frosty fingers

Having just returned from ten days in Darwin, I am struggling to adapt to the climate shock. Tasmanians are used to the four seasons and we enjoy the positive in each of them. Not long before my recent sojourn, I took Poppy for her morning walk into the Blythe Conservation Area that adjoins our property. There is no need to consult the BOM website to know the temperature has dipped into the minus, the frozen birdbaths are evident enough.

Risking frostbite to my digits, I transformed my thermal mittens to fingerless gloves (an ingenious design purchased at Cradle Mountain some years ago). Crossing the paddock, it seemed the forest was on fire with the trees reflecting the glow of early sunlight.

To the north, an aircraft’s vapour trail draws a line across the pale blue sky.

Looking back, the frost is heavy on our house roof

and the neighbour’s horses are rugged up against the cold.

Once into the forest, brushfires of rising sun create autumnal hues

and someone is patiently waiting for me to catch up.

Further into the woodland, I have stumbled into paradise,

even Poppy takes a moment to appreciate the spectacle.

We may have trespassed into sacred sulphur-crested cockatoo territory at the end of the trail, the ear-piercing screeches from on high warned others of our presence.

Retracing our steps, highlights from ascending Sol lingered

and the frosty paddocks would soon warm to the glow.

Reclaimed garden edging and fallen leaves hold onto the frost

but the daffodils are promise of the coming spring.

Federation Walk

The town of Burnie in northwest Tasmania began to boom after the discovery of tin at Waratah in 1871. Two years later, the Mount Bischoff Tin Mining Company was floated and in 1875, the VDL Company moved its headquarters from Stanley to Burnie. The tin was transported to the Burnie Port, the horse-drawn wooden rail tramway was replaced in 1884 with steam trains and steel rails. The relevance of this (yes, I’m getting there) is that it brought the wealth and impetus to build the magnificent Federation architecture that abounds in Burnie today.
Some time ago, I came across a leaflet for ‘Federation Walks of Burnie’ and only recently, on a sunny afternoon, indulged in a journey of discovery. It transpires that many of the buildings from this period are reflective of the Federation Queen Anne style, a fine example being the house known as Wyona.

Built in 1914 for Edward Alfred Joyce, a leading Tasmanian manufacturing jeweller, the house sits in a prominent position above the town on William Street on a bend where the name changes to Queen Street. Bow-windowed bays with prominent gables face both streets and a verandah projects diagonally between the two, making the most of views across the city and sea. The Tasmanian State Institute of Technology established a study centre at Wyona in 1983 and it is now the private residence of the Mayor of Burnie.

Continuing down Queen Street, Kandaha is a magnificent home built in 1888.

Set in an acre of immaculate gardens, the wide verandah is decorated with intricate cast iron brackets, fringe and railings. This was becoming rare, as cast iron was replaced in favour of machine-cut timber for balcony and verandah decoration by 1900.

Outbuildings include the original laundry with Huon pine washtubs but I’m not sure if this is it.

Queen Street was originally called Chaff Street and apparently became known as ‘Rotten Row’ due to the sub-standard housing at the time. Obviously, the area improved and in 1907 the street was renamed after Queen Alexandra of Denmark, wife of King Edward VII. In a region of rich timber resources, weatherboard became the preferred building material. Many Federation Queen Anne residences are an ‘L’ shape plan with a front room projecting forward toward the street and a verandah extending along the remainder of the frontage. Concealed within a mature garden, number 30 Queen Street was constructed in 1906 and has many of the additional characteristics of the era such as a prominent gable with half-timbered effect, valance and bargeboards with finial.

Francis Tallack is credited as being the ’architect of Burnie’ and was responsible for the construction of hotels and numerous business premises as well as private homes. Number 24 Queen Street was built by Tallack in 1910, the large front room windows face the sea and double verandah posts and curved timber have been used to create the decorative valance.

Just around the corner on Princes Street, number 1 is the house where Francis Tallack lived. The remarkable keyhole entrance is surrounded by decorative timber that continues along the verandah railing and the front door features Art Nouveau leadlight.

Princes Street is not a long street but the houses are stunning. It was originally the private driveway of a well-known homestead, Berthonville, and was renamed in 1907 after the three sons of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra. Carinya (number 3) is beautifully maintained, decorative timber embellishments, tall chimneys and simple leadlight enhance the façade.

I would love to see inside these homes. The decorative timber continues into the hallways, mantels and wall panelling and some have the Art Nouveau touch of pressed metal ceilings. Number 5 Princes Street has an interesting turret, though I’m not sure if it is original or a later addition.

Heritage listed number 7 has all the features of the Federation Queen Anne style and is, again, superbly presented.

Across the road, another keyhole entrance leads to the verandah at number 2.

Back on Queen Street, number 22 was built in 1908 by Joseph Alexander who also built the heritage listed Ikon Hotel in Burnie. The warm red of ‘Burnie brick’ makes a change from the weatherboard façades of the era and is complemented by the paint colours on trimmings.

Nearing the end of my ‘guided’ stroll, number 20 Queen Street is a late example of the architectural style, having been constructed in 1923.

At the bottom of Queen Street, running parallel to the ocean, is Olive Street. This was the former driveway to the property known as Olive Grove, home to Joseph Law who built the Burnie Inn, the first licensed premises in Burnie that opened in 1847. Manresa, at number 7 Olive Street, was built around 1900 by Captain William Jones, a prominent local identity known as the ‘King of Burnie’. Jones was a very successful Burnie business owner and entrepreneur, owning the Burnie brickyard, hotels, butter factory, abattoir, cordial factory, timber and mining holdings and several farms. He lived in his mansion, Menai, in South Burnie and built Manresa for one of his sons.

As I delve further into the history of Burnie, I am boggled by the enterprising people who had vision for this town nearly two hundred years ago. Hopefully, the heritage of this region won’t be lost and will come to be appreciated by future generations.

timber strings

There are many artistic folk here in the northwest of our island and last weekend saw the opportunity for local luthiers to showcase their creations. Fourteen music makers presented their unique musical instruments at the Tasmanian Timber Strings exhibition at Wynyard.

The drawcard for me, even though I can admire them at any time, were the two gorgeous guitars made by my talented husband. Michael attended his first guitar-making course at Highfield House, Stanley, in October 2012, led by Chris Wynne of Thomas Lloyd guitars. Benjamin is named after the last captive thylacine who died at Beaumaris Zoo, Hobart on 7th September 1936.

The 7-string dreadnaught has a magnificent tiger myrtle backboard, sides & headstock along with celery top pine soundboard, blackwood double-rosette & body bindings, Tasmanian oak neck and Queensland gidgee fretboard & bridge .

In May 2014, a second guitar-making course in Italy, again with Chris Wynne, produced the beautiful 6-string dreadnaught, Corinna.

This time, the soundboard is Huon pine with a musk rosette, figured blackwood backboard & sides, gidgee fretboard, bridge & bindings and Tasmanian oak neck. The musk headstock is inlaid with a blackwood thylacine graphic, designed by Michael to reflect the name of the instrument, the Aboriginal word for a young thylacine.

Michael O’Donnell also started making guitars after attending a workshop in Italy under the tutelage of Chris Wynne and took over the business Woodtone Guitars in Penguin in early 2018. As well as creating customised acoustic and electric guitars, he conducts guitar making courses, sourcing specialty timbers for you to build your own.

The gifted Kille family of Tarkine Strings are best known for their beautiful string ensemble music. Murray has another string to his bow (pardon the pun), making a striking guitar with sassafras back & sides under the guidance of Michael O’Donnell in 2018. The soundboard & neck are Huon pine and the fretboard is figured Tasmanian blackwood with a myrtle headstock.

Alongside was an elegant violin made by luthier Cecil Bynon in 1983 with King Billy pine top, Tasmanian blackwood back, sides & neck and ebony fingerboard.

Murray also repairs classical string instruments including violins, violas and cellos, though I think this one is beyond redemption.

The Australian Ukelele Company specialise in unique Tasmanian timber and offer the choice of a custom made instrument or a kit to make your own.

Gary Fleming has always been fascinated with making things since spending many hours in his Dad’s shed when he was growing up. He made his first guitar as a challenge, to see if he could do it and went on to make electric guitars from locally sourced material. On his two most recent guitars, he has experimented with custom bridge and tail pieces as well as asymmetrical neck carve and scalloped fretboards.

Already a talented fine furniture maker, Stephen Oram added harp making to his repertoire in 2002. It started when a friend of his partner needed an extra pair of hands. Now furniture has taken a back seat as he creates seven or eight harps a year.

Michael Tharme couldn’t be present on the day but his cigar box guitars, branded Mikhail, offered a very different and colourful alternative. Michael has been building instruments since 2016 based on the original Cuban cigar box guitar but uses all kinds of material such as biscuit tins, number plates and anything else he might find in an old shed or antique shop. They are one of a kind, hand made in Tasmania from local and reclaimed timbers whenever possible.

Local luthier, Peter Sutcliffe, had a diverse display of his handmade instruments.

The delicate inlay in the neck of this guitar is exquisite.

There were fine examples of handcrafted guitars and mandolins from another local, Gary Radcliffe, including an unfinished soundboard with an intricate rosette.

Just when I thought I’d seen it all, I discovered a very unusual violin made from kelp. Yes, kelp! Chris Henderson has been working tirelessly to perfect the process of turning giant kelp, gathered from the west coast near Marrawah, into a musical instrument. It is not an easy material to work with. Kelp shrinks about ¼ to ½ in size and about ¾ by weight. Because it doesn’t shrink evenly and curls up, it is dried for four days sandwiched in a metal grid. The cured kelp is more like hard plastic than wood and will not stick with any glues or take varnishes. It can be bent and cut after 15 minutes in a 50°C oven but, if it were not clamped in a fibreglass mould, it would slowly reform its original shape. If it weren’t for carbon fibre tubes and wooden blocks, the seaweed would sink at the bridge under the load of strings and distort with changes in humidity. So, why make a musical instrument from kelp? Michael summed it up in one word – bonkers!

Later in the afternoon, we were entertained by the various exhibitors. Peter Sutcliffe and his associates opened the session with an upbeat jazz number, followed by ‘I Can See Clearly Now’, a little optimistic considering the deluge outside that was predicted to continue for the next few days.

Philip Nicholas has been teaching strings and performing since 1980, he shared his rendition of three works by Bach on a guitar he made in 1984.

The afternoon concluded with a number of pieces from Tarkine Strings along with guest musicians.

black bunny

A couple of years ago, a solitary bunny appeared in the garden and stayed for a few weeks. Last spring, the same thing happened but this time it was a little black one.

I assume he occupied the same burrow as the previous tenant under the safety of a dense, spiky grevillea.

We would see him out on the lawn each day, nibbling contentedly but never too far from his home.

I like to think he has found a new home and family out in the forest and not become a meal for a passing hawk.

Star of the Sea

For many years, I have been fascinated by a beautiful red brick church perched on a hill at one of the main intersections on the highway here in Burnie. Beside it are other similarly constructed edifices, one of which appears to be a school with the year 1912 above the doorway. To satisfy my curiosity, I recently took a closer look. The Catholic Church of St. Mary’s Star of the Sea opened in January 1891.

Designed by respected architect Alexander North, whose work includes Holy Trinity in Launceston, the church is an excellent example of the High Victorian Gothic style. There is no door at the front of the church, the entrance is via a porch on the eastern side wall above which is an elaborately carved white cross imported from New Zealand.

The red bricks were manufactured locally in Burnie while specially moulded bricks and terracotta tiles with a stylised flower design came from Launceston. The finest quality sandstone from Ross quarry in Tasmania’s midlands was used for the window frames.

The use of black bricks amongst the red ones to create geometric patterns, known as structural polychromy, was one of the features of High Victorian Gothic buildings.

The Welsh slates on the pitched roof have stood the test of time.

The interior is welcoming and warm with red brick walls and a pine lined roof.

I made my way to the chancel

where a trinity of colourful stained glass windows depict the Annunciation, the Sacred Heart appearing to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque and the Nativity.

All the windows are of stained glass, the bold geometric patterns throughout the nave were designed by North himself.

A small side chapel in the east transept beatifically captured the morning sun

while the votive candles in the west transept awaited the congregation for Holy Thursday.

The ceiling is a work of art, the spiky elaborate roof trusses are another example of High Victorian Gothic style.

The porch is adorned with memorials of many people associated with the church. St. Mary’s by the Sea was originally a small wooden church on the corner of Cattley Street and Marine Terrace in town. When Irishman Father Matthew O’Callaghan became parish priest, he was instrumental in selling that property and purchasing the land on which the new church was built. He was transferred to Queenstown in 1897 and died two years later. His remains were returned to Burnie for burial in the parish he had served for twenty five years.

The memorials to the Dunphy and Cooney families have piqued my interest. I have found they are buried in the Wivenhoe cemetery a short drive from our house, I shall investigate further.

Another Irishman, Father Patrick Hayes, was appointed to the parish in 1889 and was responsible for building a Catholic school in 1912 and adding a presbytery in 1928. He retired in 1947 and, passing away in 1954, was also buried at Wivenhoe.

A historic plaque was discovered by current parish priest, Father John Girdauskas, beneath the Star of the Sea church, commemorating the opening of St. Anne’s Catholic church and primary school in 1961.

The gardens on the two acre site have been established and are tended by volunteers.

A tidy section by the steps from the car park is dedicated to Father Terry McCosker, whose arrival in 1988 was sadly cut short due to illness.

The steeply sloping land behind the church has been landscaped with care and many hours of hard work have resulted in some very impressive retaining walls.

The path continues from the more formal gardens to a natural reserve, dedicated to the Fraser family.

St. Mary’s Star of the Sea has escaped the threat of removal twice. Firstly with the relocation of the Burnie Highway in 1979 and again just before Fr Girdauskas took over when the Marist priests intended building a replacement church near Marist College. The church is now heritage listed, as it should be.