William Blake when he wrote his famous poem was thinking of the Bengal Tiger. We have/had tigers in Australia. Well kind of – hmmmm not really. The Tasmanian tiger or to give it its proper name the thylacine (Thylacinus cynocephalus) once roamed all over Australia. But by the time the island continent was colonised it was restricted to the rain forests of Tasmania. I wrote a blog post about them a while ago. The thylacine is a tourist draw card in Tassie and it has become an icon for the tourist industry, but they don’t have a monopoly on it. Down in the South West corner of Western Australia, in the Blackwood Valley is the sleepy town of Nannup. Many of the locals are convinced that the Thylacine roams the forests in the valley and consequently it is now part of Nannup’s tourism campaign.
As it would happen we found ourselves in Nannup the other week. We weren’t looking for the tiger, but we certainly found them as we walked up and down the main street. Again like in Tassie the thylacine has been “gnomified” and can be found in front gardens all over the shop.
It’s not the first time we’d visited the town, but we’d not been for a while and it had changed quite a bit. With the winding down of the forestry industry Nannup is seriously chasing the tourist dollar and the place has been titivated to reflect that. Once you were hard pushed to get a decent coffee now it seems that every other building is a cafe. It presents as a nice up beat place with a friendly vibe.
Our accommodation was ideally located in the forest and only a stone’s throw from Kondil Wildflower Park. The park consists of new growth forest which contains an incredible diversity of flora. There are three walking trails within the park and I walked two of them. The Woody Pear Walk which is a 1 Km easy walk trail and the the Wildflower Wander which according to the information board is 3.5 Km but according to my GPS is 4.9 Km – either way it’s an easy walk on well sign posted trails.
Below are some of the orchids I found while walking around.
For the majority of tourists coming to the Tasman Peninsula the only reason visit is the Port Arthur Historic Site with its colonial convict history. Some will venture to Taranna for the Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park, and a few others will head out to bush walk in the national park. Very few tourists head out past Salt River to the Coal Mines Historic Site on the North West of the Peninsula on Norfolk Bay.
Driving out through the little hamlet of Salt River I was struck by the beauty and serenity of the place. Even now in the Twenty First Century this is an isolated spot, it seems light years away from Hobart. How it must have appeared to the first settlers and convicts in early Nineteenth Century one can only surmise that it must have seemed like the very ends of the world and that home and family in England were something they would never see again. As I walked down the path into the site one could be lulled into thinking it was some kind of Antipodean Garden of Eden. There were Bennett’s wallabies grazing on the grass, small birds flew amongst the low-lying bushes, and a possum wandered lazily up to within a meter of me to check me out before shambling off to a nearby tree seemingly without a care in the world. This quickly evaporated as I started exploring the ruins.
The whole reason why convicts were brought here was to punish them. It wasn’t enough that they’d been sent to the Hell hole of Port Arthur and put to spirit crushing hard labour in horrendous conditions. No a new more terrible fate had to be used for those prisoners who bucked the regime. Coal was found here, if you walk along the beach you can see it just lying on the surface, smooth, black and shiny among the other pebbles lying in the sand. That meant that the seams would have been just below the surface which meant that you didn’t need complicated pit heads with lifts and pumping stations. All you needed were men with picks and shovels and a few people to supervise them. It must have seemed the perfect plan – put your trouble makers out to an even more remote spot, make them labour in incredibly harsh conditions with a horrific punishment system for those who wouldn’t toe the line, and then have them mine something that was needed badly in colony so that the scheme would pay for itself. Very ingenious. So in 1833 the coal mines were opened up. The interpretive panels tell of some of the heart wending stories of those who were sent there and the deprivations that they suffered. as I read more and more about the site the beauty of the location receded into the background and was replaced by story of man’s incredible cruelty to his fellow-man. Even in colonial times government was not capable of running an economic enterprise and making money, so in 1848 the mine was privatized, but the logistics of running such a business in such a remote location were so difficult that it was never economically viable and in just another ten years, 1858, the mine working were shut down. Some of the infrastructure was dismantled the rest was left to decay in the harsh conditions with the wooden buildings and fittings being destroyed by bush fires. The building which were constructed from stone fared better than those that were made from convict brick, which because it was not fired at high enough temperatures was soft and crumbly.
Port Arthur, just down the road receives most of the tourist attention – and in many cases quite rightly so as the scale of the place, it’s location, and many of the buildings are still intact making it a tourist experience par excellence. But for me it is the Coal Mines Site that typifies the brutality of the convict era. It’s sole purpose was to strike fear into an existing convict population and to punish and brutalize them even more. Most of the colonial penal systems victims were people whose only crime was to try to alleviate the crushing poverty they were born into with criminal acts that were incredibly petty by nature – stealing food, stealing small items to exchange for food, vagrancy, non-payment of debt etc. Now nearly two hundred years later their history, their lives, their suffering has been made into a tourist industry to entertain people. What is even more puzzling is that in today’s Australia it is now considered very desirable to be able to show that you are descended from convict stock. Perhaps this should be something to ponder as we visit Tasmania’s convict heritage sites.
Visitors to the site should take care to stay on the paths as some old shafts are still open and others have caved in leaving sink holes that unwary could fall into.
Well with the help of a horde of minions Paul Amyes Photography (PAP), the global producer and purveyor of photo media par excellence, has relocated from the Wheatbelt of Western Australia to the Southern Beaches of Tasmania. Now as anyone with any kind of aspiration to any sort of global domination will know that one of the keys to success is a top-secret location, preferably hidden on a tropical island in an extinct volcano or a vast subterranean labyrinth of tunnels under a suitably gothic city scape. Well we’re no different, we have established our headquarters on a gargantuan private estate that is patrolled by a roving multitude of attack possums and killer quolls. We tried to get the more ferocious Tasmanian Devils, but the double whammy effect of Devil Facial Tumour and Tasmanian motorists decimating their numbers means that are too few in number and therefore they just won’t work for peanuts. However, there was a slight problem with the plan. Being top-secret and heavily guarded made setting up telecommunication links very difficult. The technicians either didn’t know where to find us or were put to flight by the packs of marauding marsupials. After four weeks with only dodgy mobile phone reception and non- existent 3G mobile internet we finally relented and gave out our address and told security to take the day off. With the arrival of the electric interwebs social intercourse can now resume and we can open for business again. Hoorah!
Seriously folks our move to Tassie went smoothly and we are now planning to re-launch the business. Consequently over the next couple of months the blog and website will be re-worked and refreshed. Blogging will continue, but I hope it will become a little more focussed on the launch of new projects, products and services. Shortly after arriving I was invited to The Mercury’s short film festival as my film had been short listed for an award. Alas I did not win anything (the competition was just too good) I have been emboldened to take my film making more seriously and will look at gaining more skills and then using them to produce a lot more work with aim of taking on editorial and commercial projects.