There are so many beautiful places to visit along the Tamar River, and a scenic forty minute drive from Launceston, the most sublime can be found as the waters empty into Bass Strait. It is impossible to feel anything other than calm when arriving at Low Head, surrounded by the blues and greens that only nature can bestow. This fabulous old Queenslander can be rented as holiday accommodation, with a view like that I don’t think I would ever want to leave.
In 1798, explorers George Bass and Matthew Flinders circumnavigated Tasmania in their vessel, Norfolk and proved the existence of a strait separating the island from Australia (apparently, it took a long time to dig that ditch). With much difficulty, they located the mouth of the Tamar River and made landfall seven kilometres up river at Port Dalrymple, now called Georgetown. Ten years later, the crew of Hebe found the entrance more than ‘difficult’ and came to grief on the treacherous reef, the first of nine shipwrecks to come. Consequently, convict labour set to work to construct Tasmania’s second (Australia’s third) lighthouse from local rubble with a coat of stucco to help with durability and a lantern room built of timber.
First lit in December 1833, the structure slowly deteriorated and was replaced in 1888 with the double brick version still standing today. Originally painted solid white, the red band was added in 1926 to improve visibility during daylight.
The initial four-roomed lighthouse keeper’s quarters were attached to the base of the tower, as seen in this illustration that is exhibited at the site.
A new Head Keeper’s quarters was built in 1890 (now available as holiday rental) and an Assistant Keeper’s quarters followed in 1916.
Tasmania’s only foghorn was installed at Low Head in 1929. For those who might understand, it is one of the largest Type G diaphones ever constructed and is one of only two of the type functioning in the world today. Decommissioned in 1973, it was restored by a group of volunteers and became operational again in April 2001.
The foghorn is sounded at noon each Sunday and can be heard up to thirty kilometres out to sea.
The area around the lighthouse encompasses Low Head Coastal Reserve, home to little penguins, the smallest of all penguin species. Also known as fairy penguins, they are the only species of penguin that are dark blue and white rather than black and white. The Penguin Tour experience sees them waddling back to their burrows after a day in the sea under cover of darkness. We were fortunate to spy this lovely creature settled on the nest, apparently accustomed to human presence.
With Michael recently sidelined sporting a badly sprained ankle, I stepped in for Poppy-walking duty. Saturday is always the long walk down the steep hill into our forest. It had been quite a while since my last venture this way and I was amazed how much had changed. The tree ferns are enormous and every shade of green.
If Michael hadn’t pre-warned me about the crayfish burrows on the path, I probably would have stepped on them. Freshwater burrowing crayfish live in tunnel systems in muddy banks, only venturing out at night or in damp, overcast conditions. The Tasmanian genera has claws that open vertically to the body rather than horizontally to allow for larger claws in narrow tunnels. Characteristic ‘chimneys’, some as high as 40cm, announce the entrance to the burrow.
Remnants of an overnight rain shower sparkled on foliage
while contorted trees danced amongst their lofty companions.
I dutifully followed Poppy along the boundary of adjoining farmland
where we attracted the interest of neighbouring cattle who didn’t hesitate to take a closer look.
Our circuit returned us to the forest, the winter season has delivered more firewood from nature,
the manferns are thriving
and the stream is bubbling its way to the Blythe River.
I wisely chose bright red socks for my pilgrimage, all the better to see the leeches that abound in the damp conditions.
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.
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.
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.