Posted on

‘A terror incognito!’: hiking Tasmania’s Central Plateau in 1908

Hikers love drama. Launceston photographer Steve Spurling (Stephen Spurling III, 1876‒1962) manufactured some in 1908 when he set out on a hike with his mates Knyvet Roberts (1872‒1959) and John Burns (Jack) Scott (1873‒1915). Their journey to Lake St Clair was ‘a terror incognito!’, since they could get ‘no reliable information as to what lay before us, and were not encouraged by rumours of precipitous valleys and impassable bogs …’[1]

In other words, Spurling didn’t know who to ask for information on his proposed route. In 1908 there were no walking clubs which later acted as a repository of local hiking knowledge. Spurling had few useful maps and no access to the shepherds and hunters who had been working the lake country for decades. Had he only known, in five minutes he could have hotfooted it from his office at Spurling Studios down to the legal firm of Law & Weston & Archer, two of the principals of which had, as schoolboys, crossed the lake country to Lake St Clair 22 years earlier.[2] Or called on Delorainite Dan Griffin, the temperamental highland journalist who had scouted the Lake Ina area for a west coast stock route, finding only a thylacine in the business of taking a leg of mutton home to her family.[3] These men could have told him where to go and what to expect.

Clean-shaven and steely-eyed, Jack Scott, Knyvet Roberts and Stephen Spurling III ready themselves for their two-week hike, 1908. Stephen Spurling III photo courtesy of the late Barney Roberts.

Spurling was then at the height of his physical powers, being instructor to the Union Jack Gymnasium Club.[4] Knyvet Roberts, a fellow traveller on Spurling’s 1905 Cradle Mountain climb, and Jack Scott, with whom Spurling had sporting connections (Union Jack Gymnasium Club, lacrosse and rifle shooting), are also likely to have been in fine fettle. They sure looked that way when Spurling photographed them gazing steely-eyed across a paddock somewhere between Deloraine and Western Creek. While his mates toted simple haversacks, Spurling, in addition to his swag and photographic case, slung a bag around his neck. How did his glass plates ever survive long enough to be processed, let alone exposed? More importantly, when did the cravat cease to be a bushwalking accessory and are we the poorer for it?

‘A pine belt, Western Highlands’, 1908, Roberts and Scott approaching a pencil pine grove on a highland lake. Stephen Spurling III photo courtesy of Stephen Hiller.
‘On the Pine River Divide, Central Plateau’, 1908, Roberts and Scott take a breather on the Great Pine Tier at one of the many tarns encountered. Brooding skies are a feature of this excursion record. Stephen Spurling III photo courtesy of Stephen Hiller.

Spurling’s purpose was to supplement the landscape catalogue of Spurling Studios. The Daily Telegraph’s Deloraine correspondent must have been suffering his own ‘terror incognito’, judging by his description of the party’s plans to cross ‘via Mount Ironstone and Lake St Clair for Cradle Mountain’.[5] The trek started inauspiciously. Alighting from the Higgs Track into a Lake Balmoral blizzard, the men set the compass for Mount Olympus, about 50 kilometres away as the crow flew. Twenty-seven-kilo packs barely provisioned them for the five days of tramping ahead, with innumerable detours around tarns, battles with bauera and dense Richea scoparia (‘gas bush’), and even a near thing with quicksand. At nightfall on Day Two they camped near ‘the lakes of the Hay Moon Marshes’ (presumably Chummy Lake and Lake Denton, near Halfmoon Marsh, Pine River) on the Great Pine Tier.

‘The Courier Lake, Western Highlands’, 1908. Stephen Spurling III photo courtesy of Stephen Hiller.
‘Lake Laura, Western Highlands’, 1908. In 1896 Beattie had taken the Sublime approach to Mount Ida’s towering form above this lake. Spurling’s elegantly framed photo instead captured the mountain reflections, belying the difficulty of access to the site. Stephen Spurling III photo courtesy of Stephen Hiller.

From here the trio must have swung around to the west.  On Day Four they approached a large, uncharted, unnamed lake ‘almost due south of Rugged Mt [a named then used to describe the group of peaks from the Walls to Mount Rogoona and those overlooking Lees Paddocks], ’ measuring about three miles long and three-quarters of a mile wide—possibly Lake Norman or Lake Payanna in the Mountains of Jupiter. This was probably the lake Spurling photographed, dubbing it the Courier Lake. Spurling’s companions also named another lake (now Lake Riengeena) after him at the time. The serrated head of the Acropolis now loomed high in the summer haze far across the Narcissus Valley. Rounding the shoulder of ‘an unnamed mountain’ (now Mount Spurling), they scrambled down the Traveller Range to camp at Lake Laura, just to the north-east of Lake St Clair.

‘From Mount Olympus, Lake St Clair’, 1908, a misty lake shot from the rock scree high on the mountain. Stephen Spurling III photo courtesy of Stephen Hiller.
‘Drifting mists, Mount Olympus’, 1908, showing the party’s campsite at Narcissus River. Stephen Spurling III photo courtesy of Libraries Tasmania.

On Day Seven Spurling’s party resettled at the mouth of the Narcissus River, a site which would find favour with future Lake St Clair campers. After a week’s exertion, the photographer was too knackered to attend the usual dawn service of his profession.  He had not stirred from his bed next morning when one of his mates roused him, ‘Steve, get up, there’s a cloud over Mount Olympus!’ By the time the lens was brought to bear, the rising mist cloaked only the mountain’s lower baffles, resulting in one of Spurling’s most striking compositions.

‘The Du Cane Range [the Guardians] from Lake Marion’, 1908. Stephen Spurling III photo courtesy of Stephen Hiller.
Spurling’s ‘Mount Gould, Lake Marion’, 1908, seems rather tame compared to Beattie’s Sublime version shot twelve years earlier.  Was the pandanus planted? Stephen Spurling III photo courtesy of Stephen Hiller.
‘Cuvier Valley and Mount Olympus’, 1908. The party pauses for the photographer on its half-starved rush to Cynthia Bay. Stephen Spurling III photo courtesy of the late Barney Roberts.

Food supplies were now desperately low. After conquering Mount Olympus, base camp was moved to the Byron Gap in hope of landing some game. ‘Hedgehog’ (echidna) stew had fed the party for a while, but their snares continued to draw a blank. Lake Marion, Mount Gould and the Cuvier Valley completed the sightseeing, before the visitors made a dash for the accommodation house at the southern end of the lake, hoping to beg provisions from other tourists. The place was empty—but for a small packet of flour. Spurling, Scott and Roberts quickly turned this into a barely edible rock-hard damper. Appetites whetted, they determined to partake of the superior cuisine available at the Pearce residence, 20 kilometres away. There the ‘three wild eyed haggard bearded sun-downers’ must have presented quite a sight hoeing into their ‘Lord Mayors Banquet’.

Homeward bound, they took the stock track from Bronte to Great Lake, reaching the shepherd’s hut at the Skittleball Plains near Great Lake on the twelfth night of their journey. The 4139-acre sheep run between the Ouse and Little Pine Rivers was stocked by Edmund Johnson of Lonsdale, near Kempton. The identity of his shepherd is unknown, but he kindly offered the party his floor. Revived by their hearth-side sleep, Spurling, Scott and Roberts pulled out all stops for the final dash along the lake and down Warners Track, taking their tally for the last three days of the tramp to 130 kilometres. The reason for their haste was that at the Pearce homestead arrangements had been made to have a driver await the party with a dray at Jackeys Marsh. ‘The luxury of driving was unspeakable’, Spurling wrote in an excursion diary which, like the 1840s survey maps that might have aided him, was never published.

Spurling’s photos from the trip featured in the Weekly Courier newspaper over many months.[6] They also appeared as postcards (they are collectables today) and in ‘bioscope’ lantern slide performances which Spurling conducted in Launceston, that is, as slides incorporated into a moving picture show.[7] In 1913 he would return to Lake St Clair with a movie camera, as Simon Cubit and I detailed in Historic Tasmanian mountain huts.[8]

Major Jack Scott was killed in action at Gallipoli on 8 October 1915, having joined up in Western Australia alongside his brother Joe Scott—who likewise lost his life during the Dardanelles Campaign.[9] Knyvet Roberts, after whom Knyvet Falls, Pencil Pine Creek, are named, became a Flowerdale farmer. His son, the writer Bernard (Barney) Roberts, treasured an album of 30 photos which Spurling had given his father after the 1908 Lake St Clair trip. Barney used these photos to introduce me to the photography of Steve Spurling, for which, 30 years later, I am extremely grateful.

[1] Spurling’s unpublished account of the trip, ‘Across the Plateau’, is held by the Spurling family in Devonport. It appears to be a typed version of hand-written Spurling notes and is wrongly dated February 1913, giving the impression that the author and the typist were not one and the same.

[2] For the accounts of this trip see ‘The Tramp’ (William Dubrelle Weston), ‘About Lake St Clair’, The Paidophone, (Launceston Church of England Grammar School magazine), vol.II, no.7, September 1887, pp.7‒8; and ‘Shanks’s Ponies’ (William Dubrelle Weston), ‘A trip to Lake St Clair’, Examiner, 22 December 1888, p.2 and 29 December 1888, p.13. For Weston and Law’s hiking careers, see Nic Haygarth, ‘”The summit of our ambition”: Cradle Mountain and the highland bushwalks of William Dubrelle Weston’, Papers and Proceedings of the Tasmanian Historical Research Association, vol.56, no.3, December 2009, pp.207‒24.

[3] ‘Lake Ina’, Daily Telegraph, 24 May 1907, p.4.

[4] ‘Union Jack Gymnasium Club Annual Meeting’, Daily Telegraph, 17 March 1908, p.8.

[5] ‘Deloraine’. Daily Telegraph, 18 February 1908, p.7.

[6] Photos from the 1908 trip appeared in the Weekly Courier on 16 April 1908, p.27; 23 April 1908, p.19; 30 April 1908, p.17; 7 May 1908, p.17; 14 May 1908, p.17; 21 May 1908, pp.21 and 22; 28 May 1908, p.17; 11 June 1908, p.24; 2 July 1908, p.17; 9 July 1908, pp.17 and 23; 16 July 1908, p.22; 23 July 1908, p.23; 6 August 1908, pp.20 and 24; 31 December 1908, pp.21 and 24.

[7] See, for example, ‘Bioscope entertainment’, Daily Telegraph, 29 September 1908, p.3.

[8] ‘Hartnett’s huts’, in Simon Cubit and Nic Haygarth, Historic Tasmanian mountain huts: through the photographer’s lens, Forty South Publishing, Hobart, 2014, pp.76‒83.

[9] ‘Major JB Scott killed: brothers make the supreme sacrifice’, Examiner, 16 October 1915, p.6.

Posted on 2 Comments

To Lake St Clair with car and camera

Starting out from the Ouse River in the Hupmobile, 1914-15 trip. Ray McClinton photo from the Weekly Courier, 28 January 1915, p.18.

It was the first motor trip to Lake St Clair. In 1915 pioneering motor tourers Ray and Edith McClinton mounted a two-week expedition from Launceston to the highland lake, with ‘Nina’, social pages and women’s editor of the Weekly Courier newspaper, as their guest. The Hupmobile party, towing an additional 120 kg of motor boat engine and luggage, battled rocks, ruts, rain and button grass up the Derwent Valley, breaking their trip at Ouse, the Ellises’ house near the Dee River, Weeding’s at Marlborough and Pearce’s at the Clarence River.[1]

McClinton, a San Francisco dentist who with his wife lived in Launceston 1904–28, would soon become one of Tasmania’s great tourism ‘boosters’.[2] Like fellow Launceston rev-heads Stephen Spurling III, Fred Smithies and HJ King, McClinton worshipped both nature and technology. He wanted to crash deep into the highlands, breaking down the physical and virtual isolation with carburettors and cameras. He was also imbued with fervour for worthy objects and the nineteenth-century tradition of public education that made him a consummate lantern slide lecturer on anything from x-raying teeth to colour photography.[3] Soon he would turn those skills to promoting Tasmania’s scenic wonders. Visiting Lake St Clair was one of the foundation stones of his eventual campaign in support of plans for a Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair national park.[4]

The Hup party at the government log cabin, Cynthia Bay, Lake St Clair, 1914-15 trip, with the unmistakable figure of Paddy Hartnett closest to the camera. Ray McClinton photo from the Weekly Courier, 28 January 1915, p.18.
The motorboat and Paddy Hartnett in the lake, 1914-15 trip. Ray McClinton photo from the Weekly Courier, 28 January 1915, p.18.

Already there was rudimentary infrastructure at the lake. The Hup party took advantage of the government-built three-room log cabin at Cynthia Bay. On foot at last they crossed the Cuvier River on a rustic bridge. McClinton attached his engine to the boat at the lake, enabling communication with the Perrin party —a pedestrian party—camped near the Narcissus at the northern end of the lake. Highland guide Paddy Hartnett had led them to Lake St Clair via the Mersey River.[5] ‘Nina’ marvelled at the reflections in the Narcissus River and the gambolling of a platypus. She made even the ‘perfume of petrol’ mingle poetically with the ‘sweet scent of the woods’, as the first propeller churned the waters of Lake St Clair. A storm disrupted the return journey down the lake but, with the aid of axe, saw, lamp and candles, McClinton soon fashioned ‘Nina’ a comfortable bower in the forest:

‘Imagine myrtle trees towering over a hundred feet high, and their branches interlaced, so that only patches of sky could be seen above, and only glimpses of the lake between. Then picture tree-ferns all around, and green moss for a carpet. Add to his a vision of remnants of fallen trees of age untold, coated with moss inches thick, like green plush. The imagine crystal streams trickling down the mountain side … The whole scene was fairyland …’[6]

But who was ‘Nina’? She was an outstanding journalist called Kate Farrell, better known by her pseudonyms ‘Nina’ and ‘Sylvia’. Her literary career spanned 33 years and included both Launceston dailies, the Daily Telegraph and the Examiner, plus their respective weekend newspapers, the Colonist and the Weekly Courier.[7] The scale of her anonymity can be tested quite easily by searching the Trove digital database: during her literary career c1894–1927 the name Kate Farrell has only 7 hits, while ‘Woman’s World’ by ‘Sylvia’ occurs 1933 times.[8] ‘Woman’s World’ was generally frocks, recipes and home hints. In 1914 Farrell published her 96-page Sylvia’s cookery book.[9] During World War One she turned her attention to bringing comfort to those at the front, and she was also a ‘booster’, penning tourist guide The charm of the north in 1922.[10] Farrell had been motor touring with the McClintons for years, having accompanied them to Lake Sorell in their Winton Four and on Edith McClinton’s one-woman non-stop run from Launceston to Richmond in the Hupmobile. [11] Farrell preceded Ray McClinton as a tourism ‘booster’, and at Lake St Clair she quickly got into her stride:

‘The beauty of the scene is inexpressible. One can imagine the crowds of tourists who would visit Lake St Clair if the road were made. A number of small chalets built, with a caretaker in charge, and a motor boat available for the use of visitors, would help matters along considerably. I hope it will not be long before such dreams come true’.[12]

Stuck in a wash-out near Ellendale, 1916-17 trip, King and McClinton in action. HJ King photo courtesy of Daisy Glennie.
The Hupmobile, containing the two ladies, and McClinton in the ‘Baby Grand’ Chevrolet, posed as if tackling the corded track, 1916-17 trip. HJ King photo courtesy of Maggie Humphrey.
‘The darkroom at Lake St Clair’, HJ King despairs over the photographic facilities, 1916-17 trip. HJ King photo courtesy of Maggie Humphrey.

 

The 1916-17 party at Bushy Park, Sir Philip Fysh with the white beard, the McClintons at centre, with Kate Farrell fourth from left. Bushwalker and park administrator WJ Savigny is second from left. HJ King photo courtesy of Maggie Humphrey.

The McClintons and Farrell repeated their Lake St Clair excursion two years later, this time with the established amateur photographer HJ King. While King drove McClinton’s faithful old Hupmobile (registration number 586), the dentist was at the helm of his new ‘Baby Grand’ Chevrolet (number 4465). Both vehicles survived—but, in the true tradition of motor touring, it was a near thing for much of the way. The government accommodation house had been destroyed by fire in the intervening two years. However, rather than repeat herself, Farrell minimised her tourism boosting and concentrated on describing the route taken and the social pleasantries of a visit to former premier Sir Philip Fysh’s Bushy Park estate.[13] The real reporter was King. McClinton deferred to the superior shutterbug, allowing him to be the official tour photographer, and many King photos from this trip appeared in the Weekly Courier during 1917, including his light-hearted ‘Lake St Clair Darkroom’.[14] King’s keen eye captured the logistical difficulties of the corrugated track, with block and tackle deployed near Ellendale, some pick and shovel work on the Sandhill at Lawrenny and rescue by a bullock team near Derwent Bridge. McClinton also appears to have had a long stint with a hand saw clearing a fallen tree. One of the most interesting images from the trip was McClinton, the ex-patriate American, recalling his military training by posing with a gun upon his shoulder, as if guarding the beauty of Lake St Clair.[15] How far they were from the European War (King was a conscientious objector, McClinton effectively neutral), yet the connection remained even here.[16]

Ray McClinton posed militarily in front of Mount Ida, 1916-17. HJ King photo courtesy of Maggie Humphrey.

‘To Lake St Clair with car and camera’ became one of first outings of the McClinton–King lantern lecturing team.[17] Later, with Fred Smithies, they would add Cradle Mountain and the Pelion region to their lecturing repertoire. At her retirement in 1927 Kate Farrell was ‘Launceston’s senior press woman’ and the last of the Weekly Courier’s original staff. [18] The McClintons were there to farewell her, just ahead of their departure from Tasmania.[19] Farrell died in 1933, after a long battle with illness, leaving only King to enjoy the road they had craved, the ‘missing link’—forerunner of the Lyell Highway—between Marlborough and Queenstown.[20] By then Lake St Clair was well on its way to becoming a tourism hub.

[1] See ‘Nina’ (Kate Farrell), ‘A trip to Lake St Clair’, Weekly Courier, 21 January 1915, p.29; 28 January 1915, pp.27–28; 4 February 1915, pp.28 and 29; and 11 February 1915, p.28.

[2] Edith McClinton actually left Tasmania for Honolulu in June 1927 (‘Social notes’, Daily Telegraph, 22 June 1927, p.2), Ray MClinton joining her there in November 1928 (‘Dr Ray McClinton’, Mercury, 8 November 1928, p.11).

[3] See, for example, ‘X-rays and the teeth’, Examiner, 18 June 1925, p.5.; and ‘Local and general’, Daily Telegraph, 5 July 1923, p.4. For Launceston rev-head photographers generally, see Nic Haygarth, The wild ride: revolutions that shaped Tasmanian black and white wilderness photography, National Trust of Australia (Tasmania), Launceston, 2008.

[4] McClinton and Smithies had visited the Du Can Range area in 1913, and may have visited Lake St Clair at that time, but that was a pedestrian trip.

[5] See ‘The adventures of Paddy’s Gang: an account of a Perrin family trip to Lake St Clair guided by Hartnett over the Christmas–New Year period in 1914–1915’, diary in possession of Bessie Flood.

[6] ‘Nina’ (Kate Farrell), ‘A trip to Lake St Clair’, Weekly Courier, 28 January 1915, p.28.

[7] ‘Miss K Farrell’s death’, Examiner, 4 July 1933, p.9. Thanks to Ross Smith for identifying ‘Nina’.

[8] The Weekly Courier is not yet indexed on Trove, making it impossible to search on ‘Social notes’ by ‘Nina’. Propriety of the time contributed to this disparity, insisting that she be referred to simply as ‘Miss Farrell’ throughout her life.

[9] ‘Social notes’, Daily Telegraph, 25 May 1927, p.2. The full details are K Farrell, Sylvia’s cookery book: tested recipes and items of interest, Launceston, 1914.

[10] K Farrell, The charm of the north, Launceston City Council, Launceston, 1922.

[11] ‘Nina’ (Kate Farrell), ‘Camping at Interlaken’, Weekly Courier, 21 January 1909, p.29; ‘Exhaust’, ‘Motor notes’, Daily Telegraph, 9 November 1911, p.11.

[12] ‘Nina’ (Kate Farrell), ‘A trip to Lake St Clair’, Weekly Courier, 11 February 1915, p.28.

[13] ‘Nina’ (Kate Farrell), ‘A trip to Lake St Clair’, Weekly Courier, 11 January 1917, p.27. The trip was also written up by ‘Spark’ (Charles George Saul), ‘Motoring’, Examiner, 13 January 1917, p.4. Thanks to Ken Young for identifying ‘Spark’.

[14] See Weekly Courier, 11 January 1917, p.17; 18 January 1917, p.18; 25 January 1917, p.17; 1 February 1917, p.17; 15 February 1917, p.17; 22 March 1917, p.20; 5 April, pp.17, 20 and 21; 31 May, p.21; 13 September, p.17; 18 October 1917, p.17; and 1 November 1917 (Christmas issue), p.22.

[15] Ray McClinton performed military training 1900–02 in California, film no.981549, MF4:2, National Guard Registers v.61, 1st Infantry, 2nd Brigade, Enlisted Men, 1883–1902, California, Military Registers, 1858–1923.

[16] McClinton supported the Allied war effort, but America did not enter World War One until April 1917.

[17] See ‘Spark’ (Charles George Saul), ‘Motoring’, Examiner, 3 February 1917, p.4; ‘Plug’, ‘Motor notes’, Daily Telegraph, 13 February 1917, p.6.

[18] ‘Journalist honoured’, Examiner, 24 May 1927, p.7, ‘Social notes’, Daily Telegraph, 25 May 1927, p.2.

[19] The McClintons’ names were accidentally omitted from the Examiner’s story of this event. See the correction, Examiner, 25 May 1927, p.7.

[20] ‘Miss K Farrell’s death’, Examiner, 4 July 1933, p.9.

Posted on 5 Comments

Dogging in the snow near Lake St Clair

A hunter’s log cabin in the Cuvier Valley (Fred Smithies photo, from the Weekly Courier, 3 July 1929, p.27). From 1927 the Cuvier Valley was part of a game sanctuary. This was not the first time that Smithies, a member of the Cradle Mountain Reserve Board, had photographed an illegal hunting hut in the Lake St Clair Reserve.

In 1906 a newspaper contributor calling himself ‘The Rover’ wrote an account of four months’ hunting in a mountain valley near Lake St Clair. The party of four was from Queenstown. They started for the lake through heavy rain in April, each member bearing a pack weighing 23 kg up the Linda Track, precursor of the Lyell Highway—while a mule carried the rest, a mere 141 kg! First stop was the ‘cockatoo hut’, which at the time was a well-known shelter at the Franklin River.[1] Next day, high on Mount Arrowsmith, the grave of John Largan, who had frozen to death there in 1900, served to warn them of the dangers of the highlands.[2] Arriving at Lake St Clair on the second evening after their long tramp, they spent two days exploring the surrounds before settling on a ‘beautiful valley’ 11 km from the lake. Over four days the party built a log hut with a bark roof as their base.

Then, instead of laying down their snare lines, they ‘waited with feverish impatience for the first fall of snow’. Unleash the hounds! ‘The Rover’ knew what many hunters knew: that in heavy snow wallabies were easy prey for dogs:

‘As we had been at the business before, no time was lost in getting to work, two of us going out and two remaining in camp every alternate day … The same remark applies to the dogs, for they soon knock up if the work is not divided between them. The best plan is to take four dogs at a time, for if the kangaroos [Bennett’s wallabies] are plentiful the dogs will kill faster than a man can skin them, it being a common occurrence to have four or five killed within as many minutes. The fastest kangaroo falls a victim to the slowest dog when pursued through three feet of snow’.

The two men back at camp were kept busy pegging out skins, fetching wood for the fire and cooking supper. No mention was made of a skin shed—but the existence of one is implied by the volume of skins obtained and the duration of the expedition. Mouldy or frozen skins were worthless. They needed to be cleaned and kept dry. The skin shed, a unique Tasmanian invention, was developed at about the beginning of the twentieth century. Its inception was one of the reasons for an escalation in the Tasmanian fur industry, enabling longer stints and greater, more valuable hauls in the highlands where possum furs in particular grew thicker.

After one month the mule was revisited at the Clarence River, and divested of its load—which presumably it had not borne in the interim. The snow was then two feet deep, and in June it got deeper, with metre-long icicles draping the eaves of the hut. Now the ‘rough-coated mongrel’ dog showed his superiority to the purebred, with wallabies being slaughtered in all directions.

One day the hunters found the tracks of a ‘hyena, or Tasmanian tiger’. The dogs took up the scent

‘and in a few minutes discovered the enemy. Their angry growls brought us on the scene, when it was plainly to be seen that the tiger intended to fight to the bitter end. With a cry of encouragement to the dogs we urged them on, and immediately they were engaged in mortal combat with their fierce opponent. The struggle was a long one, but at last the combined strength of the four dogs began to tell, and the battle was over. We found on examination that the tiger was one of the largest of its class, measuring 5 ft 6 in [1.69 m] from the end of his nose to the tip of his tail’.

‘The Rover’ claimed a haul of 91 dozen (1092) wallaby skins—and a weight loss of from 15 to 22 kg per man.[3] The mule, not the men, would have borne the skins back to Queenstown. Providing they were in good condition, they would have fetched something in the region of £80–£140 on the fur market, or an average of about £20–£35 per man.[4] While this would have been a very useful income supplement, better money was to be had in an open season on brush possum.

How credible is this anonymous tale? Let’s start with the hunting season. No year is given, but the events described, if they are real, must have taken place in the period 1901–05. Which season is it likely to be? Throughout the period 1901–05 the season for wallaby was four months, 1 April to 31 July, with closed season for possums in 1903 and 1904 and a one-month season (July) in 1901, 1902 and 1905.[5] So wallabies would have been the focus for many hunters during these seasons, and almost without exception in 1903 and 1904. As for the very heavy snow falls, there was plenty of snow at Cradle Mountain in July 1905 when hunter Bert Hanson disappeared in a blizzard. Hanson and his mate Tom Jones were also using dogs to hunt down wallabies.[6]

A map showing Cuvier Valley hunting huts visited during a police raid on the Lake St Clair Game Sanctuary in 1927. From AA580/1/1 (Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office).

What was the ‘beautiful valley about 10 miles long by two in width, and bounded on each side by high ranges extending as far as the eye could reach, rising almost perpendicularly from the valley below’? Allowing for a little poetic licence, it could be the Cuvier Valley west of Mount Olympus, where hunters like Bert and Dick Nichols operated two decades later.[7]

What about the thylacine: was the carcass submitted for a government thylacine bounty? Plenty of applications were made for the bounty in the spring of the years 1901–05, but without knowing the origin of each application it is very difficult to track down ‘The Rover’ or his mates from Queenstown.[8] Given the value of the wallaby skins they obtained, carting a single thylacine carcass back to Queenstown in order to submit it for a £1 bounty may not have been a priority for them anyway.

In short, the story is plausible. I hope there are further missives from ‘The Rover’, giving more insight into the task of feeding the world’s craving for furs.

[1] See, for example, JW Beattie, ‘Out west with salmon fry’, Mercury, 18 February 1903, p.6; ‘Alluvial gold’, Mercury, 25 August 1935, p.8.

[2] See ‘Mount Arrowsmith tragedy’, Mount Lyell Standard and Strahan Gazette, 3 September 1900, p.2.

[3] ‘The Rover’, ‘A Tasmanian winter camp’, Weekly Courier, 26 May 1906, p.37.

[4] In August 1901 ‘kangaroo’ skins free from shot were fetching £0-1-6 to £0-1-8 each (‘Commercial’, Mercury, 17 August 1901, p.2); in August 1905 ‘kangaroo’ fetched from £0-1-11 to £0-2-6 (‘Commercial’, Examiner, 12 August 1905, p.4). My calculations assume that all the skins obtained were Bennett’s wallabies, when it is likely that some were pademelons. ‘The Rover’ does not specify.

[5] Editorial, Daily Telegraph, 30 July 1901, p.2; ‘To correspondents’, Zeehan and Dundas Herald, 31 July 1902, p.2; ‘Current topics’, Examiner, 31 March 1903, p.4; ‘Warning to possum poachers’, Examiner, 19 June 1903, p.6; ‘To correspondents’, Examiner, 13 April 1904, p.4; ‘Kangaroos and opossums’, Daily Telegraph, 3 May 1905, p.2.

[6] ‘The Tramp’ (Dan Griffin), ‘The mountain mystery’, Daily Telegraph, 5 August 1905, p.6.

[7] See Gerald Propsting to the Secretary for Public Works, 4 August 1927, file AA580/1/1(Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office [afterwards TAHO]); ‘Lake St Clair Reserve: allegations of poaching’, Mercury, 26 May 1927, p.10.

[8] Government thylacine bounty payments in the years 1888—1909 are recorded in LSD247/1/2 and LSD247/1/3 (TAHO).