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A dip into the Pelion memory bank: a semi-fictional tour with Paddy Hartnett

While walking the Overland Track between Cradle Mountain and Lake St Clair in 1931, pedestrian extraordinaire ET Emmett found some words scribbled on a pine rafter inside the old mine workers’ hut at Pelion Plain.[1] The scribble authors, Emmett wrote, were ‘members of Mr Jocelyne’s [sic] South African party’, who had recorded details of their seven days’ stay in the area:

‘Scalps taken: Mt Oakleigh, Mr Ossa, Lake Ayr, Mt Thetis, Forth Gorge, Toad Rocks, Pelion East’.[2]

The Joscelyne in question was probably Horace Joscelyne (1878–1965), a Launceston-born grocer’s assistant who visited Cradle Mountain in 1922.[3] But who were the South Africans? Perhaps Horace and his wife Addie showed Tasmania to some South African visitors. Emmett’s 1931 Overland Track party was guided by temporary park ranger Bert Nichols, but the Joscelyne tour was probably from the time of Nichols’ predecessor as highland tour guide, Paddy Hartnett.

The Fred Smithies papers in the Tasmanian Archives[4] contain what is probably a semi-fictional account of the Joscelyne trip with Hartnett. Most of the same ‘scalps’—Mounts Oakleigh, Ossa and Thetis, Lake Eyre [sic] and ‘Pelion’s giant toad’—in the fictional account were ‘taken’ in similar order as outlined on the Pelion hut rafter. Although the story has a more linear structure than ‘A dip into the Waldheim mailbag’ (see earlier blog), it refers to the earlier story and appears to have the same anonymous author. As outlined in the previous blog, the author of the Waldheim mailbag story is likely to be one of Vera May Scott, Lydia Morrison or Addie (Harriet Mary) Joscelyne. It is unknown whether any of these women was a member of Horace Joscelyne’s ‘South African’ party. The candidates for authorship line up like this:

Vera May Scott (1886–1962)[5] was born at Battersea, London. At the 1901 British census she was a 15-year-old living in London with her 47-year-old piano tuner father Henry Sidney Scott and 37-year-old Brisbane-born mother May Scott.[6] No record of the family’s migration was found, but in 1922 Vera May Scott was an unmarried typist living at 28 Delamere Crescent, Trevallyn with her parents and sister Eleanor Scott.[7] Scott lived next door to the Joscelynes and had a strong connection to the family. In 1945 she thanked Horace Joscelyne for ‘unfailing kindness’ during her mother’s long illness.[8] Rupert William Joscelyne Hart, whom Scott recognised in her will, was the son of Horace Joscelyne’s sister Violet Mary Joscelyne.[9]

Lydia Morrison (1886–1971)[10] appears to have emigrated from England as a small child in 1891, along with her two-year-old brother and her parents, 28-year-old Lydia Morrison senior and 35-year-old farmer William Morrison.[11] In 1922 Lydia lived with her parents, her sister Dorothy Mary Morrison and brother William Morrison junior, at 211 St John Street, Launceston.[12] Forty-six years later in 1968 Lydia was still listed as an unmarried clerk—at 82 years of age—and living with her bookbinder sister at 6 Union Street, Launceston.[13]

Harriet (‘Addie’) Joscelyne née Cumings (c1872–1946) emigrated from England with her sister as a teenaged nursemaid in 1888. Her parents, Ebenezer and Caroline Cumings, had preceded her and were already Launceston residents.[14] Addie’s older sister Minnie gave her occupation in the passenger list as schoolteacher, and until her marriage in 1893 she operated the Trevallyn Preparatory School.[15] At this point Addie Cumings took over from her, continuing the school until at least 1897.[16]  This suggests that she was at least reasonably well educated. Addie Cumings married Horace Samuel Joscelyne at Launceston in 1903. They had no children.[17]

When did the trip take place?

Details in the semi-fictional account allow us to arrive at a possible time for the trip on which it was based. It was undertaken when the waratahs were in flower, which makes it in the period October to December. The ‘mistress of the more pretentious hut’ mentioned in the text was Elizabeth Gregson of Gisborne’s Hut/the Mount Pelion Mines Hut. She was living alone, which puts the trip in a two-month window between the death of her partner John Gregson on 11 June 1926 and her admission to the New Town Charitable Infirmary on 5 August 1926.[18] This suggests a winter tour, a very unlikely scenario not only because of the weather conditions but because at this time Hartnett would almost certainly have been hunting out beyond Adamsfield. Clearly also this does not tally with the late spring/early summer appearance of waratah blooms! The fictional account contains a credible return visit to Gisborne’s Hut when Elizabeth was found to be ‘in most wretched and squalid sickness’, a ‘poor frail old form’ eliciting ‘a deep pity for all lonely bush women, and especially all sick ones’. This does suggest the type of situation in which the elderly widow would have been forced to enter the charitable institution. The writer has taken the liberty of moving Elizabeth Gregson’s last days of freedom into the late spring, a much more likely time for the Pelion excursion.

Paddy Hartnett burning off at Lake Will, with Barn Bluff in the distance.
Photo courtesy of the late Nell Williams.


What about the Waldheim component of the trip? A tantalising photo exists of Paddy Hartnett burning off grass at Lake Will, just off the logical route from Commonwealth Creek to Waldheim along the line of present Overland Track.  The author of the semi-fictional Hartnett tour may well have climbed the Razorback on one of Hartnett’s real expeditions— yet in his diaries Gustav Weindorfer never mentioned a Hartnett party arriving at Waldheim from Commonwealth Creek via the Razorback Track.[19]

Leaving aside the matter of whether Hartnett ever brought a party to Waldheim via Razorback, there is evidence in the fictional account to suggest that the author either did in fact make a second trip to Waldheim or was very well informed about changes to that establishment. In her fictional account she mentioned seeing white pegs while rounding the western side of Cradle Mountain. These were possibly placed there by Weindorfer in April 1922 when he was engaged to mark or cut a pack-track from Waldheim to the Barn Bluff mines.[20] The writer mentioned a new woodshed and a ‘tent room’ at Waldheim. These were built 1923–24.[21] Weindorfer’s dog Flock was still alive at the time of the fictional visit—she died on 4 January 1927. Weindorfer was absent from Waldheim from 2 July to 13 November 1926, so he could not have met the timeline suggested by Elizabeth Gregson’s widowhood and removal from Gisborne’s Hut.[22] Puzzlingly, Weindorfer’s diaries contain no reference to Vera Scott, Lydia Morrison or the Joscelynes putting in another appearance at Waldheim after 1922. However, the Joscelynes were friends of Weindorfer whom he visited in Launceston in 1923 and 1926, and it is possible that the anonymous author (particularly if it was Vera Scott, who lived next door to the Joscelynes) was included in these visits and used these to update her knowledge of Waldheim.[23]

Most of ‘A dip into the Waldheim mailbag’ was written in character by Claudia Crane, who married at the story’s end. This time it appears to be her cousin Mona Moore’s turn, although the only names used in the later account are ‘Paddy’ and ‘Percy Lane’. Not even ‘Mine Host’ of Waldheim is actually named. Percy reappears at the end of the epistle to rescue the hospitalised Mona, who has been recalling her trip with Hartnett in the great outdoors as an antidote to the walls of the institution. Since writing a letter for the Waldheim mailbag, Mona has developed a staccato-style of writing with a fondness for the exclamation mark, as if to emphasise her girlish high spirits..

The account

My dear memory Pictures; How I have loved them and lingered over them in these long weeks of imprisonment! How often as I lay here the hospital walls have faded away and great trees have tossed their heads far above me. Once again I and my trusty comrades have tramped ankle-deep in the fragrant lemon thyme [sic], or scrambled happily among the giant boulders on the top of the world. Those long yet all too short days of happy comrade-ship; [sic] the unexpected meeting with our old friend Percy — the glad gathering up of the threads of old time friendship — the intimate talks on every subject under the sun — How I have lived it all over and smiled and sighed over my pictures! Just this once I am going to allow myself to glance at them all again, and then to work!

John and Elizabeth Gregson at Gisborne’s Hut in 1921. Fred Smithies photo, NS573/4/4/55 (TA).


A rolling green slope, hemmed in on all sides by great trees and roofed by the spacious sky. A streamlet purling past two little grey huts sleeping in the drowsy sunshine of a peaceful Sabbath afternoon.[24] A queer ramshackle vehicle toils up the slope and the peace is broken by a little party of Townies. The mistress of the more pretentious hut is a little wiry, shrivelled figure sharp of voice, but ready of smile and disposed to be friendly.[25] She soon has the feminine portion of the party ensconced on her doorstep listening to the finest entertainment she can offer — her gramophone. The entertainment is shared with dogs of all shapes and sizes, but alike in one respect, they are all the proud owners of a coat of thickly matted hair and buzzies. Troops of kittens tumble round but at the slightest movement in their direction they disappear under the house with the unanimity of well-trained soldiers.

As evening approaches the upper hut buzzes with life —the Townies are busily engaged settling in for the night. The wooden chimney proves to be well furnished with holes which admit the evening breezes, the said breezes being frolicsome blow clouds of smoke into the eyes of two busily making toast on forked sticks. The little breezes laugh to see a handkerchief cautiously removed to allow of lightning inspection of the toast and then as quickly replaced over aching streaming eyes. There were no regrets when that fire was allowed to die out.

Early morning sweet and fresh! Goodbye! Cavalcade sets forth led by the laden pack horses. Most inexperienced horse-women jogging gently along the beautiful winding path, filled with the deep quiet content of anticipation. The Forth gleams far below — now hiding — now shyly showing its beauty — the glint of the sun bringing out the warm tints of the mineral charged stones paving the clear stream. Presently the horse-women are footwomen by turns with a lame horse limping pain-fully [sic] behind. The pack horses far ahead — hot sunshine streaming down — Footsteps lagging a little.


Cool running water — Great trees offering its [sic] services as bridge — at long last the sight of a fire crackling away in the centre of the road! Pack horses minus their loads! Billy boiling! Glorious sense of restfulness pervading every inch of tired limbs stretched out on the cool grassy road. Tea! Lots of it, deliciously hot and wet! A chop, minus salt! A little bag of potatoes doing duty as a table! Our cutlery, a stick and occasional use of a penknife. But no more delightful meal was ever served. More delicious rest on the gently sloping road-side, [sic] now the useful bag of potatoes acting as a pillow. Hands clasped under head (but removed at intervals for vicious swoops at the myriads of droning blowflies floating round.) Eyes gazing dreamily into the smiling blue sky, or lazily following the movements of a tiny fluffy bird hopping and chirping in the feathery grey-green of the young wattles.


On once more through beautiful fens and foliage over a narrowing track, the Forth, friendly as ever, still keeping us company. At length, a steep track zigzagging up the hillside, the towers of Mt Oakleigh keeping guard above.[26]

Horseback becoming dangerous, we stiffly dismount and, seated on the rocks of the pathway, gaze with huge respect at the great towers above little thinking that before many hours have passed we will be enthroned thereon, peeping over the edge at our present lowly seat.

Through the Valley of Eden, across the flower-decked plains and, bathed in the lovely evening lights, we have our first glimpse of the circle of guardian mountains which ere long have become such familiar friends.

Pelion Huts in 1931, looking north, with Mount Oakleigh as a backdrop. Jack Thwaites photo, NS3195/2/1588 (TA).
Pelion Huts looking south towards the Sugarloaf and Mount Pelion East, 1920. HJ King photo courtesy of the late Daisy Glennie.


Over the quaintest little bridge, walking on one log and clinging to another — and we are at Pelion Hut — our best loved home! In the next few days what expectant eyes it saw open on the light of a new day! What happy adventures fared forth from its portals and what tired, contented wayfarers returned at eventide!

At first we are a little put to it for lack of utensils, but as the days glide by we are the proud owners of a fine array of jam and fruit tins, which obligingly do duty as jelly molds, saucepans and all manner of things. The boxes in which our groceries were packed are just as obliging, three of them doing duty as table and the remainder as chairs.

Each morning as soon as breakfast is disposed of all are busy as bees preparing for the day’s adventure. On the table appears sundry little screws of paper containing salt, milk, powder, and tea etc; a tin of sugar, a mug of butter; the billy is packed with cups and the whole is soon transferred to the pack on Paddy’s back and off we start on the day’s tramp, cheered by the willing service of our old friend ‘billy’ and his busy little cousin ‘fizz’. When darkness falls, tired, sometimes wet, but happy, our hut sees us once more.

How bright and warm it grows under the combined efforts of huge fire, bicycle lamp, and candles stuck on tin lids. In a very few minutes the billy is boiling, the table fished from under the bunk and put together and the cloth laid (that cloth latterly of serviceable khaki relieved by small irregular splashes of white.)

Our centre piece is a paper serviette and a beautiful bouquet of Waratah [sic], ferny fronds, and graceful foliage, glorifies an empty jam tin given the necessary height of dignity by a pedestal of two tins of fruit. Our sugar basin is strangely like a mustard tin, the salt cellar strongly resembles the lid of that same tin, and they keep company with a most motley array of china, aluminium and enamel ware but we have a real teapot and a net milk jug cover, so what would you?

Hartnett (foreground) making damper, Pelion Huts, 1921, with (left to right) Florence Perrin (?), Edith McClinton (background in doorway), Ida Smithies (?) and George Perrin. Fred Smithies photo, NS573/4/4/1/36 (TA).


With what content we sit down to the well earned meal and when the first keen edge of appetite has worn off, push our box seats back so that the bunk supports serve as back rests, and talk and nibble nuts and raisins. Then the table is cleared, dishes washed, occasionally Paddy makes bread or we are visited by a tourist couple from a neighbouring hut, then our boxes are arranged in a cosy circle around the big rugged stone fireplace and a pleasant medley of poems, songs, and chat follows. Sometimes by the combined efforts of the whole party the whole of a song is remembered but usually one or two verses more or less mixed suffice! Even our childhood hymns have their places.

Then appears at the feet of each a cup of steaming coffee. Paddy lifts off the camp oven, ashes are scraped off, the lid is lifted, a chorus of approving voices greets the perfectly baked bread; very soon after that we are in dreamland.


Struggling slowly and with many a rest over the flowery plains and up lower slopes of the first mountain Oakleigh — Pushing through shady leafy tangles of vegetation richly illumined by brilliant touches of Waratah in full bloom — On the summit at last gazing our fill from one vantage point — Then being led to another and another until happy hours slip by unnoticed — The leisurely return over the plain in the wanning [sic] light — The magic of the long dreaming rest on the shores of the lakelet faithful mirror of the pearly sunset tints of the sky — Backward glances of Oakleigh now deliciously purple — Until at last the voices of the prudent are heard urging haste and most reluctantly we rise and wend our way homeward.

Paddy Hartnett (second from right) with a party on top of Mount Pelion West, 1921: (left to right) Ray McClinton, Frank Heyward, Florence Perrin, Edith McClinton and George Perrin. Fred Smithies photo courtesy of the late Nell Williams.


The swift rush of our descent from Ossa — The excitement of the rapid slides over the smooth snow heightened by the knowledge of great rocks and chasms and unknown depths below — Lowering ourselves cautiously down sheer drops with the friendly aid of the tough pineapple grass.


The rush up Thetis striving to race the driving mists to the summit — The biting wind which cuts into us whenever we come into the open — The grand piles of rock which we crawled or scrambled — The moments when we gazed helplessly at some huge heap and turned over for help that was never lacking — Places where the whole party hoisted us up or lowered us down some height — or where we walked up a ladder of human hands and shoulders. The foot reached at last in driving rain — We hastily prepared tea, cold and wet we sat down in one spot and carefully refrained from moving an inch from that partially dried and warm spot.


Lake Eyre [sic: Ayr] beautiful in the sunlight in its setting noble parklands. Paddy with an eye to next day’s dinner, leading gun in hand we followed in tip toe — picturesque glimpses of shy wild cattle — Tea interrupted by sudden rain — scuttle for shelter — two girls— lying flat one above the other squeezed beneath a fallen tree trunk — cosy intimate chat, eyes the while noting the lake dipling [sic, rippling?] and colour freshening on tree trunks and foliage under the rain — Contented, tramps round the lake and homeward single file in the gentle rain.


A leisurely stroll though plains thickly sprinkled with great daisies — where the plain ends, huge bushes of their smaller sisters greet us.

On we go up long easy slopes of springy green turf beautified by groups of large white orchids. Up here the Forth is young and frolicsome and dances gaily over little falls, turning and turning between beautiful pines that give it quite an alpine touch.

But we have a thought for tomorrow’s dinner despite the beauty surrounding us and keep a wary eye on the joyous flocks of jays noisily chattering overhead[27] — Girls still as mice! Vicious snap of Paddy’s gun! Quick downward fall of mute little body! Reckless plunge of men into the undergrowth! Triumphant return with one more trophy, and so on.


Toad Rock under Mount Pelion East. HJ King photo courtesy of the late Daisy Glennie.


Soon we are gazing on Pelions [sic] giant toad standing on his pedestal on guard, gazing across the tree tops over the hills and far away.[28] We cast wistful glances at Pelion so tantalisingly close, playing hide and seek with the mists; but time and the weather are against us, and we leave him unconquered.


One more pleasant picture that day holds — one suggesting Canadian backwoods. A lichen enamelled forest of giant Myrtles [sic] and King Billies, little streamlets making music through tis ferns and mosses — Hidden securely in its heart most picturesque Crusoe huts.[29]


Great fire! Billy boiling! Firelight flickering on weary party soon utterly content! Vacuum filled! Thirst quenched! As giants refreshed we rapidly make for home sweet home in the fading light.


Our sunshiny day off! A tap awakens us, the door opens, the sunlight streams in! Enter Paddy! Fire alight! Billy boiling! In a trice we are slowly sipping fragrant coffee and nipping biscuits, our eyes feasting on our one picture — a panel of Mount Oakleigh framed in the open doorway. Exit Paddy! Back we lie in luxurious idleness while light-hearted chatter and snatches of song are tossed back and forth through the pine wall.[30]

Leisurely toilet! Leisurely breakfast! Most leisurely household duties! Contented heaping of all culinary responsibilities on capable manly shoulders. Leisurely stroll down to the Forth,[31] very young and pretty between its steep banks. Soon in that secluded spot appears a softly rounded mermaid, splashing joyously in the crystal stream — smiling face and soft brown eyes radiating sheer joy in life. All too soon, alas, she has disappeared, and two commonplace mortals climed [sic] the bank to bask in the sunshine, exchanging low-voiced confidences until a much-uplifted voice summoned them to a wholly unearned, but much appreciated meal.


Reluctant farewell to our Pelion Hut, steps retraced with many a backwood [sic] glance! Eyes a fortnight older lingering on remembered scenes. Wolfram! Cautious feet exploring the damp dark mine tunnel![32] Dinner and brief rest at the miners’ huts. On! Over the Forth! Through luxurient foliages! [sic] Through black oozy mud, cautiously skirting the edges of the track at first in the vain endeavour to escape it — then plunging recklessly through it feeling it coldly oozing through the laceholes [sic] of our boots and squelching between our toes!


On up the razor back![33] Heats jumping! Breath coming quickly! Loose stones slipping beneath our feet. Ever slower and more slowly in the gathering dark until the pack horses have long disappeared in the gloom above. At long last Paddy and the horses (minus their loads) reappear and the day ends with a mysterious ride in inky darkness. We hear our horses splashing through the water but we cannot see it — we feel branches of trees brushing us as we pass, but these also we cannot see. Perched up on the sky line, we feel like Rebecca on her camel going to meet her lord. All we can see is a black sky far above, pierced by little steel stars. The cool evening air is soft on our faces, and we feel the exquisite luxury of transport on feet other than our own tired ones. Our journey ended, the new hut provokes a smile.[34] The fireplace end is missing and provided easy exit — also access to all and sundry. The floor is thickly strewn from end to end with dry brush etc, but Paddy’s broom of twigs soon sets that to rights. Willing hands have soon unpacked necessaries and gathered our fragrant leafy mattress after a hasty meal on a table which is a most ancient and feeble shell of grey paling which the slightest touch sends askew. An attempt to introduce an extra support shook it so alarmingly that the attempt was abandoned with a fervent prayer that it might outlast our need.


Paddy’s voice calling us next morning provoked most dismal groans, but soon we were busily engaged in making preparations for our visit to Cradle of happy memory. Trustfully we leave all but absolute necessities to the mercy of the ‘possum and their friends, and are on the tramp once more.


Seated above the wonderful wide sweep of a great cirque, two girls are having shooting lessons, a lovely spray of Blandfordia beside them surveying the performance with wondering eyes.


A line of wayfarers pushing rather wearily up seemingly endless slopes thickly clad in a ghostly pale grey thicket of leafless stunted bushes, extraordinarily tough and wiry, its pale skeleton fingers clutching spitefully at our garments as we press through it.


A grassy hillside thickly spotted with spikes of pretty pinkish flowers — fly-catchers. Paddy holds a flower in one sunburnt hand — a tiny piece of dry grass in the other. A group of figures kneel round him on the grass, eyes fixed on the flower. Its centre is touched! Down comes the fairy hammer! Little starts! Little exclamations! Peals of laughter! More hammers fall! More starts! More exclamations! More laughter! And so on ad lib.


The precious gun and our food are securely hidden in the bushes. Then onward round the white pegs at the base of Cradle, eyes eagerly searching for familiar landmarks. Once round Cradle we allow ourselves one long backward glance at Barn Bluff, softened and beautiful in the deep purple shades of evening, and then on we push. A glad cry announces the first sight of old Waldheim nestling among its pines. We descend the hill a little too far to the left and find ourselves in thick scrub, but on we rush, pushing through clinging branches, jumping, scrambling, anyhow, for we must reach Waldheim before dark actually falls.

Across the plain we break into a quick run — up the hill, round to the kitchen door — the familiar bark of Flock announces us — open comes the door, and we have the hearty surprised greeting of Mine Host.[35] We just have time to note a huge new woodshed facing the kitchen door, when we are swallowed up in the light and warmth. In a very few moments we are round the old table, attending to the needs of the inner man, and making the acquaintance of the other visitors. Then into the cosy old fireplace, chatting and listening to records, old and new, and off to the tent room to long dreamless sleep, buried under piles of grey blankets.


Morning! Bright sunshine! Breakfast! Friendly talk! Farewells!


On the trail once more! Rest on lovely green fairy mounds starred with tiny daisies. Crater Lake — still — mysterious — deeply, darkly blue — Dove Lake — sparkling dancing in the glorious sunlight. As we climb, many a backward glance is cast at Waldheim nestling in its valley and farewell cooees reach us, softly floating across the distance. The last thing we see as we disappear over the top of Cradle is a friendly white signal waving, and then we set to work in earnest to reach our hidden food.

But the day is far spent when at length it is reached and a silent and empty party sit down to the long deferred meal. But very soon our good friend ‘Billy’ works his magic beneficently as ever, and we laugh once more.

We are seated on the ridge between Cradle and Barn Bluff— those stately old giants gazing serenely over our heads in the soft evening light. One whose face is crimson with sunburn, produces a battered tube of lanoline wrapped in worn brown paper having a goodly share of lanoline upon it. With this paper he proceeds to anoint his burning face. A girl, equally crimson of visage, rummaging among a tiny stock of treasures produces a jar of face cream. Apparently the jolting of the trip has caused the cream to spread itself outside the jar. With this she economically proceeds to anoint her face. Something strange about it invites hasty investigation and with utmost horror she finds she has carefully rubbed tooth-paste [sic] upon her cherished countenance. And those hoary old giants suffer not a wrinkle in their old faces to twitch during the unseemly and ridiculous mirth that follows.


Rapidly we push on, but all too soon black darkness is upon us. Closely, blindly we follow in Paddy’s footsteps slipping, stumbling, over bogs, tussocks, stones, seeing not an inch in front of us except where the gleam of water shines warningly. At length rest becoming imperative, we stretch wearing limbs on the cool earth, gazing into the starlit immensity above. Voices break the silence ‘Can you see the duck?’ — minute directions — mystified eyes vainly straining. ‘See the handle of the saucepan — now the sweep of its breast!’ Triumphant laughter! ‘Acres of duck!’ ‘A bonza duck.’ ‘Pooh! It’s a brimming old duck!’ Then mightily refreshed by the sight of that duck we resume our stumbling march! The top of the hill is reached and soon home sweet home with the fresh night blowing through it.


Refreshment! Our leafy couches — and Silence.


Breakfast in bed and one more lazy sunshiny day of roaming round our hut and the next day we depart! The pack horses have disappeared — absolute necessities are packed and the bulk of the luggage left behind for those most foolish horses on their return up the razor back. This time we have leisure and light to see the beauties bordering the steep track and at the hill’s foot come upon our truant horses returning in charge of the packman. Most gladly the packs are shed and left in the pathway to be picked up.

Through sun-flecked paths the giant bracken bending low and caressing us as we pass we reach the beautiful Forth once more and hot and tired we clamber down its bridge supports to lunch on the cool flat stones in the shade of giant leatherwoods, one mass of beautiful bloom. Here the river is broad and deep and we sit in luxurious coolness watching its smooth flow until the word to march on.


Our first hut once more — We now recognise it as a palace with its real glass window and movable table and bunks — wallaby patties made by Paddy — then a visit to our friendly old lady, this time in most wretched and squalid sickness. A nightdress of indescribable hue hangs on her thin form and she is covered by a few soiled and tattered rags; no single sweet or fresh thing to be seen — lack of every little refinement to lighten sickness. On the walls are the only things that might attract attention — every inch of them is covered with magazine cuttings and girls, dogs, horses, all manner of things stare at the poor frail old form. When we left the listless eyes were a little brighter, and in our hearts was a deep pity for all lonely bush women, and especially all sick ones.


By dinner time next day our driver and a visiting surveyor had joined us, and we all sat down to our last bush meal — bully beef and onions — with borrowed cutlery added to our already motley collection.


One evening the moon looked down and saw the dear little fluffy nurse and the new Doctor [sic] climbing the steps to the ‘Eagles Eyrie’. Now, those steps are steep and the little nurse is plump, so is it any wonder that presently they sat down upon a step instead of climbing it?


When the little nurse got back her breath the moon heard in regretful tones, ‘Our pretty patient leaves to-morrow’. ‘What in the world did you do to her to-day? She looked as if she had got hold of the Elixir of Life.’ [sic] ‘I guess she had’ said the girl softly, ‘And he must have had a dose himself too, judging by the look on his face when he left.’ ‘Well! He’s a lucky chap!’ said the man heartily, ‘Who is he?’ ‘P Lane was on his bag.’ ‘Jerusalem! It must be old Percy! Used to know him at school. His dad lost a lot of money in that Barn Bluff oil show. Met him to-day, and he told me he had struck it lucky — in more ways than one it seems, but he didn’t mention that.’

[1] That is, the old two-chimney Mount Pelion Mines hut that stood below Old Pelion Hut and fell down in 1948.

[2] ET Emmett, ‘Scenic reserve: memorable week’s tour: Cradle Mountain to Lake St Clair: Hobart party’s experience’, Mercury, 10 January 1931, p.2.

[3] See ‘A dip into the Waldheim mailbag’.

[4] NS573/1/1/11 (Tasmanian Archives, afterwards TA).

[5] Years are from headstone, Carr Villa Memorial Park, Launceston; plus 1901 British Census as below.

[6] British Census, 1901, Administrative County of London, Civil Parish of Heathorn, p.22 (accessed through

[7] Electoral roll, Division of Bass, Subdivision of West Launceston, 1922, p.48. See also will of Henry Sidney Scott, in which he made his daughter Vera May Scott his sole executrix and beneficiary, will no.18727, AD960/1/56 (TA).

[8] ‘Thanks’, Examiner, 23 October 1945, p.2.

[9] See will no.43508, AD960/1/94 (TA).

[10] Years are from headstone, Carr Villa Memorial Park, Launceston.

[11] Passenger list for the Orana, October 1891, Series BT27, British National Archives (accessed through

[12] Electoral roll, Division of Bass, Subdivision of Launceston Central, 1922, p.34.

[13] Electoral roll, Division of Bass, Subdivision of Launceston Central, 1968, p.16.

[14] Descriptive list of immigrants, ss Coptic, arriving in Hobart 27 July 1888,. CB7/12/1/12–13, p.40 (TA),, accessed 10 June 2023.

[15] ‘Current topics’, Launceston Examiner, 13 May 1893, p.5.

[16] See, for example, ‘Education’, Launceston Examiner, 4 January 1893, p.2; ‘Educational’, Daily Telegraph, 21 January 1896, p.4; ‘Diamond jubilee’, Launceston Examiner, 15 June 1897, p.6.

[17] Married 21 January 1903, registration no.608/1903, at St Paul’s Church, Launceston (TA).

[18] John Gregson’s headstone details are recorded on the Lorinna Cemetery page, Kentish Museum Trust, All known burials in the Kentish Municipality, 2nd edn., 2007. Elizabeth Gregson’s patient admission record for the New Town Charitable Infirmary on 5 August 1926 is HSD274/1/1 (TA),$002f$002fARCHIVES_DIGITISED$002f0$002fARCHIVES_DIG_DIX:HSD274-1-1/one?qu=%22hsd274%2F1%2F1%22, accessed 13 October 2019. Her age was given as 73 years. She never left this institution. Her date of death is also recorded there on 11 June 1927, death record no.1656/1927 (Tasmanian Pioneers Index).

[19] In the Weindorfer diaries the only instance of a party arriving at Waldheim from Commonwealth Creek/Lake McRae is Fred and Ida Smithies on 18 April 1927. They went around the eastern side of Cradle via Lake Rodway, but returned to Commonwealth Creek/Lake McRae via the western side of Cradle on 20 April 1927.

[20] Gustav Weindorfer diary, April 1922, NS234/27/1/8 (TA).

[21] The new woodshed was completed 7 August 1923, the tent room was finished 2 December 1924, Gustav Weindorfer diary (Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, afterwards QVMAG).

[22] Gustav Weindorfer diary (QVMAG).

[23] Gustav Weindorfer diary 9 May 1923 and 13 October 1926 (QVMAG).

[24] The author describes travelling south on Patons Road towards the Wolfram Mine on the upper Forth River. The two huts were Gisborne’s Hut, owned by Hobart schoolteacher, orchardist, journalist and political commentator Frederic (FAW) Gisborne, and a hut nearby which was built by Mount Pelion Mines. The Gregsons appear to have occupied the former until the mining hut became available in 1921.

[25] The woman described is Elizabeth Gregson. For the full story of John and Elizabeth Gregson, see Simon Cubit and Nic Haygarth, Historic Tasmanian mountain huts: through the photographer’s lens, Forty South Publishing, Hobart, 2015, pp.100–105.

[26] The author describes the Zigzag Track, the pack track between the Wolfram Mine and the Pelion huts.

[27] ‘Jays’ or ‘black jays’ are currawongs.

[28] Toad Rock, under Mount Pelion East.

[29] A reference to the Crusoe Hut in Cataract Gorge, Launceston, a rustic hut established on the main walkway in 1893 as a reference to Daniel Defoe’s 1719 novel Robinson Crusoe, about a castaway marooned on an island off the coast of Venezuela.

[30] The larger hut at Pelion Plain, the two-chimney workers’ hut, was built of eucalypt. ‘Pine wall’ confirms that the hut the author slept in was the mine manager’s hut, now known as Old Pelion Hut.

[31] That is, Douglas Creek.

[32] The main adit of the Wolfram Mine, aka the Mount Oakleigh Wolfram Mine. Wolfram (tungsten) had been needed for munitions during World War One but after the war ended the price of tungsten dropped and the mine was abandoned.

[33] The notoriously steep Razorback Track between the Forth River and the Barn Bluff Copper Mine.

[34] Probably one of the huts at the abandoned Barn Bluff Copper Mine at Commonwealth Creek.

[35] Gustav Weindorfer, proprietor of Waldheim Chalet 1912–32.

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‘This mountain may run your motor car’: the early struggles of the Cradle Mountain–Lake St Clair National Park

Mining in a scenic reserve? A fur farm as well? How about damming a protected lake to generate power? Bring it all on. During its first 25 years the Cradle Mountain–Lake St Clair National Park was a free-for all.

The national park might have been sparked by a sermon on Cradle Mount but its implementation was more like a meditation on patience. In the 1920s economy reigned over ecology in Tasmania. With the state considered an economic basket case, government had little appetite for funding national parks or for standing in the way of resource exploitation. The Scenery Preservation Board which nominally managed the park had only advisory powers and was, as Gerard Castles suggested, ‘handcuffed’ to this development ethos.[1] Voluntary park administrators attacked their task with a passion. However, their efforts were clouded by conflicts of ideology and pecuniary interest. The first two decades of park management were beset with challenges from the mining, fur and timber industries and the government mantra of hydro-industrialisation. Even the local experts employed to build, maintain and oversee park infrastructure and guide tourists were ‘exploiters’—fur hunters and mineral prospectors. The idea of a road from Cradle Mountain to Lake St Clair was entertained on the ‘bigger, better and more accessible’ social justice principle that has been used time and time again in Tasmania to justify development of natural assets. What a mess!

Waldheim in the Weindorfer era. Fred Smithies photo, courtesy of Margaret Carrington.


Getting to Cradle Mountain in 1924, the Citroen-Kegresse prototype, which Weindorfer called the ‘platypus motor’. Stephen Spurling III photo.

Origins of the park

The Cradle Mountain–Lake St Clair National Park had three starting points: Cradle Mountain, the Pelion/Du Cane region, and Lake St Clair. At Cradle Valley Gustav and Kate Weindorfer established a tourist resort called Waldhiem in 1912. The story of how they built it and almost no-one came has been told a thousand times. In the Pelion/Du Cane region hunter/prospector Paddy Hartnett had a network of huts, some of which doubled as staging posts for his guided tours as far south as Lake St Clair. Three industrial-size skin drying sheds which stood near Pelion Gap, at Kia Ora Creek and in the Du Cane Gap give some idea of the scale of hunting operations before and after World War One (1914–18). Hartnett’s Du Cane Hut remains today. Lake St Clair had been visited fairly regularly by Europeans for almost a century. It was effectively reserved in 1885 when a half-mile-wide zone around its shores was withdrawn from selection. The Pearce brothers built a government accommodation house, boat house and horse paddock at Cynthia Bay 1894–95 but the buildings were destroyed by fire in 1916.

Paddy Hartnett’s massive skin shed near Kia Ora Creek, 1913. Stephen Spurling III photo courtesy of Stephen Hiller.

When Gustav Weindorfer declared famously that ‘this should be a park for the people for all time’, he meant only the Cradle Mountain–Barn Bluff area in which he later operated. Other park proponents, including Director of the Tasmanian Government Tourist and Information Bureau ET Emmett, and bushwalker photographers Fred Smithies, Ray McClinton and HJ King, were familiar with a much greater area. They wanted to include the swathe of land from Dove Lake to Lake St Clair, making an area about six times the size of the Mount Field National Park.

The Scenery Preservation Act (1915), under which the Freycinet Scenic Reserve and National Park (Mount Field National Park) were gazetted in 1916, forbade the lighting of fires, cutting of timber, shooting of guns, removal or killing of birds and native or imported game and damage to scenic or historic features on reserved land. The Act therefore effectively forbade hunting but it did not expressly forbid mining, even though mining always included the lighting of fires and cutting of timber. Parts of the proposed national park area were already logged, grazed, hunted and mined, and to allay fears of these primary industries being locked out of a proclaimed reserve, in 1921 the Act was amended to allow exemptions from the provisions of the original Act.[2]

Stephen Spurling III photo, from file AB948/1/225, Tasmanian Archives.


The Pelion oil field

World War One (1914–18) had created anxiety about resource security in Australia and precipitated revolution and civil war in Russia. Outcomes for Tasmania included the search for shale oil reserves and a boom in the Tasmanian fur industry, with brush possum skins helping to make up for the loss of Russian fur reserves. While a lantern lecture campaign promoted the idea of a Cradle Mountain national park in 1921, about 80,000 acres of the land in question was under exploration lease in the search for shale oil (‘inspissated asphalite’). The Adelaide Oil Exploration Company used a Spurling photo to push the idea that Mount Pelion West was a motor oil bonanza. Its proponents assured would-be investors that its lease contained ‘the greatest potential amount of wealth hitherto controlled by any one concern in the British Empire, and, probably, in the whole world, outside the United States of America’. Faith might be able to move mountains, but the government geologist assured them it couldn’t put oil in these mountains. The only lasting impact of oil exploration was the Horse Track south from Waldheim, which was marked to enable pack horses to supply coal/oil operations at Lake Will.

Gustav Weindorfer hunting at Lake Lilla with his dog Flock, 1922.
Stephen Spurling III photo courtesy of Stephen Hiller.


The Cradle Mountain fur farm

The Cradle Mountain and Lake St Clair Scenic Reserves were gazetted under the amended Act in 1922 but at first neither was a fauna sanctuary under the Animals and Birds Protection Act (1919). With the surge in hunting it was inevitable that fur farming on the Canadian model was proposed for Tasmania. The Fur Farming Encouragement Act (1924) reserved 30,000 acres at Cradle Mountain for a fur farm, but before local hunters could protest, in 1925 this area was dismissed as unsuitable by two of the scheme’s proponents, Melbourne skin buyers who, extraordinarily, believed that ‘furs grown at a high altitude have not the good texture of those grown on the low lying country’.[3] Nobody seems to have counselled Tasmanian hunters that high country furs were inferior. Working at Lake St Clair in the winter season of 1925, Bert Nichols reportedly made the small fortune of £500, his possum skins fetching 17 shillings 11 pence and his wallaby skins more than 12 shillings each at the Sheffield Skin Sale.[4] This was at a time when the average annual wage for a farm worker was about £110 to £125.[5]

Two subsidiary management boards

Two subsidiary bodies were appointed to advise the Scenery Preservation Board on matters relating to the two adjoining scenic reserves. One, the National Park Board, already helped manage the Mount Field National Park. Chaired by botanist Leonard Rodway, with Tasmanian Museum director Clive Lord as its secretary, it now added the Lake St Clair Scenic Reserve to its purview. The other body, which administered the Cradle Mountain Scenic Reserve, was created from nominated representatives of interested organisations and municipal councils plus several people who had campaigned for the reserve’s creation.[6] Ron Smith (Cradle Mountain Reserve Board secretary from 1930) and Fred Smithies became standard bearers for the 68,000-acre Cradle Mountain Reserve, but their simultaneous ownership of land at Cradle Valley inevitably led to a conflict-of-interest situation.

Fred Smithies’ photo of ‘a trapper’s hut near Lake St Clair’,
Weekly Courier, 8 August 1928. Courtesy of Libraries Tasmania.


During 1927 the Cradle Mountain and Lake St Clair Scenic Reserves were gazetted as fauna sanctuaries.[7] Two months later the hunter/prospector Dick Nichols was nabbed for poaching at a hunting hut in the Cuvier Valley. His brother Bert was probably around somewhere too but escaped detection, and it became clear that they had a network of hunting huts around Lake St Clair and in the Cuvier Valley.[8] Fred Smithies, a member of the CMRB, was used to sleeping among the drying pelts in Bert Nichols’ Marion Creek Hut.[9] In the winter of 1928 he took a lovely photo of it under snow and this poacher’s hut in a fauna sanctuary made the front cover of the Weekly Courier newspaper![10] Nichols later duplicated the hut for the use of Overland Track walkers.

The Overland Track

The idea of threading a track through the two reserves to unite them seems to have started with Ron Smith, who in 1928 envisaged an ‘overland track’ connecting Cradle Mountain and Lake St Clair, including a motor boat service on the lake.[11] Sections of track that could be linked already existed, including that marked by Weindorfer from Waldheim to Lake Will (the basis of the Horse Track), the Mole Creek Track between Pelion Plain and Pine Forest Moor, and hunters’ tracks from Pelion Plain through to Lake St Clair and the Cuvier Valley. Paddy Hartnett offered to cut the Overland Track for £440, but Bert Nichols did it for only £15.[12] He connected up sections of track and cleared others south of Pelion Plain to form the Overland Track in 1931.[13] Mining, hunting and tourism huts like Old Pelion, Lake Windermere and DuCane were adopted as staging posts along the track.

In 1934 Fergy established this dining room and associated huts at Cynthia Bay, Lake St Clair. Norton Harvey photo.


Although the official Overland Track went through the Cuvier Valley, it soon became standard procedure to cross Lake St Clair instead on tourist operator Albert ‘Fergy’ Fergusson’s motorboat. During the Great Depression Miss Velocity was an integral part of Bert Nichols’ guided tours on the Overland Track. Fergy’s tourist camp of sixteen tent-huts with earthen floors and a communal rustic dining room rivalled Weindorfer’s set-up at Cradle Valley.[14] He employed a housekeeper and owned a ‘frightful old bus’ with sawn-off cane kitchen chairs for seats, with which he drove walkers out to the Lyell Highway at Derwent Bridge.[15]

A 1929 Bert Nichols party at Windermere Hut. Marjorie Smith photo courtesy of the late Ian Smith.


Fergy’s racing boat Miss Velocity at rest in front of Mount Ida, Lake St Clair, 1929. Marjorie Smith photo courtesy of Ian Smith.


The death and wake of Gustav Weindorfer

Gustav Weindorfer died of cardiac arrest in Cradle Valley in May 1932, apparently in the act of trying to start his Indian motorcycle.[16] His name was already inscribed on his wife Kate’s headstone at Don in anticipation of him joining her there but a group of his friends arranged his interment in front of Waldheim.[17] Ironically, despite his love of the place, for years Weindorfer had been trying to sell and leave Waldheim.[18] Now he was stuck there!

The ceremony to unveil the memorial to Gustav Weindorfer at Waldheim, 1938, with Ron Smith in the foreground at right. Fred Smithies photo courtesy of Margaret Carrington.

The Austrian secular tradition of remembering departed loved ones was adopted at Weindorfer’s grave after his sister Rosa Moritsch sent a bunch of flowers and four small candles from his native land. These were placed on his grave on New Year’s Day 1933. For several decades Weindorfer’s good friend Ron Smith organised the annual New Year’s Day ceremony. The annual commemoration of Weindorfer’s life has assumed possibly unparalleled longevity among Australian public figures.

The work of the Connells

First Bert Nichols and then Barrington farmers Lionel and Maggie Connell looked after Waldheim before a syndicate of Weindorfer’s Launceston friends (George Perrin, Charlie Monds, Karl Stackhouse and Fred Smithies) bought the chalet from his estate.[19] They asked the Connells to stay on as managers. Lionel Connell had been snaring around Cradle Mountain for two decades and knew the country well. The Connells, with six sons and daughters to help them, set about making Waldheim financially viable by extending the building and improving access to it.

Lionel Connell loading up Weindorfer’s punt on Dove Lake, 1936. Ron Smith photo courtesy of Charles Smith.


Os Connell digging out his family’s Sheffield–Cradle Mountain Passenger Service, 1943. Photo courtesy of Es Connell.


In the late 1930s the Connells had a tourism package for the Northern Reserve that far exceeded that of Gustav Weindorfer, ferrying visitors to and from Waldheim in their car, accommodating visitors, feeding them with produce from the farm at Barrington, guiding them around Cradle Mountain and even guiding them on pack-horse tours on the Overland Track.

Fergy’s other tub: early rangers

Ex-hunter and Overland Track guide Bert Nichols is said to have removed Overland Track markers when they were not needed in order to snare undetected in the fauna sanctuary. Nichols did other infrastructure work and was appointed ranger for two months in 1935. However, when the time came to appoint a permanent ranger the known poacher was not considered for the job.

A Lionel Connell hunting hut built with Dick Nichols still stood south of Lake Rodway as a reminder of the former’s past. Yet Connell was considered fit for a permanent posting as ranger.[20] The Connell family demonstrated great enterprise in their work at Cradle but conflict between Lionel’s roles of privately-employed tourism operator and government-employed ranger at the same location were soon obvious. To compound the issue, Connell managed Waldheim for Smithies and Karl Stackhouse. These men, as members of the CMRB, also effectively employed him as a ranger. CMRB Secretary Smith also had a family tie with the Connells.

Cyclists arriving at Old Pelion Hut, 1936. With them (left to right) are (possibly) Os Connell, Lionel Connell, Mount Field ranger HE Belcher and Director of the Government Tourist Bureau, ET Emmett. Photo courtesy of Es Connell.


Fergy overloading Miss Velocity’s more mundane replacement at Narcissus Landing, 1940. Ron Smith photo courtesy of Charles Smith.


The other remarkable early ranger was Fergy who, like Lionel Connell, combined the job with that of tourism operator. His toughest journey was not on the lake but in an upside-down bath. While building the original Pine Valley Hut, the Lake St Clair ranger lugged an iron tub to it about 10 km from Narcissus Landing by balancing it upside down on his shoulders and head, his forehead reputedly having been reinforced to mend a war wound (his World War One record suggests only that he suffered from shell shock and deafness). Stripping off in the heat, his curses echoing inside the bath, he was stark naked when he ran into a party of bushwalkers. 

Extension of eastern and western reserve boundaries 1935 and 1939

The extension of fauna sanctuary boundaries to natural features was done with the intention of negating claims by hunters that they weren’t sure where the boundaries were. Tommy McCoy seems to have known. His Lake Ayr Hut was cheekily perched within sight of the reserve boundary. Reactions to it showed the distinction between the old-style conservationists in the park administration and the new ones of the bushwalking community. Cradle Mountain Reserve Board Secretary Ron Smith, a former possum shooter, respectfully left payment of threepence for a candle he removed from McCoy’s camp.[21] Hobart hikers, on the other hand, became conservation activists, puncturing McCoy’s canned food with a geological pick when they found his hut in 1948.[22] McCoy, like fellow snarers Paddy Hartnett, Bert Nichols and Lionel Connell before him, embraced the opportunities offered by tourism, building and repairing Overland Track huts. He was proprietor of Waldheim Chalet when he died in 1952.

Some of JW Beattie’s islands, southern end of Lake St Clair. Beattie photo, courtesy of Alma McKay.


Damming Lake St Clair 1937

The Art Deco Pump-house Hotel which juts into southern Lake St Clair, as if walking the plank for its crimes, is a symbol of gradually changing values. In 1922, in a joint lecture about ‘preserving’ the tract of land south from Cradle Mountain, Ray McClinton and Fred Smithies deplored the ‘firestick of the destroyer’ and the ‘ravages of the trapper’ but spruiked the hydro-electric potential of the region’s lakes.[23] Fifteen years later the naivety of this position became apparent when the Hydro-Electric Department dammed the Derwent River as part of the Tarraleah Power Scheme. After assuring the National Park Board that Lake St Clair would be unaffected, it raised the lake’s water level by more than a metre, sinking the golden moraine sand (the Frankland Beaches) and the accompanying islands once painted by Piguenit and photographed by Beattie.[24] A fringe of dead trees around the lake’s edge now greeted visitors. When photographers Stephen Spurling III and Frank Hurley joined the National Park Board in attacking the Hydro, Minister for Lands and Works Major TH Davies sprang to the institution’s defence, describing the damage as ‘unavoidable’.[25] This was a taste of what was to come at Cataract Gorge, Lake Pedder, the Pieman River and the Lower Gordon River.

Excision of the Wolfram Mine

With rearmament taking place in Europe in 1938, the raised price of tungsten (wolfram), used for strengthening steel, prompted an application to reopen the (Mount Oakleigh) Wolfram Mine, which was then included in the Cradle Mountain Reserve. CMRB Secretary Ron Smith penned the board’s opposition to the proposal, stating that no payable lode was likely to be found and that a successful application would set a bad precedent in terms of mining the reserve.[26] The subsidiary board’s concerns were not heeded. In a forerunner to national park and/or Wilderness World Heritage Area excisions at Mount Field, the Hartz Mountains and Exit Cave, the mine was temporarily excised from the scenic reserve as the Mount Oakleigh Conservation Area.[27] No Tasmanian reserved land ever seemed inalienable after this.

First load of logs from Mount Kate, 1943, with (left to right) George, Bernard and Leo Stubbs. Ron Smith photo, courtesy of Charles Smith.


The Mount Kate sawmill dispute and dissolution of the CMRB

The pitfalls of having vested interests on a government board again became apparent in December 1943 when Ron Smith took advantage of wartime stringency, rising timber prices and a finished access road to start harvesting King Billy pine on his property at Mount Kate. Over the next few years the definition of conflict of interest and the limits of official jurisdiction became increasingly blurred, as private land was resumed at Cradle Valley and the problematic CMRB was dissolved. Ironically, Smith and the Launceston syndicate had previously offered their land to the government but been refused. With Waldheim compulsorily acquired, Lionel Connell resigned as ranger. His sons Esrom and Wal were later reemployed in their own right as rangers at Cradle Mountain and Lake St Clair. The appointment of the Cradle Mountain National Park Board in 1947 was the first step in placing the national park—as it was now known for the first time—on a sound footing, 25 years after the scenic reserves were initially gazetted. But the battle of ecology and economy continued.

[1] Gerard Castles, ‘Handcuffed volunteers: a history of the Scenery Preservation Board in Tasmania 1915–1971’, BA (Hons) thesis, University of Tasmania, Hobart, 1986.

[2] This was the Scenery Preservation Act (1921). For an example of fears of loggers being locked out of the Cradle Mountain and Lake St Clair Scenic Reserves, see E Alexander, ‘Cradle Mountain park: claims of timber area’, Advocate, 22 August 1921, p.5.

[3] ‘Fur farming: Cradle Mountain unsuitable: area further south chosen’, Mercury, 17 August 1925, p.6.

[4] ‘Lure of the skins’, Advocate, 22 August 1925, p.12.

[5] Statistics of Tasmania, 1922–23, p.58.

[6] Proclamation, Tasmanian Government Gazette, 8 March 1927, p.753.

[7] Proclamation, Tasmanian Government Gazette, 31 May 1927, pp.1412–13.

[8] Gerald Propsting to the secretary for Public Works, 4 August 1927, AA580/1/1 (TA); ‘Game Protection Act: illegal possession of skins’, Mercury, 17 August 1927, p.5.

[9] Fred Smithies, transcript of an interview by Margaret Bryant, 15 June 1977, NS573/3/3 (TA).

[10] Weekly Courier, 8 August 1928, p.1.

[11] Ron Smith to National Park Board Secretary Clive Lord, 27 August 1928, NS234/19/1/20 (TA).

[12] Paddy Hartnett to ET Emmett, 26 November 1928, PWD24/1/3; Director of Public Works to LM Shoobridge, Chairman of the National Parks Board, 13 March 1931, NS234/17/1/17 (TA).

[13] Bert Nichols to Ron Smith, 26 April 1931, NS573/1/1/4 (TA).

[14] Kevin Anderson, ‘Tasmania revisited: being the diary of Kevin Anderson, in which he related the incidents of his travelling to and through Tasmania with his companion, William Foo, from 12th April 1939 to the 26th April 1939’, unpublished manuscript (QVMAG), p.27.

[15] Jessie Luckman interviewed by Nic Haygarth.

[16] Bernard Stubbs interviewed by Nic Haygarth, c1993; Esrom Connell, in writing to Percy Mulligan, 20 September 1963 (NS234/19/122, TA), claimed to possess a diary in which Weindorfer recorded the failure of the motorbike to start. The present whereabouts of the diary are unknown. For the coronial inquiry into Weindorfer’s death, see AE313/1/1 (TA). The coroner determined the cause of death to be heart failure.

[17] ‘Papers relating to Coronial Enquiry into death of Gustav Weindorfer’, AE313/1/1 (TA).

[18] On 17 April 1928 Weindorfer wrote in his dairy, ‘This is very likely my last trip on the mountain’ (QVMAG). If he had a buyer for Waldheim then, the deal must have fallen through.

[19] Public Trustee to Fred Smithies, 11 November 1932, NS573/1/1/7 (TA).

[20] Minutes of the Cradle Mountain Reserve Board meeting, 26 April 1935, AF363/1/1, p.185 (TA).

[21] Ron Smith diary, 1940, NS234/16/1/41 (TA).

[22] Jessie Luckman interviewed by Nic Haygarth.

[23] ‘Cradle Mountain’, Advocate, 31 July 1922, p.2.

[24] ‘Level of water raised’, Mercury, 12 October 1938, p.13.

[25] National Park Board: ‘Level of water raised’, Mercury, 12 October 1938, p.13; Davies: ‘Lake St Clair: high level “unavoidable”’, Advocate, 13 October 1938, p.6; Hurley: ‘Tasmanians asleep’, Mercury, 30 January 1939, p.8; Spurling: S Spurling, ‘Scenic vandalism’, Examiner, 5 October 1940, p.3.

[26] Ron Smith to Minister for Mines, 3 May 1938, NS234/19/1/4 (TA).

[27] For an overview of the Wolfram Mine dispute, see Gerard Castles, ‘Handcuffed volunteers: a history of the Scenery Preservation Board in Tasmania 1915–1971’, pp.51–52.

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The Francises of Middlesex Plains 3: George Francis and the Middlesex hunters

When 52-year-old Maria Francis died of heart disease at Middlesex Station in 1883, Jack Francis lost not only his partner and mother to his child but his scribe.[1] For years his more literate half had been penning his letters. Delivering her corpse to Chudleigh for inquest and burial was probably a task beyond any grieving husband, and the job fell to Constable Billy Roden, who endured the gruesome homeward journey with the body tied to a pack horse.[2]

Base map courtesy of DPIPWE.

By then Jack seems to have been considering retirement. He had bought two bush blocks totalling 80 acres west of Mole Creek, and through the early 1890s appears to have alternated between one of these properties and Middlesex, probably developing a farm in collaboration with son George Francis on the 49-acre block in limestone country at Circular Ponds.[3]

Jack Francis and second partner Mary Ann Francis (Sarah Wilcox), probably at their home at Circular Ponds (Mayberry) in the 1890s. Photo courtesy of Shirley Powley.

Here Jack took up with the twice-married Mary Ann (real name Sarah) Wilcox (1841–1915), who had eight adult children of her own.[4] Shockingly, as the passing photographer Frank Styant Browne discovered in 1899, Mary Ann’s riding style emulated that of her predecessor Maria Francis (see ‘Jack the Shepherd or Barometer Boy: Middlesex Plains stockman Jack Francis’). However, Mary Ann was decidedly cagey about her masculine riding gait, dismounting to deny Styant Browne the opportunity to commit it to posterity with one of his ‘vicious little hand cameras’.[5]

Perhaps Mary Ann didn’t fancy the high country lifestyle, because when Richard Field offered Jack the overseer’s job at Gads Hill in about 1901 he took the gig alone.[6] This encore performance from the highland stockman continued until he grew feeble within a few years of his death in 1912.[7]

Mary Ann seems to have been missing when the old man died. Son George Francis and Mary Ann’s married daughter Christina Holmes thanked the sympathisers—and Christina, not George or Mary Ann, received the Circular Ponds property in Jack’s will.[8] Perhaps Jack had already given George the proceeds of the other, 31-acre block at Mole Creek.[9]

Field stockmen Dick Brown (left) and George Francis (right) renovating the hut at the Lea River (Black Bluff) Gold Mine for WM Black in 1905. Ronald Smith photo courtesy of the late Charles Smith.

By the time Mary Ann Wilcox died in Launceston three years later, George Francis had long abandoned the farming life for the high country. He was at Middlesex in 1905 when he renovated a hut and took part in the search for missing hunter Bert Hanson at Cradle Mountain.[10] Working out of Middlesex station, he combined stock-riding for JT Field with hunting and prospecting.

Like fellow hunters Paddy Hartnett and Frank Brown, Francis lost a small fortune when the declaration of World War One in July 1914 closed access to the European fur market, rendering his winter’s work officially worthless. At the time he had 4 cwt of ‘kangaroo and wallaby’ (Bennett’s wallaby and pademelon) and 60 ‘opossum’ (brush possum?). By the prices obtaining just before the closure they would have been worth hundreds of pounds.[11] Sheffield Police confiscated the season’s hauls from hunters, who could not legally possess unsold skins out of season.

The full list of skins confiscated by Sheffield Police on 1 August 1914 gives a snapshot of the hunting industry in the Kentish back country. Some famous names are missing from the list. Experienced high country snarer William Aylett junior was now Waratah-based and may have been snaring elsewhere.[12] Bert Nichols was splitting palings at Middlesex by 1914 but may not have yet started snaring there.[13] Paddy Hartnett concentrated his efforts in the Upper Mersey, probably never snaring the Middlesex/Cradle region. His double failure at the start of the war—losing his income from nearly a ton of skins, and being rejected for military service—drove him to drink.[14]

‘Return of skins on hand on the 1st day of August [1914] and in my possession’, Sheffield Police Station.

Name Location Kangaroo/wallaby Wallaby Possum
George Francis Msex Station 448 lbs 60 skins
Frank Brown Msex Station 562 skins+ 560 lbs 108 skins
DW Thomas Lorinna 960 lbs 310 skins
William McCoy Claude Road 600 lbs 66 skins
Charles McCoy Claude Road 40 lbs
Geo [sic] Weindorfer Cradle Valley 31 skins 4 skins
Percy Lucas Wilmot 408 skins 56 skins
G Coles Storekeeper, Wilmot 5 skins
Jack Linnane Wilmot 15 skins
WM Black Black Bluff 50 skins 3 skins
James Perry Lower Wilmot 2 skins 13 skins

Most of those deprived of skins were bush farmers or farm labourers who hunted as a secondary (primary?) income, while George Coles was probably a middleman between hunter and skin buyer: 

Frank Brown (1862–1923). Son of ex-convict Field stockman John Brown, he was one of four brothers who followed in their father’s footsteps (the others were Humphrey Brown c1855–1925, John Thomas [Jacky] Brown, 1857–c1910 and Richard [Dick] Brown). He appears to have been resident stockman at Field brothers’ Gads Hill Station in 1892.[15] Frank and Louisa Brown were resident at JT Field’s Middlesex Station c1905–17. He died when based at Richard Field’s Gads Hill run in 1923, aged 59, while inspecting or setting snares on Bald Hill.[16] 

David William Thomas (c1886–1932) of Railton bought an 88-acre farm on the main road at Lorinna from Harry Forward in 1912.[17] His 1914 skins tally suggests that farming was not his main source of income—so the loss must have been devastating. Other Lorinna hunters like Harold Tuson were working in the Wallace River Gorge between the Du Cane Range and the Ossa range of the mountains. 

William Ernest (Cloggy) McCoy (1879–1968), brother of Charles Arthur McCoy below, was born to VDL-born William McCoy and Berkshire-born immigrant Mary Smith at Sheffield.[18] He was the grandson of ex-convict John McCoy and the uncle of the well-known snarer Tommy McCoy (1899–1952).[19] 

Charles Arthur (Tibbly) McCoy (1870–1962) was born to VDL-born William McCoy and Berkshire-born immigrant Mary Smith at Barrington.[20] He was the grandson of ex-convict John McCoy. Charles McCoy caught a tiger at Middlesex, depositing its skins at the Sheffield Police Office on 30 December 1901.[21] He was the uncle of the later well-known snarer Tommy McCoy. 

Gustav Weindorfer (1874–1932), tourism operator at Waldheim, Cradle Valley, during the years 1912 to 1932. By his own accounts during 1914 he shot 30 ‘kangaroos’, eight wombats, six ringtails and one brush possum, as well as taking one ‘kangaroo’ in a necker snare.[22] While the closure of the skins market would have handicapped this struggling businessman, these skins would have been useful domestically, and the wombat and wallaby meat would have gone in the stew. 

Percy Theodore Lucas (c1886–1965) was a Wilmot labourer in 1914, which probably means that he worked on a farm.[23] Nothing is known about his hunting activities. 

TJ Clerke’s Wilmot store, Percy Lodge photo from the Weekly Courier, 22 April 1905, p.19.

George Coles (1855–1931) was the Wilmot storekeeper whose sons, including George James Coles (1885–1977), started the chain of Coles stores in Collingwood, Victoria.[24] George Coles bought TJ Clerke’s Wilmot store in 1912, operating it until after World War One. In 1921 the store was totally destroyed by fire, although a general store has continued to operate on the same site up to the present.[25] The five skins in George Coles’ possession had probably been traded by a hunter for stores. Coles probably sold them to a visiting skin buyer when the opportunity arose.[26]

John Augustus (Jack) Linnane (1873–1949) was born at Ulverstone but arrived in the Wilmot district in 1893 at the age of nineteen, becoming a farmer there.[27] Like George Francis, Linnane joined the search party for missing hunter Bert Hanson at Cradle Mountain in 1905, suggesting that he knew the country well.[28] His abandoned hunting camp near the base of Mount Kate was still visible in 1908.[29] Enough remained to show that Linnane was one of the first to adopt the skin shed chimney for drying skins.[30]  He also engaged in rabbit trapping.[31]  In 1914 he was listed on the electoral roll as a Wilmot labourer, but exactly where he was hunting at that time is unknown.[32]

Kate Weindorfer, Ronald Smith and WM Black on top of Cradle Mountain, 4 January 1910. Gustav Weindorfer photo courtesy of the late Charles Smith.

Walter Malcolm (WM) Black (1864–1923) was a gold miner and hunter at the Lea River/Black Bluff Gold Mine in the years 1905–15. The son of Victorian grazier Archibald Black, WM Black was a ‘remittance man’, that is, he was paid to stay away from his family under the terms an out-of-court payment of £7124 from his father’s will.[33] He joined the First Remounts (Australian Imperial Force) in October 1915 by falsifying his age in order to qualify.[34] See my earlier blog ‘The rain on the plain falls mainly outside the gauge, or how a black sheep brought meteorology to Middlesex’.[35]

James Perry (1871–1948), brother of a well-known Middlesex area hunter, Tom Perry (1869–1928), who was active in the high country by about 1905. Whether James Perry’s few skins were taken around Wilmot or further afield is unknown.

No tigers at Middlesex/Cradle Mountain?

George Francis survived the financial setback of 1914. Gustav Weindorfer in his diaries alluded to collaboration with him on prospecting and mining activities, but they hunted in different areas. In 1919 Francis co-authored the three-part paper ‘Wild life in Tasmania’ with Weindorfer, which documented their extensive knowledge of native animals, principally gained by hunting them. At the time, the authors claimed, they were the only permanent inhabitants of the Middlesex-Cradle Mountain area, boasting nine years (Weindorfer) and 50 years’ (Francis) residency. They also made the interesting claim that the ‘stupid’ wombat survived as well as it did in this area because it had no natural predators, since the thylacine did not then and probably never had frequented ‘the open bush land of these higher elevations’.[36] While this suggests that George Francis had never encountered a thylacine around Middlesex, it’s hard to believe that his father Jack Francis didn’t, especially given the story that Jack’s early foray into the Vale of Belvoir as a shepherd for William Kimberley was tiger-riddled.[37] It’s also a pity the authors didn’t consult the likes of Middlesex tiger slayers Charlie McCoy (see above) and James Mapps—or rig up a séance with the late George Augustus Robinson and James ‘Philosopher’ Smith.

The dog of GA Robinson, the so-called ‘conciliator’ of the Tasmanian Aborigines, killed a mother thylacine on the Middlesex Plains in 1830.[38] Decades later, ‘Philosopher’ Smith the mineral prospector came to regard Tiger Plain, on the northern edge of the Lea River, as the most tiger-infested place he visited during his expeditions. It was popular among the carnivores, he thought, because the Middlesex stockman’s dogs by driving game in that direction provided a ready food source. ‘I thought it necessary’, he wrote about his experience with tigers,

‘to be on my guard against them by keeping a fire as much as I could and having at hand a weapon with which to defend myself in the event of being attacked by one or more of them … ‘[39]

Smith killed a female tiger on Tiger Plain and took its four pups from her pouch but found they could not digest prospector food (presumably damper, potatoes, bully beef, wallaby or wombat).[40] Philosopher’s son Ron Smith had no reason to doubt his father, as he found a thylacine skull on his property at Cradle Valley in 1913 which is now lodged in Launceston’s Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery.[41] There were still tigers in the Middlesex region at the cusp of the twentieth century. Like ‘Tibbly’ McCoy, James Mapps claimed a government thylacine bounty at this time, probably while working as a tributor at the Glynn Gold Mine at the top of the Five Mile Rise near Middlesex.[42]

George Francis in his will described himself as a ‘shepherd of Middlesex Plains’, yet he met his maker in the Campbell Town Hospital. His parents were dead and he had no remaining relatives. The sole beneficiary of his will was Golconda farmer and road contractor William Thomas Knight (1862–1938), probably an old hunting mate.[43] Francis’s job at Middlesex was filled by the so-called ‘mystery man’ Dave Courtney (see my blog ‘Eskimos and polar bears: Dave Courtney comes in from the cold’), whose life, as it turns out, is an open book compared to that of his elusive predecessor.

[1] Died 11 October 1883, death record no.167/1883, registered at Deloraine, RGD35/1/52 (TAHO),, accessed 15 February 2020; inquest dated 13 October 1883, SC195/1/63/8739 (TAHO),, accessed 15 February 2020. A pre-inquest newspaper reporter incorrectly attributed her death to suicide by strychnine poisoning (editorial, Launceston Examiner, 23 October 1883, p.1).

[2] It is likely that Jack Francis and Gads Hill stockman Harry Stanley conveyed Maria Francis’s body to Gads Hill Station, where Roden took delivery of it. See ‘A veteran drover’, Examiner, 7 March 1912, p.4; and ‘Supposed case of poisoning at Chudleigh’, Launceston Examiner, 13 October 1883, p.2. Later Roden had the job of removing Stanley’s body for an inquest at Chudleigh (Dan Griffin, ‘Deloraine’, Tasmanian Mail, 13 August 1898, p.26).

[3][3] For the land grant, see Deeds of land grants, Lot 5654RD1/1/069–71In 1890, 1892 and 1894 John and George Francis were both listed as farmers at Mole Creek (Wise’s Tasmanian Post Office directory, 1890–91, p.200; 1892–93, p.288; 1894–95, p.260). Jack Francis was reported to have left Middlesex in March 1885, being replaced by Jacky Brown (James Rowe to James Norton Smith, 10 March 1885; and to RA Murray, 24 September 1885, VDL22/1/13 [TAHO]). However, he appears to have returned periodically.

[4] She was born to splitter John Wilcox and Rosetta Graves at Longford on 17 July 1841, birth record no.3183/1847 (sic), registered at Longford, RGD32/1/3 (TAHO),, accessed 14 March 2020; died 25 October 1915 at Launceston (‘Deaths’, Examiner, 8 November 1915, p.1). Mary Ann’s youngest child, Eva Grace Lowe, was born in 1879.

[5] Frank Styant Browne, Voyages in a caravan: the illustrated logs of Frank Styant Browne (ed. Paul AC Richards, Barbara Valentine and Peter Richardson), Launceston Library, Brobok and Friends of the Library, 2002, p.84.

[6] Wise’s Tasmanian Post Office directory for the period 1901–08 listed Jack Francis as an overseer at Gads Hill or Liena, while Mary, as she was described, was listed as a farmer at Liena, meaning Circular Ponds (1901, p.322; 1902, p.341; 1904, p.204; 1906, p.189; 1907, p.192; 1908, p.197).

[7] ‘A veteran drover’.

[8] ‘Return thanks’, Examiner, 2 March 1912, p.1; purchase grant, vol.36, folio 116, application no.3454 RP, 1 July 1912.

[9] Jack Francis bought purchase grant vol.18, folio 113, Lot 5654, on 25 November 1872. He divided it in half, selling the two lots on 6 May 1902 to Arthur Joseph How and Andrew Ambrose How for £30 each.

[10] ‘The mountain mystery: search for Bert Hanson’, North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times, 1 August 1905, p.3.

[11] 1 August 1914, ‘Daily Record of Crime Occurrences Sheffield 1901–1916’, POL386/1/1 (TAHO).

[12] See ‘William Aylett: career bushman’ in Simon Cubit and Nic Haygarth, Mountain men: stories from the Tasmanian high country, Forty South Publishing, Hobart, 2015, pp.42–43.

[13] See ‘Bert Nichols: hunter and overland track pioneer’, in Simon Cubit and Nic Haygarth, Mountain men: stories from the Tasmanian high country, Forty South Publishing, Hobart, 2015, p.114.

[14] See ‘Paddy Hartnett: bushman and highland guide’, in Simon Cubit and Nic Haygarth, Mountain men: stories from the Tasmanian high country, Forty South Publishing, Hobart, 2015, p.93.

[15] On 20 April 1892 (p.179) Frank Brown reported stolen a horse which was kept at Gads Hill, Deloraine Police felony reports, POL126/1/2 (TAHO).

[16] ‘Well-known stockrider’s death’, Advocate, 4 June 1923, p.2.

[17] ‘Lorinna’, North West Post, 28 August 1912, p.2; ‘Obituary: Mr DW Thomas, Railton’, Advocate, 21 April 1932, p.2.

[18] Born 21 March 1879, birth record no.2069, registered at Port Sorell, RGD33/1/57 (TAHO), Accessed 10 April 2020.

[19] Born 26 June 1870, birth record no.1409/1870, registered at Port Sorell, RGD33/1/48 (TAHO),, accessed 15 September 2019; died 23 September 1962, buried in the Claude Road Methodist Cemetery (TAMIOT). For John McCoy as a convict tried at Perth, Scotland in 1792 and transported on the Pitt in 1811, see Australian convict musters, 1811, p.196, microfilm HO10, pieces 5, 19‒20, 32‒51 (National Archives of the UK, Kew, England).

[20] Born 26 June 1870, birth record no.1409/1870, registered at Port Sorell, RGD33/1/48 (TAHO),, accessed 15 September 2019; died 23 September 1962, buried in the Claude Road Methodist Cemetery (TAMIOT). For John McCoy as a convict tried at Perth, Scotland in 1792 and transported on the Pitt in 1811, see Australian convict musters, 1811, p.196, microfilm HO10, pieces 5, 19‒20, 32‒51 (National Archives of the UK, Kew, England).

[21] 30 December 1901, ‘Daily Record of Crime Occurrences Sheffield 1901–1916’, POL386/1/1 (TAHO).

[22] Gustav Weindorfer diaries, 1914, NS234/27/1/4 (TAHO).

[23] Commonwealth Electoral Roll, Division of Wilmot, Subdivision of Kentish, 1914, p.27.

[24] ‘About people’, Age, 22 December 1931, p.8.

[25] ‘Fire at Sheffield [sic]’, Mercury, 8 November 1921, p.5.

[26] Coles held a tanner’s licence in 1914 (‘Tanners’ licences’, Tasmania Police Gazette, 1 May 1914, p.109), but the legal requirement was that skins had to be sold to a registered skin buyer. Despite this, plenty of people tanned and sold their own skins privately.

[27] ‘”Back to Wilmot” celebration’, Advocate, 12 April 1948, p.2.

[28] 10 July 1905, ‘Daily Record of Crime Occurrences Sheffield 1901–1916’, POL386/1/1 (TAHO).

[29] Ronald Smith, account of trip to Cradle Mountain with Bob and Ted Addams, January 1908, held by Peter Smith, Legana.

[30] Ronald Smith, account of trip to Cradle Mountain with Bob and Ted Addams, January 1908, held by Peter Smith, Legana.

[31] On 18 April 1910, Linnane reported the theft of 200 rabbit skins from his hut valued at £2, ‘Daily Record of Crime Occurrences Sheffield 1901–1916’, POL386/1/1 (TAHO).

[32] Commonwealth Electoral Roll, Division of Wilmot, Subdivision of Kentish, 1914, p.26.

[33] ‘Supreme Court’, Age, 27 February 1885, p.6.

[34] World War One service record,, accessed 22 March 2020.

[35] Nic Haygarth website,, accessed 22 March 2020.

[36] G Weindorfer and G Francis, ‘Wild life in Tasmania’, Victorian Naturalist, vol.36, March 1920, p.158.

[37] ‘The Tramp’ (Dan Griffin), ’In the Vale of Belvoir’, Mercury, 15 February 1897, p.2.

[38] George Augustus Robinson, Friendly mission: the Tasmanian journals and papers of George Augustus Robinson, 1829-1834 (ed. Brian Plomley), Tasmanian Historical Research Association, Hobart, 1966; 22 August 1830, p.159.

[39] James Smith to James Fenton, 14 November 1890, no.450, NS234/ 2/1/15 (TAHO).

[40] ‘JS (Forth)’ (James Smith), ‘Tasmanian tigers’, Launceston Examiner, 22 November 1862, p.2.

[41] Ron Smith to Kathie Carruthers, 26 September 1911, NS234/22/1/1 (TAHO); email from Tammy Gordon, QVMAG, 2019.

[42] Bounty no.242, 30 August 1898, LSD247/1/ 2 (TAHO); ‘Court of Mines’, Launceston Examiner, 22 September 1897, p.3; 30 September 1897, p.3.

[43] Will no.14589, administered 7 March 1924, AD960/1/48, p.189 (TAHO),, accessed 15 March 2020; ‘Funeral of Mr WF [sic] Knight’, Examiner, 15 April 1938, p.15.