Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Wild West: 2

We spent four nights and five days walking the coast, but rather than an "and then we went to this place" sort of post I thought I'd concentrate on the scenery and the aboriginal history this time.

Looking south from our second camp, at Interview River
Savage coast, even on a "calm" day

Full Day 1 took us along the rockiest part of the coast to the Interview River. (I'd love to know the origin of that name: did Abel Janzoon Tasman grill each of his crew members before deciding who was going to swim ashore with the Dutch flag?) The coast here is a succession of little rocky bays and headlands, all being dashed by the Southern Ocean, and remember, the potential fetch for the waves extends all the way to Argentina! The rocks are of various types, but except for the places where granite reaches the shore they are savagely rough. Being shipwrecked on this coast doesn't bear thinking about.

The start of the long beaches
(Hamish wondering whether he can go fishing)

"Trudging" is the appropriate word

On and on and on....
Can you see the walkers in the distance?

We were certainly not the only beach users!
Devil, wallaby and beetle tracks

Days 2 & 3 took us along vast sandy beaches; vast both in length and depth. With the spray coming in from the breakers it was often impossible to see the far end of the beach, and on this very exposed coast the wind and storm waves have created a huge strandline, backed by enormous dunes. The dunes are very mobile, so they are constantly engulfing the bush at one end and exposing old soil surfaces at the other as they creep across the landscape.

A series of rivers and streams flow to the sea, or at least the larger ones do. Some are completely blocked by the dunes to form lakes, while others just manage to break through the sand. We only had to get our boots off to cross a couple (the Interview and Lagoon Rivers) but neither reached above the knee.

Our passage along the beaches was slow; not only because of the soft sand in places, but also because I was hoping to survey the beaches for Hooded Plovers, a little shorebird that is under serious pressure on most Australian beaches since it nests just above the high water mark. Tasmanian beaches, and especially these remote ones, are an important refuge. So we were scanning the top of the beach as we walked, but fortunately soon discovered that the birds seemed to concentrate around the streams. In the end we saw over 30 birds, and that was probably an underestimate, since some were singles and probably had a mate sitting on eggs somewhere nearby. Other significant birds included a large flock of Red-necked Stints and a number of Ruddy Turnstones on the rocky reefs. Both of these birds breed in Siberia and fly to Australia for their summer holidays.

Camp 3, in the heart of the Tarkiner's country

But it seemed all the time that we were walking on a haunted coast. If a group of slim dark figures had appeared from the bush we would hardly have been surprised, since the evidence of aboriginal occupation is all around and plain to see. The Tarkiner people from this part of Tasmania were probably more sedentary than other tribes since the local food supply from land and sea was so abundant that they did not need to make seasonal migrations. Most obvious traces are the huge piles of shells ("middens") that make it easy to believe that they were here for more than forty thousand years: periwinkles, abalone and many other shellfish, with smaller amounts of bone. They used stone tools and scrapers, hand axes, flakes and the stones from which they were chipped litter the ground; picking them up gives you a feeling of connection for a moment, but all these relics must be left where they are found. It's sad that not everyone respects these traces; vehicle tracks right through middens are quite common.

A small midden
They were everywhere

One of the larger middens
All the white material is shells accumulated by aboriginal people

Midden closer up

Midden detail
Periwinkles, whelks, abalone

Stone scraper in situ
Don't take it home!

More stone tools
It was rather eerie to handle them

4WD tracks over a big midden

We saw several hut depressions: hollows in the dunes that were once roofed over and lined to accommodate an extended family hearth group. The tragedy is that we know so little about these people. They were all gone before the mid-1800s and no one bothered to find out much about how they lived or what was important to their culture. As I was walking along I was struck by the thought that they would have looked on this wild landscape with complete familiarity, knowing where to go and what to do for all their needs, while we must carry all our tents, our clothing, our food, cooking stoves.......... and the satellite phone.

An eroded hut depression
Excavations have revealed quite a complex structure

Granite rocks at Lanes Tor
Hard not to think of Easter Island, or the Pukel Men

She has gazed out to sea for centuries

Camp fire on the beach at Lagoon River
But we still need so much stuff to survive here

As we neared Sandy Cape the influence of the more recent inhabitants of this coast became more and more obvious (though we had followed 4WD tracks almost all the way from the Pieman). But that's another story........

Nearly there!
Approaching Sandy Cape


  1. This is wonderful stuff, Alastair - thank you for sharing it - pics are absolutely amazing - makes Cornwall seem tame!
    You're inspiring me to post again... :-)
    ...and I am so impressed with Jeannie carrying that pack ... walking across that soft sand's a killer!
    Three cheers for the Bears!

  2. wow, really like this post! Loving the pictures! Was it warm weather? I can't imagine any feeling of heat at the moment, it's pretty cold here and the heating in our office doesn't work!
    Plus I had to google Devils as I thought they were mythical creatures! How silly of me. We have a wallaby living in Morley though, it gets taken for walks in the evenings apparently

  3. The weather was kind, fortunately. It only rained for half a day and the sun was not too burning for the rest, but quite enough to need lots of sunscreen, hats etc.

    I think there are wallabies living wild in the Peak District, so maybe the Morley one came in from the cold?

  4. Papa,
    this is most certainly my favourite blog post so far. Such wonderful photos and you capture the essence of the wilderness in your words.
    IF ONLY you could have been greeted by those native Tasmanians; and we could learn from them how to live within the land like they did. To cohabit without leaving such a heavy impact on the environment.
    It is one of my goals to see this exceptional part of Tasmania with Jac and Rooey as soon as we can. It's a profoundly moving place, thank you for sharing it with us through your words and photos.
    All love,
    us three in Texas

  5. Alastair, what a moving blog, it was so wonderful to see you capture the wild wilderness and to be such a part of it all. Thank you. It was a very moving blog with amazing photo's and knowledge behind it all. Makes me want to pack up here, get away from troubles and be a part of that lovely country that God has made. I was sad to see the four wheel drive tracks, in the sand, there is such devastation made by those vehicles.
    A truely wonderful post. 5 stars.