SUNDAY 27 FEBRUARY QUEENSTOWN
It was a bit misty this morning, and we were late getting up.
After breakfast, set out for Strahan.
We drove past the caravan park and had a look. It does appear to be in better condition than in ’93, but not by much. There are now some permanent amenity blocks at least. We are definitely better off in Queenstown.
We spent some time in central Strahan. Booked ourselves onto a Gordon River cruise for Tuesday, as the weather forecast for that day looked ok. Bought a topo map – the Franklin sheet – that covers the Mt McCall area.
I put four rolls of film in for processing at the Kodak shop, after they assured me that their work would be good. I hoped I was not being gullible.
We drove out the King River Forest Drive – out along the Lowanna road beside Macquarie Harbour, then the dirt road alongside the King River. This took us to the old Iron Bridge, part of the former ABT railway, near the Teepookana locality. The road track followed the old rail alignment and was very narrow in parts, and with the King River right below.
The King River still had the polluted sludge banks evident in piles alongside its channel – from the days when the Mt Lyell Mine and smelter in Queenstown used the Queen River water in their processes, and then discharged the untreated waste straight into the river. The Queen is a tributary of the King. Even though the mining practices have changed in recent times, these rivers are probably the most polluted ones in Australia. The sulphuric acid residues remain a major problem.
Gold and copper mining began in the Queenstown area in the late nineteenth century, with smelting of copper commencing in 1895. Back then, there were no roads into the region and so, in 1897, a railway opened between Queenstown and Teepookana, near the mouth of the King River. This was to bring the mine products to a port there, for export.
The building of the 3’6″ gauge railway had to overcome major problems. The terrain was mountainous and heavily forested. There were many streams. Cuttings were dug by hand, some up to twenty metres deep. The original 35km long railway had 48 bridges, the longest of which was the “quarter mile” bridge – approximately 250 metres long. They had difficulty finding a firm foundation for this, having to dig down a great distance into the river silt. Even so, trains could only go at walking pace across this bridge, as any greater speed would cause it to sway too much and collapse! It was high up above the river.
The problem of the steep gradient from Queenstown up to Rinadeena siding – 1 in 16 – was solved by using the Swiss ABT rack and pinion system, for some 7kms. The train engine could engage with this central “rail” and pull itself up.
In 1899 the railway was extended from Teepookana to Regatta Point, near Strahan, where the bay was deeper. This necessitated the building of the Iron Bridge over the King River at Teepookana. Later, the railway extended right into Strahan. What had been a busy little port town quickly declined.
The first road to connect Queenstown to the outside region was the Lyell Highway, in 1932. In the 1950’s, a road was built between Queenstown and Strahan, and this spelled the end for the railway, as the many wooden trestle bridges were too costly to upkeep, and there were increasing concerns about the Quarter Mile Bridge.
The last train ran in 1962. I was fortunate enough to do the return trip on the railway in May, 1962, and remember the Quarter Mile Bridge swaying quite noticeably as the train crawled over it. The bridge was virtually only the width of the rails, so one looked straight down from the open train windows – and the river was a long way below!
In 1964, with three friends, I walked the disused railway track, camping a night at Dubbil Barrel siding and even riding hand operated trolleys some of the way. These had just been left at sidings when the railway closed! Crossing the Quarter Mile Bridge on foot, high above the river, with no side rails, was very scary!
This bridge was, by 1972, partly washed away by floods and by the 1990’s most of the old track, bridges, sidings and station buildings had fallen down, been burnt in bushfires and overgrown by the lush vegetation of these parts.
Now, the decision had been made to rebuild the ABT Railway as a tourist railway and work was obviously happening at both ends.
Because of this, the Drive was blocked at the Iron Bridge. It used to allow one to drive as far as the former Teepookana town site. We walked around the fence and across the bridge, with another Victorian couple who had fetched up there at the same time as us. They took a photo for us, on the bridge. When the former rail alignment here was set up as a tourist drive, wooden planking and side rails were added to the bridge, and mesh was slung between the top girders to stop flakes of rusty metal falling on cars and walkers.
It was a pity that we could not access the walk to the old Quarter Mile Bridge. Apparently, a tour operator can take customers up to the Teepookana Plateau, for $30 a head. John is not inclined to do that, at this stage.
John found a healthy looking Huon pine tree growing by the King River, and wanted a photograph with it.
On the drive back to Strahan, we looked at the ABT Railway terminus at Regatta Point, which is being restored. This is where the new tourist railway will terminate.
In Strahan, we went to the huon pine sawmill, and looked at the mill and associated gallery of timber pieces. They had some great products, bowls especially, and some very evocative wax painting by a local artist.
We collected my photos. They were beautifully done. It was not cheap, but he gives a replacement film “free”. For $1 a roll extra, I could upgrade from a 24 exposure to a 36, so I got 4 rolls of 400 speed for, effectively, $4. That shop also had huon pine wood products for sale. I liked the wooden cribbage boards – an idea for John to make sometime for Xmas presents: wooden board, Tasmanian illustrated playing cards, printed game rules, in a box. I also liked the shaped garlic bread dishes, with a natural edged top, about 1cm thick, and naturally curved, hand carved, I think.
At the Strahan bakery, I bought a loaf of damper bread and some rich, indulgent fudge.
After a full day, we drove back to Queenstown. The highway between the towns is 41kms, so it is not that far, but overall we managed 156kms for the day.
Tea was cold roast chook, the damper bread which was very nice, and the fudge which was yummy!