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

Chapter 15

I walk right round Great Lake, tell Tasmania's trout epic, resurrect two Irish exiles, am taught how to catch snakes, attend a back blocks' race meet, dance till breakfast time and inspect Australia's oldest bridge at Richmond.

From Waddamana, the power station of the Hydro Electric Department, I walked right round Great Lake. Great Lake is not nearly as beautiful as St Clair, though from the hills at the northern end it presents a pretty picture. On the western side, after ascending Murderer's Hill, the going is comparatively uninteresting, for there are miles of the typical lake country, nearly treeless; with an occasional button-grass bog to negotiate. On the eastern side the raising of the normal level of the lake caused by the dam at Miena was something of a nuisance to me, for there were several points at which the. track apparently committed suicide by plunging straight into the lake, and sometimes there was considerable difficulty in picking it up again. Indeed, I had visions of trying what the hollow logs in the district are like for beds, but luckily just at dusk I came on a dwelling. The shepherd and his family who succoured me have since left the place, and where they are I do nor know. I hope they have struck Tatt's and retired, for they were of nature's nobility, and deserve a good turn of fortune. There were but two rooms in the hut and a family of half a dozen, yet there was room-and a welcome-for the benighted stranger. This was the fifth hut I had called at since leaving Miena, and nowhere was I allowed to pass without at least a snack of something. In my knapsack was plenty of food, but not once did I use it. Shepherd of the Great Lake, thy name is Hospitality!

Editors Note: The family of which Emmett speaks here is probably the Wilson family of the Steepes, whose final member died (aged 92) in 1972. Their small homestead is maintained by the Central Highlands Community groups. Tea and scones are available when the home is open for visitors.

Great Lake is 3,333 feet above sea level and is some fifteen miles long, with a catchment area of 150 square miles, In 1911 the Hydro-Electric Power and Metallurgical Company built a small dam at Great Lake and conveyed the water to Waddamana; but in 1914 the assets were taken over by the Government and placed under the direction of a Hydro-Electric Department formed for the purpose. There are now two power stations at Waddamana with a total capacity of over 132,000 horse power. Lake St Clair was similarly harnessed later, with a power station at Tarraleah, and other developments are in hand. The power is used to produce zinc, carbide, cement, paper, aluminium, as well as supplying numerous small industrial users and domestic consumers. Tasmania possesses seventy-five per cent of the water power of Australia and doubtless this is the island's greatest asset. It is calculated that ninety per cent of the population is served with electricity.

Great Lake has been declared by visiting anglers to be one of the world's best trout fishing grounds, and the tale of the stocking of the lakes and rivers with trout from the Old Country is an epic. Irish exile Mitchel concluded his rhapsody on the beauties of the central lakes by bemoaning the fact that not a trout was there. It was the one blot on the otherwise fair escutcheon. Yet before a decade had passed not only was Great Lake stocked, but overstocked! The first attempt was made in 1842 with no success, followed ten years later by a more elaborate attempt, still unsuccessful, which cost 300 pounds. Several more shipments were tried, the ova perishing in transit, and it was not till 1864 that success came, the ova being packed in moss, and on 20 April the consignment, transhipped at Melbourne from the ship Norfolk, was delivered at the specially constructed ponds at Plenty. Tasmania was thus the first place in Australasia to introduce trout, and both New Zealand and the continent of Australia were stocked from the island. In the cool waters of the lakes and streams the transplanted fish throve amazingly, and angling is now one of the recognized assets of the state, the government taking a hand in its control. Fish up to nearly 29 lb. weight have been caught, and the average weight in Great Lake and adjoining streams is considerable. In my walk round Great Lake I saw hundreds of the speckled beauties in the creeks, and at the hut where I stayed the lady hostess informed me that she has frequently dipped one out of the creek in the kerosene tin that serves as a household bucket. At St. Marys, on the east coast, feeding "tame trout" is a feature at the hotel, where a creek nuns through the garden.

Thirty miles or so east of Great Lake is Interlaken, between Lakes Sorell and Crescent. Row with me across Lake Sorell from the guest-house and round that pretty corner on the far side. Here are the remains of an old hut, and if you are from the land of the Shamrock you will take off your hat, for you will wish to salute the erstwhile home of the exile, Meagher.
Had the rebellion attempted by the "Young Ireland" party in 1848 occurred five years later, some other land would have sheltered the seven ringleaders, for in 1853 transportation to Tasmania ceased. The exile of these talented, misguided men, from the standpoint of today's generation, is one of the most picturesque episodes in the history of the island. Reading details of their sojourn we find ourselves sympathizing with the exiles and castigating those gaolers who inflicted upon them seemingly unnecessary hardships. Governor Denison appeared to be unreasonably harsh, and he punished by dismissal Superintendent Lapham, of Maria Island, for his kindness to Smith O'Brien.
Six of the Irishmen gave their parole, the exception being Smith O'Brien, who was imprisoned at Maria Island and afterwards at Port Arthur as a punishment for attempted escape. O'Brien, when broken in health, and on the urgent solicitations of the colonists, finally gave his parole. Ultimately he was pardoned and made his way back to Ireland,
The others were well scattered over the island, and though it was a condition that they should not break hounds, fairly frequent opportunities were seized for meetings. Lake Sorell was a favourite rendezvous, though it is said that the letter but not the spirit of the regulation was kept by their meeting at the exact junction of the four municipalities to which they were allotted. This must be a legend, for how could there be a common borderline spot for men to meet from Launceston, Campbell Town, Bothwell and New Norfolk? Neither do I understand why Mitchel and Martin were allowed to live together at Bothwell if it were collusion the authorities were desirous of preventing.

At the rate our population is growing it will be years before the shorts of Lake Sorell are again frequented, Meagher's corner, near Dog's Head promontory, is still the "untamable bush" that Mitchel described. Shall we people it again for just about one minute? The "sunburnt fellow" is Meagher. The lady is Mrs Meagher, his young Tasmanian bride. Tom Egan takes charge of our horses, and sailor Jack is there to navigate the boat that six bullocks had hauled for 75 miles through the bush. The haggard man with bloodshot. eyes and figure bent by suffering is John Mitchel, and with him is Martin, his faithful companion of Nant cottage. McManus has found his way from Launceston, and O'Dogherty from New Norfolk. The Stars and Stripes float from the flagpole and beneath the shade on the shores of this lake than which, says Mitchel, "no lake on earth is more beauteous", they sit and talk of Ireland and her wrongs, of the local election, and of the Australasian League which is busying itself. in the effort to banish transportation to the fair lands of the antipodes.
Mitchel steals away and sits inside the cottage, paper before him, quill in hand. Let us peep oyer his shoulder to pick up a sentence here and there: "The air up in these regions seems to be even purer and more elastic than in other parts of the island, the verdure brighter, the foliage richer ... No signs of human life anywhere. No villas of Elizabethan, Gothic, or of Grecian structure crown select building sites along the shore. No boats tarry parasolled picnic parties under the direction of professional guides to the admitted points of attraction and back at evening to the big balconied hotel. Why should not Lake Sorell also be famous? Where glean's and ripples purer, glassier water, mirroring a brighter sky? ... Haunted art thou now by native devils only; and passholding shepherds whistle nigger melodies in thy balmy air. But spirits of the great and good who are yet to be bred in this southern hemisphere shall hover over thy wooded promontories in the years to come; every bay will have its romance (for the blood of man is still red, and pride and passion will yet make it burn and tingle until Time shall be no more), and the glancing of thy sunlit, moon-beloved ripples shall flash through the dreams of poets yet unborn."

Meagher's first Tasmanian residence was at Campbell Town, which he described as consisting of "one entire flourishing street and three broken and very languid ones". Later he removed to Ross where he met the lady who became his wife-Catherine Bennett-and after the marriage Lake Sorell became their home. By the aid of friends Meagher made his escape, crossing in a little boat to Waterhouse Island, off Bridport' where he remained in hiding for ten days, arriving in New York in May 1852. He never saw his Tasmanian bride again, though she journeyed to Dublin with the intention of crossing to America. Catherine Meagher died at Waterford at the age of 22. Meagher, "the hermit of the lake", as he was called, was drowned in the Missouri in July 1867-a tragic ending to a tragic career. The bones of the Meagher family lie in three continents: Meagher himself in America, his wife in Ireland, their infant son, Henry Emmet Fitzgerald O'Meagher in Richmond, Tasmania. The gravestone of the babe may be seen in the cemetery of St John's Catholic Church at Richmond.

On a Saturday morning a few miles before arriving at Interlaken from Great Lake side I saw three men entering a gate on the south side of the road. One carried a bag on his back. They waited till I came up.
"Hunting?" I queried.
"Yes," said he of the bag.
"But you have no gun and no dog", I remarked.
"We are catching 'em alive' explained the man." There certainly was a movement in the bag
"Rabbits must be tame up here", was my next hazard for that was the only game I knew of in these parts. I had seen hundreds of them.
"Who said they was rabbits? Like to have a look?"
The sack: seemed about a quarter full; and he opened it. I ask you to believe me when I say that were more than a score of large snakes inside! The jump I took across the road would have won at any sports contest.
"Got to make a living somehow" explained the "hunter", nonchalantly. "Come along for a minute or two and we'll teach you how to catch some.
I assured him I had not the least ambition in that direction, but on learning that this was the champion reptile resort of the Commonwealth. I decided to stifle my apprehension and watch for a bit..
The three were wearing rubber shoes for the sake of silence. I was glad that my own hoots were heavy and noisy, for I was admonished to follow well behind. It was a needless warning, for I dislike snakes intensely. I stood on a little knoll and watched. The leader, empty handed, stole with light tread towards the marsh, he of the bag followed next, and the third-newly apprenticed to the game I learned later-walked just behind the bagman. I hope the apprentice may live to gain his certificate of competency. In half a minute I saw the leader make a pounce, about three feet of snake came hurtling towards the man with the bag who picked it up with both hands after dropping the bag, whilst the third individual held open the receptacle to receive the addition. This was repeated a few times, the leader sometimes depositing his catch in the sack himself and sometimes passing it to his assistant.

Having borne it as long as my nerves would permit I fled to the guest-house, and seeking the proprietress begged that should the trio of lunatics seek accommodation for the night for themselves and their luggage she should inform them that I had engaged every room in the house. I never saw them again, nor do I wish to, but I want to make it quite clear that it was before I arrived at Interlaken I saw the snakes, for we had a somewhat heavy night opening and emptying bottles after the race meet and dance. Doubtless some of those participating in the junketing did think they saw green spiders and spotted snakes for a couple of days after; but prior to my snake adventure I had had nothing stronger than billy tea.
Ordinarily you might expect to find at Interlaken in the fishing or duck season from four to thirty persons sampling the good fare provided by the lessee of the guest-house; but when I arrived just in time for the midday luncheon it was abundantly evident that Carnival was in the air. I had luckily hit upon Interlakens' one and only Gala day, the attractions being hack races and a ball, which, not to be out of fashion, was prefixed on the posters with the word "Grand". Walking through a grove of gum trees from some of which fluttered printed bills, and between which fluttered the bright dresses of country maidens on their way to the revels, I imagined I had stumbled on Sharkespeare's Forest of Arden.
The "'racecourse" is on a strip of land between Lakes Sorell and Crescent, and there I was a privileged spectator at what must really be Tasmania's most rural sports gathering. I had been at the Hobart Cup, and this afforded the biggest contrast possible. Scores of cars were parked under great gum trees, the users being the elite of the Midlands. On horseback and on foot shepherds and their families had come from fifty miles around, and the scene was just one big picnic The true spirit of Australia is present at such a gathering, and I wondered if there were a country on earth like it. Class distinctions are totally submerged and the gentlefolk - true gentlefolk descended from England's best-mingle easily and naturally with the sons and daughters of the soil I recalled many English friends of mine transplanted to Australia, who, having enriched themselves, had returned to the land of their birth only to realize after a year's sojourn at "Home" that they had left behind them the freest and sunniest land on earth. Bag and baggage they came back again to live under the Southern Cross, immigrants for the second and final time. Interlaken races told me why, as plainly as though they spoke.
This race meeting is unique. There. were no bookmakers and no tote. The only gambling was a shilling sweep on each race. I was the heaviest winner of the day for I drew the trot champion and pocketed ten shillings. But everyone was as interested as if he had laid a fiver on each event. They took it as a matter of course that the first race should be two hours behind time and the others correspondingly late. The races were all "post entry", the basic idea behind the handicapping being to ensure that no horse won too many races. With a twinkle in his eye the handicapper weighted one nag at 9 St. 7 lb., remarking that it might please the jockey though he could not possibly go to scale at less than 13 stone! The weight steward formally presided at a set of scales suspended from a gum bough, while the Bar-that most necessary part of a day's enjoyment -was beneath a tarpaulin fixed to a tree. The proprietor judged matters nicely, and had nothing left to carry home except a few empty casks and a load of bottles.
That the jockeys enjoyed the proceedings was most evident. Everybody was pleased that the one-armed rider got his nag first past the post twice, but in the "steeple-chase" he was disqualified for dodging a "fence". I think the third past the post got the prize, but there were cries of "Run it over again", which I learned was the usual method of settling disputes. The "fences" were wooden frames about eighteen inches high, adorned with tea-tree brush, and some of the contestants had a preliminary go at them, just for practice. In the Hunter Trial I noticed one lad (who had in the steeplechase enjoyed a most spectacular fall) careering up to the hurdle with his left hand waving to the crowd and just before rising to the obstacle turning round to admonish the onlookers to "Watch me this time; hup, hup, hover, Neddy".
I was conducted round the course by an old resident who apologized for the meet having become too civilized. He pointed out a spot that is a quagmire on a wet day into which a few years back a local lad had been thrown from his jibbing steed. His mother, when he was extracted covered with mud, sluiced him to recognition with a bucket of water, and the boy's explanation to his expostulating parent was that he was "trying to do the b....... platypus act". Past happenings were discussed, and I gathered that I had missed much by not having been an annual visitor.
At night the least used item in the guest-house was a bed for the ball is crowded from eight o'clock till daylight. The function has to be kept going till the small hours, for the bush beauties and their swains could not be pushed out early because of lack of roads to most of the homes. After the local M.C. had danced himself to exhaustion I was honoured by being elected to the position, and I had no cause to regret that my education had included dancing. If a girl happened to be left a "wallflower" for two consecutive dances she went gracefully to sleep on the nearest shoulder or chair-back. Sleeping children were parked in safety under the forms. Three good humoured policemen were on duty, but their work consisted in looking on. Only one individual appeared to have emptied more than the orthodox number of bottles, and he let off steam by singing comic songs between the dances. Had Sir James Barrie attended he would have found a hundred of those delightful people who "never grow up". In these wanderings I have sampled Tasmania for something under a couple of thousand miles, and the place I most want to return to is Interlaken. It is not only the local beauties that are an alluring memory, but the setting of the lakeshore guest-house, with its outlook on water and mountain, is very near to perfection.

Of the thirty thousand tourists who descend upon Hobart like a swarm of locusts every season, possibly a hundred find their way to Richmond, though it is but fourteen miles from the city. These human locusts consume the bacon and strawberries and eggs and apples and other good things grown for their delight, but about one pig and two cases of apples would suffice to feed the few stragglers who spend an hour in the old-time village that has left its vociferous youth behind and settled down to a sedate and beautiful old age. Richmond has no waterfalls, no caves, no forests, no mountain panoramas-none of the things beloved by today's tourist who is educated to live on thrills. When I threw off my little swag in the hall of one of the two inns and asked if I might have a room for the night, the proprietor said he would enquire, and disappeared to the back of the premises. I knew that his hesitancy was not by reason of having to display the sign "house full", but because he was doubtful of the staff being equal to the strain of putting up a boarder. When I saw my room I wondered if I were the first visitor since the inn was built over a century ago. Certainly it was scrupulously clean, but there was no soap, no water bottle, no tooth glass, no bedside rug on the cold linoleum. It was simply not a tourist hotel. Were a visitor shown into a room like that at Port Arthur or Swansea or Brown's River he would either murder the proprietor or move on elsewhere. And in the evening when I expected inspiration from the comfort of a country log fire I was frozen, brain and body, before that modern abomination a radiator. These deficiencies are not, however, the fault of the proprietor, but of the tourist who passes by. Demand will always ensure supply. No doubt my remarks will soon become out of date, for the place will be "discovered". I place Richmond among the "high spots" of southern Tasmania, and so will anyone who loves quietness and rural
prospects and ancient architecture. But for the gum trees the visitor might fancy he had dreamt himself into an English village remote from the busy world of commerce.
"The big house on the left," said the woman of whom I sought some local information and a fill for my billy, "is Carrington." Could Carrington speak it would no doubt ruefully shake its head and deplore the quietness of the times, for its infancy was an exciting one. Governor Thomas Davey, who followed Collins, first selected Carrington Park, and the year 1816 saw it raided twice, first by Michael Howe on 8 September, and secondly by a gang consisting of Jones, Collier and others, including two native girls, when its inmates were singing "Peace on earth; good-will to men" - on Christmas Day!

Outside Hobart, among the first districts to be settled were Pittwater (now Sorell), Coal River (now Richmond) and Hollow Tree (which I cannot identify). Before the Sorell Causeways were built the way to Pittwater and the east coast was through Richmond, and when Port Arthur was established, the traffic increased rapidly. There were seven inns and two saleyards, and Richmond was a bustling community, but the stream of traffic was diverted by the causeway and Richmond has been left high and dry. In the churchyard of the Anglican Church I encountered a middle-aged lady and some young people who invited me to join them in scaling the ladders to the clock tower, from which point of vantage I was shown the original seven inns and treated to a geography lesson on old Richmond. I was urged to inspect the gaol, the courthouse and burial grounds. The goal pre-dates Port Arthur, for it and the courthouse show the date 1825. The church itself is nearly as old, and celebrated its centenary in 1934. The oldest stone I could find in the churchyard bore the name Thomas Kearney, 28 December 1823; and other monuments commemorated James Ross, LL.D., who left a wife and thirteen children behind in 1838; J K. Buscombe, one of the earliest innkeepers; and the William

Jemott who, with one Gatehouse, was supposed to know something of the cause of the death of road-maker Denis McCarty, the ghost of the New Norfolk road.
The Catholic Church, as usual, is perched upon a hill, and Richmond St John's has the distinction of being the oldest existing Catholic Church in Australia, the foundation stone having been laid by the first Archbishop of Sydney, John Bede Polding, in August 1835, the resident priest being James Coltham.
But the "lion" of Richmond is the six-arch stone bridge bearing the date 1823. This may be second in interest to the bridge over the Macquarie River at Ross, but it is fifteen years older, and is mainly responsible for luring tourists to the village.
Richmond is a magnet that will draw me back again many times.

Chapter Sixteen







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