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  • Shelley Dark

#11 Stanley and the west coast

We drove to Stanley along the pretty undulating coastal hills which at first drop precipitously to the sea.

In flatter country, we happened upon this horrendous looking Dickensian building right on the beach at Port Latta, looking for all the world as if it would blacken and devour child workers whole and make wraiths of their wasting fathers.

A very long jetty reaches way out into the ocean with not the remotest sign of pollution in the water.

An explanatory sculpture told us the complex is owned by Grange Resources, a company mining hematite (iron oxide) eighty kilometres south in a rainforest on the Savage River. The mineral ore is drilled and blasted there, then crushed and piped in a slurry all the way here where it's made into pellets in a blast furnace and shipped to steel makers. Grange is the biggest non-governmental employer in the region.

All while maintaining this pristine environment.

We stopped to throw out some food scraps and before we were out of the car we were bombarded by hungry seagulls.

This is 'The Nut' or Circular Head at Strahan, all that's left of the core of an ancient volcano. The town of Stanley, once the headquarters of the powerful Van Diemens Land Company, cuddles up to its base on the southern side. You'd swear you had walked backward in time.

Our very small hotel on the right of the photo is a remodelled 1843 bluestone warehouse once belonging to the the VDL, hence its name @VDL. The room was still being cleaned when we arrived, and in the absence of any reception staff, the cleaner handed me an envelope with the key and an instruction to come back later. There's no dining area here, so meals have to be taken at restaurants in town.

The lounge area was occupied by a wedding party, bride, bridesmaids, mothers - the girls wearing lolly pink pyjamas for a photo shoot (I didn't take a photo), the wedding flowers in a box on the floor.

We went straight to the famous Stanley bakery for a lunch of scallop pie for me, plain mince for John. Mmmmmm.

Stanley's architecture is so picturesque and well preserved that it was chosen as the setting for the film 'The Light between Oceans' set in the early 1900's - sand on the bitumen streets, a coat of paint to cottages and shops, and a refurbished wharf! The last photo is the family home of Joe Lyons, premier of Tasmania from 1923 to 1928, Prime Minister of Australia 1932 until his death in 1939. He's the only PM ever to have come from Tassie.

The Van Diemens Land Company came to the area in 1826 was eventually granted a total of 350,000 acres of land in six locations. The chief agent and manager Edward Curr had great difficulty raising the sheep meant to provide wool to its English backers, and his relations with Governor Arthur and his successor Franklin were acrimonious.

At first he lived with his wife in a small cottage. Between 1832-35 convicts built a more appropriate 24-room Regency style homestead for him high on a hill overlooking the Nut. He lived there until he was given a year's notice by the directors probably for insubordination in 1840.

It's a sad part of the island's history. Curr had a reputation as a cruel and ruthless despot who is said to have encouraged the killing of blacks, whom he perceived as a threat to the venture. The indigenous people were waging an ongoing war against the whites for desecrating their land and raping their women, and their inhuman and efficient retaliatory extermination, despite official disapproval, appears to have been a matter of pride to Curr. Some of this is known from the diaries of a guest Mrs Rosalie Hare.

He was subsequently known as a wealthy landowner and politician in Victoria, prominent in the separatist movement.

The Lawn Front, Highfield. 'The Lawn Front, Highfield, Circular Head' by Hellyer, 1832

​The house was designed by surveyor, cartographer and architect Henry Hellyer who signed on with the company right at the beginning.

1984 photo of Highfield by Frank Bolt

He suffered from depression and committed suicide the year the house was begun.

A plan of the ground floor - a second floor housed the children's bedrooms.

It was in a parlous state when Parks and Wildlife took over.

I was unaware of this history when I made the quick drive from Stanley to Highfield, now run by the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service. I arrived to find the wedding party I'd seen back at @VDL! Thankfully they'd only hired the grounds and I was still able to see inside the house.

This is me demonstrating my serious interest in historic homes with Mrs Rosalie Hare looking horrified in the background.

The bride and her father arriving, from the upstairs nursery window.

Edward and Elizabeth had 17 children, 8 of them at Highfield. In 1835 three year old Juliana was riding in a cart pulled by the household dog when it was distracted by other dogs. It ran off, upending the cart and killing the child. This room had an audible background noise of a woman's low sobbing.

The outbuildings like this chapel are wonderfully well-preserved, but I felt sobered by the visit, despite the happy occasion of the wedding party on the lawn. Life in those days was so harsh, both for the oppressors and the oppressed.

The area is called Cape Grim, and The VDL is now owned by a Chinese company who runs the biggest dairy enterprise in Australia.

I couldn't help thinking that Curr and his men would be amazed to see these enormous round bales of hay and the adjoining paddocks of immaculate irrigated green lucerne.

We wandered the wharves of Stanley - a vibrant fishing port and departure point for the King Island ferry.

The next day, we drove down through the Tarkine forest, not seeing another soul for mile after mile of tall impenetrable timbers. The only signs of habitation were warning signs about timber trucks entering the road. I took my life in my hands to walk on the one-way bridge over the Frankland River, hoping I wouldn't have to jump over the side if one arrived. Thankfully it didn't!

We made a detour to Trowutta to see the arch - the tourist info said a 15 minute walk to a naturally arched rock formation in a rainforest. Thanks to my superb navigation, in the end we weren't even sure that we saw Trowutta, so we did a U-turn and travelled on.

We came out on to the west coast at Couta Rocks, an extraordinary and tiny gathering of a dozen or so shacks and houses. Such a remote place.

We wandered the foreshore at Couta, went to the Edge of the World at Arthur River - there's no land between it and South America. Here they say you can breathe the cleanest air in the world.

We watched the surfing break at West Point, where several wet-suited surfers were braving the cold water.

It's a wild and woolly coastline - I can't imagine what it's like in winter in the path of the howling, wet and freezing roaring forties, the prevailing often gale-force winds between 40 and 50 degrees south.

We were hungry by the time we hit Marrawah Tavern - the cheerful girl behind the bar wasn't sure why there was a Squatting map of Queensland's Darling Downs up on the wall, but they serve a very adequate pub lunch.

We left Stanley on the second morning for Cradle Mountain. At the instigation of a couple of Insta-friends, I telephoned Ruth at Mallavale Farm, hardly daring to expect that she'd be agreeable to a visit.

​I mean, after all, it's not really open to the public and who wants strangers bowling in at a moment's notice?

​Who? Ruth, that's who! And Rodney! What a magnificently hospitable couple they were to show us around and kindly share the very best barista-style coffee and fruit cake.

It's a charming little working farm: a view of Bass Strait, a delightfully gabled farm house, B & B cottage, rambling cottage garden, cows, opium poppy crop, veggie garden, vineyard, orchard - it has everything!

I now know this is a banana passionfruit flower - a voracious man-eating climber.

Frida with a hydrangea in her hair. I know she'd approve.

Healthy potatoes in a large veggie garden.

An espaliered heavily laden apple tree in the enclosed sunny courtyard.

Their poppy crop overlooking Bass Strait.

Grape vines loaded with immature bunches.

So many friends and acquaintances in common, such a happy couple of hours. The property is for sale, as Ruth & Rod want to move closer to their grandchildren. It's the perfect sea change for you. And for us, the perfect happy pick-me-up!

A double hollyhock in Strahan. Utter perfection!

Next time I'll tell you about Cradle Mountain,

Until then, I wait you,

shelley dark, writer 

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