We stayed in a B&B overnight in Devonport and our day’s destination was Cradle Mountain National Park. We packed up and decided to take the opportunity to have a look at the town’s coastal foreshore as well as the mouth of the Mersey River before heading south west to Cradle Mountain. Our overnight stay was close to the centre of the city area so we got ourselves down to Formby Rd and headed north along the river, passing the terminal where the car ferry berths after crossing Bass Strait from Melbourne. The Devonport Cycle and Walking Track starts on the city side of the Mersey River almost opposite the Ferry Terminal. It takes walkers and bikers all the way to the headland on Bass Strait and then turns left along the coast and finishes at the Mersey Bluff Park. We decided to follow the same route but pulled over earlier at the small park near the rocky head land of the river.
From this park and leading out over the rocks on Aikenhead Point (see ‘U’ Red star on map above) was a viewing platform that led out to a huge statue (750kg) installed here in 2009. At the time of its construction it was believed to be the state’s most expensive artwork. It is called the ‘Spirit of the Sea’ and was designed to represent the power and fascination of the ocean.
After checking out what looked like a sculpture of Neptune supported by an immense structure to hold it in place, we returned to our car and continued along Bluff Road. This took us to the car-park in front of the Devonport Surf Club. Our aim was to walk out along the pathway that led to the Mersey Bluff Lighthouse. Sharing this pathway was a group of senior students from a local high school, apparently on some form of excursion. I guessed it must have been a geology or marine studies excursion but I was proven wrong later on in the walk when we spotted them again.
Our path took us out to the headland and the ocean-facing pathway that ran along the Bluff. It was here that we encountered the Dolemite boulders that had we had become so familiar with on the east coast of Tasmania with their decorations of orange lichen. It was also here that we discovered what excursion those senior students were engaged in; a fishing excursion, back on the headland of the Mersey River.
It was also on this Bluff walk that we encountered two memorials to young people who had died attempting to rescue other young people who had got into trouble swimming off the small rocky islands shown below. We also spotted a lone seal in the water around ‘The Hat’, shown in the image on the right.
From the rocky foreshore, the pathway took us up steps to our destination, the Mersey Bluff lighthouse. Like so many other towns along this northern coast of Tasmania, the citizens of this town in the 19th century were dependent on ships supplying them with goods entering through the local river mouth; thus they were in great need of a lighthouse which was eventually constructed in 1889.
The Bluff area of Devonport is also a significant area to local aboriginal people. Interesting evidence of this is the petroglyphs, rock carvings, on the rocks on this promontory; an example can be seen in the image above right. This significance led to the Tiagarra Aboriginal Cultural Centre and Museum being built on the bluff in 1976. There is a lot of interesting material in this museum but it has struggled with its operation for the last 50 years. It is currently open by appointment for school and group tours. Below are two examples of items on show in this centre. One is an excellent recreation of what Tasmania would have looked like during the last Ice age before the land bridge disappeared about 8000 years ago with the rising sea-waters. The other is a painting depicting life amongst Tasmanian aborigines before the arrival of Europeans.
We had a great walk around the Bluff area of Devonport before we realised it was time to get started on our main drive of the day, to the south west to Cradle Mountain. We had already decided that a late morning tea would be necessary, so we decided it would be at Sheffield, particularly as we had heard the murals of this town were well worth a look.
One of the sad aspects of the passing of time is that changes in economic realities, developing technologies and people and infrastructure growing old is that the small country towns of Australia begin to lose the opportunities to provide job opportunities for their citizens. Sheffield was settled in 1859 and its local economy depended on Dairy farming and lamb/beef production. In the 1970s it had a dramatic economic growth with the building of dams in the area for the provision of hydro power in Tasmania. The downside of this was once it was finished, the population declined and the rural industries weren’t sufficient to retain the population. A local group decided that tourism was one answer to this problem and decided that reinventing Sheffield as a ‘Town of Murals’ was the answer and in 1986, the first mural was painted. Since then over 60 murals have been completed depicting the history and local scenery of the district.
After a great morning tea, we hit the streets of Sheffield to check out the murals. The small red circles on the map of Sheffield above give you an idea of the number of murals to be viewed around town.
The town is a great place for photos with tourists able to insert themselves seamlessly into unfamiliar landscapes. The character on the right in the mural above is not usually to be found in this image of a local writer’s house where the indigenous animals are making themselves very much at home. The small girl peeping through the window in the mural below left is a permanent part of the image.
One of the industries that hasn’t been abandoned in the town of Sheffield is the railway facilities. The station itself and all the surrounding railway infrastructure has been beautifully maintained and rust and encroaching weeds have been kept at bay. It has been recreated as a railway museum as well as a destination for train enthusiasts who are particularly invited once a year for a big festival dedicated to old steam train technology.
The pink blossom image below is not a mural, it is a beautiful row of trees in full bloom on the road opposite the towns old railway station.
Sheffield is a great place to stop and inspect how one young town was determined not to become a ghost town; its young people haven’t abandoned the home town to escape to jobs in the cities.
It was now time to continue our day’s journey to Cradle Mountain where no doubt many of Sheffield’s visitors were also heading.