TG #43: Picturesque Atlas + Woodworking + Gateway to Charm + Mount Geryon
It’s been a while, but finally we are delighted to be preparing issue #43 on one of the very shortest days of the year. The fog is rolling down the Derwent with a damp chill and we’ll probably have snow on the mountain soon enough It’s a good set of articles for you as you curl up with a blanket and a cuppa tea – from craftwork in Europe to an 1898 British Empire encyclopedia, and from holidays in the Northwest to the summit of a forbidding mountaintop. You may as well dive right on in…
“For how many thousands of years the beautiful island of Tasmania had remained secluded from the rest of the world like a lost or an undiscovered paradise; and at what remote epoch the first human beings drifted across the Straits, to find themselves the sole possessors of a realm more fair and fertile than that from which they had been wafted by accident or design……”
From University of Queensland:http://espace.library.uq.edu.au/view/UQ:217831
Published in Sydney in 1886-88, the enormous, multi-volume ‘Picturesque Atlas of Australia’ was an attempt with words and pictures to describe the Australia of the time.
Its publication was one of the most significant cultural projects in 19th-century Australia. Writers, artists, academics, and politicians came together to prepare a book of unprecedented grandeur and ambition, and a publishing company was established to publish it. The 1100+ engravings on steel and wood contained in the Picturesque Atlas were among the finest engravings to be found anywhere in the world at this time, and many of the illustrations were specially commissioned works by leading Australian artists of the era, for the publication.
There are thirty maps in the Atlas’s 800 pages, plus hundreds of sketches. The word ‘picturesque’ was popularised by William Gilpin, for it was he who really popularised the idea of travelling in search of picturesque views. Picturesque took on an increasingly acquisitive edge, as admiration of the beauty of the land was joined by a concern to exploit it. A ‘deep reverence for production’ can be seen in the Picturesque Atlas’s many illustrations of mines, factories and agricultural processes. The slag heaps of a mine were now as ‘picturesque’ as a fern-filled valley.
Of the hundreds of images included in the Atlas, you will find street scenes, monuments, churches, hills, seaside, farms, horses, scrub, country towns, ships, daily life activities, headstones, bridges, people, caves, aborigines, and mountains just to mention a few.
Though the Atlas was heavily dependent upon illustrations as its main selling point, these were set within texts describing landscape, industry and city streets. Photography was invented by the time of publication, and it has been said that a number of the engravings in the book were based on photographs, but it was chosen to use the engravings instead, even though it could take weeks to engrave on 7 inch by 1 inch block. By doing this it just adds to the uniqueness and high quality of this publication.
A unique and valuable historical record of Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific.
I entered the room and rekindled the night fire; coals small, but glowing. Smoke thickened and rose as the newly added wood felt the heat below and within a few seconds, that gentle-sounding whoomph, soft and unspellable, announced the arrival of flame. I sat and watched the golden sinews of fresh flame, wicker and flow up and around the rough split logs. How many mornings have I sat just so in this house, with a fire to warm me? How often have I looked at these timbered walls, the brown, horizontal boards with their milling scars like small, parallel waves, travelling, yet somehow still, along the timber’s grain? I thought I knew something about timber, about wood, from a life lived in the Australian bush, particularly after thirty-five years in Tasmania.
But it was in Poland that I came to glimpse the full blessing of wood, a forest’s heart. Travelling there in 2014, I went from the embrace of newly-discovered family and through city scapes; seeing towns, churches, castles and museums; walking old streets, laneways and old cemeteries. I think of that country’s vast forests, how once they might have formed a giant green girdle through central Europe, woven from a blend of spruce and larch, oak and hornbeam, birch and pine. My short Springtime foray into the old, now reserved forest region of Bialowesia in N.E. Poland, impressed upon me, not only the natural ‘collective’ state for these northern hemisphere trees – grown back home as singular ‘ornamentals’ – but also the historical legacy that this once immense forest has given to its people.
It was a visit to a skansen* in Lublin, that really opened my eyes to the close connection a people and its culture can have to trees, and the sum of all its parts. I wandered around and through the centuries-old buildings, many of which were rural homes, with densely-thatched roofs, hemmed closely by barn, chook-shed, hay-loft and wood store. It was the theme of wood that united all things and it was in these very buildings and structures that again and again, the grain and strength and sap of wood flowed onward and throughout every single built thing.
There, on one wooden table, stood a jug, its straight but tapered staves, designed to hold any liquid, perhaps once pouring milk. And all around me as I walked, the steady silent presence of wood, revealing a constant and intimate connection between plant and person. A spoon for the stirring; a table, a crib, a coffin……a carpenter’s bench, a rake, a wagon…..a water trough, a drill-plough, a weaving loom….a plate, a bed, a staircase…..a cup, a wind-mill, a scoop….a castle’s framing, a pickling barrel, a milker’s stool……a wash-tub, a window-frame, a gate…..a bath, a carving, a potter’s wheel…….a church statue, a church itself, a boat…..a toy, a door knob, a window’s shutter or a cross……all made from wood, all come from fibre of the forest.
Everywhere you chose to look, there was wood, laid bare, carved, polished or painted; capable of lasting centuries or disappearing in a moment’s flame. This most immediate and useful material, guided and altered by the crafter’s hand, able to be grown again. Linking the needs and imagination of people, to an intimate understanding of a trees individual, own woody nature. From all manner of woods, all manner of things were created.
Here in Australia, though indigenous people have long evolved an intimate knowledge of bush and country, our European imprint has only a two hundred year’s time-line. Places such as Poland, can trace a defined ancestry back over a thousand years or more, considering the fluid nature of borders; a land infused with a mosaic of cultural influences, through invasions, migration and wars, that still displays a direct and personal connection to wood.
Everywhere I travelled, mostly in southern and south-eastern Poland, trees grew in gardens, along railway edges, in plantations and parkways. Small copses of trees, often birch, were staggered around orchard and cropland, and many a high-rise area had well established deciduous trees or surrounding park-lands, to let in a Winter’s light and shade all creatures during a Summer’s heat; a forest recreated. I noticed too, the way people moved through these urban areas, responding with a natural take upon the land, their footsteps forming tracks and trails much like any other animal travelling through a forest. Not there, the misguided bureaucrat’s plan for a city’s park, with straight paths and geometric guidance, but rather a display of people’s affinity with the lay of the land and how best to traverse it. Some city parks left areas of grass unmown, a sense of ‘wild’ forest for the town-dweller.
In rural areas, I sometimes came across forests that may have been communal, as in my father’s early childhood. He told me that each family in his small town, was allotted an area of forest from which to harvest wood for fires and building. I was told that people are still permitted to collect fungi from forests, including some protected reserves, such is the time-honoured tradition, where the forest is not far from a people’s cultural consciousness. Perhaps with younger generations, removed from any direct physical link to forests, this connection and honouring of wood may be diminishing.
When I think of all the travelling I did, the train journeys, the mile upon mile I passed of cultivated land, all tilled and sown into rows of contoured crops, with the curved-edge of pasture, I have to wonder at how large the original forests must have been. Viewed from the sky, the land seemed like some colourful, floral mosaic, spreading in all directions. These vast and seemingly endless swathes of cultivated land must once have been clothed and covered in all manner of foliage, frond and trunk. Of course, when one considers the passage of human history in Poland, the need for wood has been constant: timber for homes, towns and castles; to transport and sustain armies; for fuel to cook and be warm for a winter’s survival. When one thinks of the wars and their destructive mark upon the land and its people, and the renewed need for wood in all the many town and city reconstructions – especially from the damage due to the Second World War – then is there any wonder that so much area of original forest has been cleared?
My trip to Poland brought home to me the valuable legacy of a forest, on both a personal and a cultural level. When I look to my own country and see our collective relationship with our own forests, I cannot help but think how tenuous is our understanding of earthly matters. I am grateful to Poland, the land of my father, for the glimpse it has given me, into my own heritage as well as a ‘middle distance’ view over a grand, exotic forest of trees, with its inherent wealth and cultural store. Allowing me to see how people may travel through generations, and in seeking sustenance and safety from their surrounds, evolve an intimate knowledge and appreciation of what grows around them. This we can all learn from, and be encouraged.
*Skansen: an outdoor, cultural museum, set with garden or simple, open spaces, featuring old buildings, either domestic, religious or civic; a type of living documentary of Polish ‘architecture’, either transplanted, reconstructed or restored.
This government tourist film offers some interesting glimpses into the Northwest Coast sixty years ago, and a some pleasant scenes of tourist attraction. While it’s perhaps a little overenthusiastic with its promises, and far too dismissive of the Tasmanian Aboriginals, it’s a nice ramble through sunny roads and waterways from an earlier time.
I don’t know any Indigenous stories about Mt Geryon, in the southern end of Tasmania’s Cradle Mountain Lake St Clair National Park. But I do often wonder what it must have been like for the peoples who lived and passed through the incredible mountain country of central western Tasmania. To approach this mountain up Pine Valley and finally to reach the small clearing (the old ‘climbers camp’) where the bulky western face suddenly reveals itself is always an impressive, and to me, spiritual, experience. I wonder if they climbed this peak.
So many of the features of this region have been loaded down with Biblical titles or names from the Greek Classics, something that irks me whenever I scan the map or skyline. There are some great names: I love Innes High Rocky in the south west. And closer to Geryon, there is Fury Gorge, Pencil Pine Bluff, Cathedral Mountain, High Dome, Walled Mountain, The Never Never, and the beautifully appropriate Pool of Memories. These names evoke something of the place. Peaks named after early explorers also make sense. But just reeling off a list of names from western mythology seems lazy and disrespectful. But I can live with Geryon. The three-bodied giant of Greek Mythology.
It is such a dramatic mountain, squeezed up the end of Pine Valley up against the Ducane range, and hidden in behind the bulkier looking Acropolis when seen from lake St Clair. It provides a dramatic and other worldly aspect to dinner when you’re sitting in Bert Nichols hut on the Overland track. If the word charismatic can be applied to a mountain, then it certainly applies to Geryon. Its dramatic rocky faces on the east and west constantly change their moods and even from The Labyrinth it presents itself as a ‘real’ mountain, with another thousand feet of cliffs and dramatic skyline above the Labyrinth plateau. It can be mild in The Labyrinth and storming up on Geryon and the Ducane Range. The Cephessis scree, which runs from the base of the western face down almost to Cephissus Creek, is an amazing feature, and acts as a giant staircase that leads you right to the cliffs.
Climbing the mountain
Unlike a lot of the rockier mountains in Tasmania with large faces, there is no easy way around the ‘back’ of the mountain. The easiest route, and the only one with a proper trail, is to the northern peak. Its still quite a hike, requiring a 6 to 7 hours walk from the ferry at Narcissus hut on Lake St Clair. The first recorded ascent wasn’t until 1937, when Hugh Gordon and David W Wilson from the Hobart Walking Club climbed this end of the range.
For those who don’t mind the walk in, it has some incredible rock climbing. The east face is by far the more serious prospect, and the premier climb would have to be the Shield, a 450m route at grade 24 which was established by Steve Monks and Jane Wilkinson. There are at least 70 routes recorded, ranging from some moderate classics to out there desperates on the east face.
Then there is the famous Geryon Traverse, a climb and series of abseils over the three peaks. Some hardly souls attempt to head in to Geryon for ice climbing. Being Tasmania, the conditions tend towards the fickle, and I have only slogged through knee deep powder rather than found any ice. But having spent several days in the hut as snow piled up outside and massive Eucalypts creaked and swayed in the gale force winds is a memory I will hold forever. There are some good notes on the traverse and climbing on Geryon available here and some great images of the traverse here.
For hikers, the journey up from Pine Valley hut, onto The Labyrinth, and then up to the Ducane Range is an inspiring outing. From old giant Myrtle Beech dominated forest, rock scrambling up a stream bed to finally emerge on the plateau to wander through spindly snow gum and finally above the tree line, this is a superb walk. The final climb, past a narrow section and then sidling around the top of the western face has a nice sense of exposure, and feeling of being on a real mountain, as The Labyrinth and Walled Mountain appear below you.
Then, of course, there is the deciduous beech (Nothofagus gunii) which puts on a dazzling show in late autumn. This low tree tends to exist in tangled swathes in isolated pockets of the western mountains and The Labyrinth is a favourite destination for ‘beech viewing’.
Geryon and the surrounding peaks were created through glaciation and there are many examples of glacial cirques and rock grinding. It is a grand landscape, made even more beautiful by the many small lakes, glacial tarns, and the dark, pointed pencil pines that cover the surrounding plateaus.
The Ducane Range, which lies as a big arc across the head of the Pine Valley is beautiful and wild alpine landscape, with a significant patch of ground over 1,500 metres, which tends to hold snow well. There are various scramble peaks radiating off or connected to the Ducane Range – Eros and Hyperion, Mt Massif, which is accessed via Big Gun Pass, and Geryon itself. The Ducane Traverse continues past Mt Massif to Castle Crag/ Falling Mountain and then to Ducane Gap, where it meets the Overland Track. This is a fantastic 2 or 3 day adventure which requires good route finding and boulder hopping skills.
There is also a network of routes around the mountain which are neither ‘official’ or maintained, and which are largely connected to use by climbers. The main one is the route that heads upstream along the Cephissis Creek where the track to the Acropolis crosses the stream and starts to climb towards the mountain. This route follows the stream, and leads to the old climbers camp, which has space for a couple of tents amongst big old trees. From here you turn towards the mountain and head up the Cephissis scree, which leads you into a wild landscape of cliff and gully. Its difficult terrain to travel through but the views from the Geryon/ Acropolis saddle are superb.
My favourite viewing spot for the mountain is the bluffs just above the Pool of Memories, which looks out onto the headwaters of Pine Valley and directly up to the western face.
Like a lot of the higher mountain areas in Tasmania that are relatively easy to get to, these peaks are under pressure from humans. The Labyrinth in particular needs to be protected from pollution and the Parks Service discourages people from camping up on the plateau. Geryon can be climbed in a day from a camp in the Pine Valley or the Pine Valley hut. Many day walkers do the shorter trip up to the Labyrinth lookout, which does give grand views of Geryon and The Acropolis.
If you are drawn to mountains and wild landscapes, then Geryon is a must. To wind your way past glacial lakes, through groves of pencil pine and deciduous beech, as you slowly pass under the grey ramparts of Geryon’s western face would have to be one of the best walks in all of Australia. To also include the climb to the north peak makes for an unforgettable experience.