10 May 2007
Strahan, Tasmania, Australia
My last posting was upon arrival at the Ormiston House in Strahan. It is a very charming place, canopied bed and all! The breakfast is served in a sitting room and the owners-Carolyn and Mike are very active and work very hard at running their beautiful little inn. They work so hard, it is no small wonder, the place is for sale. The upkeep, maintenance and blood, sweat and tears must take their toll on the innkeepers, hence the For Sale Sign!
Another reason, besides the search for better Internet service, that I made the drive from Cradle Mountain to Strahan was a rack and pinion steam locomotive-driven train!
A hundred years ago, copper was discovered and mining was a predominant industry in these parts. To get the smelted ore? to market, the locals had to construct a train line of some 35 kilometers to transport the goodies to Strahan, a seaport. Sounds easy, but the train line has to go over a mountain to do the job. It took almost three years, with nothing but brute strength, picks, axes to build a track with 40 some odd bridges from Queensland to Strahan. What made it possible one hundred years ago, was a rack and pinion steam engine. A Swiss inventor developed the rack and pinion concept and this train is one of three/four still active in the world today. The rack and pinion mechanism makes climbing from sea level to almost 1000 feet possible as other trains cannot climb mountains.
The line carried ore from mine to port and the line prospered until a road was built and trucking took over. After a period of dormancy, the train line was resurrected and has begun retracing the path of yesteryear. It is a tourist attraction and it works. People come from all over to ride the one hundred year old train!
I boarded the train, got a window seat and was just amazed at the degree of difficulty
in constructing the rail line. The line follows a river, crosses the river, there are bridges,
and steep inclines, rainforests and the rebuilt line took longer and more money than the original construction. Along the way, the commentator was quite glib in retelling the wonderful stories about the train line, the personalities and the history. Today, they transport timber, beehives and people from one town to the next.
We stopped to sample honey made those bees going upland to do their thing and make honey. We stopped for lunch at the top of the mountain overlooking the gorge that necessitated building the tracks over the mountain. We arrived in Queensland and were transported back to Strahan On a bus. The trees, Myrtle, Sassafras, Leatherwood, indigenous pines- King Billy, Huon Pine grow to tremendous heights, There are tree ferns that are over five-hundred years old.
It was a fun journey is to sit on the train with the expectation of the little train that could was a treat. Most enjoyable!. Have I lost my mind from too much travel?
Today, after another wonderful breakfast, I boarded a ship to travel the Macquarie Bay that is where Strahan is located. This is the second largest bay in Australia, after Port Philip in Melbourne and has a history of 175 years. As you know, Australia was originally used as a massive penal colony and what a place they had for their prison. The boat journeyed to Hells Gate, the entrance to the harbor, a rather treacherous narrow opening that has lived up to its name in a number of shipwrecks. We then reversed course and traveled past Strahan to Sarah Island, a island for convicts in the early 1800s. This little island was the site for prison reform and different approaches to rehabilitation of these prisoners was undertaken. There were work camps, on and off the island, ship building, a tannery, bakery and all of the amenities you would expect on a resort island. They tried chains, solitary confinement, work camps, all of the same stuff they still use today in prisons. Of course the guide embellish the tall tales of the island. My favorite: a prisoner got twenty lashes because he was trying to break into a solitary confinement cell. Yes, break INTO a solitary confinement cell! Apparently there was a woman in solitary! Things havent changed, have they?
I neglected to mention that this whole area is listed in the UNESCO World Heritage Natural and Cultural sites worthy of worldwide protection and recognition. There are ten criteria used to qualify sites for inclusion in the World Heritage sites. This area has the highest number of met criteria of anyplace in the world. It has successfully fulfilled 7/
10 criteria. (actually, there is one other site, in China (Shishan sp?)that also has met 7/
10 criteria for recognition.) I have seen several of the UNESCO listings on this trip and this area has the most extraordinary reasons to be included on the listing.
After the prison island we entered the Gordon River, which was the site of a very controversial proposal by the Federal Government here to construct a dam on the Gordon River. It was the Dammers versus the Environmentalist and the greens won. They beat back the progressives and this river is as pristine a place as I have ever seen,. That includes British Columbia, Alaska and many places in between. It is truly forever wild and the boat stopped to allow passengers to hike a rainforest with trees that were 2500 years old, fungi, ferns, canopied forests. The area gets four meters of rain a year! That is a lot considering Alice Springs, Australia gets a soda can ration of rain annually. Australia is the driest of all of the continents, but Tasmania is different. We are not in flower season, but the rain forest has an abundance of leatherwood, buttonwood, myrtle, sassafras and huon pine growth. IThis place is a model for what conservation should be in the age of global warming. The trees bear witness to global warming as tree trunks and their tree rings can reflect temperature changes. Remarkable place.
I have lost my mind, riding steam engines, walking in rain forests, climbing/
trekking in the wilds, drinking too much Tasmanian Red Wine! By the way, the local beers are Cascade from Hobart, but my favorite is Boag from Launceston. That is one fine beer! Maybe, I am drinking too much and that is causing my delirium! Tomorrow, I drive easterly to Hobart, a five/six hour drive through the World Heritage Park. I should find a tree to hug somewhere! Journey well!
posted Thursday May 2007