Tasmania’s western half was frontier territory when I was a young man living in this State in the 1960s: it was rough, inaccessible, and much of it pristine… still untouched by white humanity. Few of the roads in this region were sealed, tourist attractions were minimal, such communities as there were, were focussed on the region’s mining alone, Cradle Mountain – Lake St Clair National Park was effectively the only area set aside for the safe-keeping of flora and fauna and the State’s rugged mountain landscapes.
Much of what draws today’s nature loving visitors to Tasmania was hardly accessible or only dreamt of: the huge South West World Heritage Park, the fabulous walking tracks located in many of the State’s regions, the Overland Track, the Gordon River and Macquarie Harbour, and the history and natural heritage of the West Coast.
I’d like to share a few of the tidbits we picked up during a recent and quick 5 day drive around the western half of Tasmania.
- All over Tasmania, the apple and pear orchards which used to supply the UK and Europe have been replaced by a variety of fruits, but especially by vineyards and “cellar doors” promoting local wines. Bushy Park, inland on the Derwent River, used to be the State’s hops growing centre (for the beer makers); it also grows grapes now.
- Wood sculptor Greg Duncan’s “The Wall in the Wilderness” at Derwent Bridge is well worth a visit on the drive to the West Coast. In successive 3 m high Huon pine panels the artist is progressively portraying the history, flora and fauna, and achievements of the Central Highlands. It is planned that “The Wall” will one day be 100 m long – and it seems to be close to completion.
- Many short and long walks can be made from points along the highway to the West Coast. Although heavily overcast and rainy weather deterred us from trying the more scenically beautiful of these walks, our walks to the Franklin River and Nelson Falls had their own great beauty: ground and trees covered by lichen and moss, fern covered valleys, and small fast-flowing rivers with clean and clear water rushing through pristine bush.
- It was both sad and clear that Queenstown and the nearby coastal tourist town of Strahan are going through hard times. Our niece who lives in Queenstown explained that the mine is dogged by its age and old technology, the town is impoverished by the trend towards a “drive-in drive-out” workforce who live in Burnie or Hobart and take their wealth there, and that the tourist industry is struggling due to the region’s remoteness, the tendency of visitors not to pay a return visit, and the consequent cost of the tourist attractions. This has affected the recently restored Abt wilderness (cog) railway which passes through some spectacular and rugged country, and the day cruises on Macquarie Harbour and the Gordon River.
- Our niece is also a nature lover and took us on a drive through the mountains SE of Queenstown and on a 4 hour walk down a former railway easement along the Nora River, yet another white water stream, to its confluence with the Bird River that flows into Macquarie Harbour opposite Hell’s Gates, its mouth to the Southern Ocean.
- While Hydro Tasmania has been criticized (probably rightly) for wanting to turn too many of the State’s beauty and assets into parts of an over-sized power generation network, it has undoubtedly opened up some of Tassie’s beauty for all to enjoy by building some excellent roads.
- I have been told that Tasmania’s buried mineral wealth surpasses that of Western Australia in value. I cannot vouch for this but would not be surprised. Outside Queenstown with our niece we picked up bits of gravel with lines of copper and specks of gold in them.
Whilst I believe the Greens have been and remain essential to the prevent our natural resources and heritage being undervalued, sold off and over-exploited, I also suspect that Australia’s lowest ranking state by most economic and demographic measures needs to get smarter in bringing its opposing interests together.