Today we take a boat trip up the Arthur River, into the Tarkine rainforest. The Tarkine is a cause celebre for Tasmanian conservationists, who are determined to see it protected. It is named after the local tribe of aborigines who lived in the area at the time of the first European explorers, and is now said to be the most pristine example of rainforest left in Tassie. The Arthur is one of Tasmania’s seven major rivers, and is unique because it’s the only one that has been neither logged nor dammed. Conservationists want to keep it that way.
To start our river cruise we must drive for nearly an hour from Stanley to the remote western corner of Tassie, which officially has the cleanest air of any settlement in the world (the prevailing wind is westerly, so air pollution would have to come from Argentina, half way around the globe). As we approach the town of Arthur River we start to pick up signs telling us we are in Tasmanian Devil country, where un-diseased animals still roam free. We are therefore urged to drive with particular care. However the Devils are nocturnal and will be safely tucked up in bed on this cool November morning.
We press on, and reach the wharf ahead of schedule. The boat captain is still setting up so he suggests we nip along the road to the Edge of the World. If you were to sail due west from this rocky coastal promontory you would not hit land again until you reached Chile. It is a lonely place today, bleak and cold in a buffeting wind.
The Edge of the World is also the mouth of the Arthur River, and as we look at the shoreline we see a tangle of logs and branches, the bleached bones of trees torn from the ground and washed downriver in the terrible storms that hit Tassie a few months ago. The locals say they’ve never seen such carnage, so many skeletons on the beach.
This is a dark, brooding, timeless place. On a small stone cairn is a poem by Brian Inder, who was plainly inspired by the Edge of the World. The poem, which we later discover is also reproduced in the boat taking us up the Arthur River, reads as follows:
I cast my pebble onto the shore of Eternity
To be washed by the Ocean of Time
It has shape, form and substance.
It is me
One day I will be no more
But my pebble will remain here
On the shore of Eternity
Mute witness for the aeons
That today I came and stood
At the edge of the world.
We return to the boat and board with a dozen or so other people, and soon we are cruising upriver.
We are being watched. White-bellied Sea Eagles know that a couple of dead fish will be tossed into the river from this boat to entice them down. One plays his part to perfection, swooping down from his vantage point high in the trees, grabbing a fish from the water with sharp talons and flying off triumphantly with his trophy. Cameras click appreciatively.
The eagle’s mate however is nowhere to be seen, so the fish is retrieved in a net and will be offered up again when we return downriver a few hours from now.
We continue to head upriver at a leisurely pace, the captain at the intercom telling us about the luxuriant vegetation all around us, and sharing stories of the men who lived, and loved and died on the river in the old days.
After a couple of hours we tie up at Turk’s landing, Turk being one of those old-timers who called this place home. The captain takes us on a short guided walk through a section of rainforest, naming and explaining the various species of tree. Meanwhile the other two crew members prepare a barbecue in a small clearing.
While we eat a pademelon hangs around, begging pieces of lettuce and other scraps.
She has a joey in her pouch, though he mostly keeps his head down and is difficult to see. Just occasionally we catch a glimpse:
Her older son also makes himself known. He’s left the pouch now and should be away by himself, making his own way in the world. But he knows a good thing when he sees one, and tourists with lettuce to spare fall into the category so he stays around looking hopeful and is rewarded for his cheek.
All too soon the barbecue is over, the pademelons disappear into the undergrowth and we must start on the return trip, immersing ourselves once again in the utter peace and tranquillity of the Tarkine rainforest.