Sunday 11 May 2014

From City to Summit 4: The Unknown Neighbourhood

[Mt. Wellington Park Map by the Hobart Walking Club
(VW Hodgman), 1935, 
Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office]
How well do we know our neighbourhoods? Perhaps we can rehearse the names of adjacent streets and nearest intersections; or give directions to the nearest shops or playgrounds. We might also be able to put names to the faces of some of our neighbours; even repeat a few stories about one or two notable – or notorious – neighbourhood characters.

But how far back does our knowledge go? Do we, for instance, know what the neighbourhood was like 20, 50, 100 years ago? Even further back, do we know how the land was used before it became city, town or suburb? And do we know anything of past Aboriginal life in our area?

The new Cascade Track had proved a pleasant, gently uphill morning’s walk. Our height gain was modest and our conversations barely disturbed by the mild exertions. Still, we were glad to reach the top of the track, near the end of Old Farm Rd, in time for some thermos coffee and Anzac biscuits. It was comforting, familiar.

So too was wandering back to the junction of Inglewood Rd and Strickland Avenue. There Tim and Sally would leave me, and Lynne would join me for the next section of the walk. We were just a few bends in the road away from home. Yet coming at my onward journey from this odd angle had me thinking about it differently.

[On the Inglewood Fire Trail]
Tim and Sally waved us away as we walked steeply up Inglewood Road and onto the Inglewood Fire Trail. The track’s name should have been enough to remind us of this area’s recent history. But it took coming across a deep fenced-off water hole to get us thinking about the bushfires that ravaged our neighbourhood during the massive 1967 fires. Bush dams like this are used as supply points for the kind of “hand-to-hand” fire fighting that can happen in such bush. It’s no mere nicety: 13 people died in our street alone in the ’67 fires.

[Near the start of the Lower Sawmill Track] 
At the top of that fire trail we joined another fire trail. That led us in turn to the Lower Sawmill Track, and to another encounter with history. The Sawmill Track was probably constructed in the late 1910s/1920s as part of the Cascade Sawmill operation. Logs were dragged down the mountain to the mill and cut into boards, scantlings or fruit boxes. The mill may have been locally known as Woodleigh's Sawmill, but on the 1935 Hobart Walking Club map (shown above) it is simply marked as 'Sawdust Mill'.

Although it had stood only a few hundred metres up Strickland Avenue from where Lynne and I had just departed, we had previously known nothing about it. It had ceased operations by mid-century, and its remains were probably consumed in the ’67 fire.

Walking on the Sawmill Track, a legacy of a now gone logging industry, felt like a local encapsulation of Tasmanian history. Only the slight cupping of the track hinted at the thousands of dragged logs that must have helped shape it. The now thickly-forested bush has recovered well from both logging and bushfires. We found it pleasant and green, soft underfoot, quietly grand. That was just as well, because it was now clear that the real climbing had begun.

[One that got away? A fallen log on the Sawmill Track.] 
We stumbled ever more steeply upwards, and yet our lunchtime goal, Sphinx Rock, seemed unwilling to appear. The slope steepened, rock talus became more frequent. Surely, the earth scientist inside me reasoned, the prominent sandstone formation would loom out of the bush at any moment. It didn’t. Instead it was the cheerfully loud voices of our grandchildren atop Sphinx Rock that eventually told us we were (literally) within coo-ee of our lunchtime rendezvous with Sally, James and family.

[Approaching Sphinx Rock on the Sawmill Track] 
As we clambered up the very steep track – possibly an old snigging track – I recalled reading that Sphinx Rock itself may once have had a sawmill near the top of it. I know I far preferred finding my family picnicking at the lookout. Not all progress is bad.

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