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HISTORY:
- THE TASMANIAN BUSHMEN -
(page 7)
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Tales of the Old Tasmanian Bushmen
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mining camp - Waratah area, Tasmania
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A mining camp in the Waratah area.
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    The Jane River Goldfield drew dozens of men in its heyday of the 1930s after notable bushman, Bob Warne discovered the precious metal there in 1935.  Warne, who ran a fruit and vegetable shop in Hobart, went prospecting on the advice of an acquaintance who suggested there may be gold to be found along the Jane.  It wasn't long before he struck a valuable horde at what was to become known as "Reward Creek".  Over the following years, Warne made 45 trips into the Jane and successfully mined 744.5 ounces of gold from his 20-acre workings during the time he held the lease (1935-1953).  Following Warne's discovery, hopeful miners came from everywhere to grab a share of the wealth, and a small settlement of sorts sprang up in the area.

    The Huon piners deserve considerable mention because these sterling bushmen had, without doubt, the most difficult  job of all in their endeavours to harvest the valuable timber in some of the hardest to reach areas of Tasmania; the back country rivers where this rare and much sought after timber grew.  After harvesting, the timber would be floated down the various rivers to the Franklin and Gordon rivers, from where it would travel down river to Macquarrie Harbour and be transported to Strahan.

    In one epic journey in December 1935, four bushmen - Albert Grining, Charlie Brockhoff, Wally McKay and Ron Penney - went into the Jane via the West Coast Road pack track near Mt. Arrowsmith to salvage Huon pine, clear log jams and harvest standing timber reserves.  They then connected with a pine punt previously stored along the Jane River for their trip out.  This small boat, their only form of transport through to the Gordon river, was to be their lifeline; if it failed, these men would have all perished in the wilderness. 

    Ron Penney best sums up the story:

    "It was bloody rough - that river was mad - bloody stones!  I don't know how the hell they ever got a boat up through there.  She was wild, man!  Bloody wild!  Bringin' the punt down the Jane was terrifyin'.  We were terrified in case somethin' happened - we'd have died of starvation because there was no way of gettin' out.  Our boat was our lifeline, mate!  It wasn't like today, everyone's got communications - we had nothin'.  We just went away into the wilderness."

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the Murray Brothers - circa 1900
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A rare photo of the Murray Brothers cutting timber, circa 1900.  Arthur Murray supplied a thylacine he caught at Waratah to Beaumaris Zoo (QD) on 21st July 1925.  Courtesy: Moeller Archives.

    The country back in there is as rough and tough as it gets in Tasmania.  I know this for a fact because I've been in there and seen it with my own eyes, and you won't get it tougher anywhere on this earth.  Come to grief back in the Jane and you're in deep, possibly fatal trouble.  And yet, these men braved the dangers of the land and the ravages of unpredictable weather for up to three months at a time in order to harvest the precious pine.  They were undoubtedly the true blue Tasmanian bushmen, the epitome of all the word 'bushman' stands for.

    Huon piner John Stannard was crossing the Jane River on a log when he slipped and fell in.  The weight of his pack dragged him under, and being unable to save himself, drowned.  He was buried in a bush grave alongside the river that claimed him.

    Another piner tripped and his pack landed on his neck, pushing his face into the mud.  If not for his mate pulling him out, he would have suffocated because the mud sucked him in and he couldn't get out on his own.  It was so easy for a person to get caught, killed or lost in that type of country.

Arthur Murray
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Arthur Murray.  Source: Mercury, 13th Feb 1973.
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    Port Davey was another far-flung Huon pine harvest area towards the end of the nineteenth century and beyond.  This area was later made famous by tin miners Charles and Denis King who moved into the region in the 1930s.  No story on Tasmanian  bushmen would be complete without reference to the Kings; their exploits being legendary.  Deny King told me of their memorable venture into the wilderness of the Weld Valley in the summer of 1927.  In that pioneering journey of epic proportions, the pair were engaged to find an alternate way through from Huonville to the South Gordon track, and the then fledgling osmiridium field at the Adams River.  Danger lurked at every turn, and they were forced to rely on sheer ingenuity and determination, before eventually returning safely to their home at Lonnavale in the Huon Valley.  So fierce were the stands of the dreaded horizontal and bauera scrub that their average travel was four kilometres a day, this reduced at times to only one.  Evidence of the thylacine was found - for indeed, this wild and untamed wilderness harboured the animal up until quite recent times; of this I am most certain. 

Col Bailey,
Tasmanian Tiger Research & Data Centre
New Norfolk, Tasmania
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References
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back to: The Tasmanian Bushmen (page 6) return to the section's introduction forward to: Expeditions and Searches (page 1)


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