I woke this morning not to the raucous sound of birds or the sound of passing trains, but the farewell horn of the ferry as it headed out toward the sea. It seems that the rhythm of city is bound to the ferry comings and goings. I slept again and woke more gently to the sound of tweety birds and the waves washing up against the shore. Our recovery was complete but we had paid for two nights here in Devonport so planned a more local tour rather than something further afield. Patches of clear sky encouraged us despite the forecasted rain.
Devonport is Tasmania’s third largest city with a population of about 25,000, making it home to about 5% of the State’s population, which was in the 2011 census, a grand 510,168. Apparently the tourist numbers per annum exceed the island’s population which is just as well, as tourism seems to be the most lucrative industry for the State. Even as I write this late in the afternoon, we have yet to wander up and down the CBD of this city and so have only our Sunday’s view of the city, but then is it a city?
The area about was first explored way back in 1826, although settlement did not occur until the 1850s when two separate townships, Formby and Torquay, either side of the Mersey were established. Then the more populous settlement of Latrobe offered the location for crossing the significant Mersey River and it was only after another forty years that the bridged port of Devonport was established.
This morning we headed east through the country, passing through small holdings growing berries, grapes and potatoes, patchworks of fertile soil and crops, green and brown, passing through Wesley Vale just a few kilometres east of Devonport where we spotted a rather strange industrial installation and were later able to establish that this was once a pulp and paper mill. It was closed in 2010 with a large loss of jobs and there were other issues over the years brought to light by the now Greens Party leader Senator Christine Milne. The Greens have much to answer for regarding the development and progress of the Tasmanian economy and we will not doubt hear much for and against this premise during our time here.
I have to say that with this all foremost in my mind, I tended to imagine Tasmanians all getting around in muslin and dreadlocks; we have yet to encounter any such person.
We soon arrived at Port Sorell on the western shore of the Rubicon River estuary and hunted out a store that might have a newspaper for sale. We were eventually directed to the caravan park store and Chris re-emerged with a publication far short of his expectations. Perhaps we should have driven back into the centre of Devonport before heading east this morning? Later when I suggested we try again in a more commercial centre, he said he would be satisfied with the lesser purchase. Just as well.
Port Sorell was one of the very earliest settlements in the North West of the state, although I would hardly agree it is north west, established in the early 1820s. Sadly evidence of that heritage has since been consumed in bushfires of the intervening years and today there seem only to be homes for retirees and those who come to fish and enjoy the beaches in the summertime.
We travelled south, upriver, then crossed east at the southern extent of the estuary and then north up the opposite bank, arriving at the Narawntapu National Park, our first opportunity to use our new National Park’s Pass. As we travelled toward the Park, we were amazed to see so many road killed possums, something very common in New Zealand but so very rare in Australia. Perhaps Tasmanian possums are less intelligent than those on the mainland, unable to develop road sense. Certainly the New Zealand ones have none at all.
The park was formerly known as the Asbestos Range National Park for the range that sits in the eastern part, but renamed in 2000 because of the negative connotations of the word “asbestos”. It covers an area of 43.49 square kilometres, stretching from the low coastal ranges to the long Bass Strait beaches, including inlets, small islands, headlands, wetlands, dunes and lagoons, first established back in 1976. The highest point in the park is 392 metres ASL. It is interesting to note that despite the name of the range of mountains, asbestos was never actually mined in the Asbestos Range, only in areas beyond, and then only in very small quantities.
We set off for a walk to the Springlawn Lagoon and out to the bird hide, from which, I am happy to report, we did actually see some water-birds. Although visibility had closed in, rain still seemed some time away so we decided to continue on to Archer’s Knob, but before long, after donning raincoats, we decided we had better change our plans; we headed north to Bakers Beach. A winding track took us up and down over scrub covered sand dunes and finally up over the beach where the waves rolled in from the Bass Strait. Instead of returning by the track we had come, we took the shorter gravel road back and soon were back amongst the grazing wombats.
Before leaving the Park, we drove out to Bakers Point and looked across the estuary to Port Sorell, checked out the camping areas then headed back up river and across the rolling farmlands south of Devonport, soon finding ourselves in Latrobe, once Tasmania’s third largest settlements with three newspapers. We stopped there in search of a replacement to our trusty thermometer which fell to its death this morning after breakfast, smashing to a dozen pieces. We were unsuccessful but will continue our search as we travel about the State. I shall have to rely instead on official online temperature records.
We drove south yet again, this time travelling up the Mersey Valley, soon reaching Railton which was known as Redwater Creek until a tramway line went through the town in the 1860s. In 1885 the tramline was superseded by the present railway line.
|A cottage in Railton complete with topiary|
We drove on through steeper country, up past large areas of pine forest currently being milled and over to Sheffield which has a slightly bigger population of just over 1,500 folk. Sheffield is only twenty three kilometres inland from Devonport and sits 280 metres ASL in the shadow of Mount Roland, which in turn stands 1234 metres ASL. Alas, today this mountain, apparently quite magnificent, was completely shrouded in cloud.
The town was settled in 1859, first named Kentishbury, then renamed Sheffield in 1882, and has served as a centre to the surrounding rural land, well known for its high quality butterfat production. However growth has been stalled at various times of its history, and boosted several times as follows:
In the 1880s, gold was discovered in the area, more particularly near Moina which lies to the south west. Mining was carried out there intermittently until about 1957.
In 1963 commencement of the Mersey-Forth Power Development Scheme ushered in ten years of great construction activity, with seven dams and seven power stations. But soon after the population went into decline.
Determined to save the town, a group of locals revitalised the town with the concept of murals. The first mural was unveiled in 1986 and since then over sixty murals depicting the area’s history and natural scenery have been painted on walls scattered throughout the town and buildings alongside the roadside. Since 2003, every April the town has held the International Mural Fest art competition. This draws great crowds to the town and of course tourists all year, such as ourselves who wandered around admiring the work. Some is really excellent, all is pleasing.
We drove on back down through the undulating farmland and Chris voiced his dismay at the nature of the geography in the context of towing a two and a half tonne caravan. We agreed it might be a case of basing ourselves in fewer locations and doing more day trips in the vehicle alone.
Back in Devonport we shopped at the Woolworths supermarket, and came on back to camp, just before the rain began. The forecasted rain and thunderstorms have arrived; hopefully the worst will have passed by the time we leave in the morning to head off on our way, caravan once again in tow.