Gould’s Post Track and Jim Morrison ~ 2015/16

Pain and Pleasure ~ April 2015

 

Background
This story begins shortly after World War II when a group of fortunate men, passionate about Earth, worked for Tasmanian Hydro, and four times each year they took the tourist boat from Strahan to Sir John Falls. Then over several days, they walked south through what is now The Franklin Gordon Wild Rivers National Park to a Hydro camp on the Gordon River just downstream from the Rocky Sprent. Their job was to measure river flow and river heights.

Walking overland, their journey took them through the full display of Tasmania’s lovely land, from thick wet forests near the river’s edge through regions of drier Manuka and Eucalyptus, and then onto one of those magical phenomena of southern Tasmania, a large open buttongrass plain. This one at the feet of the thickly forested King Billy Range.

Plain before King Billy Range

Plain before King Billy Range

History
The track they followed had been used by many. Before Hydro, from around the 1930s to the 60s, the Piners used this track to haul chafe and supplies to their upper river camps. Before that, a number of geologist and miners had come west to search for mineral resources. This track, first established in 1862 by a team led by Tasmania’s first Geological Surveyor, Charles Gould (1834-1893) during their search specifically for gold, it was later enhanced by Jim Morrison when he established a pack track from Goulds Landing, near Sir John Falls, to his Sandstone camp near the Rocky Sprent.

Tasmania, Australia’s second colony, desperately needed resources by the mid-1800s. But attempts to explore Western Tasmania proved a highly dangerous nightmare. Thickly clad mountains and raging rivers blocked access overland, and huge seas and Hell’s Gate, then one of the world’s most dangerous passages, both combined to curtail the colony’s development. This became so desperate that in 1842, Governor Sir John Franklin ordered the young surveyor James Calder to find a path west. In charge of twenty convicts and a dozen soldiers that daunting task took James Calder two years. But the track proved highly weather dependent and twenty years later on, Gould’s men found a much better route linking the west to the east.

The Goulds Post Track to Hamilton gained immense historical value. It’s intrinsic to who we are, and epitomizes the courage and never give up qualities that Australians so greatly admire. Values to pass on to coming generations.

This historical track should be kept open because it travels through a diverse range of geography, and by doing that, illustrates how nature copes with the various conditions of wind, sunlight, rain, terrain, and nutrients.

young Huon Pines grow alongside the Shoe Road

Young Huon Pines grow alongside the Shoe Road

THE HUON WAY
The first part of the track nearest Sir John Falls was once used to haul Huon Pine logs from the immediate area and the track is indented by dragging logs with a metal skid under their front end. There are many Huon Pines flourishing in the SW forests, and a number of trees over a thousand years old grow alongside this part of the track. There are also many hundreds of small baby Huon and Celery Tops alongside the track. It’s a wonderful spectacle, and proof of the will of Earth to heal and survive.

At the time of writing, the two-kilometre of Shoe Road, which was dubbed, The Huon Way, is safe enough for schoolchildren to walk along. It’s quite easy-going, a very lovely walk in a park that will uplift the soul with the majesty of Earth. About two-thirds along is a suitable place to camp for any wanting to be totally immersed in the dark closed forest that borders these SW wild rivers. We crowned it Camp Twin Pines after spending several nights there early in 2015. It’s a small open area with seasonal water nearby, next to two five-hundred-year-old Huon Pines.

A little further along the well-defined shoe road stands the last two Huon Pines stumps, large moss-covered stumps harvested perhaps sixty years ago. Beyond these, abruptly starts a forest of mature Manuka, tall and slender, close together with shedding bark that dangles in thin strips making them look like hairy poles. The Hydro track then meanders through this for another kilometre, requiring a greater skill level to follow.

Twin Huon Pine Camp

Camp Twin Pines, April 2015  – the twins are just to the left of our tent

 

Back in the 1860s, The Charles Gould team would have cut a cart wide track. The geologists and miners that followed him would have maintained this by trimming regrowth and cutting away fallen trees lying across the track. The Piners did this too, as did the Hydro men. All users regularly maintained the pathway about a cart width, a mere ribbon through what is vast natural land. None of this ever endangered the whole by even a smidgen.

In the 1980s, after the area came under National Park control and the Hydro men stopped coming, this historical track was left to be consumed by Nature and the wondrous tour of SW Tasmania became a dashed line on old maps instead of a magnificent event.

goulds landing forestry house

Fireplace at Goulds Landing forestry house

Our Interest
You may be wondering what our interest is in this. Isn’t it strange how some things get started? Early in 2015, we wandered up to Sir John Falls wanting to know more about the Huon Piners after assisting in the filming of Two Men in a Punt, a Garry Kerr production.

We had seen an iron shoe at an up-river camp and wanted to see a shoe road, made when a team of horses dragged a log out of the forest. Goulds Landing once had a forestry house at the end of a shoe road, and not having visited it, we rowed Little Red from the jetty across the narrow gap where Cataract Creek enters the Gordon. This gap used to be spanned by the old jetty but now only their stumps remain.

Along that hillside, we found a track, rather overgrown and blocked by fallen trees. But after a bit of a scramble, we came upon a massive open area where supplies had been stacked after being unloaded from coastal freighters moored alongside Goulds Landing. Today, all that remains of the landing are metal angle and rotting timber.

The Forestry House has long since been dismantled and towed downstream to Strahan. That leaves only the two fire hearths testimony to a past era.

Finding the shoe road was much harder than we’d imagined even though the expansive area was fairly clear of understory. Crunching over a layer of fallen limbs filled with soft leaf litter we finally found a trace of the furrow under a tangled mess of tree fall comprising one massive tree head on top of a fallen giant that had taken down several smaller trees with it. Skirting this, the road became starkly evident – a furrow wide enough for three horses inline, worn in the earth to varying depths. In a straight line, it climbed the hillside but was soon blocked by an even larger tangle of trees.

Back at Sir John Falls, we found that a school class had made a camp on the flats above the jetty, and a dozen students and teachers soon gathered alongside our vessel, wanting to know more about life afloat. From them, we learned that they were on an annual orienteering course put on by Launceston High School and that they had paddled kayaks up from Heritage Landing after taking the ferry from Strahan. What a great feat. So we told them about our day discovering the shoe road above Goulds Landing. Telling them that got them humming like a swarm of bees with plans to make the same discovery.

Children Bind All Humanity
We believe children bind all humanity. Be they Christian, Muslim, black, white, oriental, African, American, or Australian, children are the common denominator. We all want them to have a wonderful life and to have at least as much happiness as we’ve had, and we want them to experience as much of Earth as possible. Hearing the excitement in their young voices got us thinking of how great it would be if the old shoe road was open and passable. Schoolchildren and ordinary folk alike would then have an opportunity to experience one of the greatest forests in the world. It would also allow folks to see the many trees and shrubs that flourish in the wet climate found here. At the same time, walking the track would create an opportunity to assess what our forefathers had to endure to eke out a living, bringing the unique Huon Pine to the greater world. It felt such a shame that this historical track had not been kept clear and we thought that a valuable asset had been lost. So, early the next morning we went back and started clearing the dead branches we could lift, making better, safer access without less chance of getting lost.

clearing the dead branches we could lift to make a better, safer access without always having to look down or chance getting lost

clearing dead branches to make a better, safer access

We returned day after day as a way of enjoying the great outdoors and challenge to our bush skills, for the shoe road was quite difficult to find sometimes. After a half dozen sorties we left the forest and went back to town having strung pink tapes along about one kilometre of the track. We had made a start, and that meant next years orienteering class would more safely be able to penetrate that wonderful forest.

In town, a local identity had heard of our interest and came to us with a satellite photo showing what he thought might be a timber bridge built long ago to cart supplies across some of the small creeks. It sparked our interest as it lay upon the magical dashed line representing the Hydro track on our topographical map, and it wasn’t that much further on from where we’d gotten. So, after taking on more supplies, we went back upriver for another stint at track finding.

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Manuka forest after the last two Huon stumps

ROUND TWO
After the stumps of the last two harvested Huon Pines, the indented shoe road finished and every direction looked exactly the same. In addition to the danger of becoming lost, there are other dangers like Cutting Grass, or what I call Razor Grass. Long blades growing in clumps up to two metres in height with razor-sharp serrated edges that easily cut arms, neck, eyes, and eyelids. We can testify to that.

As the terrain continued to rise, the broadband of Manuka gives way to larger trees of Eucalyptus. It becomes more open above, but underfoot it becomes a jumble of fallen trees in various stages of rot. In such a wet climate, Eucalyptus does not last long on the ground. Therefore, along our path of pink ribbons are many fallen trees that must be climbed over – and many others, slippery ones, to walk along. Great care must be taken, not to slip or put a leg down a hole between them – otherwise, a broken bone might spoil the day by endangering your life and causing great inconvenience to your rescuers.

Surviving the Eucalyptus forest is marked by sighting a giant headless tree that may not survive many more winters. Beyond it, our path became even more challenging.

Razor Grass

Razor Grass

Here in Tasmania grow a number of plants that are quite challenging to forest travellers. Cutting Grass/ Razor Grass is one. Horizontal another – a strange plant that begins by growing vertical then under its own weight bends horizontally to about shin height where along its length it sprouts new branches that grow vertically like a picket fence. Which is nearly impossible to penetrate unless you’re a double-jointed midget. Fortunately, this track has no horizontal on it. But there is another plant even more insidious. It lies at the other end of the size scale. To those that know Tassie’s bush, nothing is more challenging, more draining of energy than Bauera. The mere mention of its name makes Tassie’s bushmen shudder. Watch this short vid for a better idea.

HD format of Bauera – The Bushman’s Curse from JACKandJUDE

Shin guards made from camping mat

Shin guards made from camping mat

It’s a pretty plant with a multitude of tiny bright green leaves along its stems, which grow like a nest of tangled snakes, around and through one another, branching into two that then splits to four, then eight, weaving a mass higher than man, often high up into trees. It loves to grow around and over other plants, and just loves weaving up an entire hillside with a net of cables that start at it base with something like 12mm reo bar before branching into many more about the diameter of a pencil and then heaps more about the size of stout wire. Bauera is not only a daunting task to penetrate, but it’s also a bitch to pass over after it’s been flattened because it always catches a boot. Or a strand jumps up like a tripwire.

From the headless Eucalyptus, there is a half kilometre of Bauera intertwined through, and over, fallen trees. No telling how long this passage will stay open. A few wet seasons will probably see our pink ribbons consumed by the green glory of Nature unless more folk walk our path. But once through this last barrier, we arrived at a wonderful, open bowl of buttongrass. Our mysterious bridge lay just over the next ridge.

Each of these day sorties was taking longer and longer to return from, and we found that up to four hours of every outing would be taken up with travel along a path we’d already marked. Therefore, we took our tent up to Camp Twin Pines for a last effort at finding this mysterious bridge. Third time lucky we hoped.

By this time it was late-April and the days were getting shorter, the nights colder, the climate wetter, and our hobby demanding more true-grit. But, by this time, we had fallen in love with the forests. We’d come to know the massive old Huon Pines, gnarly and grand, standing off track, and massive ancient myrtles that have such tiny colourful leaves, and cheesewood trees looking like tall creamy Swiss cheese pocked with small round marks, and blackwoods, and leatherwoods that in summer are transformed by a filigree of large white blossoms. The forest can be one of the quietest places, perfect for contemplation. But the forest birds woke us each morning and kept us company during our day, and they sang melodies in the evening when the sky grew golden.

Third time lucky proved to be just another pipe dream when we entered that thick small creek and found nothing but beautiful lush green vegetation and a tiny flow of water. Oh well, it had been fun and had kept us fit while providing a great adventure. So we packed our kitbags and went home for the winter.

A Walk in a Park ~ January 2016
Banyandah endured a windy wet winter tied to our mooring in Mill Bay,  just around the corner from Strahan, while up in northern NSW we enjoyed being with family and playing with our grandkids. 

Grey Shrike-Thrush

Grey Shrike-Thrush
“Jock Witty” in Tasmania
Distinctive call heard often.

Probably nothing more would have come of our exploring the Goulds track if we hadn’t on a whim decided to see how our handy work had survived the winter. To our disbelief and consternation, we got lost the first time back after the winter break. Geez, a path we’d walked so many times led to a dead end. But a search of the area turned up a new Hydro sign, one not seen before. It was on a bit of shoe road not travelled on either. A few metres down it revealed one of our pink tapes and showed how we had come to be on it via a diversion around a massive tree fall. After that, an easy walk in a park to Camp Twin Pines. Not wanting to leave behind misleading tapes we then spent part of that day scouring the hills for unwanted ones, leaving behind a very clear route, so easy to follow that we continued on through the Manuka forest, clearing up a few unwanted ribbons there also. Then went on to the headless Eucalyptus, which had survived the winter. Continuing ahead, the tunnel through the Bauera had closed somewhat but was reasonably passable up to the open buttongrass basin.

This must have been the trigger for a new plan. Because later that day when back on Banyandah, we simply gushed on taking our tent into that basin to continue our quest to reach the large plain lying over the last ridge where we imagined finding remnants of the Hydro track. We envisaged walking unhampered under the mighty King Billy Range, and couldn’t get out our heads the possibility of actually retracing the entire route to the old Hydro camp on the Gordon, which we had visited a few years earlier by kayak.

Tasmania’s winter and autumn had been the driest on record, so the forest floor was crunchy dry – scary dry in fact when thoughts of lightening strikes entered our heads. It might have been a pleasure not to have droplets drip down our necks nor have slippery slime on our pant bottoms, but there was no water to be found. At Camp Twin Pines, our three water sources found last year were dry sand. There were no colourful mushroom carpets and the trees looked stressed. We hadn’t checked at the buttongrass basin but thought there might be a flow from the streams that drain part of the King Billy Range and form the headwaters of Cataract Creek. It was worth the chance, so we packed up our kit bags for at least a week in the bush.

P1060640Carting twenty kilos on our backs along a path that degenerated from a walk to a crawl over fallen trees and through tangled Bauera tested our aging bodies. Amazingly we managed the outbound journey in about four hours, consuming half of the four litres of water we carried. Of course, we carried other liquids. Can’t go bush without a libation to celebrate surviving each day.

Finding a Camp
After arriving at the wide basin open to the heavens we faced our next big test. Find water. To do this we dropped our load to go where the map showed the confluence of two creeks. Somehow the basin seemed denser than remembered, more stunted tea tree, less open vision and we had a heck of a time, weakened as we were, to reach the confluence shown on our GPS. Approaching a rising hill where the two creeks supposedly met, the vegetation thickened and patches of Bauera appeared. Dreading a night sleeping upright, our deepening gloom was broken by the golden sound of tinkling water. Pushing aside the undergrowth, in a trench ran a lovely cold mountain stream. And right next to it, a massive Banksia, overgrown with heaps of dead, dry Bauera.

Camp Banksia before we cleared it

Camp Banksia before we cleared it

Recharged with a new jolt of energy, we cleared away the nuisance mess from around the tree, our smiles growing ever broader. What a perfect site. Carpeted with soft, springy mulch, there was ample flat ground for our tent, room for our clobber, and a perfect spot away from the stream for our toilet. Sundown that night saw us aglow in our camp toasting our good fortune. Of course, there’s a lot more than just good fortune in this. We’re a hard-working pair who are also a great team with skills complementing the other.

A libation before setting up camp

A libation seemed in order before setting up camp

one of a pair of Wedge Tailed Eagles

one of a pair of Wedge-Tailed Eagles

Camp Banksia proved heaven-sent. You should do this walk just to spend a night there. Surrounded by a rim of ridges dotted with eucalyptus, the woods are alive with a variety of birds, all coming to feed on the blossoms. The Banksia seemed a favourite of the honeyeaters and thrushes. A half-dead monster tree on the hill opposite seems the favourite haunt of a pair of Wedge-Tailed eagles, and when they are not there, pairs of cockatoos, and at night, Boobook Owls could be heard.

Jude happiest in bush

Jude is happiest in the bush, sleeping in her tent

20160125_114940Look, we could go into the arduous chore of finding our route, the tunnelling up another hill of Bauera that took an entire day, the doing the same on another hill leading straight to that magical dashed line, but let’s cut to the climax. After three days of hard yakka, we opted for the Bauera tunnel that led to a shallow valley filled with thin growth that looked as if it magically would take us to the open plain near the headwaters of Big Eddy Creek. On a cloudy cool day, not so good for photos, but excellent for finding a route, the plains that had looked so clear and easy in the satellite photos proved to be mostly shoulder height tea tree of a variety that contain heaps of cup-shaped seedpods. Under them grow small tussocks of buttongrass. The two in combination make unsteady footing that must be taken slowly, tentatively putting a foot down before transferring full weight. We had lunch overlooking the Big Eddy creek then went off to look for the Hydro track. Geez we went down into that creek, into the thick stuff again, found no running water, just a few tiny still pools, and we crisscrossed what should have been the dashed line shown on our map, but found neither Hydro sign nor their track.

Flowers on the plains

Flowers on the plains

misty rain brought a few days rest

misty rain brought a few days rest

The next day being even cloudier we took the whole day off. We needed time to stitch up our gloves and repair our torn pants. For relaxation, we read aloud to each other from Robinson Crusoe, ate lots of nice food, and took an afternoon nap.

Early on our sixth morning it was still heavily overcast but we dressed to make our final charge to the huge open plain under the King Billy Range. But just before leaving we heard distant voices. A bushman’s cooee brought a reply and soon we had visitors, five of them to be exact. They were off other boats, had heard of our hobby, and on a whim followed our pink tapes. They were much younger than us and had taken just a bit over two hours to travel what had taken us months to locate and mark. Wow, we were stoked! And they were soaked because they brought the rain.

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It continued to rain all our seventh day. Not heavily, just drizzle that creates that lovely misty look. And when that was replaced by the Southern Cross and pointers later in the evening, we went to bed filled with anticipation of a big day exploring a destination we’d work so hard to achieve.

Final Assault
Day eight began with a rare argument. Can’t remember what the issue was but it was an ominous start under a sky heavy with morning cloud. After we’d navigated the Bauera tunnel and came out in the shadow of the ranges we kissed and cuddled, our great love for the other nicely putting a spring to our steps.

We had two goals that day. One was to capture some of the magnificent beauty of the wild river mountains that’s filled with so much colourful vegetation. The second was to find proof of the Hydro track. So we literally zoomed past our earlier lunch stop, skirted around the headwater dip of Big Eddy Creek, and headed into new territory.

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Around the headwaters of Big Eddy Creek

Instead of being an absolute flat plain, this area is dotted with numerous small hills, some with clumps of slender trees, and some of these surrounded with dense bush. Between the King Billy Range and the plain are the headwaters of Cataract Creek flowing north, and the Sandstone Creek running south. Where the two headwaters begin there’s a land bridge joining the plains to the mountains, and it was to this point that we first headed. The going wasn’t easy nor was it hard. We didn’t have to forge our way through the vegetation that varied from mostly waist height to open patches on nutrient-poor ground, to shoulder height growth where conditions were better. We mostly just parted the growth with gloved hands, stepped tentatively forward, often over a clump of stunted buttongrass, and moved on repeating the process. We left very few pink tapes. No purpose in doing that as we could see all the landmarks and could go in just about any direction. But we did record our movements with GPS waypoints, and had the luxury of transmitting our position via the Iridium satellite network using our fabulous Yellow Brick. We really hope many of you followed our exploits live as they happened.

heading into new territory

Heading towards the land bridge that joins the King Billy Range to the plain

P1110651On the higher hill separating the two headwaters from mountain and plain, we got some outstanding top of the world views. Providence shone down from a perfectly clear sky that allowed us to behold the majestic Franklin Gordon Wild River Valleys. Off to the furthest nor’ east we saw the lofty Elliot Range fall away into the Franklin River valley, where it enters the massive Gordon River valley that spanned our entire view. To our south, we followed the Sandstone Creek to where it enters the Rocky Sprent. We could even see where the Hydro camp must be and just a titch south of it, still on the Gordon, the Morrison’s Sandstone Camp where we had filmed the remains of the stables, meat safe, and moss-covered Blundstone boot.

Those Piners would have had a tough life out here in the cold wet wilds, but what a glorious magical place to work. It’s a Godly place. Where souls are in direct contact with the creator. A simple life, a fulfilling one, one counting on your mates and they relying on you. Those images and thoughts keep us wondering where the world is heading now.

Looking down Sandstone Creek towards the Sprent River

Looking down Sandstone Creek towards the Sprent River

Over lunch somewhat spoiled by pesky March Flies, we discussed coming back one day with our camp so that we can explore further and maybe reach the Hydro or Morrison’s Sandstone camp overland. Water would be the problem. The only water we’d seen was at Banksia Camp. But we imagined finding some in the Sandstone Creek.

We planned a return to our camp that would take us to the dashed line shown on our map, hoping we’d find a remanent of the old historic track. So we followed a route to the dashed line crossing a meridian.

Satisfaction
It was three o’clock and we’d been underway six hours when crossing the meridian led us around a second dry creek, even further south away from our camp, deeper into the plains. Ahead lay a patch of grey boulders sprouting from the growth, above them a hilltop grew thicker. At a time when we wanted to be heading home for a comfy change out of boots, difficult country loomed ahead. Small trees thickened by undergrowth covered the hilltop and I was about to divert around it when a strange glimpse of something odd caught my eye. I looked again but saw nothing strange amongst the stems and bushy heads and started to turn away, when again something odd, something unnatural. Rocking back and forth to gaze past the growth, I saw a regular shape amongst it.

“Yahoo!” I sang out, alarming Judith. “There’s a Hydro sign.”

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And I rushed forward praying I’d not just imagined it. Nope, I hadn’t. Standing tall on a metal stake stood a yellow metal diamond with that familiar red dot in its centre. Geez, how long had that thing been standing out here? Thirty years, forty? Crikey it could have been here fifty years. We’d found proof of the Hydro Track. This was the route first cut by Charles Gould more than a hundred fifty years ago. Of course, we put a couple of our special pink tapes on the sign, made a waypoint, and sent off a Yellowbrick position so that all could share in our excitement. Then we headed home. A long trudge lay ahead. But the elation of fulfilling a dream made light work of our task. In fact, the ever beautiful scenery seemed to grow in magnitude as we both savoured the moment.

Funny, we were still on a high, trudging up another hill through waist height growth when Judith sudden yelped, “There’s another one!” And following her outstretched arm, I saw the second diamond ahead on the hilltop, black and backlit by the now weakening sun.

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It was Judith’s turn to tie the pink tape on this relic. Her turn also to pose for photos. Beautiful ones they are with the Elliot Range and Franklin River in the far distance.

Suffice to say we got home in a timely fashion, a ten-hour day, our feet sore but no broken bones, no skinned shins. Just plenty of wonderful photos and glorious memories. And a few ideas of where to go next time.

Franklin Gordon Wild Rivers National Park

The lovely Franklin Gordon Wild Rivers National Park

Fulfilment ~
Packing up and walking out the next day turned out to be another marvellous experience. What can we say? The work we had completed to give ourselves the opportunity to experience such greatness really sank in. And the walk down The Huon Way, now cleared by others inspired by our work, is a magical jaunt through one of Tasmania’s most stupendous forests. Treat yourself. It’s easy and safe, walk The Huon Way from Sir John Falls past Camp Twin Pines to the end of the shoe road. Now, wouldn’t it be wonderful if Parks were to put up a few of those informative signs describing the various species and some of the history?

CONTINUE THE JOURNEY: Trekking to the Past – APRIL 2017

Franklin Gordon Wild Rivers

LOCATION MAP


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