Launceston’s Cataract Gorge and Basin are renowned for their rugged, natural beauty and it’s hard to believe you’re only 10 minutes drive from the CBD. Indeed, you could almost believe you’ve wandered into a lost wilderness…another dimension…not unlike wandering through a wardrobe into mythical Narnia.
It’s so easy to get caught up in “the bright side”. I wasn’t the first and I won’t be the last. As usual, I was too busy staring through my lens at heaven to even consider the destruction this river has wrought… or the heartache.
The earliest recorded visit to the Cataract Gorge was made by settler William Collins in 1804 onboard the ship: “Lady Nelson”. He was particularly impressed by the South Esk and its cataract and wrote: “Upon approaching the entrance I observed a large fall of water over rocks, nearly a quarter of a mile up a straight gully between perpendicular rocks about 150 ft high. The beauty of the scene is probably not surpassed in the world 1.”.
However, the South Esk River is like a mighty, slumbering ghost. Only last year, Launceston experienced devastating flooding when heavy rains sent the South Esk River into flood on multiple occasions. In June 2016, water per second (cumecs) reached over 2,000 cumecs 2. I don’t know how you translate that into something which makes sense. The best description I’ve found, other than photos and footage of the flooding, was a comment made by the State Emergency Service regional manager Mhairi Revie during the less devastating November floods:
“What they need to imagine is 24,000 Volkswagens worth of water passing them by every second,” she said. 3.
I sort of remembered these floods, but last year is a very long time ago for this bear of very little brain.
At this point, I should probably clarify that while I’m what Tasmanians call “a Mainlander”, I don’t consider myself a “tourist” as we travel around Tasmania. After all, I’ve been married to a Tasmanian for 15 years… even if I haven’t “heard it all”. Yet, despite this familiarity, I was still very much viewing and experiencing the Cataract Gorge and the South Esk River as an outsider…an acquaintance with only a passing knowledge of it’s hidden depths.
So, of course, while I’ve been getting my head around the dark side of the South Esk River, I’ve been consulting my in-house, “Tasmanian Consultant”. Although Geoff was born and grew up in Scottsdale, lived and studied in Launceston and has witnessed such floods. Indeed, he was photographed by the local newspaper wading through flood waters in high school, just around the corner from Parkside (see previous post).
While at university, the river flooded again and he noticed expert kayakers taking on the extremely dangerous floodwaters. Although Geoff used to kayak on white water rapids back then and played canoe polo, he wisely abstained from kayaking through the flood waters. However, he was watching the floods from a neighbouring rock and said he could feel that massive boulder vibrating from the sheer force of the flood waters. That’s pretty scary in itself and as I’ve looked at photos of the floods, I’ve been most amazed to see people standing so close to the edge. These flood waters are scary enough just watching the footage from the comfort of my couch.
So, once again I’ve been reminded how easy it is to gloss over history and forget the lessons of the past. The dangers of zooming in on beauty with its inherent dangers and forgetting to ask the questions or watch your back. This can be hard enough when you’re on your own turf. However, it is a serious consideration when you’re travelling and you lack that local knowledge. You only need to watch the news to see the truth of that.
However, that’s not to say we shouldn’t make hay while the sun shines.
Indeed, the day we were there, the weather was perfect…all blue skies. Hydrangeas and agapanthus were flowering and I was struck by the enormity of towering trees, soaring rock faces reminiscent of Easter Island and the joys of catching up with old friends while returning to the pathways of the past.
It was a beautiful day!