Friday, September 18, 2009

Heritage Highway to Hobart - in search of Bushrangers

Last week I went to Hobart to learn of Tasmania’s history in particular about Van Diemen's Land bushranger, Matthew Brady.
It’s only a 200 mile journey from Launceston to Hobart but the Midlands are rich in the history of early settlement and most places still retain the names given by early settlers – Tunbridge, Jericho, Bagdad, Jerusalem (now Colebrook) and Oatlands.

The Heritage Highway, as it is now called, was once the stage coach route and in the early days there were four miliary posts between Hobart and the north and towns grew up around them. The soldiers’ duty was to apprehend bushrangers and escaped convicts.
The town of Oatlands still has 87 sandstone Georgian buildings, the largest collection in Australia – many of these were built by convict labour and today retain the character of the 19th Century. Included is the oldest Supreme Courthouse in the country.
Oatlands also has some remarkable modern metal sculptures dotted across the hillsides which remind the traveller of its history.
It is claimed that the first game of golf in Australia was played in the town of Bothwell on Alexander Reid's property 'Ratho' in the 1820s – this early golf course is still in use today. And Bothwell, being settled by Scots was the home of Australia's first and oldest pedigree Aberdeen Angus stud.
Pics: Metal sculptures on the hills – bushrangers and a troop of soldiers plus beautiful houses and Georgian buildings are everywhere

In 1642 Abel Tasman landed in Tasmania

Following the decline of Spain in the 16th century, the Dutch expanded their trading activities in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia). They wanted to explore and chart the waters off west coast Australia.
When Abel Tasman sailed with his two armed merchant vessels and crew of 110 men from Batavia, he was instructed to take possession of all continents and islands which he discovered.

On 1642 he sighted a land mass unknown to any European nation and gave it the name of ‘Anthony van Diemens Landt’ in honour of the Governor General of Batavia. A landing party came ashore on November 24 at what is now Blackman Bay and a second party took possession for the Dutch by planting a flag.
The ships then sailed eastward and discovered ‘Staten Landt’ (New Zealand) and other Pacific Islands.
There is no mention of Tasman entering Macquarie Harbour - perhaps like other later navigators he did not realise what was beyound The Gates.
Tasman died in 1659 - almost 150 years before Captain Cook charted the Australian coast.
For many years, Tasmania was known as Van Diemen’s Land and the west coast of Tasmania still reflects the remarkable voyages of those early Dutch navigators.
North of the entrance to Macquarie Harbour though the entrance to ‘Hell’s Gates’ (see later postings) are the peaks which still bear the names of Abel Tasman's ships - Heemskerck and the smaller Fluyt Zeehaen. Other Tasmanian coastal features still retain the Dutch names.
Pics: statue of Abel Tasman and his two ships (Hobart waterfront)

Hobart harbour - past

Hobart's present wharfs are built on reclaimed land.
In the days of the first fleet, ships docked in the Derwent River or tied up against the wooden wharf built on the tiny Hunter Island in Sullivan’s Cove. One of the first jobs assigned to the convicts was to construct a stone causeway joining the island to land. Today this area now has wharf buildings on it.
The information reads:
In the centre of this cove is a small island, connected with the mainland at low water, admirably adapted for the lands and reception of stores and provisions…
The Ocean and Lady Nelson are lying within half a cable’s length of the shore in nine fathoms. (David Collins, 1804)
In 1804 Colonel David Collins selected Sullivan’s Cove for the settlement on the Derwent. Hunter Island was linked to the cove by a causeway constructed by the first convicts. On this reclaimed sandpit the merchants built warehouses. For the first 30 years this area was the centre of commerce and shipping. At first there was a small jetty but no wharf and convicts, settlers and cargo had to be carried between ship and shore by boat.

It was not long before small shops were built along the causeway and land was reclaimed along the waterfront. After a fire wiped most of these out, new warehouses replaced them. Today these elegant buildings still grace Sullivan's Cove.
Pic: Information poster on waterfront and the section of the waterfront with restored wharf buildings

Reflections on the Lady Nelson

Considering the original Colonial Brig, Lady Nelson is pictured (in post above) at anchor in Sullivan's Cove in 1804, it’s quite remarkable to be able to sail on the replica vessel over 200 years later.

The Lady Nelson offers short cruises throughout the summer at only $15. It's a great way to see the harbour and to step back in history.
As a volunteer crew member, I managed two sails this weekend.

In the next dock is the Windward Bound which also provides harbour voyages and charters

Pic: Lady Nelson and Windeward Bound

Hobart Harbour – today

Today the harbour also houses a fishing fleet, harbour cruise boats both old and new, water taxis, ocean going yachts and also the Aurora Australis.
This polar vessel is an icebreaker/expedition ship which services the Australian Antarctic expeditions.
In the background is Mount Wellington with its snowy cap.
Pics: Antarctic exploration vessel and sculptures at Sullivan’s Cove remind visitors of Tasmania’s history of whaling and sealing

Relaxing for lunch on the Derwent River

What better way to enjoy the Derwent River and an excellent lunch than on one of the old ferry boats which once graced Sydney Harbour.
The Emmalisa has seen better days but she is still a fine old lady and offers morning, lunch and dinner cruises on the Derwent River.
Run by Captain Fells Cruises, this is the cheapest cruise on offer but don’t discount it because of the price.
When I was on the boat it struck me that Mount Wellington is unchanged from the time it was seen by the first convicts when they were ferried ashore to set up Hobarton, (now Hobart), Van Diemen’s Land.
Pics: Emmalisa and Hobart’s residential waterfront

Mount Wellinton - Hobart

Mount Wellington dominates the town of Hobart and overlooks the Derwent River and on a fine day it is worth a visit.
This dolerite mountain is over 4000 feet high and carries snow to 400 ft in the winter.
You can drive up (or cycle as some do!). The road winds to the very top where there is a viewing platform and an observation area. If you look closely you can just see Hobart's Wrest Point Casino on the bay.
But dress for the cold. Even on a good day the temperature can be 10degrees below that of Hobart and with nothing to stop it, the wind tries to blow you over.
From the top of the mountain you can get a 360 degree view of the south west of Tasmania and down to the Southern Ocean.
It’s remarkable.
Pics: Viewing platform and snow - it’s still cold in Southern Tasmania in September

Australia’s biggest market is in Hobart – Salamanca Market

Salamanca Place is situated on the Hobart waterfront.
The Georgian buildings which line the street were hand-hewn in sandstone and were originally built as warehouses for a busy harbour and growing settlement.
Today the area has become synonymous with arts, crafts, fine wining and dining and also with the very popular outdoor market held here ever Saturday.
Salamanca Market is Australia’s biggest, brightest and best outdoor market.
Stalls and vendors sell everything from hot baked potatoes to antiquarian books, from hand-carved craft in Huon pine to sheepskin boots – I bought some! And while you shop, buskers entertain the crowds.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Young Victoria

While in Hobart, I went to see the latest movie, Young Victoria.
Starring Emily Blunt, Rupert Friend and Paul Bettany.
The film written by Julian Fellowes, is a "dramatization of the turbulent first years of Queen Victoria's rule, and her enduring romance with Prince Albert".
This is a pleasant movie and would give it 3.5 stars.
Paul Bettany, who took the part of Lord Melbourne, is one of my favourite actors (Silas in Da Vinci Code and Dr Maturin in Master and Commander), but this was a very tame role for him, so, for me, his performance was a little disappointing.

Thomas Keneally - author popular in Hobart

Thomas Keneally has written and researched several books on Australian History and won major prizes from his works.
Last week I attended a talk he gave at Fullers Bookshop in Hobart and was amazaed that about 100 people crowded into the Collins Street shop, and that a good proportion bought his latest publication: Australians – from origins to Eureka.
Oh, to have that sort of following!
But if my latest research on Tasmanian bushranger, Matthew Brady leads to a published book, I will hope it will receive some support from the local Van Demonians.
Pic: Thomas Keneally, historical author, Hobart

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Strahan holiday in search of convict history

My main purpose for heading west was to experience the atmosphere of a place steeped in some of Tasmania's ugliest history and with practices if is not proud of.
Amongst those: the notorious penal settlement on Sarah Island; the treacherous entrance to Macquarie harbour known as Hell’s Gates, and a dead King River – the product of greed and subsequent environmental pollution.
My visit was part of my research on Matthew Brady, the Tasmanian bushranger and convict who was sent to Sarah Island in 1823. Twenty two months later, he escaped in a stolen whaleboat and sailed to Hobart Town to begin his period of infamy.
But what I found on the wild west coast of Tasmania was a huge pristine harbour, a sleepy fishing village whose main industry in the summer season is tourists, stories of piners and miners and convict times, and some of the most unforgettable excursions which you cannot experience elsewhere in Australia.
Including a ride up the King River in a jetboat!

Pic: Strahan Harbour

Hell’s Gates - Macquarie Harbour, Tasmania

In 1642 Abel Tasman explored the west coast of Tasmania for the Dutch East India Company. He charted two of the peaks just north of the inlet to Macquarie Harbour and namedafter his ships, Heemskerck and Zeehaen, but he either did not see or did not venture through 'The Gates' which provide only a narrow entrance and a shallow channel with rocks on one side and dangerous sandy shoals on the other.

This is the name first given to the narrow entrance to Macquarie Harbour and it was James Kelly the captain and explorer who, on his circumnavigation of Tasmania in a whale boat in 1816, noticed an inlet from which a strong channel of water was flowing. He thought he had found the mouth of a river.
Image his surprise when he ventured through The Gates, to find a Harbour as big as Sydney Harbour - 32 kilometres long surrounded by forested mountains and gorges – virtually impenetrable from the land.

It was the nature of the harbour as a place impossible to escape from that the government of the day decided to use an island in the harbour as a convict settlement.
This was to be the harshest place imaginable – a veritable hell on earth. And for that reason the entrance to the harbour and the whole place became synonymous with the name, Hell’s Gates.
My particular interest is in the convicts, including Matthew Brady, who escaped from Sarah Island and became bushrangers.
Pics: Hell’s gates and lighthouse from the beach and the water

Sarah Island – Island hides its penal past.

Today the cruise boats on Macquarie Harbour stop for about an hour at Sarah Island and tourists are given a conducted tour of a portion of the old convict settlement. The commentary is light-hearted and the few ruins which remain give a basic outline of the layout of the buildings dated to around 1820.
I had come to Sarah Island as part of my research into Tasmanian bushranger Matthew Brady so after doing the conventional conducted tour I wanted to visit the other parts of the island and see it for my self – so I returned a few days later.
It’s hard to imagine that the island of 15 acres (the size of my block in Bakers Hill, Western Australia) accommodated several hundred prisoners; that it was devoid of vegetation as it had been clear by the convicts; that it had numerous stone buildings and high wooden fences and that it was a place of incredible hardship, and severe punishment.

Wearing plenty of insulated clothing, I was cold in the wind even though it was a sunny day.
Goodness knows how the men could survive on limited rations, with no heating, no beds, often saturated from head to foot and no change of clothes or extra clothing. And apart from that, any complaint resulted in the prisoner receiving up to 100 lashes from the cat’o’nine tails. Few convicts managed to escape from the island and survive to tell the tale.
Matthew Brady managed to escape in a whaleboat with several other convicts.
It is the story of this 'gentleman' bushranger of Van Diemen's Land that I am proposing to write into a fictionalized novel.
Pics: Sarah Island (centre) and tiny Grummet Island in Macquarie Harbour and the ruins of the Old penitentiary

Grummet Island – hell at Hell’s Gates, Macquarie Harbour

A couple of hundred yards from Sarah Island is the tiny rocky outcrop of Grummet Island. This was indeed a Hell on earth for the convict prisoners of Van Diemen's Land.
It was here in the early 1800s that originally a group of women was housed.
Later it was the place where the worse male convicts, the offenders and troublemakers were sent at night.

As there was no wharf, the men had to wade through chest deep water or swim to get ashore. They would then have to sleep either naked or in wet clothes throughout the night and then wade back to the boat in the morning for another day of hard labour.
Pic: Tiny Grummet Island seen from Sarah Island. Today the rocky outcrop is overgrown by bush and nothing remains of the prison building which existed there

Home of the Huon pine – a shipwright’s Eldorado

The wilderness surrounding Tasmania's Macquarie Harbour is the home of the reknowned Huon pine – a tree which grows nowhere else in the world.
Apart from its sheer size it has remarkable qualities which sets it aside from other forms trees and makes it one of the most desirable timbers for shipbuilding.
Huon pine contains natural oils that resist rotting. The chemical that gives the timber its unique smell and preservative qualities is methyl eugenol which offers the timber protection, not only from rot, but also from the Teredo Worm – the pest which can infest and destroy the wooden hull of a sailing ship.
As transport in the early 1800s was by square rigged ships, shipbuilding was a prime industry and the discovery of Huon pines on the west coast provided an occupation for the convicts of Sarah Island.

Not only did they build ships, they cut down the trees and the penal settlement had its own sawmill where the logs was sawn for transport to Hobart Town.
But Huon pine is an extremely slow growing tree increasing in diameter by only 1mm per year. Some trees in the area are over 2000 years old but sadly most of the trees which were accessible to the piners were removed over the last 200 years.
Today they only examples of Huon pines growing on the banks of the Gordon River are very young trees or those disfigured examples where were not satisfactory for milling.
It will be a long wait to see the magnificent Huon Pines of old to once again dominating the forest.
Pics: Entering the Gordon River from Macquarie Harbour, and a 'baby' Huon pine over 15 years old.

Macquarie Harbour and the Gordon River, Tasmania

If you visit Strahan, on the west coast of Tasmania, a day trip on one of the cruise ships on the harbour is a must. Not only will you enjoy a day of sightseeing and educational commentary but excellent food and comfort aboard the modern vessels.
The pristine river and wilderness area is known not only from its once prolific stand of Huon Pines but for the long running dispute over the building of the Gordon on Franklin Dam.
There are few rivers in Tasmania which have not been damned for hydro electric power and now Tasmania has more power than it requires.
Fortunately the voice of the environmentalists won the battle and secured the free flow of this part of the Gordon River.
But it was the very dense, inhospitable nature of the forests and the rugged terrain that made the Harbour and ideal place to locate a penal settlement way back in the early 1800s. And it was here that the hardened convicts of Van Diemen's Land were sent. It was a place they regarded it as Hell on earth.
Pic: Gordon river World Heritage cruise ship
Pics: World Hertitage cruise ship
Mountain ranges flanked in wilderness forest surround Macquarie Harbour

It sure rains in the wilderness

We blame the weather for many things but it is the weather – a temperate climate and high rainfall which has resulted in the luxuriant growth of this virtually impenetrable area of wilderness.
The West Coast Wilderness area of Tasmania records 2 to 3 meters of rain a year. In winter there is snow on the surounding mountains but on some days in summer the temperature can soar to 100 degrees.
When you walk through the wilderness forests on the banks of the Gordon River, you only have to touch the trees or ferns to realise that they are perpetually wet. The ground is never dry and the water in the gurgling streams is golden brown from the plant tannins.
The undergrowth is a tangle of ferns and bushes and canopy above is made up of tall straight-growing trees, blackwood sassafras and myrtle, their trunks encrusted in strange plate-like fungi.
It’s is no wonder few convicts escaped from Sarah Island and those who did never made it out of this unforgiving wilderness.
Pics: Tannin stained streams. Impenetrable undergrowth

The King is dead – Long Live Pollution!

The King and Queen Rivers of Tasmania's west coast wilderness, though appearing normal, are both biologically dead and it could be 1000 years before they will carry enough oxygen to support any form of fish or plant life.
The absence of oxygen is a direct result of pollution through deposits of heavy minerals from mine tailing being purposely washed into their waters. Over 100 millions of tons of tailings were washed into the rivers preventing anything from growing in them and creating banks of toxic silt meters deep.
The death of these once beautiful waterways is due to the greed of the miners extracting ores from the Mt Lyell area and historic practices which ignored environmental damage.

"The King River has paid a price for century of mining.
In 1922 the Queenstown mine abandoned pyritic smelting in favour of the floatation process and as a result the clouds of sulphur fumes stopped but grey sludge generated by the new production method flowed down the Queen River and into the King.
Gradually the river created a huge delta in Macquarie Harbour made up of tailings the size of a city suburb."
Pollution has now stopped but recovery is painfully slow as Mother Nature deals with 100 million tonnes of toxic mine tailings.

Pic: West Coast Tourist Railway touches the King River giving passengers a chance to see a little of the dead river banks

One of the top 10 railways in the world - the Abt Wilderness Railway

A legacy of the old mining methods on Tasmania’s west coast is the Abt railway which runs between Queenstown and Strahan on the west coast of Tasmania.
This 35 km railway incorporates a Rack and Pinion system to carry a train up some incredible rises.
The engines used today are the 100 year old Steam Locomotives that worked on the line built for the Mt Lyell Mining & Railway Company.
The full line opened in 1899 but ran into disrepair and closed in 1963.
After 37 years a group of enthusiasts decided to rebuild the line and after a massive restoration project the trains again steam through the wilderness forests.
While the rolling stock once hauled a fortune in pure copper, today’s heritage style carriages carry tourists.
With inclines as steep as 1 in 16, the engine uses a steam driven cogwheel which engages with the twin toothed rack rail which runs down the centre of the 3ft 6in gauge line. This rack and pinion system allows the engine to pull the train up the steep hills.
Along the journey are several stops including stations at Lynchford, where you try your hand at gold panning, Dubbil Barril with its own quaint history and Rinadeena where the railway reaches its highest point and the passengers disembark for lunch.

But it’s the line itself, originally cut through the wilderness by hand and its 42 mainly trestle bridges which provide spectacular views of the King River as it winds its way through steep gorges and valleys. The Abt tourist railway is ranked as one of the top 10 railway experiences in the world.

Pic: Rack and pinion system
Pic: Wooden railway bridges provide spectacular views
Pic: The Abt No 3 engine (pictured here is one of the original Mt Lyell engines and was fully restored in 2001. Today its steam is heated by diesel power instead of coal.

Queenstown – West coast marked by mining

Queenstown on the west coast of Tasmania bears the indelible mark of a mining town.
Its hills have been raped and denuded and provide a lasting scar on the landscape.
Though the mining methods have changed and the damage to the local environment and the Queen and King Rivers has been reduced, the area is still dedicated to the mining industry.

For the tourist the highlight of a visit to Queenstown is the station for the West Coast Wilderness (Abt) Tourist Railway and the start of an unforgettable railway experience.
Pic: Hill around Queenstown and its railway station

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Happy Birthday to me

When you live alone, you don't look forward to Birthdays and Christmases.
And yesterday was my big day and now it's over, I can move on and catch up on some of the things I need to catch up on - such as updating my Blog.
So for starters, here’s a pic of yours truly taken last week on the top of Mount Wellington in Hobart.
Look closely and you can see snow on the ground – and Hobart and the Derwent River in the background.
Yesterday the sun was shining in Launceston and I think spring is on the way.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

FLOATING GOLD - an age of sail adventure

Good news!
Last week Mr Hale of Robert Hale Ltd, London, offered to publish my latest manuscript.
FLOATING GOLD is a maritime adventure set in 1802.
The story takes place in London, Portsmouth, The Downs, Rio de Janeiro and the frozen islands off the Antarctic Peninsula.
But more on that later.
I would expect FLOATING GOLD to be published mid to late 2010.

Winter in Tassie’s cradle country

Last week I travelled through the mountains on my way to the west coast of Tasmania for my first visit to Strahan.
Going by Tassie Link coaches was an experience in itself. Three different coaches which each carried a maximum of three passengers, except the third which doubled as the local school bus. Great service, however, as the bus driver dropped me at the door of the B&B I was staying at.

When I was waiting at the Cradle Mountain transit depot, the cloud lifted just for a few minutes – enough time to take this picture.
I must get right up the Mountain one day, but I think I will wait until summer.
Photo: MM August 2009

Launceston's Cataract Gorge in full flow

It's something you don't see every year - an angry Cataract Gorge!
Apart from snow, Tasmania gets is fair share of rain and this year during August it copped a deluge.
The usually peaceful Cataract Gorge, which is only a stones throw from Launceston city centre, burst into life (despite there being a dam upriver from it).
It’s hard to comprehend the movement of the water from the picture, but check out the two people on the viewing platform at the left.
And you have to experience the roar to appreciate the sound.
I can't image what Niagra Falls must sound like.

No doubt the North Esk River will go back to its placid self and the small cruise boats will be back put-putting along it with occasional seals lazily basking in the sun on the rocks at the side.
Pics: March 2007 and August 2009

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

One Lovely Blog award

What a nice surprise it was to receive a nomination for this blog award.
It came from author, Anne Whitfield who lives in New South Wales.
Though we have never met, Anne and I do have a few things in common. We are both published by Robert Hale Ltd in London, we both shared the same agent in the UK and we both have family roots in Yorkshire. But apart from her Hale Books, Anne has also had several e-books published.
Anne updates her own blog regularly and it contains a variety of items of interest including her publications in both print and e-media.
Her latest post is about the recent film release – Young Victoria in which I gather Paul Bettany plays the role of Lord Melbourne.
As I am a fan of this versatile actor (Da Vinci Code and Master and Commander), I will make a point of seeing the movie.

To learn more about Australian author, Anne Whitfield visit her at her blog or website.