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Monday, February 8, 2010

Stanley ~ February 8, 2010

Twenty miles further along the north coast from George Town awaited the major port of Devonport, where the ferry Spirit of Tasmania docks. After an easy sail, using the outgoing tide to leave the Tamar River and the incoming tide to speed our entry into the Mersey, we were immediately confronted by a bustling harbour city filled with noise, accentuated by a busy highway of trucks hauling containers and livestock. Just past the port’s hubbub, the local yacht club beckoned us to a place alongside their jetty, for a price we learnt after our lines were attached.

“Is there any free anchoring or courtesy overnight,” I asked the bosun whose eyes slowly roved over acres of moored craft before settling on a small empty space near the base of the bridge where the river ran fast.

We stayed the night, and had a restless sleep disturbed by the clinkety-clank of trucks rattling across the river bridge, and then moved on the morning’s slack tide to a far away mooring that still cost money. Seemed to us, Devonport cherishes the almighty dollar, and that set the tone of our visit. Don’t misunderstand, the city folk were nice, but its rapid pace was always in our face, and since that’s one of the things we’re escaping, it’s no wonder I soon mentioned our next destination, the lonely outpost of Stanley on Tasmania’s northwest corner.

The day after our mail arrived, only our fourth in the Mersey, an obliging north-easterly had us underway just as the dawn filled the orange lit quarantine inspection station opposite our mooring. Then it wasn’t long after clearing the leads that a thick sea-fret erased not only the town, but blanketed the entire coast from our sight. Nevertheless we had a grand sail, wrapped in our own grey cocoon, while the 55 n. miles slipped swiftly past. We could have been crossing an ocean to a new continent because no-where on our journey did we see land. Not until the GPS heralded Stanley town less than two miles ahead, when a strange monolith emerged from the mist. White breakers rimmed its steep sides lost to mist, bar an occasional glimpse of a flat top.

The strong easterly winds had raised quite a large swell that grew steep and nasty as it rolled into the shallow bay, before sweeping right across Stanley Harbour’s narrow entrance. It’s such a tiny harbour we had to drop all sail outside. Then eyeballing the approaching waves, I used horsepower and deft timing, coupled with some bravado, to shoot through an opening barely twice her width.

Stanley’s tidal range is the greatest in Tasmania, over three metres rise and fall, and so we opted to lie alongside a cray-boat at the dock. Once all lines had been secured, our day’s work complete, Jude and I enjoyed a celebratory libation, while towering directly above us was a sheer basalt cliff, its grand majesty growing more glorious as the lowering sun cast golden hues upon its craggy black face.

Next day dawned calm, bursting with blue sky and hot sun, so I bundled up my lady for a tour of this historical town. It was named after Lord Stanley, the British Secretary of State in the 1830s and 1840s, who later had three terms as British Prime Minister. But prior to that, when British businessmen became interested in developing colonial resources to ensure a cheap supply of wool for British factories, after forming the Van Diemen's Land Company in 1825, tenure was granted over 250,000 acres of north-western Tasmania that included the Stanley area. British employees settled the area in October 1826. But some refused to adapt to their new surroundings. For instance they did not recognise that the seasons in the southern hemisphere were reversed and for many years the costs of farming were only just recovered. A port opened in 1827, the first school in 1841, the Post Office, first known as Circular Head, opened on July 1, 1845. Then communications were not extended until some forty years later, by the first coach service established in 1880 between Stanley and Burnie.

Changes to British law gave greater flexibility to the Company, including the development of subsidiaries, such as the Emu Bay and Mount Bischoff Railway Company Ltd (1875, 1882) and the Burnie Timber and Brick Company Ltd (1908).  But British domination wasn’t broken until 1954 when an Australian, CC Busby, became a director, followed by a Victorian grazier who was succeeded by his son in 1975. A Melbourne solicitor became Governor for a decade in the 1980s then international influence was exerted by Italians. A resurgence of English interests took place before Tasman Agriculture Ltd of New Zealand became the parent company from 1993. Today the company’s main thrust concerns extensive dairy activities, sheep, beef and tourism at Woolnorth. It still controls one seventh of its original selection.

The township occupies one corner of a narrow peninsula jutting nine kilometres out into Bass Strait and its 500 inhabitants enjoy the cleanest air in the world as reported by a nearby international sensor. The original town, lying in the shadow of a gigantic monolith, abounds with historical dwellings, including the birthplace of the Right Honourable Joseph Lyons, Prime Minister of Australia from 1932 until his death in 1939. The only Prime Minister to come from Tasmania.

But by far the most distinctive landmark in Stanley is a solidified lava lake of a long-extinct volcano first discovered by Flinders and Bass in 1798, who officially named it Circular Head. Known as Moo-Nut-Re-Ker by the Tasmanian Aboriginals, by 1851, sailors had come to know it simply as The Nut. Although steep sided and rising to 143 metres, it is possible to walk to the top of The Nut via a steep track. But, as the day had clouded over, we elected to enjoy a fish and chip lunch instead. Then Jude toddled off with her sketch book to the eye-catching cemetery overlooking north beach, while I went home to take care of some maintenance.

Our second full day began under a ceiling of mist, The Nut hidden within cotton wool muffling the few sounds. Tasmania’s weather can change every few hours and by noon a glorious sky beckoned us to walk. With a pack lunch, we were soon panting up the steep path towards the Nut’s top, calling out to other tourists who laughingly mocked us from the overhead chairlift. We consoled ourselves with keep fit thoughts on a walk that would have lasted hardly ten minutes had the ever expanding vistas not enticed us to pause and catch our breaths. From the top, our world became flooded in blue, except for a narrow neck of dry summer fields and the orderly town at our feet. This narrow neck attaching Stanley to Tasmania was under attack from both sides, where inlets drying like desert sands were stretching far inland with aqua tendrils meandering back to pools of sea.

Oh, to be an artist with easel and palette in hand. To while away days producing masterpieces confirming Nature’s beauty. A passing cloud darkening the colours brings coldness whose chill is felt, and then just as quickly it’s dispelled by a brilliant yellow sun passing through Earth’s cleanest air. Life abounds. On the breeze eagles soar and on the land a pademelon dashed and scaly skinks scurry over rocks and through grasses. While all around us the sea is in action to a never ending horizon that only dims slightly before blending into sky.

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