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Tasmania’s Stories

Saving our highland huts

Edition 195_MtHut

The mountain huts of Tasmania’s high country are a unique part of our cultural heritage, and a small wooden structure deep in the Great Western Tiers – The Sandy Lake Hut – is helping to preserve this history.

These huts tell the stories of pioneers who ventured into the rugged highlands for months on end to eke out a living as trappers, shepherds and prospectors. In later years they provided shelter for bushwalkers and anglers.

They also tell of a time when the Central Highlands was bristling with activity.

The hundred-year-old Sandy Lake Hut is very much part of this history, and it has been brought back to life as the latest labour of love of the Tasmanian Mountain Hut Preservation Society (TMHPS).

The TMHPS has spent the past 30 years saving Tasmania’s mountain huts and in 2012, it began the painstaking task of re-building an exact replica of the Sandy Lake Hut; a task that has finally been completed.

Sandy Lake is the seventeenth hut saved by the TMHPS, and it was recently opened amid much fanfare with 300 people travelling to the remote location by foot, horseback and even canoe for the occasion. Such is the fascination with these rustic mountain huts.

“The mountain huts are an important part of our proud cultural history,” TMHPS President, Roger Nutting said.

“They are the history of ordinary Tasmanians doing their best to scratch out a living in an unbelievably harsh environment.

“First and foremost, the Mountain Hut Preservation Society is very much about keeping these traditions alive by restoring whatever remnants of the huts that still remain.”

Sandy Lake Hut is unique and tells an important story.

Built on the edge of Lake Mackenzie, it was one of the first forays into Central Highlands tourism and catered to an exciting new recreational pursuit – trout fishing in Tasmania’s remote lakes.

In 1895 the first trout were carried by hand over the Mole Creek track and released into Lake Mackenzie. Eight years later local fishing and tourism groups built the hut to provide shelter for the growing band of anglers.

However, it fell into disrepair as visitor numbers dwindled, and was eventually lost forever in 1969 when Lake Mackenzie was flooded to make way for the Mersey Forth Power Scheme.

It is now fully restored with a bunk room and fire-place, and once again available for public use.

“We have come full circle with Sandy Lake,” Mr Nutting said.

“It was built to cater for recreational tourism, and here it is all these years later to be used again for the same thing.”

Tasmania’s mountain huts first sprang up during the early 1800s.

They were basic structures – built from local timber and stone – that provided temporary shelter for those forced to live and work in some of the harshest and most remote corners of the island.

These pioneering Tasmanians included drovers who moved cattle and sheep up to the highlands in summer in search of grazing land; snarers who trapped possums and wallabies for skins; and miners fossicking for precious metals.

There were once hundreds of small huts dotted across our high country, but many of these have now been reduced to rubble.

Cradle Coast Tourism Manager, Theresa Lord, said saving Tasmania’s mountain huts was important as they are “part of our life and part of our memories.”

And she should know.

Growing up on the remote West Coast, some of her fondest childhood memories are of visits to the highland huts as she accompanied her father on his many hunting trips.

“I have to admit I am quite sentimental about these huts as they were such a big part of my life,” Ms Lord explained.

“The cultural traditions around them is a special part of Tasmania, and it is really vital that we preserve and maintain them for future generations to use.”

Just like Theresa Lord, there are many Tasmanians with a deep connection to these highland huts.

One of them is TMHPS President, Roger Nutting, whose great-uncle Bill was a tough mountain character.

He was a snarer who would spend months alone in the Central Highlands, often in thick snow and driving blizzards. His only protection, the single-roomed snarers huts where he would sleep and dry out skins over a large central fire.

Unfortunately though, it wasn’t enough, and he perished in a shocking snowstorm that swept through the highlands in 1927.

Mr Nutting’s great-uncle may be long gone, but his story – like so many others – continues on.

“Our mountain huts are not just buildings,” Mr Nutting explains.

“They are memorials to Tasmania’s tough mountain pioneers and they leave us with a legacy that needs to be preserved and cherished forever.”

Image courtesy of the Mountain Hut Preservation Society

12 June 2018, Edition 195

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Facts about Tasmania

Tasmania

Tasmania is the southernmost state of Australia, located at latitude 40° south and longitude 144° east and separated from the continent by Bass Strait. It is a group of 334 islands, with the main island being 315 km (180 miles) from west to east and 286 km (175 miles) north to south.

Tasmania

Tasmanians are resourceful and innovative people, committed to a continually expanding export sector. In 2012–13, international exports from the state totalled $3.04 billion. USA, China, Taiwan, India, Japan and other Asian countries account for the bulk of exports, with goods and services also exported to Europe and many other regions.

Geography

Tasmania is similar in size to the Republic of Ireland or Sri Lanka. The Tasmanian islands have a combined coastline of more than 3,000 km.

Geography

The main island has a land area of 62,409 sq km (24,096 sq miles) and the minor islands, taken together, total only 6 per cent of the main island’s land area. The biggest islands are Flinders (1,374 sq km/539 sq miles), King, Cape Barren, Bruny and Macquarie Islands.

Geography

About 250km (150 miles) separates Tasmania’s main island from continental Australia. The Kent Group of Islands, one of the most northerly parts of the state, is only 55km (34 miles) from the coast of the Australian continent.

Climate

Twice named ‘Best Temperate Island in the World’ by international travel magazine Conde Nast Traveler, Tasmania has a mild, temperate maritime climate, with four distinct seasons.

Climate

In summer (December to February) the average maximum temperature is 21° Celsius (70° Fahrenheit). In winter (June to August) the average maximum is 12° C (52° F) and the average minimum is 4° C (40° F). Snow often falls in the highlands, but is rarely experienced in more settled areas.

Annual Rainfall

Tasmania’s west coast is one of the wettest places in the world, but the eastern part of the State lives in a rain-shadow. Hobart, the second-driest capital city in Australia, receives about half as much rain as Sydney.

Annual Rainfall

Annual rainfall in the west is 2,400 mm (95 inches), but hardy locals insist there is no such thing as bad weather, only inadequate clothing. If you travel 120 km east to Hobart, you experience a much drier average of 626 mm (24 inches) a year.

Population

The 512,875-strong community spreads itself across the land; less urbanised than the population of any other Australian state. Hobart, the capital city, is home to more than 212,000 people.

Capital City

Hobart nestles at the foot of kunanyi / Mount Wellington (1,270 m / 4,000 ft) and overlooks the Derwent Estuary, where pods of dolphins and migrating whales are sometimes seen from nearby beaches. Surrounded by thickly forested rolling hills, the city is home to the state parliament and the main campus of the University of Tasmania.

Capital City

Its historic centre features Georgian and Regency buildings from colonial times. Hobart is home port for coastal fishing boats, Antarctic expeditions and vessels that fish the Southern Ocean.

Land Formation

Mountain ranges in the south-west date back 1,000 million years. Ancient sediments were deeply buried, folded and heated under enormous pressure to form schists and glistening white quartzites.

Land Formation

In the south-west and central highlands, dolerite caps many mountains, including Precipitous Bluff and Tasmania’s highest peak, Mt Ossa (1617 m / 5300 ft). More than 42 per cent of Tasmania is World Heritage Area, national park and marine or forest reserves.

Flora

Vegetation is diverse, from alpine heathlands and tall open eucalypt forests to areas of temperate rainforests and moorlands, known as buttongrass plains. Many plants are unique to Tasmania and the ancestors of some species grew on the ancient super-continent, Gondwana, before it broke up 50 million years ago.

Flora

Unique native conifers include slow-growing Huon pines, with one specimen on Mt Read estimated to be up to 10,000 years old. Lomatia tasmanica, commonly known as King’s holly, is a self-cloning shrub that may well be the oldest living organism on earth. It was discovered in 1937.

Fauna

Tasmania is the last refuge of several mammals that once roamed the Australian continent. It is the only place to see a Tasmanian devil or eastern quoll (native cat) in the wild and is the best place to see the spotted-tailed quoll (tiger cat), all carnivorous marsupials.

Fauna

The eastern bettong and the Tasmanian pademelon, both now extinct on the Australian continent, may also be observed.

Fauna

The Tasmanian tiger, or thylacine, was Australia’s largest surviving carnivorous marsupial and is a modern day mystery. The last documented thylacine died in captivity in 1936 and although the animal is considered extinct, unsubstantiated sightings persist.

History and Heritage

Aboriginal people have lived in Tasmania for about 35,000 years, since well before the last Ice Age. They were isolated from the Australian continent about 12,000 years ago, when the seas rose to flood low coastal plains and form Bass Strait.

History and Heritage

Descendants of the original people are part of modern Tasmania’s predominantly Anglo-Celtic population.

History and Heritage

Tasmania was originally named Van Dieman’s Land by the Dutch explorer Abel Janszoon Tasman in 1642. The island was settled by the British as a penal colony in 1803 and the original name was associated with the convict era. It was changed to Tasmania when convict transportation stopped in 1853.

Economy

A resourceful island culture has generated leading-edge niche industries, from production of high-speed catamaran ferries and marine equipment to lightning-protection technology.

Economy

Tasmanians produce winches and windlasses for some of the world’s biggest ocean-going pleasure craft; large-scale inflatable evacuation systems and provide specialist outfit-accommodation services to the marine industry.

Economy

The Wooden Boat Centre at Shipwrights Point has re-established the skills and traditions of another age and attracts students from around the world.

Economy

Tasmania is a world leader in natural turf systems for major sporting arenas and in areas of mining technology and environmental management. Its aquaculture industry has developed ground-breaking fish-feeding technology and new packaging.

Economy

Tasmanians sell communications equipment to many navies and their world-class fine timber designers and craftsmen take orders internationally for furniture made from distinctive local timber.

Economy

The state is a natural larder with clean air, unpolluted water and rich soils inviting the production of 100 varieties of specialty cheeses, as well as other dairy products, mouth-watering rock lobsters, oysters, scallops and abalone, Atlantic salmon, beef, premium beers, leatherwood honey, mineral waters, fine chocolates, fresh berry fruits, apples and crisp vegetables.

Economy

Tasmania is a producer of award-winning cool-climate wines, beers, ciders and whiskies. Other export products include essential oils such as lavender, pharmaceutical products and premium wool sought after in Europe and Asia. Hobart is a vital gateway to the Antarctic and a centre for Southern Ocean and polar research.

Economy

The industries in Tasmania which made the greatest contribution to the State’s gross product in 2010–11 in volume terms were: Manufacturing (9.4%), Health care and social assistance (8.2%), Financial and insurance services (7.2%), Ownership of dwellings and Agriculture, forestry and fishing (each 7.1%).

Getting to Tasmania

Travel is easy, whether by air from Sydney or Melbourne, or by sea, with daily sailings of the twin ferries Spirit of Tasmania 1 and 2 each way between Melbourne and Devonport throughout the year.

This site has been produced by the Brand Tasmania Council © 2014

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