Mist, mining, and memories

I set the alarm for 7, its still dark when it goes off. I have a shower. Kylie and I have planned to go and take a look at the old Iron Blow mine and walk up nearby Mt Owen. Raymond has given us instructions about how to find the walk and within half an hour of waking we are both out the door as the very first light of the day appears. There is some frost on the ground otherwise itís a clear morning.

I drive carefully on the road out of Queenstown towards Gormanston. We stop at the Iron Blow lookout. The sun still hasnít quite risen from the behind the clouds yet so the light of the day is somewhat subdued. As I get out of the car the very chilly breeze snaps on my fingers. Looking down on Iron Blow and across Gormanston and the denuded landscape makes me feel very calm. I have never stopped in Queenstown and its surrounds before but have travelled through it a couple of times. Itís a strangely beautiful and quiet place. There arenít many people around as they are all probably working in one of the many mines in the area or still asleep.

The mist rolling into Gormanston Mt Owen The landscape of Iron Blow from Mt Owen Old burnt out Gormanston pub

The colours of the rocks at the Iron Blow lookout are unlike anything I have ever seen, there is nothing subdued about them, they radiate in rich gold, orange, deep red, pink and so on. From the lookout we can quite clearly see the walk we are about to undertake, so before long we hop back into the car and drive towards to a gate not far off the main highway where it commences.

The walk takes us about an hour and a bit, its up all the way, some sections are long and steep, but the views are quite something, particularly when we reach the Telstra towers at the top. The sun is up and the sky is clear, but from our vantage point we can see that there is mist rolling in from Lake Burbury over Gormanston but we are so far above it that it looks a little unusual. We can also clearly see the peaks around Lake St Clair, Strahan and the ocean beyond and Queenstown sitting below us. All around the hills and mountains roll away into infinity, except where we see the sea and far off horizon.

After a bit of time wandering around the top we make the walk down which is much easier on the heart but probably a little more taxing on the knees and calves, and certainly much quicker than the way up. We drive around Gormanston, I think how this place once would have been a thriving town, but today it looks kind of sad and virtually forgotten.

A number of the buildings look empty, but there is still a certain old grandness about them. (Later on I visit an amazingly stuffed full gallery about the history of the area and there is an image of one of these grand buildings which I find out was once a gentlemanís club with bar, pool room, library, etc.)

We then drive down to the old burnt out pub a little further down the road in the hope that the next-door cafť might be open but unfortunately it isnít. We take another look at Iron Blow again, the sun is up now and the rock colours have changed. It almost appears to be a very different place than the one we visited earlier this morning.

In the car again and back to Queenstown; I pack the car with my stuff and take it down to LARQ. Raymond and I walk down to the Galley Museum, next to the library in Queenstown, and he shows me a room filed with historic black and white photographs of Queenstown including a series of panoramic images of the mines of extraordinary tonal depth. Some parts of the images are deep black, but then it will fade away in the corner or corners through a broad tonal variation into almost nothingness. Each image has its own special quality. Raymond tells me that he managed to make some photographic prints of these images from the original negatives and I recall noticing these next to my bedroom door in the house I just slept in.

Raymond also shows me a large panoramic print high up on the wall of a very early looking Queenstown and he tells me that he used this print for a panoramic exhibition that I remember being delighted by at Plimsoll Gallery about 15 years ago. Raymond goes back to LARQ and I wander around the small but densely packed gallery marvelling at the stupendous amount of images of the area. I am particularly taken by images of the mines and Queenstown covered in snow as well as of old haulage-ways in operation. There is so much packed into the space of this gallery that one could spend many hours if not days really going through it all.

Back to LARQ, a farewell to Raymond washed down with a cup of vanilla tea before I am back on the road again heading towards the Henty glacial road that bypasses Roseberry. Raymond has indicated a number places where I could stop along the way for a short walk. I stop at few of these places and marvel at the massive rocks left behind by glaciers in the middle of flat plains and the bulbous rock formations seemingly melting out of the tips of the looming mountains. I stop maybe half a dozen times, and take side roads to Murchison and Mackintosh dams, the first accessed through a deep gorge, the other by a turnoff at the small township of Tullah.

There is more bulbous mountainous scenery along each road, very different formations to the coast. Back on the road and my drive takes me through Hellyer Gorge. I stop for a quick 15-minute walk through lush rain forest bush at the bottom of the gorge next to Hellyer River then once again Iím on the road headed for home-base.

Just as I arrive back it starts to rain, I cook dinner in the quiet of the late afternoon and start to write and think about the previous days events. My mood is now very relaxed. I enjoyed the past few days travels, some very different coastal landscapes set against the unusual and dramatic Queenstown scape before glacial mountainous spaces and finally the green redish/brown paddocks lining the coast that is the north west.

I flick the radio on and the political stability of the nation chaotically unfolds with what ends up being the shafting of one prime minister who shafted the other some time ago. It seems such a loud distraction, so I put on ĎThe Chant of Jimmy Blacksmithí, a 1978 Australian film by Fred Schepisi, an extraordinarily brutal film about racism in Australia at the turn of the 19th century. (Just as I arrived back to Rocky Cape, I pulled into the roadhouse at the parks turnoff for eggs and milk and there by the door was a crate filled with mostly kids dvdís for sale. But at the bottom was 'Jimmy Blacksmith' as well as 'Jindabyne' directed by Ray Lawrence in 2006. What a bonanza.) Anyway, I found 'Jimmy Blacksmith' an incredibly powerful and absorbing film. Deeply saddening, but visually beautiful with some stunningly poetic images of the Australian landscape - the bush, sunrises and sunsets, misty plains and contorted geological rock formations - and acted to perfection. I couldnít help think of Australia now with all of the hoopla going on within this days political agenda contrasted against the terrible history of this country by certain elements of post-colonialist settlers. There is a lot to this film, and I feel like I should really be showing it to my kids, no I will, violence and all. This is a very important Australian film alluding to a very important part of history that should never be forgotten, and, more importantly, should never happen again. The film finishes and I go to bed after another full day. However I realise that I have done very little drawing, but there is still much time left and I shouldnít worry.