury before the soup -by a playing of Auld Lang Syne on the ancestor of the modern pianola, an Organette, patented in the U.S.A. in 1881. The exhibit that appealed most to me was a wooden "portmanteau" about eighteen inches long, which in the year 1811 contained the whole of Miss Mitchell's grandmother's luggage when she journeyed from Ply-mouth to London by coach to be married. A bride's lug-gage in this receptacle! My wife's shopping bag would hold as much.
And when I was privileged to turn over the pages of her sister Kate's scrap-book I wished it had been compulsory for every old family to keep one, especially where there happened to he an artist of Kate's ability. Nearly every episode was portrayed by a sketch. In these pen-and-ink and pencil drawings you watched the sisters and their partners setting out, in 1872, for the two-day journey (now five hours) to the annual May Ball at Government House, the ladies on horseback, the men driving tandems. The Little Swanport River is in flood and the sisters are rowed across, perched precariously in the bow, whilst projecting over the stern of the frail dinghy are the wheels of the vehicle. On the morning of the ball, we see the party leav-ing Ye Olde Buckland Inne for the last stage, and finally the ballroom in all its old-time glory. Poring over these relics of the days of crinolines and top-hats, I was surprised when the cuckoo clock reminded me that it was time to hurry away. Perhaps other families have similar relics, but never before had it been my privilege to examine them.
It was about daybreak when I moved off from Swansea, and the sun rose behind the Schoutens and changed their blue to pink. The road is mostly in sight of the coast, and as you leave the miles behind you various islands, big and little, poke their heads from the sea. I suppose the "Hen and Chickens" and "White Rock" are really drowned mountains. Soon appears the northern edge of the fifteen-mile-long Maria Island, with the Bishop and Clerk and Mount Maria rising sheer from the ocean up to a couple of thousand feet; then I walked across "Spiky Bridge", its sides decorated with upright splinters of basalt, leading to the eternal prison buildings of the eighteen-twenties, the stone stable bigger than my city home. On the bridge further on, across the Little Swanport, I passed two men who had been busy with much satisfaction to themselves, but with very little, I should say, to the bream, for their bags were full of struggling beauties. This appetizing fish is common in many of these east coast rivers.

There are two items that will make Triabunna, or Spring Bay, an abiding memory. A few miles north of the towil-ship lies a vast orchard, in fact one of the mammoth plan-tations of the world. For three and a half miles I skirted this Brobdingnagian apple and pear orchard and my one regret was that I was unable in words to convey the effect. I suppose the number of pear trees runs into four figures, and on this day it was a veritable orgy of red and gold. Acres upon acres of flashing russet and gold, and then hundreds of rows of apple trees with the late "Democrats" painting the symmetrical arms scarlet. I learned that the one fault with the crop was that the apples were too big for marketing. Certainly they looked as though the quota would be one to a meal, with lockjaw a danger if you tried to bite one before halving it. On the opposite side of the road is the reservoir that ensures this abundance, from which a pump distributes 60,ooo gallons an hour. Stretch-ing away to the hills a further 500 acres had been cleared and cropped for fat lamb raising.

Maria Island, about seven miles from the coast, has slipped back in population since Tasman bestowed a name on it three hundred years ago. At one time there were some six or seven thousand people there, but to get that number now you would have to count the sheep. The original blacks were replaced in 1825 by a worse brand of savage, for Maria Island was a prison long before Port Arthur was settled. Lieutenant Murdoch was the first Commandant, at 7S. 6d. per day. His clerk's emolument was 7+d. a day, which presumably was the "basic wage" of the period. Nevertheless, had the clerk kept his position till the settlement was abandoned he would have saved suffi-cient of his 10 a year to enable him almost to buy the whole island, for you cannot spend money at Maria. I did not go across on this occasion, but when I was there some years ago there were no shops, no hotel, no picture-show, no two-up school. One might pitch a tent and live on beans, like Thoreau, in the best climate in the world. Even if the beans failed, there are fish in plenty.
This is such a delightful spot that even the prisoners enjoyed it, the only exception I have heard of being Smith O'Brien, the Irish exile. The first-graders in point of wicked-ness were sent to Macquarie Harbour, and class two to Maria. It was a worry to Governor Arthur that in spite of his exhortations to the Commandant to make the prison a place of dread it gained such a good name that convicts in employment with settlers absconded on purpose to be drafted to the island. The hours of labour were from 5 a.m. to 6 p.m.    It is not stated whether the clerical assistant on his 7&1/2d. a day observed the same hours as his charges. Many of the old buildings are still standing.

Orford, judging by the numerous bungalows, is the most popular week-ending resort on the east coast, and it was with reluctance that I crossed the wide bridge and tramped the riverside of Paradise Gorge where the Prosser delves its way to the sea. I noticed oysters in dozens cling-ing to the rocks below water and saw many a trout jump. This is the country where Governor Arthur got lost for a couple of days when commanding the "Black Line".
Where the Prosser peters out to brookuke dimensions stands the ancient village of Buckland. "Stand" is the word for Buckland, for it has seemingly stood still for a hundred years. Over a friendly glass of beer at Ye Olde Buckland Inne, however, mine host informed me that this somnolent village was still one of the richest places in Tasmania. "There are many fine farms hidden right away from the road," he volunteered. "Everybody has cash, and pays cash. Why, recently they raised 300 to renovate the church." The church mentioned by the patriotic beer-puller is the best-known country church in Tasmania, and every tourist stays to enter it. The tale is that the lovely stained glass window was presented by the Earl of Salis-bury, who walked through the district over a century ago, the said window having been buried away in England since Cromwell's time. Legends die hard, but the truth seems to be that the window was brought from England by the incumbent, the Rev. F. H. Cox, having been manu-factured in England to his order.

On 26 February 1805, Lieutenant-Governor Collins wrote to Lord Hobart that he had named the "peice" of water in the north-west corner of Frederick Henry Bay "Pittwater" in honour of the then Chancellor of the Exchequer. In 1816 Governor Davey wrote to Macquarie declining to come to a decision on such "an important measure as erecting a township there; but on 28 June 1821, Macquarie visited the place, approved the site, and bestowed the present name, Sorell.
One of the very earliest settlers at Pittwater was James Gordon, who selected six hundred acres in 1815, but for the first eighteen months he could not live on it on account of bushrangers. As he was a magistrate, he nearly found himself saddled with the management of the refractory women of the colony; Sorell would have built a reformatory for them there, but Macquarie preferred to have the erring ones nearer to him at Parramatta. The township's main trouble has always been the marketing of its produce.
I.Wade gave evidence that vessels from Sorell sometimes took a fortnight to get to Hobart, and that "two winds were required". James Gordon complained in 1820 that though the distance in a straight line was only twelve miles they had to cart twenty-two miles, while water carriage was forty miles. He advocated the Ralph Bay Neck Canal, and somebody began the job a hundred years later, but in the duel between contractor and sand the sand won, and James Gordon's project still remains unfinished. Payment for freight was originally one bushel in ten. The celebrated railway was built in 1892, but soon wore itself out financially in its strenuous and unsuccessful attempt to pay working expenses, and gave up the struggle in 1896. The only money made out of the Sorell railway was by the employees and by the contractor in Hobart for cartage. The tale goes that the railway never would have been built if a realistic report on the prospects of the undertaking had been produced at the right time.
From Mr Gordon's evidence in 1820, it appears that whenever the good folk of Sorell desired to get drunk, to get married or to be buried they had to go to Hobart Town. The two latter requirements evidently not being of great importance they were not remedied until the Anglican church and parsonage was completed in 1827. I cannot reconcile Mr Gordon's statement as to lack of an Inn with my other information, for Ballence's Inn is recorded as having existed at Pittwater in 1819. These old inns are difficult to trace, for they were frequently opened by some farmer who obliged travellers by accommodating them and then decided to do the thing properly by obtaining a licence. "John Barleycorn" was popularized also by the licensing of the Wheatsheaf somewhere in the district in 1822, and such hostelries as The Plough and Harrows and the Sorell Inn appeared in due course. The almanac of 1827 shows an inn as The Three Tanks, but I believe the name was really Three Trunks. A further complica-tion is that Pittwater extended to Richmond, and it is hard to say where the inns really stood. Another strange name in the Clarence district in 1837 was the sign of Carrier, His Beam, mine host being Henry Morrisby. But if you are interested in queer names for inns, look up Hobart Town's list before the 'thirties. In Collins Street was The Help Me Through the World, and in Argyle Street perhaps the champion of all the sign of Surely We Have Done Our Duty.

Chapter Twelve




Tasmania by Road and Track - by E T Emmett was originally published by Melbourne University Press.
The images on this site belong to Kelvin Markham and may only be reproduced with permission.
Please contact Kelvin Markham on 0419 152 612 or km@km.com.au