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In the footsteps
of Lady Franklin

As Jessie Luckman graphically describes, bushwalking in earlier days was not a stroll in the park. Here, from Tasmanian Tramp, issue 23, are extracts of her description of the expedition from Queenstown to Sarah Island in 1953 by the Hobart Walking Club to commemorate the 150th year of European settlement:

"In the early days of convict settlement in Van Diemen’s Land a penal station for the worst type of offenders was established at Sarah Island in Macquarie Harbour on the West Coast. The remoteness of the site was regarded as a great advantage in that it would discourage convicts from escaping to civilisation across the intervening wild and unexplored country.”

In 1834 the station was abandoned. However, by 1840 the number of convicts was such it was considered re-opening it, with possible access overland. In April 1842, the lieutanant-governor Sir John Franklin decided to see for himself, and his party set out.

In 1953 the Hobart Walking Club decided to re-enact their epic journey. As president of the club at the time, Jessie records it was taken for granted that she would take the part of (Lady) Jane Franklin. A party of six was formed — Jack Thwaites, Leo Luckman, Norman Hutton, Terry Woodward, Jessie, and Edith Smith (the geologist granddaughter of ‘Philosopher’ Smith, discoverer of Mt Bischoff, and presumably filling the role of Lady Franklin’s maid, Stewart).

A sketch, based on Surveyor Calder’s original survey circa 1840, was followed, although the trip itself was limited to 12 days and began somewhat further west than the Franklins’.

“Jane River? Geeze, I wouldn’t go down there, Missus, it’s jumpin’ alive wiv snakes!”

The HWC walk began on Christmas Day 1953, from the Frenchmans Cap turn-off on the road to Queenstown. (On the bus, one old ‘West-Coaster’ said: “Jane River? Geeze, I wouldn’t go down there, Missus, it’s jumpin’ alive wiv snakes!”)

Jessie took detailed notes, which showed how hard these earlier bushwalkers had to do it: “Pack very heavy, knees very wobbly.” She views her “soggy boots with some distaste”. She records battling “through bauera and cutting grass, and down very steeply through more bad regrowth, fallen logs and boulders — a thoroughly horrible section”. It rained. More scrub-bashing. Near The Pig Trough, she wrote “looks good country to keep away from”.

But despite physical hardship, she took time to observe the wildlife and wildflowers: “Our morning tea was enlivened by many birds including swallows, shrike-thrushes and robins”. Elsewhere, “a wonderful display of Blandfordia and butterfly-flags”. On New Year’s Day 1954, “we came to some splendid old Huon pines, draped with climbing epacris in curtains of two metres of more”.

At a point upstream from Eleanor Ferry, where the Franklin party had crossed: “We made out way up a little sandy beach and lit our luncheon fire under myrtles and pines, thankfully relaxing in this most beautiful spot. Occasional drizzle and mist on the treetops only enhanced the peace and tranquility of the forest. Six cormorants flew downstream and circled around for a good look at us and later a big sea-eagle did the same.”

After lunch, however, the party had to cross the river. Where the Franklin party had resorted to a log canoe, the Hobart Walking Club was made of sterner stuff:

“About 5pm Jack swam across with a 30m nylon rope which, with about 15m of cord attached, proved barely long enough. So Norm went across with my No.8 ‘couta line and Terry secured both ends to make a circle of rope. Their clothes, wrapped in groundsheets, were then floated over and they set to work to make camp on flat rocks and a nearby beach.

At the first shock of the ghastly cold water I thought I would never make it across

“Next, Edith, not being a strong swimmer, went across in a circle of balloons, and Leo and I were left to pack up all the rest of the gear, wrap it in groundsheets, tie it onto the lines and floats, send it across, keep the lines from getting tangled in the river currents, haul the floats back again and prepare the next lot of cargo — a job that became increasingly difficult as the evening light faded to black night. Fortunately there was not a breath of wind.

“It was 11pm before we had sent over the last packet. We had to undress and send over our own clothes before going in ourselves. It was then my turn to surround myself with floats. At the first shock of the ghastly cold water I thought I would never make it across, but once in it was a surprisingly exhilarating experience, gently dog paddling and being slowly hauled across in the pitch dark with the campfire twinkling on the far shore.

Then I was hauled out onto the rocks and the all-clear shouted over to Leo. We heard him splash in and became anxious when he did not answer our shout of ‘Are you OK?’, but when he at last crawled out onto the rocks he said he was so cold he did not have any breath left to call. A dry-off in front of the fire and a mug of hot soup soon restored us, and we crawled into our sleeping bags, glad the crossing was achieved.”

an interesting mixture of Huon pine, celery-top, leatherwood, stinkwood, laurel, clumps of bauera, butterfly-flags growing in moss, pandanis, heath, resteo, prickly mimosa and two wattles

Not surprisingly the party slept late the next morning, and discovered when misty rain gave way to sunshine they had chosen “a lovely spot, an interesting mixture of Huon pine, celery-top, leatherwood, stinkwood, laurel, clumps of bauera, butterfly-flags growing in moss, pandanis, heath, resteo, prickly mimosa and two wattles”.

They arrived at the Gordon River near Eagle Creek, setting up camp there and on January 6 were up early to pack in expectation of the pre-arranged launch from Strahan. The boat trip down the Gordon River was enhanced by the magnificent forests on each bank. Once in Macquarie Harbour they called in briefly at Sarah Island — mission achieved. Then: “After a lively trip across the harbour we reached Strahan and caught the bus to Queenstown and so on home — to a much needed bath.”

Fittingly each member of the party was presented with the Anniversary Medal. As Jessie concludes: “We felt that we — and the Hobart Walking Club — had earned it!”

 

Wilderness pioneer: Part I • Wilderness pioneer: Part II • Jessie's tracknotes


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