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HISTORY:
- THE TASMANIAN BUSHMEN -
(page 5)
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Tales of the Old Tasmanian Bushmen
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osmiridium mine - Adamsfield, Tasmania
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A disused osmiridium mine at Adamsfield.
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    The old osmiridium mining township of Adamsfield could lay claim to having had some of Tasmania's best bushmen of the day pass through.  One of these was a policeman, Arthur Fleming, who for a wager carried a 200-pound pack without having taken it off his back all the way from the Florentine Crossing to Adamsfield, a distance of some ten miles up and over some mighty rough and hilly country.  Rumour has it that he then returned to the Florentine for another load.  They bred them tough back in those days!  Trooper Fleming was born at Oatlands in 1899 and joined the Tasmanian police force in 1932.  While stationed at the central highlands town of Bothwell, he was seconded for several government searches for the thylacine.  In areas north and west of Frenchman's Cap near the Franklin River, Fleming claimed to have found tiger tracks in no less than eleven different locations during November 1937.  He was back in the field again a year later when he again led a search for the tiger sponsored by the Fauna Board that included several notable bushmen of the day, namely; Trooper Boyd, Constable Royal, A. Best, G .Gordon and Michael Sharland.  The expedition found and plaster-casted positive footprints in the Thirkell's Creek Valley, as well as near Calder Pass.  Further evidence of the tiger's presence was found along the Lodden and Lightning Plains.  Fleming acted as a guide in David Fleay's 1945-46 West Coast expedition to locate the tiger for a proposed captive breeding programme.
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trappers in S.W. Tasmania - circa 1930
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A circa 1930 photo by Michael Sharland entitled "Trappers in S.W. Tasmania".
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    Noted naturalist Michael Sharland was a superb bushman, taking part in various thylacine expeditions and private searches, as well as writing extensively on various Tasmanian wildlife topics.  He became something of an authority on the Tasmanian tiger, and his opinion was much valued and often sought by the scientific community in the days after the Second World War, when historical research on the animal was gaining importance.

    In an article entitled "TASMANIAN TIGER: Marsupial's Stand", in the Sydney Morning Herald of the 2nd Feb 1937 (p. 13), Sharland gives the following account:

  "Encounter on River - An old prospector of Western Tasmania, now living at Hall's Gap in the Victorian Grampians once told me of a hair-raising 'encounter' which he had with a tiger while working in the wild county along the Savage River.  Rain falls almost constantly in these ranges, but heavier falls than usual had swollen the river to flood proportions.  It was necessary for him to cross the river, but this could not be done in the usual manner, by wading.  He then found a tree, nearly 100ft long which had been uprooted on one bank by the flood, and its stem and branches extended in the form of a natural bridge to the other.  When nearly half way across this slippery tree, heavily laden with pack and prospecting gear, he came face to face with a tiger, which had also chosen the same means to cross from the opposite bank.  Having been warned about the so-called ferocity of this animal, and meeting it in such circumstances for the first time, where they stared at one another, half in fear half in defiance, each afraid to turn back because of the risk of slipping on the rain-soaked log, his feelings can better be imagined than described.  About nine steps apart, man and beast stood as if affixed to the narrow, precarious bridge, trying to anticipate each other's next move.  Neither was prepared to give way, although the tiger occasionally turned its head to look back to the shore it had just left and then, hesitatingly, at the tumbling water beneath.  Weighted by his impediments, the prospector dare not wave his arms nor move lest he lose his balance, and for the same reason knew that it was impossible for him to retrace his steps.  The tension ended suddenly when the tiger made a spring - not at the intruder blocking its progress, but in the direction of the bank, some 30 feet away.  It was a desperate bid, and failed.  The animal landed directly into the water, and the prospector, still somewhat shaken by the experience, watched it struggling vainly in the turbulent river until it became engulfed in a whirlpool some distance downstream".

    Norm Clark was another well known bushman who toiled for nine years on the Adamsfield osmiridium field, as well as running the town butchery.  He drove large flocks of sheep into the town, having traversed the lengthy journey over hill and dale from Fitzgerald.  In the early days, many men took to backpacking heavy loads of all manner of goods the harrowing 26-mile journey from the Junee for one shilling per pound of weight.  Their packs consisted of nothing more than corn sacks supported by leather straps around the shoulders, and loads of between 80-100 pounds could be carried this way.  At certain times of the year, the rough bush track was knee-deep in snow and mud after rain, and these hardy men had certainly undertaken an occupation that called for top fitness and endurance.

    Elias Churchill is perhaps the best known of the tiger hunters; men who deliberately went after the elusive thylacine and were prominent in supplying Tasmanian, mainland and overseas zoos with the much sought after marsupial wolf.

Elias Churchill's hut - image  Col Bailey
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 The location of Elias Churchill's hut was rediscovered in 2006 by Col Bailey.  The hut was in a rapidly deteriorating condition, and the above photo shows the hut after restoration work was carried out in 2007, with a grant provided by Tourism Tasmania.  Photo courtesy: Col Bailey.

    When I interviewed the famed tiger hunter in 1969, an ageing Churchill had many a tale to tell concerning Tasmanian tigers.  When he got to reminiscing about tigers, you had little doubt that here was a man who knew what he was talking about.  He laid claim to trapping at least eight tigers, including several taken alive, a number of  which he sold to the Beaumaris Zoo (QD) in Hobart.  Together with a mate, local bushman Albert Harris, Churchill built a trapping hut alongside the Adamsfield track in the Upper Florentine Valley.  It was at this hut that the world's last known captive thylacine was chained after capture before being taken to the Fitzgerald railway siding on horseback, prior to its entry to the Beaumaris Zoo in 1933.  This singular event makes Churchill and his old trapping hut significantly important in the chronicles of the thylacine.  Recently rediscovered in a rapidly deteriorating condition, Churchill's hut has now been restored as one of the most tangible parts of thylacine history, and as such is the last remaining hut of its kind in Tasmania.

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References
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back to: The Tasmanian Bushmen (page 4) return to the section's introduction forward to: The Tasmanian Bushmen (page 6)


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