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reveries of an amateur long-distance hiker

In Tasmania Day 6 Melaleuca

January 25th, 2020

In Tasmania Day 6 Melaleuca

Always listen to your knees—they have much to tell you, and mine said “take some time, learn about this spot of the world and rest today. Joint wisdom. The hikers huts are like old Quonset huts, curved correlated metal with some semi-transparent fiberglass panels for windows. I woke to some rustling outside and watched out the window at what I first took to be a chicken in the brush. Then, miracle, the chicken moving up the side of a bush, revealed itself as a head, a good sized Wallaby (actually a pademelon) grazing on the flowers of a native bush a wallaby delicacy—confirming the wisdom of taking a zero day here. I met a young woman who had been living here in a tent for a stretch studying the Orange Bellied Parrot. Nearly extinct, they migrate here in the spring to mate and raise their young. There are nesting boxes (occupied) in the trees around my hut though I have yet to see one (will listen tonight for their ascending call). Ken, Sheryl’s partner pointed out a path designed to educate people about the Needwannee people who lived here for thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans which brought their subsequent decimation and relocation. Little is known about them today, though a book by the French naturalist Francois Peron (early 1800s) is as close to an anthropological study as is available. Mentioned by Nicholas Shakespeare in his book In Tasmania, I had a chance to download it before starting this trek and so spent part of the day reading— such a joy after the brutality of the Port Davey Trail.

Today I also learned a bit more about that trail, which has quite a reputation in Tasmania. Generally unimproved (except in a few short sections), it is meant to give trekkers a true sense of the Tasmanian bush. This of course accounts for why I saw only two people in the depths of the trail—it is notorious and punishing— I have done my penance. I guess I, glad I didn’t know that prior to commencing. This history of the trail is fascinating. This area has many inlets and harbors and so was visited by ships—whaling, logging, etc.—though there were few settlements apart from some mining operations (which is why Melaleuca is here—the King family mined tin here and built the airstrip. Deny King became famous as an ornithologist, and documented the plight of the Orange Bellied Parrot). The Port Davey trail was laid out so that sailors who because of shipwreck or mishap found themselves marooned on the west coast could find their way to the interior (around Scott’s Peak) and then make their way downriver to Hobart. A walk like that must have been desperate.

Today Melaleuca is a jumping off point for trekkers (most going south, the direction I take tomorrow) or flying in for the day to take a boat tour of this area which is part of the World Heritage conservation site (the reason I saw almost no sign of human occupation apart from the trail I walked). That designation results first from the simple fact that the area which is dominated by peat soils does not support agriculture and has been sparsely occupied at least since the colonial period (except for miners and Huon pine loggers). More immediately, the large scale environment protests in the 80s over old growth logging, the construction of the Pedder Lake Dam (which turned Scott’s Peak into an island), and the vociferous protests around the proposed Franklin Dam apparently galvanized the Tasmanian conservation community so large tracts of land in the area became protected by World Heritage status. Now they are frequented primarily by people wealthy enough to afford the air flight here and the subsequent guided boat tour.


T. Hugh Crawford