It's all aboard the 'stretch' road-rail Land Rover for a day spent exploring the historic, scenic and delicious beauties of Tasmania.
Story By Tim Dub
“They weren’t too impressed when the first thing we did to a brand new Landrover was get the angle grinder to it and cut it in half,” says Brian Hall, as he explains some of the features of the unusual-looking vehicle with its extra row of seats. “In fact, the only original Defender parts that remain are some of the body, the engine and the front axle”.
Brian has a dream job, or at least dreaming is a major part of what he is employed to do. But, as the product development manager for the Federal Hotels group, somehow he has to turn his fantasies into commercial realities. It looks as if he can rest easy with his latest project – the recently launched Piners and Miners tour from the Tasmanian west coast fishing port of Strahan looks certain to succeed. Though only one day in duration, this tour gives a fantastic sampling of the best that Tasmania has to offer. There is magnificent rainforest; a bushwalk down the banks of a rushing river to an immense inland harbour; fine wine and a sumptuous banquet in a ghost town; a cruise home on a luxury boat; and a good look at a steam train, thrown in for good measure.
If you want a plane too, Strahan is just an hour’s flight by light plane from Hobart over World Heritage-listed national park – a wonderful experience in fine weather and an exhilarating roller-coaster in a gale. But it is the 7.15am sight of the Landrover, which will be the principal transport at the start of the tour itself, that is the first intimation that Brian’s childhood reading may have included Alice in Wonderland. With a gift for understatement that makes the ridiculous seem feasible, he continues to describe the transformed $300,000 four-wheel-drive. “It’s a unique vehicle – there is no other like it in the world. The rear axles, all of this coach work, the perspex roof, the fact it’s been stretched with an extra row of seats and the installed railway wheels are, of course, non-standard.”
As the Landrover with its eight passengers leaves Strahan, by road, in what is to be a journey not just through place but also back in time, Allan, the guide, introduces the fascinating saga of ambitious mining pioneers – the rise of Bowes Kelly and the fall of James Crotty. Their bitter rivalry, at the turn of the 19th century, is still written in the landscape around Strahan, as a legacy of bustling enterprises for one, and for the other, the ebbing remnants of long-abandoned industries, railways and townships. In the early 1800s, the forests had already yielded up precious Huon pine timber to the hard men of the bush whose numbers rapidly exceeded the couple of hundred Mimegin Aboriginals, indigenous to Tasmania’s southwest. The first piners were soon followed by the convicts on Sarah Island, Britain’s worst and most-feared penal settlement. These unfortunates provided both the manpower and the skills to develop a thriving ship-building industry, the safest way to transport the Huon timber through the notorious Hells Gates at the entrance to Macquarie Harbour.
This story excerpt is from Issue #53
Outback Magazine: June/July 2007