Friday, 25 November 2011

The West Coast of Tasmania

Hobart to Strahan


The West Coast of Tasmania is known for a number of things – it is colder than much of the rest of Tasmania due to winds, it has the last remaining relatively unspoiled regions of the island in the South West National Park and it also has some of the most spoiled areas of the island (around Queenstown) – there would have been much more spoiling than there is if it were not for the fact that a very strong environmental lobby developed during the past 20 years with the objective of protecting the area as much as it could.

Having swapped


for a 7.5m long 2.8m high

The Maui Van

and completed our unpacking in record time

Pat sorting out

we head out onto the country roads of Tasmania

Typical Road

having been warned to be careful. We did not see

Wildlife Sign

any giant kangaroos as the sign suggests (although grey kangaroos apparently do live in Tasmania), we did however see numerous dead wallabies, wombats and possums along the road side.

Broom or Gorse

Initially the scenery around the road from Hobart is beautiful in a typically Australian way – initially fields and cleared

Mountains Woods and Fields

forests giving way to mixed fields and forests and then mountains as you get further west

Lake Burbury

and lakes created by dams (here Lake Burbury created by the Darwin and Crotty dams) and then rather scraggy

Scraggy Woods

woods before you get to the Queenstown area which is known for mining – both in the past (gold) and the present

Queenstown Mountain

(copper). The mountain ranges were originally heavily forested but these rapidly disappeared either for fuel or

Queenstown Rock

simply because they were in the way of extracting the ore

Queenstown Rock-1

in which metals are very evident.

Queenstown looking down on

The result is a rather desolate landscape with significant evidence of no environmental management. Some of the damage and pollution is so significant that it is estimated it will take 500 years to recover.

It is however very easy for us to criticise and say that everything should be protected because it was a beautiful area. The result would be a loss of employment in an area where there is nothing else other than mining and logging, tourism not being a big employer.

The population of Queenstown has gone up and down like a yoyo (currently going up) and the town has very much of a


wild outback feel about it. There is a lot to do here if you have the time. Rather incongruously, evidence of the tremendous wealth which used to exist in the town is given by a grand Art Deco Theatre, which has fallen on hard


times since the roof caved in during a storm a few years ago. Not even using it as an indoor cricket ground helped to keep it open.

The town is also home to what is being advertised as the


cheapest three bed roomed house in Tasmania at $29,000 Australian (£19,000 approx).


It does need a bit of work doing to it and is correctly being


advertised as ideal for a DIY enthusiast.


which is probably a bit of an understatement.

Not to far away on the coast (connected by a railway which is now used only by tourists) is Strahan (pronounced

Strahan Waterfront 

Straun). Evidence of past prosperity is in the buildings along the harbour / 

Strahan Waterfront-1

dockside and the numerous hotels / pubs which were built

Strahan Waterfront-2

to serve the miners of yesteryear. Nowadays, tourism and fishing are the big employers here and judging by the amount of holiday accommodation available in the area, it must be very popular with tourists during the summer.

Strahan to Stanley


The area to the north of Strahan is still visibly suffering from historic and recent mining / forestation etc

Forest Cleared Badly

The above picture shows a section of what was forest which has been logged and the resultant land left bare. Much of the area has

reduced This was a forest  near Strahan

been left like this with very little replanting. There is a large section of land running along the coast (as above) which has been bare for many years.

By chance on the way to the north coast, we choose to go into Zeehan to buy some food. What we then find is typical of the great unexpected discoveries which we regularly make when we follow a day unscripted in everything other than general direction (in this case, north). Most of the towns in the west have a history related to mining and Zeehan is no exception. Tin was discovered in 1871 and Silver in 1882 and $8 million worth had been mined by the early 1900s (equivalent to $200 million today).

    Zeehan Town Plan

As a consequence, it became a boom town and grew in population to around 10,000 (now it is 845) with a great variety of grand buildings still standing.

Zeehan Post Office
The Post Office (still in use)
 Zeehan Unknown 
The Commercial Bank of Tasmania which opened in 1891
Zeehan Mining Institute
Mining Institute (now the excellent West Coast Pioneers Museum)
Zeehan Gaiety Theatre
and the Gaiety Theatre.

The Gaiety Theatre (also now part of the West Coast Pioneers Museum) was built in 1898 and seated 1000 people. It was then the largest concert hall in Australia.

Zeehan Gaiety Inside 1

It has recently been restored

Zeehan Gaiety Inside 2

and except when in use as a Theatre, shows on a continuous loop, a couple of the most famous people to visit the theatre.

Dame Nelly Melba

Melba Picture

sings a solo

Melba Intro

and Enrico Caruso and Nelly Melba sing

Melba and Caruso


Both of the recordings played (not of their performance in Zeehan) are available on YouTube.

Zeehan Poster 5 Zeehan Poster 4

Also on display are a number of theatre posters

Zeehan Poster 3 Zeehan Poster 2 Zeehan Poster 1

relating to the period.

Elsewhere in the museum are numerous rock samples (if that interests you), a blacksmiths shop, a model mine, recollections of historical events from the period and some maintained buildings such as the Freemasons Lodge

Zeehan Lodge 

which as well as the display, has an account of Freemasonry and its history which attempts to counteract some of the negative publicity about Masons and to dispel some of their mystery.

  Zeehan - Magistrates Court

And above we have the 1950s Magistrates Court with someone at the Bench.

The West Coast Pioneers Museum really was worth a visit.

Zeehan is also probably the place where the Australian Labour Party can claim to have been formed. A conference was held there in 1901 which drew up a platform for the proposed Workers' Political League, the leader of whom (John Earle) eventually becoming Premier of Tasmania in 1914. Their demands included adult suffrage, adequate payment of members of parliament, an eight-hour working day, a graduated land tax and free education.

The road north from Zeehan continues towards the North Coast through active mining areas, forests and fields. Most of the land in this area is owned and maintained by, through or on license from the Van Diemen’s Land Company which in itself is unique in that was granted a Royal Charter in 1825 by King George IV. There are a number of views about the company, its history and stewardship of Tasmania.


  1. I have read, and great ideas for future books for myself. Just really love and learn from your postings....

  2. Thanks for the comments, we often wonder who reads the blog other than our families and friends. We love Tasmania and will come back for longer some time in the future.

  3. Thanks for your blog!

    Its A great way to document your travels combining both text and images together!

  4. Thanks for the comment, we often wonder who reads the blog (apart from our family) and it is great to hear that someone likes it.