Tuesday, 11 December 2012

11-15 December 2012 - Great Southern Forests & Tree Top Walkway (Pemberton, Northcliffe, Shannon, Walpole)

This area is full of national parks (NP), which is no surprise as it seems that most of WA is either a national park or a mine, but these national parks were completely different from those in the Pilbara or Kimberley.  The national parks were were full of tall, old growth forests.  We had no idea these forests existed in WA or in Australia outside of Tasmania for that matter. 
In Tassie, forests and tall trees, old growth forests, timber felling and chip barking are constantly in the media, whereas here in WA there is no mention of them at all apart from bush fire alerts.  There is still environmental activity, however much of the forests are now protected as a result of environmental action in earlier decades.  Plantation timber, grown specifically for milling, is now harvested and the number of sawmills has dramatically reduced from earlier years.  As a result, the forests that remain are available for us all to enjoy and what a joy they are!  The Karri forests are gorgeous, reaching to the sky and when you slow the car you can hear loads of bird chatter.

At the Sawbrick outdoor art gallery - this area was once the scene of
fierce anti-logging protests in the 1970's
This is actually our reflection.

Kate under another piece of art, the 300m trail had an
unusual piece of nature-inspired art every 30m or so.
There weren’t any free camps in the area, so we headed to a shire campground on the coast at Windy Harbour in D’Entrecasteaux (I have no idea how you pronounce this!) NP. 

To reach the campground, you drive through a quaint settlement of small holiday homes, all similar in shape and size.  Like monopoly houses. The settlement began  as holiday homes in the 1950’s and all the work in the settlement, such as water treatment, rubbish collection and road maintenance is carried out by the leaseholders of the huts.  The land belongs to the shire.  The huts are far superior to the fishing shacks we saw at Quobba but when I checked out some for sale on realestate.com I couldn’t believe to see they were in the $300,000+ mark!

The 12km drive around the coastline threw up some gorgeous, unused beaches and dramatic cliff faces.  Windy Harbour lived up to its name while we were there as the weather was overcast and drizzly so we had the camping ground, scenic drive, walking tracks and views to ourselves.

We thought this looked like a map of Africa (sort of!)

About 30 km from Windy Harbour is Northcliffe (pop 900).  Of course, there was a pioneer museum that I couldn’t go past.  The rest of the gang came along reluctantly.  Well, you never know what gems you are going to find when you travel and this turned out to be a town with a fascinating story. 

Essentially, in the 1920’s a politician in WA had a mate who was a Lord in England.   The WA politician needed labour to clear the forests and commence a diary industry to supply WA rather than import products from the eastern States.  In the UK, just after WWI, many returned soldiers were unemployed.  So the Lord, who owned a number of newspapers in the UK, advertised for immigrants to go to Australia to establish a dairy industry in return for a piece of cleared land and a house for free.   

The scheme was known as the Group Settlement Scheme.  6000 families arrived in WA and headed to the southern forests area, including Northcliffe, to find dense forests, no cleared land and no house! 

The immigrants were also largely from British cities and had few farming skills or rural knowledge.  Having spent their savings getting to Australia, many tried to make a go of it but ultimately deserted their farms, often far poorer than when they left England. 

Others persevered and with the use of cattle, saws and dynamite, managed to destroy almost one third of the native forests. The settlements were groups of approx 20 families and were known as Group 1, Group 2, etc and there were almost 200 groups at the height of the scheme.

Girls in a typical one teacher settlement school, now part
of the museum
Once again, I am amazed at how I know nothing about this important and interesting part of our history!  Even displays about post war immigration that we’ve seen in major museums fail to mention the scheme.  I can’t wait to see what the national curriculum history syllabus looks like, but I’ll bet money it won’t mention the Group Settlement Scheme! 

Pemberton, a small town about 30 km from Northcliffe is also a timber town with a functioning sawmill and has a number of streets full of old, identical timber worker cottages which I suspect will become  heritage listed in the future and eventually some sort of tourist attraction.  For the moment, they are still family homes for the mill workers.  The Pemberton sawmill processes  Karri timber, while neighbouring towns mill Jarrah. 

There are quite a few of the original sawpits still in the area,
what hard yakka that would have been. 
In the early days, the mill primarily felled and milled over half a million railway sleepers, many of which ended up in the London underground and other railway lines in the UK.  In addition to the timber industry, the area also has dairy farms and a few vineyards.  It’s also the biggest producer of avocados in Australia.   Who knew?  Tourism has become a major industry with the forests being the main drawcard.

Note the saw in the centre of this log.
We camped overnight in nearby Shannon National Park.  The camping area is in the actual town site of a timber town called Shannon.  It commenced in the 1950’s and was abandoned in the 1970’s.  Nothing remains of the town except for a number of plaques showing black and white photos of the buildings that used to be on the same site where a caravan might be today. 

I find the notion of towns that are created for a specific purpose and then dismantled when no longer required fascinating.  People live their lives, go to work, children are born and people die.  A whole community just generally gets on with the business of living and yet there is no longer any evidence of that life.  It must be weird to work or grow up in such a community and not be able to return to any familiar landmarks. 

We’ve seen the same in Strathgordon in Tassie (dam construction town), my parents lived in Island Bend (a Snowy River construction town) and I even lived for three years as a kid at Collinsville in the 1970’s in an area set up as a huge caravan park for the power house construction families - complete with amenities blocks, playground, gardens and roads.  I can close my eyes and see it all so clearly; where our van was located, the clotheslines, the hills we rode our bikes down and yet now it’s just scrub.  Maybe that explains my fascination with such places. 
While in the area we walked the Valley of the Giants Tree Top Walkway, basically a 400m suspended steel walking platform approx 40m in the tree canopy.  The walkway was designed to sway slightly to replicate the movement of the trees, but it meant people like Larry and Elizabeth, who aren't keen on heights,  scurried across, while people like Kate and I dawdled across and loved the movement. 

The story of the walk construction is fascinating in that they used ute cab trucks to bring in the pre-fabricated pieces of the walkway, then used hydraulic jacks to lift it into position - no semi-trailers or cranes.  The total footprint of the walkway is something like 4sq metres.  The visitors centre and carpark is obviously much larger.


The walkway floor was designed for you to see the forest
floor but freaked alot of people out instead.

A rare family shot.

We also saw massive 400+ year old Tingle trees, some of which looked every bit of 400+ years!

The knots on the tree are the equivalent of age spots and wrinkles
in humans.  Not too bad for 400 years though I guess!

The base of a Tingle tree which had fallen over.  They have very
limted root structures so it's amazing they can stay upright for so long.

It's hard to capturre the size of this tree in a photo.
We also saw a quokka in the wild near the Tree top Walkway, which was very exciting and saved us about $500 visiting Rottnest Island to see them, so I was secretly pleased he decided to show up!

The other thing worth mentioning in this blog entry (apart from the fact that it took my legs about 4 days to recover from the tree climb - see separate blog entry) is that it is freezing!  We’ve had jackets and scarves on most of the time we’ve been in the area.  It’s the middle of December, in Western Australia.  What happened to summer?????

Middle of summer in Western Australia.  Who said the
weather wasn't stuffed?
Travellers Tips:  Windy Harbour camping area is $33 for a family, no power, no water.  Shannon Campsite is operated by DEC $22 per night with flushing toilets and hot showers!  There are a number of other DEC campsites suitable for tents or camper trailers only. Tree top Walkway was $25 for the family.  No dump points in Pemberton, Northcliffe or Walpole.  The one and only is located in the shire centre at Manjimup.  The tourist offices would love any travellers to complain to the shire CEO!  The Pioneer Museum at Northcliffe is open 10-3 and is a donation entry, and is generally staffed by an elderly ‘groupie’ who is happy to chat about the group settlement scheme.   Pemberton has a well-stocked IGA, which provide fuel vouchers for the local BP.  Diesel was $1.55 litre without voucher.

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