Strong winds lash far north Queensland, rain buckets down in Sydney, but here in Hobart the winter has been more than kind with clear crisp days in the high teens. Just beyond our companionway the mountain bursts skyward in dolerite columns of bronze and green forests flow to the first suburbs of Australia’s second city.
Six weeks ago after sailing a gale out Port Davey and rounding Tasmania’s south coast, we found a safe mooring for our lady then drove back to Strahan on the wild west coast to help friends clear a forest track. Not just an ordinary track, but the very first path linking the east to the west coast, cut especially to allow Governor Sir John Franklin and his adventurous wife Lady Jane to travel overland from Hobart to Macquarie Harbour. The year, 1842 and a hundred kilometres of thick luxuriant rainforest and boggy plains remained untamed. Establishing this track fell upon the young James Calder, who later became Tasmania’s surveyor general. Prior to his posting he was a burly giant more at home in the bush than an office, who, over a two year period surveyed and cut a swath through what was then, and still is, impenetrable vegetation.
The Governor’s party numbered a huge 28 persons and included three constables, a doctor, lady in waiting, and 17 convicts acting as porters. And their journey, expected to last eight days, stretched to twenty-two due to the west coast’s infamous foul weather, and Calder’s caches of provisions ran short, forcing him to return twice to replenish them. Meanwhile, others had to forge ahead in order to hold the Governor’s schooner from departing Macquarie Harbour.
After ten days hard travel, the Franklin River’s dashing torrent 100 metres wide held them back. Every hour praying the waters would drop, they waited a week with little to eat. And when they finally could cross on rafts, the last twelve kilometres to their salvation on the Gordon River, they had to traverse the thickest forest and boggiest plains yet encountered.
Since the Governor’s party, this last bit of track in the shadow of the Elliot Range has been trekked by adventurers and kayakers. But lately, due to a shortage of funds and lack of willing workers, it has become impassable, overgrown in a few seasons. Trees fall and the curse of the bush, bauera, quickly sends tendrils weaving its tangled net, and of course, the wet rainforest grows fast.
This track joining the Gordon and Franklin Rivers had been one of the most beautiful day walks in all the planet and a group of dedicated locals were determined not to lose it back to Nature. So, Jack and Jude joined them to help find and re-tag it. In arduous conditions where every tree rained cold wet drops and man height grasses cut like razors, where blood sucking leaches hid under nearly every leaf, we almost made it all the way – before the harsh conditions washed away our available time. But fear not! Come spring, we’ll be back to complete the task!
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