Ten million years ago, this valley was formed by volcanic and glacial forces.
A long time after that, humans came to the island. They were largely nomadic societies, and certainly passed through the Tamar Valley, although the evidence of what they did for their thousands of years here – what they witnessed of climatic change, how their beliefs adapted to the world changing around them – is sadly missing.
English explorers George Bass and Matthew Flinders came through the Bass Strait in 1798, and in 1805, the recently-created British settlements of George Town and York Town were moved down the river to Launceston. One of the island’s chief surveyors, George Prideaux Harris, reckoned it was “the finest country in the world, as beautiful a country in appearance as I ever saw.”
Two hundred years later, there are plenty of people in the town of Launceston who would agree. Like every settlement in Tasmania, it hasn’t had an easy run. After a boom in 1850, the economy here has endured prolonged depressions. And with that comes crime, or lack of educational opportunities, or political corruption. Not a few people who live in Launceston today think it’s buggered, as if the emptying of shopfronts is a new thing for us.
But you don’t have to look very far to find reasons to feel lucky. Many of us do.
Some of our community go further. There are a rare few who put in hard yards to make this place even better, to fill our town with energy and optimism, to wake us up to the beauty around us.
Summer’s coming, and I’ll be spending much of it in a house at the end of a street next to the bushland around the Cataract Gorge, where black cockatoos revel in the clear light, above the milky gums and blossoming wattles; at a lower level, fairy-wrens and bandicoots and snakes sneak between twigs and bushes.
There was a bloke who used to live in the same neighbourhood who won’t be any more. The whole town will miss him dearly. One of our historians writes that here on the island we are “part of dense networks of kinship and friendship” and that means you sorely notice when someone disappears. Things are deeply connected here, from the forces of 10 million years ago to the miserable news of Monday night.
It could be that the bloke we lost understood this better than most of us.
It might take a while, but I hope one day a local play or a bike ride or a walk in the bush will remind us each that we are nearer to the things we miss than we often realise, that all the memories of all the losses in all our lives are still with us, and they are in the cockatoos’ screeching and the snake’s quick shadow and the dark water in the river basin and the laughter at the end of a shaggy-dog story told by an old mate. It’s not the same. But it’s something.
Yes, these are dense networks indeed; yes, this place is as beautiful as I ever saw.
Another memoriam, on a cliff looking over the Cataract Gorge.
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