Our Mountainside Pioneers (5)

About 1887, James Reed purchased 100 acres of flat bushland at the base of the three mountains – Roland, Van Dyke, and Claude. Here he built his homestead and a second building known as Reed’s Accommodation House that provided overnight stays for passing prospectors and miners. Initially this small area was known as Reeds, but after young Wm Henry extended his Gowrie farm up-river to Reed’s property, it became part of ‘Gowrie’. Today part of Reed’s original property has become the Gowrie Park recreation grounds.

The families of James & Mary (Harris) Reed (13 chn) along with the Gowrie farm’s first manager James & Marie Barker had both lived close to the original Dasher River settlement, where they were founding members and trustees of the Claude Road Methodist Church. Barker gave the land and Reed became SS Superintendent for the first 10 years. In 1904 Reed moved his sawmill from Claude Road to his property at Gowrie Park. Three of the Reed children were named after the surrounding mountains – two boys were Roland & Claude, while one girl had Van Dyke as her middle name. Reed’s grown sons helped him with his contract to cart cream from Gowrie farm to the Sheffield Butter Factory. Following Mary Reed’s death, in July 1927 James sold out to Wm & Phyllis McCoy.

Duncan Loane purchased three blocks between Henry’s Gowrie farm and Reed’s property. Most of Loane’s land was on the western side of the road, except for the NE corner of one block (now Bakes sawmill). Near the Dasher River, Loane built a cottage for his manager Bill Stephens (Gordon Stephens’ father), opened another sawmill, and began dairying, but later changed to grazing. The year 1908 was a bad winter for stock, with Loane losing 14 cattle. Duncan Loane was Devonport branch manager of A G Webster & Sons until 1909, when he opened his own farm machinery company. Duncan had an old bachelor uncle Alexander Loane, who used Duncan’s property as his base camp for gold prospecting. Once, he arrived with a new pair of boots which he had greased well with mutton fat. During the night, some Tasmanian devils, attracted by the smell of fat, pulled his boots out of the tent and with their sharp teeth and powerful jaws ripped them to pieces. In the 1930s depression, Loane was forced to sell all his Gowrie properties to well-known cattle breeder Bertie T. Sadler of Rannoch, East Devonport. Les Cox bought his sawmill. Duncan Loane died in 1936 and his company dissolved in 1981.

Sadler leased his property to Wm & Lily Bullock (4 chn) who had come from Lincolnshire, England after WW1. William took a leading part in Gowrie activities. Tragically, in February 1938, their son Raymond (16), out with a party of shooters, fatally shot himself while climbing over a slippery log. They carried him two miles down to the road and drove him to his home, where he died just as Dr Firth arrived. The Bullock family eventually moved to East Devonport.

Gowrie’s 2nd school

After the school fire at Tea Tree Rd, a new school was opened on 15 August 1934, half a mile away at Gowrie Park. The contractor was Jock McCoy, who built from timber given by Tom Butler. The new head teacher was Miss M. Osborne, followed by Miss May Davies. Jack Dawson recalled how the boys would chase the girls with goannas and when they took refuge in the out-door dunnies, the goannas would be shoved under the door. He also related how in class the teacher would say, “Jack, come out onto the porch, I’ve got something to show you”. Then she produced a long cane and would say: “This is my persuader!”. This school closed at the end of 1941. The following year the children were bussed into the new Sheffield Area School.

O’Neills Road & Mt Roland Track

The pioneer settlers in the vicinity of O’Neills Road were mostly interrelated families of Steers, O’Neills, Pointons, Pinners, and McCoys. John & Cordelia Steers ended their days there, with sons John W & Sarah (Pointon) Steers and Wm (Bill) & Linda (Blair) Steers nearby. Bill and eldest son Basil Steers would spend each winter hunting and trapping in the frozen highlands, leading to Basil later becoming the well-known advocate of the Mountain Huts Preservation Soc. In 1957 Henry Steers began chopping at carnivals and shows and became top tree-faller on the NW Coast. He also built several significant log buildings and was one of the last bullockies to demonstrate at agricultural shows. Cyril O’Neill, like Henry Steers, was one of the last farmers to tie their trouser legs with ‘ben-bowie-yangs.’ While Cyril stored his uncashed pension cheques in several hollow logs on their property, his brother Reg O’Neill, a Burma Railway survivor, will be remembered by Reggie’s Falls further up the mountain.

Before 1880 the early settlers had discovered this easier route to the summit of Mt Roland. The huge plateau of open scrub country on top abounded with kangaroos and wallabies with thicker, furry skins. It was ideal country for shooting parties, using dogs to round them up. Hunting was a feature of Mt Roland’s history for over 100 years and a vital supplement to income of local settlers. Also, the Government leased 1000 acres up there for sheep grazing to A.R. Northrup from 1932, H. McCoy from 1947, H.T. Wootton and J.H. Davies from 1955, and others – including Frank Harvey. This track leading off O’Neill’s Rd is now the most popular route to the top, with veteran climber Neville Badcock (90) of Moriarty reaching the summit again in November 2020.

In the 1930s, a push to build a tourist motor road to the top of Mt Roland had wide appeal but delayed during WW2. Around 1947/8 a renewed attempt was made to build it and the Government surveyed a 4½ mile route to the top, which ‘presented no real difficulties’. The estimated cost for a 12 feet wide road was £55,000. Following an inspection of the route by five Parliamentarians, Premier Eric Reece told Kentish Council: ‘We are in this proposition with you. I will make this my personal hobby horse until we get it done. Hopefully, we will start first stage next year’. But the project was sabotaged again. Powerful Launceston lobbyists, backing the Northern Alpine Club, persuaded the Government to build a very expensive, long, steep zigzag road to the top of Ben Lomond instead.

War Time Evacuation Camp

During World War II, at the height of the threat of a Japanese invasion of Australia in 1942, the Government ordered the erection of large huts inland for the possible evacuation of women and children from our coastal towns. Gowrie, at the foot of three mountains, was selected. The Kentish Municipality formed a local committee, headed up by L W Tankard, manager of River Don Trading Co, Sheffield, to get the job done quickly. Ten long huts, each capable of accommodating 60 people, were erected from green timber. Impossible to obtain galvanized roofing iron, wooden shingles were supplied by the Dove sawmill. Fortunately, the huts, which soon warped badly, were never needed for evacuation purposes, but became useful for School cadet camps. In April 1944, 180 high school boys (110 from Devonport, 70 from Burnie) arrived for a weeklong camp. Although aged only 14 -16 each of them was issued with a heavy .303 rifle, plus one Bren gun and one Owen sub-machine gun for their group. They were constantly marched up and down O’Neills Rd and along the Claude Rd, where at night their hob-nailed boots made sparks on the metal roads. The four combat training films shown were: Platoon Flanking Attack,  Shoot to Kill,  House to House Fighting, and Through the Centre.

1944 Creating Gowrie Park Reserve

After the threat of invasion had passed, this 30-acre evacuation centre was invested with the Kentish Council on 17 Nov 1944 as a new recreational reserve with the name ‘Gowrie Park’ used for the first time. With its unique mountain scenery, the site soon became a popular location for social, school, church, sporting, and military groups. Sheffield residents Rev T Belot and Frank Slater used it to pioneer Baptist Camps in Tasmania. The Anglican Church held its first big CMBS camp there in Jan 1949. In June 1953, the Army conducted its first weekend bivouac at Gowrie Park, arriving with a convoy of 10 army vehicles – comprising 3-ton trucks, jeeps, an ambulance, and a water-truck. Blank cartridges were used for mock battles. Between 1954-57, Devonport Walking Club leased a hut to cut tracks to various scenic spots.

At the entrance to Gowrie Park, about 1956, Jack and Dorothy Deering purchased blocks on both sides of the main road and leased some of the Kentish Council’s reserve land. Jack Deering had a bakery business in Devonport but came up most weekends to stay in their small cottage. About 1967, after Jack went to work for the Hydro, they built a new brick house. Later this farm was purchased by Brian and Marlene Bakes. In 1983 their son Glen Bakes began cutting and selling timber in a small way in their backyard. Glen’s business just grew and grew until he was able to buy his parents’ property and erect a modern sawmill. Today Bakes Sawmill employs 5 employees and a couple of casuals.

1964 Construction of Hydro Village & Administration Offices

The Mersey-Forth HEC Power Development Scheme was granted Parliamentary approval in 1963 to build three major diversion tunnels and seven big dams with seven power stations at Rowallan, Lemonthyme, Devil’s Gate, Wilmot, Cethana, Paloona, and Fisher. By Jan 1964 the village at Gowrie Park began to take shape; its streets named after Tasmanian mountains. People began arriving later that year and gradually swelled to about 3000 residents in 420 houses and single men’s huts.

A large store was established in 1964, managed by Barry M’Clenaghan. A new Gowrie Park School opened on 25 May 1964 with 9 children. Just 4 years later it had become the largest primary school in Tasmania, with nearly 400 children speaking 23 languages. Other new buildings included a library, cinema room, and indoor bowls area. The old school building built in 1934 became a community hall. The old evacuation camp near O’Neills Creek was made into a sports oval and tennis courts for the Village. On 22 May 1967 well-known Devonport mayor, Gordon Girdlestone (58), one of the contractors transporting hydro houses from other parts of the State, was tragically crushed to death while unloading a house at Gowrie Park. The following year, 1968, four fatal accidents occurred in the Forth Valley during clearing and construction work: 15th Jan John Swan, 17th Jan Ron Sherriff, 9th April Graeme Meade, and 18th Oct Ivan Banukcic.  Construction work peaked in 1969 with about 2000 employees and completed by 1973 for a cost of $104 million.

As employees moved on, their Hydro houses were sold off for between $900-$1600 each. The old 1934 school, used as a community hall, ended up at South Spreyton as Jack Parsons’ shearing shed. The Bookmaker’s Club became an extension on the Port Sorell Gospel Chapel (now renamed Lighthouse Christian Fellowship) in Meredith St. For a while, the huge Maintenance Buildings housed a museum of Hydro history, but this is now in the Sheffield Museum. A long mural, depicting the story of the Mersey-Forth Hydro Development Scheme, remains along the side of these sheds.

Post HEC – The Black Stump Tourist Centre

After the Hydro Village closed, the Kentish Council redeveloped part of it back into public recreational grounds, with the local Apex club creating an attractive family picnic area.

Later it became the home of the Kentish Polocrosse Club and the Rodeo grounds.

In Nov 1975, legendary bushman Harold Riley created an old-style pioneer farm complex within the old Hydro village as a tourist attraction. Harold demonstrated a variety of old bush and blacksmithing skills with his bullock team, draft-horses, and furnace. In 1983 he and Henry Steers built a huge, rustic log cabin where Harold ran his popular shows for over a decade to thousands of school children. Harold Riley sold his business enterprise in 1990 to Charlotte King, who also purchased some adjacent accommodation cabins from the Dept of Sport & Recreation. Charlotte named her restaurant Weindorfer’s Great Food and Real Coffee, where she and Mike Hancock served meals from morning to midnight. They also introduced Baroque music afternoons as well as expanded the accommodation venue into the Gowrie Park Wilderness Village. Following a car accident involving her family, Charlotte sold out in 2009 to Lloyd & Lucy Meakin.

From Norfolk Island, the Meakins also invested heavily in upgrading both the restaurant, which they renamed The Old Black Stump, and the accommodation cabins. Like Charlotte, they continued to cater for everybody, from casual meals to wedding receptions. As the Gowrie Park Wilderness Village was on a separate title, Lloyd & Lucy sold it off in 2016. Today the present owners Geoff & Shelley offer a variety of budget accommodation including wilderness cabins, camping & caravan sites, backpackers and bunkhouse. In 2018 the Meakins further subdivided by selling The Old Black Stump restaurant to top Sydney music producer Matt Fell and his American-born vocalist wife, Amber Rae Slade, who plan to relocate to Gowrie Park down the track and build their own recording studio. Meanwhile, since January 2019, Cornishman Guy Thompson and Brisbane-born wife Kate have leased The Old Black Stump Restaurant, which, since the post Covid-19 shut-down, is back serving hearty meals again.