Wilmot River Walking. NorthWest Tasmania

 

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Dusky Pink Finger Orchid  (Caladenia Fuscata)   Payne Link ridge

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Hyacinth Orchids. Gentle Annie Zig Zag track

 

 Website closed. Blog archived 1 December 2017.

Contents.
  1. Updates and Notices
  2. Disclaimer
  3. Introduction
  4. Private Property issues
  5. Acknowledgements
  6. Track Notes
  7.  Historical article for the opening of stage 1 of the track, 20/11/2006
  8. Tasmanian Tramp article

Updates and Notices.    This section will give current information on track status. Its well worth checking this before you go especially in rough wet weather.

Please look out for falling trees – even on a calm sunny day they may crash down, only creaking gives some notice of impending doom! Dogwoods and  silver wattles grow fast and fall fast. 

If you want to skip the introductory stuff go straight to the Track Notes in section 6.

1 December 2017

The end of the line. My track work  curtailed.

We have always had problems with vandalism on the west bank. This has culminated in the damage to Payne Creek bridge. I have just found  that the trail biker who did this took his bike right through the  high track to East Ellis and across the river cutting up the track badly in places. I have repaired  some of the damage but this really is the last straw and I will now only look after Lucy’s Track on the east bank. All other tracks will not be maintained unless others take on the work . I have spent  over 15 years on the job and at 74 it is  time to slow down. Many thanks to those who have helped over the years. The Kregers  and the Wilmot team who  started it all and then Fred, Vern, Rod, Chris Dennis and the Mondays , and above all  Max .

I will leave this blog up as an archive as it has much on the history of the Wilmot Walks project from its conception by the Kreger Family to recent epic struggles with floods.

21 November 2017

Max has repaired the Payne Creek bridge with his winch. Thanks for all your good help Max. Good to see you back in action after your illness. Hopefully the vandals will leave it alone. The hyacinth orchids are coming up on the Gentle Annie zigzag. We have marked them to reduce trampling damage!

We have not worked on any tracks apart from the East Ellis and Spellman’s  circuits so far this season. It may be that this will be all we can manage as only two of us look after the tracks and we are not getting any younger! Sadly I  have been unable to recruit reliable help, many talk and advise: few deliver.

9 November  2017.

The Payne Creek bridge has been vandalised by trail bikers wanting to evade the steel barrier. It might be possible to repair it wifh a cable winch.

I have cemented the crossing “bridge”  on east side of the Wilmot at Payne shelter. Hopefully it will last longer than the first one!

 

 

31  October 2017.

The biggest problem after the Flood is proving to be weed infestation , especially foxgloves. Long after the tracks were repaired I am struggling to control weeds. The best hope is to keep them off the tracks and immediate surrounds. If you feel like grubbing them out that will be great. Leave the dead sprayed ones to avoid bringing up more seeds. Fogloves are toxic (digitalis) so native animals sensibly  won’t touch them.

On the positive side this has been a glorious season for pink  and dusky finger orchids, caladenia carnea and c.fuscata. They are everywhere on the drier gum tree ridges. Bird orchids are appearing in damper spots.

23 October 2017.

The river has gone down again and the crossings may  occasionally be used with care. You may well get damp feet or slip. Best use  a wading pole. The little bridge on the east side of Payne has been temporarily repaired but its only for the agile at present! I will concrete it in when the river is at steady summer levels. Water levels will fluctuate a lot until summer. Max has topped up the rocks in the East Ellis tyre crossing and I have done Shoestring Crossing.

I worked over  the Spellman’s Circuit  today and it was in good order. There is one log which needs cutting near the start but it is easily stepped over. No thanks to those who left drinks bottles at Corner Beach.

There are little pink lady orchids ( caladenia sp.) appearing now on dry eucalypt ridges. The yellow dogwoods are past but blue climbers and native indigo are a delight.

Max is back from his travels which doubles the workforce and  trebles the level of skills.

28 September 2017

The Dooley track to Payne Shelter from Jamieson’s road  has been cleared again. Lucy’s track right through to East Ellis is all clear although wet underfoot in places  south of the BBQ shelter. The river has been in flood all week and crossing is not possible just now. Look out for the yellow dogwoods ( Pomaderris Elliptica ) which are flowering and the odd green hood orchid. There is a greenhood near the sign at the top of the Gentle Annie zigzag.

31 August 2017.

I have gone round the East Ellis Circuit and Payne link with the chainsaw and cleared all storm damage. The river is low at present and the crossings are negotiable with care apart from Payne where the bridge on the east side is damaged. It may be too heavy for me to lift back into place. A horse had been down at Payne shelter and churned  up the track. I like horses but too much of this and there will be no track! I have checked Spellman’s circuit as far as the final rock. Sprayed weeds.

 

3  August 2017. I have returned from my travels in Europe. many thanks to Max for looking after the tracks while I was away. We only maintain the East Ellis circuit and Secluded Falls tracks during winter. The crossings will often be underwater until early summer. Wading can be cold and hazardous at times. Use the high level track above the rope rock on Lucy’s Track as the rocks on the bank are slippery just now. Some short sections of Lucy’s track may be wet underfoot.

11 May 2017. Its almost a year since the terrible Flood of  6 June 2016.  The Wilmot tracks have all been repaired and improved in some sections. Much of the track is now above flood level. Thanks to Max for all his help, it could not have been done without him. Thanks to all others who gave occasional help, especially Chris just after the Flood and the Mondays for 2  great working bees. The good weather this Autumn has helped me to catch up and devote a lot of time to weed control – a massive problem after the Flood. All tracks are currently open, but as usual the East Ellis circuit will be easiest and best maintained.

 

New Walk.  Farmer’s Falls. We found some nice cascades on Farmer’s Creek when using the old track down the ridge here whilst forestry operations closed the usual access at Groove Creek. There are two upper cascades easily reached from just south of the 4 way junction on Thirteen Mile road and Chilcott Road spur. Look for pink tapes in a layby on the left. The bigger falls lower down are in rough terrain.

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Farmer’s Cascades

Crossings. Shoestring and East Ellis crossings have been replaced after the flood damage in June 2016. They are both upstream of the former crossings as the river has changed configuration. Payne Crossing has been repaired on the east side but has been flood damaged recently ( October 2017). It is a deep wade at present where the little bridge was. The Spellman’s Crossing, always a wade, is now downstream a little way due to a huge tangle of fallen dogwoods on the west bank.

Shelters. All the shelters are intact. We have a big new shelter at the East Ellis picnic area – Lazarus Shelter – made with steel poles from the old shelter lost in 2011 Flood. Max made splendid boards from a fallen blackwood to partially clad Lazarus. I have put up polycarbonate panels on two sides , old stuff from our verandah. It may not last long. The roof is brand new polycarbonate.

Max repaired several flood bashed shelters on the Dooley Track.

Castra Falls.

Laurie Davison has been doing great work looking after Castra Falls Walks and two of his beautiful pictures of Groove Creek are featured below.

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Secluded Falls . Photograph by Laurie Davison

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Groove Creek by Laurie Davison

WP_20161024_16_59_35_Pro.jpg Bird Orchids on track down to Farmer’s Creek by Bill Shepherd

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 The lowest point –  on the day after the June Flood!

2.Disclaimer.

All walks are undertaken at own risk. Take particular care during wet and windy weather as dangers from falling limbs and slippery rocks increase. Avoid the walks during high water.

3.Introduction.

Volunteers have opened beautiful walks in the Wilmot River valley some 12 kms south of Forth in NW Tasmania. These are easy to moderate family walks on well maintained tracks.

The walks on the Wilmot River follow in the footsteps of the Dooley Track , a historic track cut in 1859 to access the gold prospects on the upper Forth River. The tracks south to East Ellis crossing are easy and regularly maintained.There are low water crossings, shelters, bridges and information stations. The track goes through interesting country. There are placid pools, rock gardens and rapids, fern glades and fine benched sections among the dogwoods high above the river. At choice spots we have cleared lookouts.
The East Ellis  circuit is suitable for all able bodied walkers but beyond East Ellis things get rougher and the routes are  for more experienced bushwalkers. There are more unstable sections prone to landslip., and the logistics of maintaining the track are harder.

The river has to be forded  at the Osbert Crossing and again 2.5 km north of Spellmans Bridge due to access problems on the west bank.

The through walk of 20 km takes around 6-8 hours for a fit walker. A car shuttle or bike is necessary. It is possible to leave a bike at Spellman’s Bridge and drive down to Gentle Annie Road, then walk south  using the East Bank track to Osbert Crossing, and then the Dooley track to Spellman’s.

There are tracks on both banks from the Alma to East Ellis Junction, with link routes and crossings at several points. The crossings are for low water only, but enthusiasts may be able to wade with a wading stick at moderate water levels. Do this at your own risk.

Our initial plan was to link the Wilmot track with the NWWC Penguin to Cradle Trail at Winterbrook. We had a rough track as far as Anderson’s road in South Nietta but a terrible  13 mt flood in  January 2011 devastated the river and we have given up on  tracks south of Spellman’s bridge with the exception of the route down to the middle of the Wilmot Gorge.

Please look after the Wilmot River valley. Leave no litter, light no fires. If you feel like helping by taking light tools along and clearing windfalls or bracken, that would be very nice!

4. Private Property Issues.

Most of the walks are on Crown land or State forest, but there are areas that are close to private property. Please respect the privacy of landowners, by walking quietly and creating no nuisance. Keep dogs on a lead to protect wild life. Snakes are a hazard to dogs in summer.

Specifically there are two areas of private land where access has been problematic.

In the north at Jamieson’s Road ,at the official start of the track, it is essential for walkers to stick to the flagged route over the last property, keep dogs on the lead .

Access to the Valley Property, Ellis and Walters Flats has not been agreed.Please respect the owners request to keep off here. Use the east bank route from East Ellis Crossing to Osbert Crossing if you want to do a through walk.

5. Acknowledgements. The Wilmot Walks project was conceived by Jerry Kreger   , formerly of Narrawa, near Wilmot, around 2002 to promote the district and give the public access to very fine country. Jerry followed in the steps of James Monaghan Dooley who cut a pack track here in 1859 to get to gold prospects in the upper Wilmot and Forth valleys. Jerry and his family did a huge amount of work surveying tracks, raising funds, negotiating with Forestry and landowners. They built bridges, shelters, cut track, put up interpretation notices and signs, poems, the lot! They were helped by the Johns Brothers, John Burton and other members of the Wilmot community. Fred Groenier, Vern Doddridge, the Monday Girls, and above all Max Richardson, have kept the tracks alive after Jerry went off to Nova Scotia six years ago.

6.TRACK NOTES

Wilmot River Walks. Walk 1.

Lucy’s track/ Dooley track circuit from Alma to East Ellis Crossing and return. Open

Maps Tasmap 1:25 000  4243 Kindred  and 4242 Castra
This is a pleasant walk of around 13 km taking three- four hours, mostly on flat ground. It involves two river crossings which pose no problems at normal summer river levels.
The simplest and quickest access is from a layby on the lefthand side of Gentle Annie Road about 0.9 km uphill from Alma bridge.It is the second layby on the left as you go up the road . This is not marked as we have been advised it cannot be an official carpark.Park here and cross the road carefully to pick up a zigzag path down to the river. At the bottom turn left along the riverbank, passing a new shelter. Continue along the east bank on Lucy’s track, named after a little dog who was one of the first to use this route. Max has made a splendid bypass above the  famous Rope Rock so you can avoid this if it makes you nervous. I have kept the  old riverside track to Rope Rock and its swimming pool open and it makes a nice little circuit. Max’s track goes high with some nice views and descends to  a lovely forest flat- Lucy’s Flat. After this the track goes along closer to the river where there are little rapids and a serene flat reach. Max has made a new  higher track here after the flood damage. Cross a little creek on Max’s bridge, then cut  across a low ridge to pick up an old vehicular track which takes you back to the riverside at a place called The Barbecue as locals erected an iron barbie, gone with the 2011 flood, (and an alfresco toilet) There is a new shelter here.Keep going until along the river bank until East Ellis crossing is gained, take care in one section where big rocks have fallen. There is  picnic table and map at East Ellis Flat just south of the Crossing.The big shelter washed away in the 2011 flood has been resurrected higher up the bank – we call it the Lazarus Shelter. The grassy flats are a delight. Please do not stray on to the private land – The Valley- beyond the shelter site – there is a sign on the boundary. Obviously you will not light fires or leave litter anywhere on the route! On heading over the crossing turn left and walk up a ridge until a junction where you turn right along the Dooley track which will take you back to the Alma area. On the way you will pass the Payne Creek shelter. The Dooley track is longer than Lucy’s track, but is a wide well benched track. There are however more ups and downs on it!  There are several shelter/information stations and little poems to inspire the weary traveller en route, with maps to show you exactly where you are.Towards the end of the walk the Dooley Track crosses private property utilising a crown road line; follow the orange flags, and do not intrude on to the property or linger here. Then walk along Jamieson’s Road to the Alma Bridge- the former Murray property bypass is closed. Alternatively one can cross the river at Shoestring Crossing   and go along the east bank track to the Gentle Annie zig zag .

A variant on this walk is to go along the Dooley track to the concrete step crossing* at Payne Shelter and pick up a taped route which goes north along the river bank for about 200 metres before climbing up to a spur. Follow the tapes along the Spur until you reach Lucy’s East Wilmot track and take this track back to the Alma area.This walk is an hour shorter than the full circuit to East Ellis flats

*October 2017. This crossing is  flood damaged at the eastern side. Hopefully I can repair it when the river is low. It is quite a deep wade without the little bridge.

 

Note. Due to the increasing incidence of huge floods we have had to make the track on higher levels. This has lost the intimate closeness with the river of the early Lucy’s track but the flood zones are wastelands and its pointless working to keep them open.

Walk 2. Groove Creek Circuit and  Secluded Falls .  OPEN
Map Tasmap 1:25,000 4242 Castra
Time 2 .5  hours
The circuit is a fairly demanding walk. But the hardest part is finding your way around the Sprent Forest road network, so detailed instructions are given for this.
Drive from Forth on the Kindred road for 10.5 km. Turn left at Swamp road, drive along it for 4.3 km until Nicolle’s Link turns off to the left. Go along this forest road for 3.7 km until a Y junction, take the left road here. Proceed for 0 .6 km, take right turn and drive along this road for 1.2 km . You should be on an open ridge with eucalypt and pine plantations with views to Mount Roland and Eardley’s Tor. Take a left turn, ignoring a road leading off to the left after 0.3 km. After 0.4 km you will arrive at an open space. Park here. Total travel distance from Forth should be around 20.7 km.

Just beyond the car park look for a steep track off to the right with a metal sign leading down through the pine plantation (there is another track at  the car park which you will use to come back up) This ends at an old 4wd track where you turn right until you encounter a sign directing you down to Groove Creek  . Descend steeply and turn left down the creek on a beautiful route through manferns and sassafras until you reach a viewpoint for the Upper Secluded Falls. Take care here as there are cliffs  below – you are standing above the Lower Secluded Falls at this point. Head back up the taped route to the 4wd track and turn right again until you meet a sign directing you down a very steep track to Groove creek below the falls. Head upstream to the Lower Falls which are hard to see in the bush. A  rough track with loose scree heads to the Upper Falls – about 15 mins. They are far more spectacular especially after rain.

Return all the way down Groove Creek until you are almost at the Wilmot river and take a wide track back up to the 4wd perimeter track. Turn left and after ten minutes turn right through the plantation until you reach the carpark. This last track is very close to the one you went down at the start.

This sounds very complicated but there are lots of signs and when you get to know the area you can decide which parts of the circuit suit you – for instance you can avoid the very steep track down to Groove Creek which horrified one lady! Its only steep, quite safe!

Note. The Sprent Forests are subject to vandalism, car dumping and anti -social behaviour which may detract from the ambience. The former circuit along the river and up the red road is not recommended due to erosion and storm damage on the red road and the vandalism.

Walk 3 .Groove Creek to Spellman’s Bridge . OPEN

TasMap 1:25,000 Castra
Time 3-4 hours one way
This walk will need a car shuttle between Spellman’s Bridge and the start of the Groove Creek walk in the Sprent forest. Drive to Spellman’s Bridge and leave a vehicle. Drive up Spellman’s Road to Castra and then turn right heading for Sprent. Just before you reach Sprent turn right along Swamp Road. Turn right at the junction with Nicolle’s Link road and follow the detailed instructions for Walk 2. On reaching the Wilmot river at Groove Creek head south on a flat route through water ferns and then a manfern forest until Farmer’s Creek – a tranquil spot with little cascades(Lost in the Flood!) The route then rises, climbing above the river in a wild spectacular section. First stop is the Rock Garden lookout, where a steep little side trip can be made to exciting pools and big rocks in the river.Then onward on high levels before descending to Horse Shoe Bend, an excellent spot for swimming and lunch. This area of track is a long way in, and maintenance is more difficult. Climb over the little ridge at Horse Shoe and along a rough narrow passage above the river, until gaining another pleasant flat. A brief climb leads up to a well benched section of original Dooley track, before again descending to a treefern flat and a final Crossing. Ford the river here to avoid invading private property. Stay on the east bank all the way to Spellman’s Bridge.Its about 40 minutes on from here. There are some rough sections on rocky banks which can be tricky when its wet , look for concreted footsteps.Then a nice little wooded section takes you to Corner Beach . From here there is a choice between a high track above the river or at low water in dry conditions you can walk easily over flat rocks until the next corner. Wooded flats follow.There are two new sections of track here above the floodline. Towards the end a big rock outcrop has to be crossed . It now has a fine walkway over it. This is a walk for low river levels but its one of the best on the river.

Walk 4. Spellman’s circuit. Open.

Tasmap  1:25,000 4242 Castra

Grade. Moderate. Time 2 hours

This is a short new walk, using the new high level track to Corner Beach. Best suited for low river levels, ideal for a summer picnic and swimming expedition. From Spellman’s Bridge take the Dooley track on the east bank below the bridge heading downstream. The track follows the river, rising on new sections to avoid flood levels. After about 5 minutes you will reach a point where the route is at river level, under a rock face. There are concrete footsteps to assist passage.  Soon after there is another rock face with concrete footsteps: this can be slippery and  tricky if the river is above normal summer level.

Then the track rises above flood debris from the 2011 Flood reaching a big wooden  ramp around a cliff. This was damaged by the 2016 Flood but has been repaired. *Please beware of a dangerous dead tree overhanging the ramp. Don’t hang around here! * The tree is too dangerous to attempt to cut down as it lies on the cliff face.

A very eroded section follows with a short steep bypass track over another little cliff. There are rocks at the base of the cliff which can be used when the river is low. Another high level track follows – look out for bird orchids here in October After crossing a small creek the track divides – a signposted route  on your right  leads high above the river. At the top are good views of the way ahead to your destination at Corner Beach. After contouring for about 400 metres the route descends to regain the river just beyond Corner Beach. Turn left to reach the beach and its lovely swimming pool.

Return to Spellman’s Bridge following the track along the river, there are flat rocks at low water but when the river is higher you will have to stay up on the bank. Here the rocks are often slippery, take care. The black rocks are the worst, use any knobs and rougher bits to maintain your feet. After a steep corner easier ground will take you back to the creek and the junction where you left to take  the high level. Keep on the main track back to Spellman’s Bridge. 

Variant  route by Horseshoe Bend.

If you want a longer walk continue north(downstream) from Corner Beach. A gentle track through dogwoods soon gives way to a rocky river bank with some  easy scrambling sections. The most demanding rock band has concrete footsteps to assist. Then at Spellman’s Crossing ford the river to take up the main Dooley track route on the west bank.  The track goes along the river bank through myrtle forest and then climbs on to a high bench for about 300 metres. Enjoy this easy level walk as harder times are to follow! Descend back down to a river flat with big manferns, and then climb up on a narrow track above the river. this avoids very eroded sections washed out in the Big Flood. There is a new landslide along here take great care.We have just made a new section which connects to the top of Horseshoe Bend, it has a couple of little steep pinches, but nothing too demanding. To compensate there are fine views of the river bend. The final little rise has a couple of concreted steps. Traverse along high above Horseshoe Bend to reach a new short circuit track., signposted. It leads down  to a nice camping spot in small myrtle, and a delightful beach and swimming pool. This is my favourite spot between Spellman’s and the Alma. Quite serene , it feels remote although there are houses at Lower Wilmot just up the steep hillside to the  east. Return to the Dooley track by a marked route north of the beach. You will see a huge tree which fell down in the Spring of 2014, Max cleared  it with my small chainsaw, quite an effort. Head back south along the Dooley track by whence you came. Allow an extra couple of hours for this variant. Not suitable if the river is high.

Walk 5. Wilmot Gorge. The Middle Reach track.

This is a short walk to the middle of the Wilmot Gorge at South Nietta, It starts opposite the last house on Smith’s Plains Road. Head left down a forest track, and take the next turn off to the left . Park at a clearing with signs. head along the forest perimeter track for about 1 km to a sign directing you down to the river. it takes about 30 minutes to descend, steep and rough in places. Stick to the track as there are cliffs everywhere along the river. Lovely pools and spectacular crags await you. Enthusiasts can go up or down river , it involves swimming deep rock enclosed pools, so a warm day  or wetsuit is essential

alma ellis draft

 East Ellis Circuit

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Eva and Lotta at East Ellis crossing, Jerry at rear

 

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In the Gorge

Wilmot Gorge

The Gorge

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Horseshoe Bend

Articles on the History. Please note that track information in these may be outdated.

7. Notes on James Monaghan Dooley and The Wilmot Gold track for the Official Opening of the Alma Section on 20 November 2006 at Alma Reserve

 

The incentives to the first track up the Wilmot valley were gold fever and timber. The goldrushes in NSW and Victoria inspired Tasmanian attempts to emulate their success. The arrival of  James “Philosopher” Smith at Hamilton on Forth in 1853 and James Monaghan Dooley’s appointment as District Contract Surveyor in 1856 provided just the combination required to get things moving in the district. Smith was guided by his prospecting experience in Victoria and also by the advice of the Rev. W.B.Clarke, geological adviser to the colony of NSW, who declared that the area along the 146th parallel and especially the headwaters of the rivers flowing north towards Emu Bay could be rich in gold. (Haygarth p. 42)

Smith was also interested in the pencil pine  and king billy resources of the Dove River area and  made his Pine Road south of Penguin to access timber which  was floated down the Forth, some was recovered at Forth heads “much battered” .The best of the pine was five feet in girth.

 

This was frontier country, the Wilmot River had only been discovered  by Nathaniel Kentish during his expedition to find a new route to Emu Bay in  1842.It was named after the Governor Sir John Eardley Wilmot. Dooley arrived from Ireland in 1855, started work at Forth in March 1856 and by April he was reporting traces of gold on the Wilmot. He was obviously a fast mover. James Smith , J. Jones and  J.Johnson found traces of gold at two places on the upper Wilmot  and  again on the upper Forth at the Golden Point in  Apri1 1859 but the difficulties of the terrain and keeping up food supplies made an access track vital. A meeting was held at Captain Logan’s public house Leith on 13 July “at which it was resolved to cut a bridle track from Forth, by way of Clerke’s Plains,[Kindred]to the neighbourhood of Middlesex Plains. Mr Dooley volunteered his services to mark out a track, and a committee was formed to defray the expenses of cutting it.” (Ramsay p.90) The track went up the west bank of the Wilmot – there was no bridge at the Alma until 1883- and there is a report of parties setting off prospecting on 18 November 1859(Denholm p.42. LSD register of files)

 

The track probably went up the Wilmot valley as this was a slightly easier option than the Forth with its fearsome gorges. First of all there were the Devil’s Gates at Barrington, then forty five  miles upstream the Forth Gates. Since Hellyer’s expedition of 1828, legend had it that there was a huge waterfall with a petrifying pool at Forth gates. This was only disproved by Crosby and Raymond’s epic  boat journey in search of pine in 1868. How far did Dooley’s track actually go? Len Fisher, the historian of Wilmot, says it only went as far as an east-west line with Gunn’s Plains, and that the track was not used to any extent.(Fisher Wilmot Information vol iv p.89) During  our endless searches for  the old track in recent years Fred Groenier and I have only found benched track as far as about two kms north of Spellman’s Bridge. There are a couple of small sections about half way between Eastley’s Road and Anderson’s Road (Nietta) and an interesting trench above the river off Anderson’s Road. The fact that Smith made a new track from Penguin to access pine in 1868 also suggests that the Wilmot track may not have reached the Middlesex plains in the 1860s.

 

 

  If the Dooley track did go further south it would have encountered the Wilmot Gorges which would have forced the route up to Smith’s Plains at South Nietta.  The aim of all the prospectors and piners was to link up with the old Van Diemen’s land Company track , optimistically entitled the Great Western Road, which ran from Emu Bay to Deloraine via the Hampshire and Surrey Hills, Medway and over the shoulder of the Black Bluff range to the Vale of Belvoir and the Middlesex plains. The Field cattle kings had stations along the VDL track to shelter the weary traveller. From the Middlesex plains it descended the infamous Five Mile Rise to a ford over the Forth near present day Lorinna and up again over Gad’s Hill to the Mersey at Liena.

It’s worth stopping to consider what the pioneers were up against in the North West wilderness. Beyond the last settlement at Clerke’s Plains there was nothing until the VDL track and the outposts of the Field cattle stations. The VDL prefered the open plains of the high country to the dense forests of the coast for grazing  stock despite the cold and wet winters. The Forth and Wilmot valleys were steep sided and rugged. The ridges between the rivers, where subsequent rich farms were established  on the good basaltic soils, were covered in tall forest. The Wilmot itself was a mighty river then,  now its a ghost river with all its highland water captured in Lake Gairdner and sent tumbling off to the Wilmot Power Station  on the Forth via a tunnel. But occasionally when there are big floods and Lake Gairdner spills, it comes roaring back to life. In October 2005 there were two such floods -if you walk along Lucy’s Track on the east bank of the river above Alma you will come to a big rock with a safety rope, where flotsam from the floods can be seen 10 feet above summer levels. I was working on that track at the time – one would not want to have fallen in! On one wild day I cleared a section in the morning which was underwater by the time I went back home  in the afternoon. Len Fisher, the Wilmot historian has told me that before the dam went in the fishermen had to get out of the gorges fast when the river was rising – they could hear it roaring down!

The lower Wilmot valley has a particularly noxious greywacke rock, brittle,  and prone to landslips, and of course there was thick scrub, dogwood, correa and bauera to contend with. Dooley’s team had no power tools, only the axe and crosscut saw, pick and shovel. Hard rations and no modern rain gear. However he had two great advantages over  modern track blazers – there were no problems with PUBLIC LIABILITY o r  LAND OWNERS. Once he left Kindred he was truly beyond the Pale! Dooley was by all accounts a very hardy bushman. On a trip along the VDL track from Surrey Hills to the Middlesex plains with his boss Surveyor General Calder in 1862, they were caught up in darkness and only Dooley’s tenacity finding the route by improvised torches got them to the Field station hut. Interestingly Calder had wanted to go by this route because he was tired of the endless forests of the coast! People like Smith and Dooley were tough, self reliant bushmen, with no helicopters or rescue beacons to fall back upon. They would never have thought of sueing anyone if they got into strife in the bush – it was not in their book, you looked after yourself or your mates backed you up. There are harrowing tales of injuries, and long painful trips to medical care. Black humour sometimes appears, one rather heavy chap perished in the bush on the west coast and his colleagues decided to gut him to make his corpse easier to carry out! I often wonder what Philosopher Smith or Paddy Hartnett would make of wee signs warning them they could be drowned or bitten by a snake. I guess they knew that already.

 

 

 Dooley was also a first rate talker, as befits a Tipperary man, irrepressible in promoting himself , land ventures and  the surveying of  tracks to open up the hinterland. His arrival in the colony most fortuitously coincided with the passing of the Waste Lands Act of 1858 which aimed to open up crown land to yeoman farmers. As member of parliament for East Devon between 1872 and his death in 1891, he was a relentless pork barreller for the North West coast, arousing the wrath of the Hobart Mercury which lamented his oratory and filibustering. In 1884 “Mr Dooley was in his glory in the Assembly yesterday afternoon, and succeeded by a series of silly objections, in which he was  supported by nobody, in making the passage of a bill through committee, which would only have taken ten minutes , last an hour.” (Denholm p.95)Naturally, he was a hero in the Northern papers “Mr. Dooley is exceedingly painstaking and indefatigable in anything he undertakes for the welfare of his district or the benefit of his constituents…”(Denholm p.97)

 

As it turned out the gold prospecting on the Forth and Wilmot fizzled out in the early 1860s. Smith of course went on to discover the mountain of tin at Mt Bischoff in 1871, and there were numerous mines in the  Forth, Lea and Iris valleys, which have been worked spasmodically since the 1880s. Tin , silver lead, bismuth. molybdenum and tungsten were all found in the highly mineralised rocks on the edge of the upper Wilmot and Forth highlands. Gold was worked on Bell Creek, a tributary of the Wilmot above Erriba, some 15,000 pounds sterling in gold was won at the Bell. A silver lead mine was established  in the Wilmot gorge between the current Lake Gairdner and the Erriba crossing. It had a fearsome haulage down to the river.

 

Some farming has been carried out on the flats along the Wilmot, and timber cut in the more accessible reaches.There are numerous rough 4 wd tracks down to the river , particularly in the Sprent area, and three main crossings at Spellmans, Narrawa and Erriba .Only Spellman’s  is now  in use with a bridge  and sealed road access. For the most part the steep and rough sections have been the haunt of  local fisherman and hunters, and Dooley’s track gradually fell into disuse. The bush quickly recovers its own.

However there has been a renaissance of the Dooley Track in recent years with  latter day Dooleys in the form of Mr Jerry Kreger and his family who have enlisted the Wilmot Community and an amazing coalition of helpers to restore the track for public access and the protection of the local environment. This movement has been very fortunate to secure the backing of Forestry Tasmania- most of the valley is state forest or crown land- and some public minded landowners. With so many different workers we don’t always entirely agree on what should be done, but we are united in wanting to give the public access to the Valley and above all to look after it. You will find no litter on our tracks, although there are occasional broken bottles left by fishermen and mindless hoons dump old cars on the Sprent side.

 

The Mercury once  described “the persistent water dropping of Mr. Dooley which is enough to wear out even the most hardened minister” . Likewise Jerry Kreger has tirelessly pestered bureaucrats to forward his vision of  a Wilmot Trails network from the Alma to Middlesex Plains, and he has found hardy bushmen like the Johns Brothers and Doug Mason to cut huge logs and bench the track. The Army have taken materials down the roughest of roads.  The Greencorps and Green Reserve have toiled  on maintenance and carried in scores of  old tyres which do wonders in stabilising steep and landslipped sections.Mersey Skill Training have facilitated working groups. Funds have been raised for fine bridges ,  signposts, shelters and toilets are springing up to improve facilities for the wider  community and tourists . Concrete  stepping stones  are a boon for bushwalkers who previously had to struggle on slippery boulders . All this achieved with great ingenuity, economy and skills worthy of the old bushmen.

 

Currently there is only a circuit track between Gentle Annie road and East Ellis Crossing officially open to the public, here you can enjoy  pristine forest, quiet fern glades and beautiful swimming pools. The circuit takes 3 -4 hours.Because it’s State forest you can take your dog on this section, but you  should keep it on the lead to protect the wild creatures who live here.

  The route through to Spellmans Bridge is marked,cleared ,and being brought up  to standard. Its completion will depend on access agreements with landowners. Beyond that there is a marked route south to Andersons Road in South Nietta, after which the splendid Wilmot Gorges remain trackless, open only to those who swim the pools and rockhop. The track will bypass them to Smiths Plains, and thence on to the Lea valley, and Tiger Plains of Black Bluff

. I am currently working on a fine circuit in the Anderson’s Road area which experienced bushwalkers will enjoy, with steep crags, delighful pools and some fine rainforest

But then there are the wild canyons running down from the Tiger Plain, there’s Duff falls, there’s the Winterbrook – there’s always a river somewhere!

 

 

 

Bibliography

 

Binks, C.J.  Explorers of  Western Tasmania  Launceston; Mary Playsted, 1980

 

Denholm, Bernard  The irrepressible Mr. Dooley published by the author; Hobart, 1980

 

Fenton, James  Bushlife in Tasmania  Richmond Press, Devonport 1964

 

Fisher, Len  Wilmot :Those were the days   L. Fisher; Port Sorell, Tas. 1990

                                                 

 Fisher, Len   Wilmot information Books 1-4  (unpublished mss. held in Devonport Library)

Haygarth, Nic    Baron Bischoff: Philospher Smith and the birth of Tasmanian mining    Perth, Tas.2004

Haygarth, Nic.    A view to Cradle : a history of Tasmania’s Forth River high country

Canberra, A.C.T  1998

 

Mersey Skill Training.    The Dooley’s Heritage Trail system (incorporating the Wilmot, Forth …) [2002?]

 

Ramsay, Charles With the pioneers   2nd revised  ed. National Trust of Australia(Tasmania) 1980

 

Wilmot River and Heritage Trail    (unpublished brochure held in Devonport Library)

8.  Tasmanian Tramp number 38 page  35   Unmasking the Dooley Track    Shepherd, W.

The Wilmot Valley and the Dooley Track. A cautionary tale.

Like most folk  I regarded the Wilmot Valley as a place to pass on the road to somewhere more interesting – its on the  way  from Forth to the Cradle Country. Sometimes I would wonder what was down in the steep wooded valley below the bendy road to Wilmot, but it was not until I read an article in the Advocate  of  11 June 2002 that everything changed, and changed utterly. The article told of a project to open up the Wilmot valley for walking along the line of an old track cut to access the mineral prospecting areas of the Upper Forth by James Monaghan Dooley in 1859.

With my associate Fred Groenier  I set out to try to find this mysterious track, but after some fossicking around steep  rough ground in the forest at the end of Jamieson’s Road we found nothing. I then asked the late, great Carl Clayton of the Backpacker’s Barn in Devonport if he knew anything about the project. Carl advised me to consult John Burton of Wilmot. John said to consult Jerry Kreger of Narrawa, and thus I met up with a most remarkable man, an American experienced in geology and surveying, with a vision for the track and his community. His family had been planning the track for some time previously.

Jerry said to look at the foot of River Road, one of the many rough roads which run down the ridges from the Sprent side of the river. After several false starts I found this road and sure enough at the bottom a track led north along the river through the dogwoods and myrtle. It only went a few hundred metres towards Viking Creek but I started tentatively clearing scrub and windfalls along a rough line taped by Jerry. In places there was an old benched track hidden by the undergrowth. Magic! This started it all for me, and  over six  years later I am still clearing track and working on routes up the valley.

Dooley , a recent Irish immigrant, had been commissioned to survey and cut the track due to an outbreak of gold fever in the late 1850s. The prospects were in the upper Forth valley. This was a formidable river with wild gorges, and the Wilmot was seen as an easier option to give access to the Middlesex Plains and the VDL track leading down into the Forth. Just how far Dooley’s track went is uncertain, the fact that James “Philosopher “Smith made another “Pine” track from Penguin to the timber resources of the Cradle area not long afterwards makes me suspect that Dooley’s track did not penetrate all the way to the mineralised hinterland. In all my forays up and down the river I have not found evidence of made track further south than an isolated little section about 3 km south of Castra Rivulet (Grid Reference  Wilmot 1:25,000   264197)

Dooley’s intention would have been to follow the western side of the Wilmot until he encountered the Wilmot Gorges at South Nietta. This would have forced him up on to Smith’s Plains. Dooley’s track was a packhorse track, cut in a remarkably short time, all done by hand with no smart bush gear. Resourcefulness and self reliance was the order of the day. The prospecting surge of the 1850s soon died down but activity started again a decade later with Smith’s discovery of Mt. Bischoff in 1871 and several mines in the Black Bluff, Moina area in the 1880s. The Wilmot was a substantial river before the Mersey- Forth Hydro schemes captured its highland water in Lake Gairdner in 1973 tunnelling it through to the Wilmot Power Station penstock and the Forth.  It tapped the Iris and Lea draining the Middlesex Plains and lower Vale of Belvoir. Kettle holes in the Gorge bear silent witness to its former powers. Now it only comes to life when the dam spills in a heavy flood. The valley has been logged, mined and farmed in places, but much of it remains fairly pristine protected by its steep sides and unstable greywacke geology. There are good patches of myrtle  and sassafras rainforest on the flats with fern glades. Dogwoods , stringybarks and white gums dominate the slopes .White gums are often left as they give inferior timber, and indeed are very prone to falling upon the unwary. The tracks  through dogwood glades are beautiful in dappled light, quite like the forest paths of Lombardy . Alas they are even more prone to falling down than the White Gums! Although the river is usually low in summer, deep pools and rock garden rapids remain to enchant the traveller. Trout and platypus can be seen, and the occasional giant lobster. One of the delights of the Gorge is watching platypus swimming in pools directly below your feet.  Sea Eagles have been seen at Barking Snake Pool above Jamieson’s Road. Various folk have given places along the way quirky names, as the track has taken on a life of its own. Much of the valley is in State Forest, and this has been of great assistance to the track makers, as Forestry Tasmania have been positive in their support. Some landowners have been very helpful, others opposed to tracks on their land. Jerry Kreger has been very successful in building up a wide range of support, from Forestry to Green Corps and local volunteers.

So what has been achieved to date? Starting at the Alma Bridge, some 12 kms south of Forth, we have a good track as far as Spellman’s Bridge about 18  kms and seven hours walk from Alma. In places we have tracks on both sides of the river, partly to avoid private property and also to offer circuit walks. There are concrete pad crossings at three places, a removable bridge at Jamieson’s Road, and numerous shelters and interpretative signs and maps. Side streams have been bridged. Most of the infrastructure is in the section between Alma and East Ellis Flats at present. All of the permanent construction work has been done by the Wilmot Heritage Care Group organised by Jerry Kreger. Several projects have been made possible by help from Green Corps teams and the Green Reserve (older unemployed workers) and Mersey Skill Share. Volunteers have been continually active trail blazing and clearing track. One of the best things about the project has been the involvement of local Wilmot folk, in particular, the Johns Brothers who have done enormous work. The unstable greywacke which dominates much of the valley leads to landslides. We attempt to stabilise these sections with old tyres,bush   limb edging and stonework. There is continual storm and water damage for much of the year, but at least much of the track is well drained naturally.

South of Spellman’s Bridge has been  largely the domain of two volunteers, myself and Fred Groenier, aided more recently by members of the North West Walking Club. The routes here are much rougher culminating in the Wilmot Gorges, which have no through track, only the access route which I have put in to the middle section. Going through the Gorges involves swimming deep pools at a few places, best done on a hot summer’s day. I have no intention of trying to despoil the Gorges with tourist tracks. There is a  master plan to link up with Smith’s Plains, Winterbrook and Black Bluff, but it has taken seven years to get as far as we have, and this may be ambitious. The main problem, as with all walking tracks is day to day maintenance. Great efforts are made for one off projects which are opened by officials in suits with some fanfare, but the survival of tracks depends on a supply of people willing to keep them open in winter rain and storm and summer heat. Jerry is heading to Nova Scotia in May 2009 with his new family and will be greatly missed, but recent recruits from the North West Walking Club, such as Max Richardson will help the project to survive. The easy sections in the north of the valley are already popular with large walking groups, mainly mature ladies on Mondays! All of the major walking clubs have done substantial sections of the track. I always ask people to take along a pair of light loppers or a bow saw whenever they can, and tidy windfalls. User support! It doesn’t have to involve heroics with big chain saws. Just making a windfall safer to cross by trimming branches will help. We always try to make sure there are no eye catching obstacles along the track. To date the track has been free of litter and pollution, apart from areas frequented by trail bikes. We ask walkers to respect private property and move quietly when near residences.

For further information, I have produced a cd of track notes and an article on Jame Monaghan Dooley, Wilmot River Walks, which is available for loan from State Library. There are seven walks on the cd ranging from easy to quite demanding. I maintain a website which regularly updates developments on the track     http://www.webspawner.com/users/billshep/   or Google Wilmot River Walks. There are three pages covering  an homepage introduction and Wilmot River Walks North and South. There are also some entries on the Bushwalk Tasmania website     http://bushwalk-tasmania.com/forum/

Bibliography

Binks, C.J. Explorers of Western Tasmania Launceston; Mary Playsted, 1980

Denholm, Bernard The irrepressible Mr. Dooley published by the author; Hobart, 1980

Fenton, James Bushlife in Tasmania Richmond Press, Devonport 1964

Fisher, Len Wilmot :Those were the days L. Fisher; Port Sorell, Tas. 1990

Fisher, Len Wilmot information Books 1-4 (unpublished mss. held in Devonport Library)

Haygarth, Nic Baron Bischoff: Philospher Smith and the birth of Tasmanian mining Perth, Tas.2004

Haygarth, Nic. A view to Cradle : a history of Tasmania’s Forth River high country

Canberra, A.C.T 1998

Addendum. Please note the website is now with wordpress.com. The cd has been outmoded by online information.