Monthly Archives: April 2014

TG #17

Hello again, it’s been a while!
It’s been an eventful few days for Tasmanian Geographic. After some technical hiccups (too tedious to explain in any detail, and too frustrating to remember), we were forced to rejig the website layout almost from scratch.
The last 72 hours have been a good time to trim up the look and feel of, and it’s now looking better than I ever imagined it could. It will look sharp on your mobile phone and your desktop computer, and is much more efficient in terms of all of the extra tools and code required to make it work. So, please do take a look and let us know what you think!
We’ve lined up four great articles for you this time around.
In no particular order:
Helen Webberley brings us another historical piece on Tasmania, this time telling the unique and tragic story of Critchley Parker. He proposed a homeland for the persecuted Jews of Europe in the wettest, most remote corner of Tasmania; it never came to pass but is an inspiring tale nonetheless.
Angus Munro shares his scenes from Pacific Coast ramblings. His sea-dragon photo is a stunner, and one of my personal favourites.
Returning to the mountains, Warwick Sprawson teaches us about how to deal with the curious and hungry bush fauna, and in his first article for Tasmanian Geographic, the Kiwi Paul Monigatti presents a travel memoir and GoPro footage from a recent rock climbing expedition.
We hope you enjoy reading this issue as much as we enjoyed compiling it. Do give us your feedback on the new website layout, and don’t forget to tell a friend!
All the best,
The Editor

A Homeland in the Southwest

Where can you go when the world turns against you? The farthest corner of the farthest island?

Critchley Parker (1911-42) was the son of a Melbourne mining magazine publisher, Frank Parker. Frank had been a very visible and public figure in his day, playing a major part in the conscription debate and election campaign of 1917. A fervent pro-conscriptionist, Frank displayed inflammatory posters in his windows and used his magazine, now the Australian Statesman and Mining Standard, to attack anti-conscriptionists and Irish Catholicism.

Rather unexpectedly Critchley Parker, a young upper middle class Anglo Saxon Christian, became a friend of the Jewish people by seeking to find a Jewish homeland in Australia. This was not as strange as it may seem.

The Kimberleys in the remote, NW corner of Australia had already been seriously considered as a possibility for a Jewish safe haven. In 1933 Dr Isaac Steinberg and his London-based Freeland League selected the Kimberleys as a place to purchase agricultural land; this was where 75,000 Jewish refugees from Europe could be reset­tled, a few years before the Holocaust even emerged. This effort became known as the Kimberley Plan and was based on the Australian governments officially-declared need to populate The North. Alas that possibility faded when the Australian Federal government later decided not to support the idea.

Critchley Parker believed a better alternative could be found in Port Davey, a rugged part of SW Tasmania. If Tasmania is the most isolated part of Australia (and the world), Port Davey is one of the most isolated parts of Tasmania. But perhaps that was the very appeal of the place to Parker.

Why did Critchley Parker get involved in a struggle that was not his own?

Helen Light (1) suggested three motives:

1] a genuine concern for the refugees,
2] a keen interest in Tasmania’s economic development and
3] his attachment to Caroline Isaacson, a journalist on Melbourne’s most important newspaper and a Jewish activist.

In 1941 Parker finally met Dr Steinberg, the Russian politician who had initially arrived in Australia to discuss the Kimberley Plan. (Pictured) Together Parker and Steinberg set off to explore the area around Port Davey in Tasmania, without detailed plans but with great enthusiasm.

On arrival, they approached the state premier, AG Ogilvy Robert Cosgrove(1939-47) who graciously welcomed the proposal; an official visit for Parker, Steinberg, Isaacson and a team of experts got underway.But 1941 was not a great year for radical proposals. The war with Japan was looking hopeless and Britain, as it turned out, could not even defend Singapore. Worse still, the Americans were not likely to become involved in World War Two at that stage. Any notion of an Australian Jewish Settlement was not given high priority in late 1941.

The issue for Jews was beyond desperate by 1941. The Germans were already well along the path of the total extermination of Jewish communities throughout central and eastern Europe. So in March 1942 Parker set out to survey his proposed homeland site in Tasmania’s remote and rugged south west. The area around Port Davey is some of the bleakest coastline in the world. There are still no roads, no towns, no people – just sheer peaks, gorges, wild rivers and wild weather. It was, and is a vast landscape.

On this journey, staff dropped him at the foot of Mount MacKenzie and told him to light a fire if he needed help. After two days, when the gales rolled in, Critchley returned to his tent and signalled for help. In doing so he used up all his matches. No help came. He retired to his tent, totally alone, and existed for three weeks on water and aspirin. He tragically died, but the notebooks and letters that he had in his tent survived. The documents included his hopes for Jewish settlement in the area, probably to be modelled on Russian collectivism.

The only writer I can find who thought Critchley Parker’s dream to save Jewish lives was not valuable was Pip McManus (2). She said Parker was a wealthy eccentric with an abiding passion for the development of the Tasmanian frontier, a deluded romantic bent on fulfilling his own neo-biblical prophesies of a New Jerusalem. Parker disregarded the advice and aspirations of his colleagues and perished, as the result of his own obsessive failings. She saw Parker’s plans to create a safe homeland for his (McManus’ word) Jewish refugees, devoid of conservationist values, as more suited to a script from a reality TV survivor programme.

The plans were doomed, as indeed were contemporary Jewish attempts to peacefully settle the Holy Land. Tasmania and Israel were both Unpromised Lands.Other Christian Australians, if they know the story of Parker at all, read it as a brave but hopelessly romantic Australian explorer who died tragically a la Burke and Wills eg Wilson’s Blogmanac (3). Jewish Australians, if they know the story, see Parker as an amazing human being. He was a Christian who went to extraordinary lengths to rescue Jewish lives from the German crematoria during the worst years of WW2.

The case is well argued in Philosemitism blog and in The Age’s Saturday Review (4).In Parker’s story, Helen Light teased out all the elements of the Tasmanian story – promise of a haven, wild landscape, dream and vision, conflict between the establishment of a settlement and concomitant industry, and its inevitable impact. A great adventure and a tragic end. I would add desperate and romantic energy in the face of an impending Holocaust on one hand vs benign neglect on the other.It is interesting that in these hideous days of pushing asylum-seeker boats back out to sea, Tasmanian politicians proudly champion those seeking asylum in their state.




Climbing Adventures in Tasmania

What’s it feel like to clamber on some of the finest cliffs in Australia? Watch along with a GoPro and get a sense of the vertigo, patience, and challenge in rock climbing…

Our party of six had arrived in Hobart just after lunchtime in early March. The trip was off to a great start. We collected the rental cars from the airport; a late model XR6 and X-Trail, affectionately known by the call signs “Silver Fox” and “Chunder Bus”. Then, we headed into the city to collect supplies and a parking fine, ready to get straight into some climbing the next day.

The main mission was to be Frenchmans Cap, a remote quartzite cliff in the Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park, with some routes approaching 400 metres in length. The weather forecast wasn’t looking great at that point, so instead, climbing the sea cliffs on the Freycinet Peninsula was next on the schedule.

We arrived in Coles Bay by evening, only to find that the camp ground was closed and full. In search of a suitable site, we quickly discovered that the Silver Fox did not perform well on rough gravel roads. Fortunately, some locals let us know where to find a place to camp, and shortly afterwards we settled in for the night.

On day two, the six of us squeezed into the Chunder Bus for the bumpy drive out to the Freycinet crags; the person buried in the boot under all our climbing gear attracting strange looks from unsuspecting members of public. After unpacking and racking up, we explained to a tour group how our “hooks” worked, asserting that they are perfectly safe, and had our photos taken.

Then it was down to business – we abseiled down to the base of the spectacular granite cliffs. The climbing was great, including a bit of gardening to set up anchors, and using some holds that looked remarkably like cams and quickdraws on some of the harder sections. When the guidebook says “a sparsely-protected pitch”, you’d better believe it. Even belaying was scary.

The following day included a trip up to Longford, a bit of evening climbing in Cataract Gorge, and a brief detour through Launceston courtesy of Google Maps.

Ben Lomond National Park was the next attraction. 100 metre sheer cliffs of pure crack climbing – something I quickly discovered that I wasn’t very good at. Both myself and my climbing partner climbed a single pitch that day, bailed off, and managed to get two ropes stuck. Meanwhile, the rest of our group were eagerly climbing pitch after pitch.

After an epic mission to rescue our gear, the rescuers themselves got their two ropes stuck too. Not for long, though, as we had more rescuers already at the top of the cliffs. Once we were all finally back at the base of the cliff, we observed a brilliant sunset. Unfortunately, we still had an hour of boulder-hopping between us and the car park.

Finally, the weather forecast for Frenchmans Cap was showing what we wanted to see – good weather moving in over the next few days. We collected more supplies, and then headed over to Lake St Clair for the next few nights. To prove that rock climbers can appreciate art, we headed to “The Wall”, a spectacular wood carving that is still a work in progress. It describes the history of the Derwent Bridge area in the form of intricately-carved wood panels; the wall is to be 100 metres long when complete. Definitely worth checking out if you’re in the area.

The walking started the following day. It started off OK, but shortly afterwards I was destroyed. “Endless torture is one way to describe the 25 km walk to the Tahune Hut at the base of Frenchmans”, says the guidebook. I disagree; with my level of fitness and pack weight, that is the only way to describe the walk. Every step was a torture. After stopping overnight at Lake Vera, we arrived at Lake Tahune the following afternoon, tired, wet, cold, and rather amused to see another hiker frantically trying to dry his jeans by the fire.

The brilliant weather didn’t arrive on cue, so a hike to the top of Frenchmans Cap was in order. We scrambled through rain, snow and fog to the summit so that we could update Facebook. Er, get the latest weather forecast. The news was not good – the high pressure weather system had skirted around Tasmania and was on its way to New Zealand!

On the descent back to the hut, we checked out the climbs that we wouldn’t be doing. A few sketchy traverses later put us at the base of the huge cliffs, disappearing into the clouds above. I’ll have to head back some time to climb there – and hope for better luck with the weather. The rock was amazing.

The next day was the ultimatum – climb, or get out. The first of our party was up early – bumping around, excited about the starry sky above. “Ah good, you’re all awake” were the words that woke the rest of us. Outside were low clouds and no stars in sight – only ten minutes after seeing the opposite. A hasty retreat was in order. That evening, we enjoyed delicious meals at the Derwent Bridge Hotel, by a roaring fireplace – a stark contrast to freeze-dried meals by a tiny coal stove. All was good.

The time to leave Tasmania was fast approaching. The next stop would be Hobart, to get in a bit of climbing at Mt Wellington and the Tasman Peninsula.

Mt Wellington is an amazing place. Great climbing, great views, and not far from the city. Spending a week there would be worthwhile, although make sure you’re reading the guidebook properly. You know a climb means trouble when your normally talkative climbing partner goes silent.

Ten minutes later, he yelled “there is no way this is a three-star grade 15 climb!” Not quite in those words, mind you. The curses echoed off the cliffs, down the valleys, and across the greater Hobart area, assaulting the ears of anyone who would listen. The silence returned, followed shortly afterwards by the end of the first pitch.

When following up the route, I quickly realised what all the silence and shouting was about. Loose rock, slings stashed into tiny shrubs, and the type of climbing that strangely resembled bush-bashing. I then led the second pitch. The first few metres of it, at least. It quickly turned into a nasty off-width crack, and we didn’t have any gear that would do the job. Luckily for us, there was a nice big tree nearby. Needless to say, we took the opportunity and bailed. A day later, we again looked at the guidebook. We started on the wrong route, and got further off course. The guidebook said something along the lines of “overgrown and nasty – don’t bother”. Grade 13, no stars.

After a day exploring Hobart, including a visit to another art gallery, it was off to the Tasman Peninsula despite a poor weather forecast. It was a sunny walk in to the Mt Brown crags, but half-way up the first route the rain rolled in. Another hasty retreat – and the sun returned shortly afterwards. That was the last climb of the trip. The next few hours involved more typical tourist activities – standing behind safety barriers (or jumping over safety barriers for some of us), and taking photos of the coastline, blowholes, sea caves and fossils.

The time had come to leave Tasmania behind. It was definitely a great place to be climbing and hiking, and definitely one that I’ll return to. Although the main mission of the trip was never attempted, a great time was had by all. Frenchmans Cap is now firmly on my list….


On the Pacific Coastline

There’s a stunning view to be had towards the rising sun from the Pacific Coast of Tasmania…..whether you are in the water or on the cliffs, there’s an adventure to be had. Here’s a handful of photos from the waves, to the sands, to the hills…

Food Raiders of the Overland Track

Thought for food: When hiking the Overland Track make sure you put some thought into how to protect your food from animal raiders

There are many hazards on the Overland, but one of the most common is animals eating your food as you sleep. Waking up to find a very fat possum outside your tent and your entire week’s worth of breakfast oats gone could ruin your trip.

It’s no good for the animals either, as the unnatural diet can lead to serious health problems. Animals can also starve as there are few hikers to provide food in the colder months and if they try to return to their traditional diet they often find their home range has been occupied in their absence.

On the Overland the most common food raiders are bushtailed possums. In the past people have foolishly fed the animals and now they’ve developed a taste for the cheap thrills of processed food. These days hikers are mostly too responsible to feed them deliberately, but the possums now crave the taste and launch raids on tents and huts to try and get a feed.

This includes rummaging through packs left in front of tents overnight – there have even been reports of possums ripping open tents to get to the food they can smell inside. I’ve also had a spotted-tail quoll chew a hole through the tough fabric of my pack and make off with food (and a dirty sock).

A better option is to store your food (and rubbish) in one of the huts along the track, even if you’re camping. But even in a hut food is not safe, with possums sneaking through open doorways and even forcing out fly-wire to get in through windows. These guys are determined! Also some huts are home to native long tailed mice, cute little guys who are adept at climbing and don’t mind a mouthful of tomorrow’s lunch.

The easiest way I’ve found of keeping my food from the mice, quolls and possums is to hang it up from the hut’s beams.

I put all my food and rubbish into a cloth bag and tie the bag to a rafter or beam with a 50cm length of fishing line. Then I can have a restful night’s sleep instead of hearing rustles in the middle of the night and wondering, Is that tomorrow’s breakfast disappearing?

Food raiders aren’t limited to huts and tents. Many of us have had the particularly Tasmanian experience of leaving our backpack beside the track while exploring a sidetrip only to return and notice a pocket has been unzipped.

Your camera and map are still there, but somebody has nicked your stash of muesli bars. All four of them are gone without trace. Who would do such a low thing?

A black currawong, that’s who. They’re a bird species only found in Tasmania – and a rather smart one at that. These guys hang about around track junctions where they know hikers often leave their bags to do sidetrips. Once the coast is clear they swoop down and hoick open zips with their powerful beaks.

When doing any sidetrips on the Overland put a pack cover over your bag – currawongs haven’t figured out how to remove pack covers yet, although I am sure they are working on the problem…

Excerpted from The Overland Track Guidebook