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Lake Augusta or Bust

This is the third time my friend Viv and I have taken a few days in the Central Highlands, the high country in Tasmania. It must be at least three years since our last trip. This is Viv’s heart country. Her earliest memories are backgrounded by this sub- alpine landscape.  From the age of three, she lived with her late parents at Bronte Park, a Hydro village, and later at Poatina.  Her Dad was a bobby in Lancashire county, Northern England, before the family moved to Tasmania; it must have taken some adjustment, this sparse, cold place and living in an isolated village populated by mainly post war, immigrant dam workers. Her little family had a house, but many were in very basic singlemens quarters. Further out, families who farmed and fished and camped in little settlements, were tucked away in nooks and crannies around the lakes.

The backyard at the home in Bronte Park, where Viv lived, had a couple of gaol cells for errant drunks and other prisoners. Her Mum prepared the meals when they were occupied, and when prisoner exchanges occurred her Dad drove the offender to Bothwell in a ute. At Poatina on one occasion her mother opened the front door of their home, and a man fell inside with a knife in his back. Of-course there was a lot of routine work, but Poatina, although less isolated, was the most challenging, handling ‘everything from fishing licenses to murders’ (quoting him).

Viv is always a little pissed that the old-style monkey bars have disappeared from the recreation area every time we visit, and still feels a sense of deep connection with the landscape.  That must be some kind of memorial dichotomy. On our last visit we drove into Bronte Park along the Marlborough Road from the Miena end, and a magnificent wedge-tailed eagle was pecking at carrion on the road. We slowed to a halt and watched it lift up its mighty frame from a standing position and fly over the fence to wait in a tree branch as we slowly moved forward.

Bronte Park was waiting until day two this trip, today we drove on the back roads from Westbury to Golden Valley, as autumn colours on deciduous exotics and plump rose hips led the way. We skirted the edges of Quamby Bluff like a cutter in full sail, continually rising till Projection Bluff and Drys Bluff wrapped around us. It happened so quickly. Scree, cliffs and trees make deliberate texture. The view to the valley below is always impressive. We stopped for a thermos cuppa, on either side of narrowness, a funnel from the wide Meander valley below. We were spat out into the high country and then the Pine Lake boardwalk, where peak hour parking left a tiny space, and Viv’s maneuver managed to squeeze us in for a walk, and a read of the good amount of interpretation panels.  We are local, we are tourists, Viv was almost home. I took some phone photos of the beautiful fabric of that place.

The tarns and lakes were being re-arranged, diverted and flooded to build penstocks, canals, dams and install hydroelectricity plant and equipment, when I came through this country as a child. My family travelled from Queenstown to the Midlands, or to Launceston a couple of times, and then many more times since, exploring this Island. At school we learned about the schemes and took the hydro trip, bussed up to the plateau and housed at the Bronte Park Chalet, which burned to the ground years later.

I’ve got to say I’m a fitter specimen this time, which could be saying something. So good to have energy on this day. It must be the new drug my dear doctor slipped into the mix. We went back along the Liawenee canal after claiming our accommodation. The smell of burning from destructive fires was so fresh on our last visit, we were interested in the recovery leading in to Lake Augusta. The ground feels spongy and moist higher up, but just some plants have resprouted from the base beneath the burned tops. The rocky, island like escarpment closer to Augusta, is our rocky escarpment, I’ve decided. Stopping again we wandered about the protrusions, looking out at vast rock gardens, and down to bits of white dry bones and chipped and split rocks from recent frost and snow. Today was mild.

We stopped at Lake Augusta and listened to the water lapping, then drove along beside the boxed concrete dam wall and flowering clumps of mountain rocket, stopping for another photo op. On the other side of the road the colonies of alpine plants created a crazy patchwork driving towards Lake Kay and Lake Bosford. One fisherman departed, as we drove in.

I did enjoy the drive back, distant mountains in every direction and groups of eastern grey kangaroos on either side, and on the road – a lot of them. There’s greenery about, and I wonder how many will make it through winter. It is a boney graveyard up here.

Viv and I were determined to end this day with a visit to the three Miena cider gums returning to the earth, close to the road a little NW, (I think) of Liawenee on the main road. Two are gone, grey skeletons, one is in weak leaf. The photos that we have, over six or seven years are telling. Feeling compelled to stop on a difficult stretch of road with steep narrow verges wasn’t an easy call, but we found a spot and walked back. The area is fenced now, so the contact isn’t close. My camera misbehaved, but there is a weeping shot from a distance, with late sun shining through grey as things chilled off.

Searching for the Cider Gum

at the Miena Backpackers
it was 3:24 am in this diary.
fully clothed in bed wearing a beanie,
this was a two-doona night.

I had come to see trees,
half bare of leaves, 
some grown for hundreds of years.

the endangered sub species 
Miena cider gum
needs cold frosty places.
when the sap rises in summer
it leaks. over millenia 
the boozy drink has been tapped.

I had wandered the day before 
through light snow
at a roadside stand of three gums.
one was sawn, a limb on the ground,   
another half fallen. it was grey overhead,
the trees glazed by rain.

grazing deer and cattle
had stripped the bark.
colours were intense.
greens, yellows, apricots 
bleeding out.

I used my phone 
to record the site −
imagine the outcry 
if I had captured murder
as it happened.

it was hostile at the truck stop.  
uhf frequency sent an occasional blurt. 
the one Kenworth outside, 
loaded with colossal windfarm parts,
had pulled in close to five AM
waiting for the snow plough.

I strung out a cup of tea
to stay warm, but
there wasn’t much time.
I wanted to talk to someone 
about three Miena cider gums.

Tomorrow the schedule is set, apart from weather distractions and seductive turn abouts of course. We will head past Viv’s Bronte Park, and then on to the Lyell Highway and in to Lake St Claire. The plan is to double back toward the Tarraleah Gorge, and return to base at Miena somehow.


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