Impressions of Launceston, Tasmania

A couple of months ago, I headed off to Launceston for a few days. There is something almost comforting about the compactness of Tasmania; even in a few short days it is possible to see a lot of places if the mood takes you, or you can simply enjoy just being and really exploring a place if that is your preference. The year before I had a similar break in Hobart which was invigorating and relaxing. I was curious to see what the largest city in the north of the island had to offer.

Launceston streetscape, Cameron Street

Launceston streetscape – Cameron Street

Launceston is located in a natural basin at the head of the Tamar River, where it joins the North and South Esk. Mere minutes from the centre of the city, the South Esk plunges into Cataract Gorge, a steep basalt chasm. This is a popular tourist destination with paths along the cliff face and boasts the world’s longest single chairlift span.

Statue of Dr Pugh with Chalmer's Church in background

Dr Pugh and Chalmer’s Church, Prince’s Square

It is home to many nineteenth-century buildings, and there are many architectural delights to discover. Many of the fine heritage buildings have discrete but informative plaques outlying their history and previous uses, as appropriate. There are several suggested walks around the city which follow heritage buildings, stories of trade, public offices and places of worship. One of the first buildings that caught my eye was Chalmer’s Church. It opened for worship in 1860 and is an example of the Free Church of Scotland in Tasmania. It overlooks Prince’s Square, which has been many things including a parade ground. The statue that can be glimpsed in the bottom middle of the photo is of Dr William Russ Pugh who in the 1840s was the first person to operate with general aesthetic in the Southern Hemisphere.

Val d'Osne Fountain in Prince's Square

Val d’Osne Fountain in Prince’s Square

City Park was a lovely place for a wander. The land was originally used to house Launceston’s Government House and by 1841 the area was being used as a People’s Park, with a small admission fee. The gardens were gifted to the people of Launceston as a public park in 1863. In 1897 the Children’s Jubilee Fountain was installed to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria. There is also a large colony of Japanese Macaques in the park, a mark of the sister city relationship with Ikeda City in Japan.

Jubilee Fountain and John Hart Conservatory in City Park

Jubilee Fountain and John Hart Conservatory

Across the river, the former Launceston Railway Workshops are now home to the Queen Victoria Museum. At one time there were over 270 railway stations in Tasmania. The passenger railway service was closed in 1978 but there are quite a few heritage railways in operation around the island and bulk freight still uses part of the rail network.

North Esk River views including brewery

North Esk River view with breweries along the riverbank

For a city of over 80,000 with lots of interesting buildings and places to visit, a handful of days wasn’t really enough to do it justice. I kept being drawn back to the river with its links to the commercial history of the town, its development, and the consequences of flooding – there have been 36 significant floods recorded to date. It was while strolling along the riverbank, taking in views of the Boag brewery and old Custom House, that I first saw Tasmanian Native Hens.

Tasmanian Native Hens

Tasmanian Native Hens

Launceston is a central base for further exploration, with Devonport relatively close by along with historic towns including the nearby Evandale, Ross and the mural town of Sheffield all within an easy drive. Hobart is about 200 kilometres away – not far in mainland terms but there was enough to keep my attention within Launceston, and it is a place that I’m sure I’ll return to again.

{Photo: gargoyle from church in Launceston}

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Capertee Train Trip

Old trains capture my imagination. A short steam train ride in Tasmania remains a favourite memory from years ago – as the train tootled along, there were sheep scattering off the tracks in all directions. When the opportunity came up to travel from Lithgow to Capertee on an old CPH railmotor, I took it.

The train line to Capertee is no longer a passenger line, like many old lines across the state. The Gwabegar line remains open for coal trains and the railway travels through Wallerawang, Portland and Ben Bullen before arriving at the small village of Capertee.

But the destination is only part of the journey. There were three carriages of fellow travellers on this trip, and there was a frisson of excitement as the train arrived at Lithgow station, precisely on time. Our guide for the day was Graeme, the president of the Capertee Progress Association. He was decked out in tails and a top hat, which seemed entirely appropriate. Armed with a megaphone he had the passengers organised in no time at all.

 

CPH Railmotor arriving at Lithgow station

 

On the journey out I shared the trip with one of the volunteer train guards, who told some interesting stories of some of the heritage train trips he’d been on around the state. We marvelled at the rolling green hills, still soaked after days of heavy rain, the mob of kangaroos on the golf course at Marrangaroo, and the smaller groupings of roos startled by the train, springing into action and bounding at speed alongside the carriage.

But the real star of the show was the scenery. The landscape became increasingly rocky and steep, and there were swathes of darkness as the train rumbled through tunnels. The rocking of the carriages, the smell of diesel, the excited chatter of a large group of people, all of this faded into the background as the wide canyons and valleys came into view. The area has the largest enclosed canyon in the world.

In recent travels, I’ve been through quite a few small country towns. I find them interesting, as no two are really alike. Some places feel heavy with a sense of their own demise as people move away for work and lifestyle reasons. Capertee, although small, has a sense of vibrancy. The town knew that the train was coming and there were markets and activities lined up for the visitors. A sign near the market proclaimed it to be ‘train day’ and there were various stalls set up inside and around the local hall. Part of the proceeds from the train trip was to be used to help maintain and upkeep the hall, which remains a living hub for the community.

Inside the hall, there were many photos of gatherings from previous years, along with local landmarks including the Glen Davis Shale Mine. Outside there was a BBQ for the hungry hordes and a special performance from the Lithgow Pipe Band. It was great – a professional and entertaining performance, and it will take me a long time to forget their rendition of Hokey Pokey. Santa had paid a visit earlier in the day, but I had been having a wander around the Glen Davis Shale Mine.

 

Lithgow Pipe Band performing at Capertee

 

When the train pulled back in at the station – it had followed the line out through to Kandos before returning – it was a happy crowd that piled on board with local purchases and memories of a day out in a friendly country town.

Have you had a day out of the ordinary lately?

[Photo: CPH ‘Tin Hare’ railmotors leaving Capertee for Kandos, part of the heritage fleet at Lachlan Valley Railway]

A Whistle-stop Tour of Hobart

Hobart is Australia’s second oldest city, and this heritage is one of its main attractions for tourists. To get my bearings on a recent trip to Hobart, I joined a morning tour of some of the sites of this city scalloped around the Derwent River, beneath the magnificent Mount Wellington.

Salamanca Bay, Hobart

Salamanca Bay, Hobart

The tour departed from the waterfront, along Sullivans Cove. Harbour cruises and trips to MONA, the Museum of Old and New Art, leave from here. Hobart is still a working harbour, and there were plenty of fishing boats as well as the huge Antarctic icebreaker Aurora Australis in dock. We passed through the sandstone glory of Salamanca Place, a very popular tourist destination with lots of cafes and restaurants as well as artisans selling their wares. You can wander through and see artists at work whilst admiring the old sandstone warehouses and stairways and pubs. On Saturdays there is a huge outdoor market, selling all sorts of fresh produce and locally made goods.

St George's Anglican Church

St George’s Anglican Church

Battery Point offers views of the river, and one of the warehouses has a large chimney which was for the fire that was kept going all day and night to ensure that gunpowder was kept dry. We wound our way past the official finish line for the Sydney to Hobart yacht race and through narrow, winding streets that clutch to the hills behind. We paused at St George’s Anglican Church which had been a landmark for sailors for decades. Along the way there were scores of cottages and grand houses with neat gardens, some with drawn curtains offering glimpses of stylish and antique furnishings inside.

Memorials at the Anglesea Barracks - 99th Regiment Column and Peacekeeper

Memorials at the Anglesea Barracks – 99th Regiment Column on far left and Peacekeeper

Anglesea Barracks was the next stop, one of the oldest continually operating barracks in Australia – as the second oldest city, and one with a tighter grip on its history than some, there are many ‘oldest’ tags. There were a few memorials including headstones patched into a wall, a memorial arch and a column commemorating Regiment 99, which served during the New Zealand Maori wars in the 1850s. This was the first war memorial in Australia, and was erected by a British regiment serving in Australia. Nearby there is a striking statue of a peacekeeper, bearing aloft a child, which was carved from a single piece of wood and knocked into rough shape with a chainsaw before the finer carving was done.

Cascade Female Factory - clothesline

Cascade Female Factory – clothesline

Cascade Gardens is a pleasant spot with a winding path towards Cascade Brewery, a magnificent old industrial building set against the backdrop of Mount Wellington. The beer, cider and soft drinks are made using water that cascades from the mountain. Just a little further down the hill are the remains of the Cascades Female Factory. This predates the Port Arthur Historic site, and was erected to keep female convicts separate. There isn’t much left in the way of buildings, although yards and areas such as laundry and crib rooms are marked out and snatches of official reports attest to the conditions. Even on a day of winter sunshine it is hard not to feel a taste of the despair that would have cloaked any new arrival, trapped within the walls with extremely basic living conditions. The nearby rivulet often flooded the prison. It is a quietly devastating place.

Hobart with Mt Wellington in the background

Hobart with Mt Wellington in the background

Across the mighty Derwent River to Rosny Hill Lookout to marvel at the city from afar. The Tasman Bridge was a talking point, not least of all due to the bridge collapse in 1975 when a ship ploughed into the arch at night. The falling concrete sank the ship and killed seven crew, and cars crossing the bridge at night could not see the collapsed arch and drove into the gap with five further fatalities. Traffic is still stopped when large vessels are heading up the river with pilot boats guiding the vessels safely under the bridge.

Ferns and waterfalls at the Royal Tasmanian Botanic Gardens

Ferns and waterfalls at the Royal Tasmanian Botanic Gardens

The final stop was the beautiful Royal Tasmanian Botanic Gardens, set to celebrate 200 years next year. It was lovely to have a wander about and see the lovely lakes and some of the many huge trees and varieties of camellias and rhododendrons throughout the gardens.

The tour was on a repurposed 1973 Bedford bus, a fitting way to see some of the sites of a beautiful city with much heritage to enjoy.

A Chance Encounter, A Lasting Legacy: Lennox Bridge, Lapstone

I have passed the sign for Lennox Bridge countless times. I knew it was off the Great Western Highway, past the Blaxland McDonald’s, but that was about the sum of my knowledge. I took a detour recently, winding my way down the Old Bathurst Road. The road continues to narrow and bend until the bridge comes into view.

David Lennox, an experienced bridge builder and stonemason, had migrated to Australia from Scotland in 1832 following the death of his wife. He was spotted by Surveyor-General Thomas Mitchell as Lennox was working on a stone wall in Sydney. Following the chance encounter, Mitchell noted that”Mr David Lennox, who left his stone wall at my request, and with his sleeves still tucked up” had agreed to plan and construct stone bridges as required using government – convict – labour.

Mitchell placed importance on the design of well-constructed bridges as a sign of civilised society and had been despairing over the lack of skilled tradespeople to carry out the bridgework required in the colony. Mitchell’s mountain road, formed between Cox’s original road and a zig-zag road that had been constructed in 1824 to offer an alternate road in an attempt to ease the mountain crossing, required a significant bridge at Lapstone. The road became known as Mitchell’s Pass.

Lennox Bridge was built between November 1832 and July 1833 as part of Mitchell’s Pass. Lennox had to teach the stonemason’s art to the work crew of 20 convicts. The stone for the bridge was quarried from nearby and the horseshoe shape was chosen for optimum strength. There is an early painting of the bridge by Conrad Martens here. It was the first scientifically constructed stone arch bridge of any magnitude in New South Wales, and is the oldest stone bridge on the mainland. Richmond Bridge in Tasmania, completed in 1825, is the oldest bridge in Australia in continuous use.

Shortly after the bridge was opened, a crack was spotted. Lennox inspected the damage and advised that it wasn’t serious and the bridge continued to carry all traffic westwards until 1926 when a new deviation was built along an abandoned railway line. The bridge was finally closed to traffic in 1964 when a serious crack appeared. Following repairs and restrengthening it was reopened to local traffic in 1982. It had been dismantled and rebuilt, stripped back to its original arch.

Lennox was appointed as Sub Inspector of Bridges in New South Wales a mere seven weeks after his arrival in the colony. His annual salary was £120 ‘but without any forage for a horse’. He went on to build various bridges in New South Wales and Port Phillip, near Melbourne. The legacy that he left still endures today.

There is a short video here showing the bridge from various angles, including from the roadway and the base of the bridge.

[Photo: Lennox Bridge, Lapstone]