The entrance to the old abandoned primary school at Rocherlea sports a pleasant sign boasting that the driver of the auto is about to enter the North East tourist area. Nice signage. We steeled ourselves for a new and exciting experience. It was one of those celebrated Tasmanian winter days after a hard frost: brilliant, sunny and fortifying. We felt sorry for anyone who lived in the tropics…and we had a full day for exploring.
Having lived on the Lilydale/Golconda Road for nearly forty years and once owning a cabin at St. Helens, we knew the length and depth of the road intimately, so we decided to take a fresh look at the tourist road and travel off the highway when we thought something interesting might give us new feelings of “Gosh!” and “Wow!” Tourist roads are supposed to encourage such expletives and the road sign suggested more.
We did not get far past Lilydale before ‘gosh’ and ‘wow’ slipped from our vocabularies. The expletives turned into distressing murmurs.
Our first detour was to see the old Iron Church at Bangor, which is for sale. We remembered with pleasant feelings the many times we attended the old church with the amazing murals, painted night sky on the ceiling and general old world feeling. We wondered if they were still inside. The scenic graveyard is still there but we were not sure if we had access to the graves as it is now private property. There used to be so many parties at the nearby Bangor Community Hall, now looking sorely tired of standing. It appeared to have a broken back. We celebrated many birthdays and weddings there. So many old friends. So many good times. Now it was a dusty piece of history. The hotel which once stood across the street was now nothing but a memory shadow of old times. It had become an empty space in which to turn around cars. The track to the Welsh slate mine was totally grown over. The Bangor Tram Road was only a road sign. We continued on the back road and were reminded of another bit of dusty history we experienced in the Scottish Highlands a few years prior.
In 1843, Martin Cash and his brigands from Port Arthur were breaking out of jail and violating many gentry and upper class homes. The Cash Gang was angry. The convict and lower classes held much antagonism towards the wealthy landowners who, like the government officials, were driven by the need to control the lower class rabble. At the very same time, the British Government was busily closing much of the Scottish Highlands to the financial advantage of the British gentry. The Industrial Revolution was full on and the textile mills of Liverpool and Manchester needed assured land holdings and cheap labour. The result of the many Closure Acts was that farms were merged or sold to the gentry and their former owners forced off the lands and into the factories of England or Glasgow. The result was the disappearance of the old Highland crofts and the ancient ways of life they supported. We were not prepared to see a similar change taking place in North Eastern Tasmania, our very own home.
Our little Honda Jazz took us past the old farmsteads of the Bangor area. Not an animal was to be seen. The old Dickson farm had disappeared and was replaced with Californian Monterey pines. A few tiny new cottages had been built on a few acres but they were surrounded by towering pine and blue gum plantations. The lovely flat farmland, which had been so verdant with hay, dairy animals and laughing children, had disappeared for the most part as well…and there were no animals! Old Bacala road was rimmed with plantations and that old church had been closed for years as well. Many old farms, now gone, were shadowed by plantations and the few remaining houses received little sun. The apple sheds had disappeared except for one empty barn. The Retreat railway station was gone and it was said that the Retreat Tunnel was now used for storage. Certainly the rusty rails had not felt the rumble of an engine or railway car for many years. What an exciting tourist road we were experiencing!
It was all too distressing, so we took a side road marked “Retreat” where I had once scored many rabbits and stopped for a few cuppas. We should not have taken the Road to Retreat because it became exactly that…a road of retreat. We found only two houses where there had once been scores. We did find tens of thousands of acres of plantations…and we got lost. The roads where children had once ridden their bikes to school or to grand dad’s farm now only served trees on a crisscross grid of logging roads. My mind stretched to Scotland of the middle 19th century. It must have been similar…and quiet. The still and almost dead forests of Retreat are now silent too. We saw not even a raven.
Thankfully, we turned onto the highway to Bridport. Surely things would be better now …
The North East Tourist Road
Bridport Road to Scottsdale