IIt’s a remarkable fact that parts of lutruwita/Tasmania remain unexplored from a contemporary perspective. There are valleys, plains and ridges in the west of the state that are unlikely to have been visited by humans in the past 250 years. Even the flanks of well-known recreational destinations, such as the Western Arthur Range in the state’s southwest, contain lake shores, moorlands and tracts of dense cool-temperate jungle that probably haven’t seen a human footprint in recorded history.
01 This lake in Tasmania’s Southwest National Park is only a few kilometres from a popular walking track. The lake was once accessible by track, but the track has now disappeared and the lake has probably been visited by fewer than ten parties in the past 30 years.
02 Federation Peak, in the background of this photo, is a well-known but extremely challenging wilderness destination. The pinnacle in the foreground is unnamed, and the lake in the middle distance may not have been visited in recorded history.
The same is not true of prehistory, as lutruwita has been home to the palawa (Tasmanian Aboriginal) people for 40,000 years. This vast span of time included the last ice age, when many parts of the island that are now densely forested were relatively open and inhabitable. Most of the island is therefore likely to have been visited at some stage during in its long human occupation. There may be exceptions, but we can’t know for sure.
03 Walkers on the third day of a 16-day expedition into remote, trackless country on Tasmania’s southwest coast.
04 Sunbeams dance over the Southern Ocean on the state’s remote southwest coast.
The early phases of European exploration in Tasmania were focussed mostly on the search for arable land and exploitable resources to shore up the new colony’s economy. In some respects, the very concept of exploration is an essentially colonial construct. The fact that Western Tasmania was largely devoid of commercially attractive minerals, timber and pasture is the main reason much of the region remains roadless and undeveloped to the present day.
05 This unnamed 60m waterfall in Tasmania’s central highlands is located in trackless country. It is marked on maps but otherwise unrecorded.
06 Sunbeams over the Old River Valley, Southwest National Park. The valley was the main access to Federation Peak in the mid 20th century, but is now rarely visited. Much of the country southeast of this valley has remained unexplored in recorded history.
The rugged terrain, inclement weather and ferociously dense vegetation of Western Tasmania were also major impediments to its early exploration. Seeking a route west to Macquarie Harbour in 1840, assistant surveyor James Calder found his way barred by the ‘hideous defile’ that’s now named the Great Ravine. Calder was obliged to bypass the ravine many kilometres to the south. Following Calder’s track two years later, Sir John and Lady Franklin were detained by a week-long deluge on the South Loddon Plains. Four decades on, track-cutter Osborne Geeves lamented the ‘dense, everlasting, interminable scrub, which has prevented all this southern portion of Tasmania from ever being explored’.
07 Much of the takayna/Tarkine area in Tasmania’s northwest has remained unexplored in the modern era, as there are few walking tracks in its remoter areas.
08 This waterfall in the takayna/Tarkine is unnamed and inaccessible by track.
Even when track-cutters overcame the elements and hacked out tenuous paths across the wilderness, their efforts were often quickly reclaimed by the cutting-grass and bauera. Few expeditions illustrate this more poignantly than that of track-cutter Thomas Bather Moore, whose party cut a track from Port Davey to Hastings via the upper reaches of the Old and New Rivers around the turn of the twentieth century. The track, which took two years to cut, traversed what Moore described as ‘scrub and country the worst ever experienced’. There is no evidence that anyone subsequently used this track in the brief years before it faded back into the wilderness.
09 Vicinity of the Great Ravine, Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park. The canyon in the background has only been visited by three or four parties. Reaching the point where I took this photo required a river crossing and a week of intense scrub-bashing.
10 It took me eight days of off-track walking to reach this unnamed waterfall, as part of a 19-day trip in trackless country in the Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park.
During the past hundred years, small bands of adventurers (some travelling solo) have continued to explore the Tasmanian wilds. As most of Western Tasmania has now been protected, the motives for exploration are different today. As a photographer, part of my personal motivation comes from the opportunity to photograph scenes and features that are unlikely to have been photographed before. (I don’t reveal the locations of such places, as their anonymity is part of what keeps them wild.) Additionally, I find that journeys into remote country are often the most memorable and the most deeply rewarding. Such journeys sometimes bring discoveries: for example, in 1979 I found a rock arch over the Weld River that to the best of my knowledge had not been previously recorded. More often, what I discover are not iconic features but simply renewed opportunities to shed the fetters of the modern world and lose myself in the sublime and scrubby vastness of the wilderness.
Martin Hawes began walking in the Tasmanian wilds in his early teens, shortly after his family emigrated from the UK. After studying pure maths at Australian National University he devoted several years to wilderness photography, producing his first book Above me only sky in 1981. For the past four decades he has continued to explore and photograph wilderness, mostly in Tasmania, while working as a seasonal track labourer, track monitoring officer, teacher, writer, wilderness consultant, and wilderness researcher. He is the author of four books, of which his latest, Unexplored, is his second devoted exclusively to the Tasmanian wilds. Copies of Unexplored are available for sale in a number of bookshops, galleries and other outlets around Tasmania. You can learn more at www.martinhawes.info.
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