of the Old Tasmanian Bushmen
A mining camp in the
| 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
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."
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
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.
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.
Murray. Source: Mercury, 13th Feb 1973.
Tasmanian Tiger Research
& Data Centre
New Norfolk, Tasmania