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.
for a 7.5m long 2.8m high
and completed our unpacking in record time
we head out onto the country roads of Tasmania
having been warned to be careful. We did not see
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.
Initially the scenery around the road from Hobart is beautiful in a typically Australian way – initially fields and cleared
forests giving way to mixed fields and forests and then mountains as you get further west
and lakes created by dams (here Lake Burbury created by the Darwin and Crotty dams) and then rather scraggy
woods before you get to the Queenstown area which is known for mining – both in the past (gold) and the present
(copper). The mountain ranges were originally heavily forested but these rapidly disappeared either for fuel or
simply because they were in the way of extracting the ore
in which metals are very evident.
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
Straun). Evidence of past prosperity is in the buildings along the harbour /
dockside and the numerous hotels / pubs which were built
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
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
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).
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.
|The Post Office (still in use)|
|The Commercial Bank of Tasmania which opened in 1891|
|Mining Institute (now the excellent West Coast Pioneers Museum)|
|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.
It has recently been restored
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
sings a solo
and Enrico Caruso and Nelly Melba sing
Both of the recordings played (not of their performance in Zeehan) are available on YouTube.
Also on display are a number of theatre posters
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
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.
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.