Arriving in Launceston on the first day of our road trip to #discovertasmania Kate (@loves_laughs on @instagram) and I stood, looking at the Joss House ( Chinese Temple) on display at the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery (QVMAG)
I’d read that in the late 1800’s, these houses dotted the North East Tasmanian landscape. Characterised by a tin roof and a full width front veranda, these unassuming places of prayer for the Chinese would have been a curiosity to the local population. It was during this time period that many Chinese came to Tasmania to seek their fortune. Tasmania was the tin mining Capitol of the world. The Chinese miners would have visited these houses to meditate and pray, a respite to their days in the harsh landscape and work of tin mining.
Now, the museum is a quiet place! So, my misstep up into the Joss Hose from the front stairs resulted into a ‘crash bang’ reverberation on the verandah which cut the silence and had me metaphorically, like Alice falling into the rabbit hole, falling into the front door of the Joss House and into the Tale of the Tin Dragon…
Leaving Launceston, Kate and I travelled East. The midday light bathed the hills with a softness. The red earth of turned agricultural land was a beautiful contrast to the blue sky and rolling green hills.
In the mid afternoon we arrived at Branxholm and our accomodation for the next two nights at the Tin Dragon Trail Cottages, situated along the lovely Ringarooma River.
With Graham as guide, Kate and I had a first hand experience of the life of a Chinese Tin Miner, walking the Henry Ah Ping lease which was discovered on the Trail Cottage lands, by Graham, after he bought the property.
Over 100 years ago, the water race built with pick and shovel, cleared the land to bring water to the mine.
Today, the lush vegetation of manferns, myrtles & sasafras has reestablished itself. Steel silhouettes are scattered along the water race walk depicting the Chinese miners.
We walked into this beautiful glade. An oasis of calm and cool. The vegetation lush. And, then Graham informed us we were in the mine. As far as I could see, 100 years ago this would have been cleared. Just dusty soil in dry weather and mud in the wet. Isolated. … The bollard has a Chinese inscription which reads, ‘when you put yourself in another’s position, your wisdom reveals’
Onward east Kate and I went, with our next stop at Derby and the Tin Dragon Interpretation Centre. Here, I became aware of an event of disaster proportions in the Tasmanian Tin mining history. In 1929, after days of restless rain, the Briseis Dam, the water supply for the extensive mining in the area, burst. The water roared down the valley taking all in its path. Derby, just survived, being built up higher along the river. People lost their lives. Tin mining ceased for a time and never really recovered. Dreams were crushed.
A 15 meter screen at the centre tells in film, the dam disaster story ‘A billion litres of water and nowhere to go’, and in the floor, lit up after the screening are found personal items of some of the brave people who risked life to save others.
Leaving the screening room, Kate and I entered a most beautiful room. The horror of the dam disaster suddenly became another oasis of calm. A room with highly polished timber floors that gleaned in the light and echoed Kate’s foot falls.
Kate, in what I called the ‘ying & yang’ room. The earthy timber floor connecting two cultural story telling modes: pictures on one wall with etched glass with Chinese characters on the opposite wall.
Leaving the town of Derby we drove up into the surrounding hills, to see the path the water bursting from the dam would have taken. … Over 100 years changes much. Now, the Blue Derby Trails have mountain bikes following the path a long ago Chinese miner would have trod.
Continuing our journey east, Kate and I drove through Moorina, Weldborough and the Blue Tier Forest. Each had a connection to tin mining, today, they are almost ghost towns and places. Moorina cemetery is the place of rest of so many with tomb stones dating back over 100 years. In one corner, stands a Chinese funeral prayer burner. We stopped at Weldborough pub for our lunch. There, almost incongruously, through a doorway from the bar, is a room decorated with Chinese lanterns and displaying some long ago items that would have been the property of a Chinese miner.
The Blue Tier forest was another surprise visit that I wasn’t expecting. With rainforest echoing back to Gondwana the area is abundant with water, a necessary for mining, and some of the tallest and biggest trees I’ve ever come across.
We finished the Trail of the Tin Dragon at its most easterly point, St Helens. St Helens is where the Chinese miner would have stepped foot on Tasmanian soil after a lengthy sea voyage. I think they might have thought they had come to paradise.
We ended our Tin Dragon adventure with a visit to St Helens History & Visitor Centre.
The centre also has a film depicting the Tin Dragon Tail. It’s in the genre of fantasy. A mythical dragon and a Chinese tin miner and the long held hopes and dreams for a better life.
As Kate and I headed home back to Hobart, I contemplated the extradionary story we had experienced in our discovery of the Tin Dragon. Just as the bollard in the glade at Branxholm encouraged the learning of wisdom entailed walking in another’s shoes, we walked the remaining trail through forests, beaches and listened to the story that remained in artefacts, film and an amazing experience to discover @tasmania