Last month we recognised that our majestic Mt Roland has a ‘wow factor’ – a certain charm that captivates its residents. This month we discover the impact of our beloved mountain extends far beyond our own community. Mt Roland is constantly featured in travel magazines, and pictures and paintings of it hang conspicuously in scores of places overseas. Within Australia, the advertising industry has used our magnificent mountain as background scenery to promote such significant national products as Subaru cars, Heinz Birds Eye peas, and R M Williams country clothing. On our supermarket shelves, the Mt Roland brand name sells our local cheese, eggs, bread, bush pepper, hazelnuts and honey, while as an emblem it forms part of the logos of the Sheffield School and the Kentish Council. Such is its pulling power that some 200,000 visitors come to Kentish annually. How ironic that the mountain’s first name was Rolland’s Repulse! So, let’s continue looking at how we locals have used this humongous resource in our midst.

The first settlers to climb into the foothills of Mt Roland were timber cutters, splitting shingles for export to Melbourne. Then when gold was discovered locally in the Minnow River, prospectors began decades of scouring our mountain for minerals. Before long the thick-skinned kangaroos, wallabies and possums that thrived on the button-grass plateau atop of Roland were discovered and hunting became of feature of Mt Roland’s history for well over 100 years. Devoid of thick bush, this exposed plateau was ideal terrain for shooting parties using dogs to round up roos, also trapping and snaring wallabies It was said early Claude Road families like the Elliotts, Febeys, Georges, McCoys, Perkins and Steers could climb Mt Roland blindfolded. It is not known when sheep were first driven up on the plateau, but between 1930 and the mid-1960s, the government leased 1000 acres of Crown land on top of Mt Roland to various local farmers for summer grazing.

Artistic Playground
Mt Roland’s rugged features provide stunning subject matter for all kinds of creative projects. In Sept 1877, Atkinson’s auction mart in Latrobe advertised sketches and paintings of Mt Roland by Dr Sydney Smythe, Henry Phillips, Geo Atkinson of Latrobe, and ten oil paintings by John Moore of Nook. One painting was titled ‘Her Majesty—Mt Roland’. In 1902, Tasmanian author and artist Miss Marie Bjelke-Petersen’s paintings included ‘Roland in Tears’ and ‘Roland Kissed by the Sun’. Our mountain has always featured prominently in local art exhibitions, with framed paintings, photographs and postcards of Mt Roland readily available in shops and online.

The first aerial pictures of Mt Roland were taken from a tiger moth for the Examiner newspaper on 3 August 1931. Internationally acclaimed local photographer Andrew Thomas’s new commemorative book Roland (2023) contains superb photos of our mountain, while stories of pioneering bush life in the vicinity of Mt Roland are found in my book God was Their Rock (1974) and Annette Higgs’s novel On a Bright Hillside in Paradise (2023). At least two Australian films revel in the rugged splendour of Mt Roland. The first is the drama The Hunter (2011), telling of the search to find the last Tasmanian tiger. The second is the romantic comedy Goddess (2013), where lead actor Laura Kelly appears in front of Mt Roland singing in a scene reminiscent of the Sound of Music.

The name Roland became a popular choice for identifying local places or organisations. Sheffield’s first town hall was Roland Hall (1888), then came Roland Cricket Ass (1895), Roland Football Assoc (1904), Roland Brass Band (1907), new Roland Ward (1908), Roland township (1917), Roland Masonic Lodge (1921) and Roland Boys’ Home (1951), plus Roland Court subdivision (1961) and assorted homestead names such as Roland View and Roland Vale, etc. Hugh Powell‘s champion stud stallion was named Lord Roland.

Activities Around the Mountain
Following the 4th annual conference in the Kentishbury Gospel Hall, one of the guest speakers Harrison Ord of Melbourne stated his desire to climb Mt Roland. On 12 Jan 1879, 41 men and 1 woman climbed up the front face of the mountain, ate their lunches, sang a hymn and offered a prayer, before returning from their six-hour adventure. In recent years, the Tasmania Parks & Wildlife Service and the Kentish Council have done much to develop the popularity of walking and trekking on Mt Roland. An enthusiastic local group known as Kentish Walks has also helped. The annual Triple Top Mountain Race that traverses Mt Claude, Mt Vandyke and Mt Roland was the brainchild of Sheffield’s veterinarian Ian Anderson. Originally organised by the Kentish Lions Club, this gruelling 17.8-kilometre race was first run in 1991. It now attracts hundreds of runners from all over the state and mainland. Rock climbing & abseiling on Mt Roland were pioneered by Steve Brown, John Wood, John Richardson & Tony McKenny in Feb 1977. Several different rock climbs up Rysavy Ridge beneath the Pinnacle can be made at the western end of the mountain. Flying & gliding are undertaken by Simon Hackett and others from his private 1.3km grass airstrip on his property ‘The Vale’ at Claude Road. Simon flies gliders, including an electric self-launching glider, up and around the mountain and hosts occasional Devonport Aero Club outings. His airstrip is made available for fire-fighting aircraft and for other emergencies.
The annual Gowrie Park Rodeo held in March offers a full rodeo program of bull rides, bronco rides, barrel racing, steer wrestling and roping. The worst hazard in the 3-day 1200-mile Ampol Round Tasmania Car Rally held in mid-winter 1959 was the ‘Mt Roland horror section’. From Liena climbing up the steep rough tracks around the southern and western side of Mt Roland, saw more than a dozen cars come to grief within 400 yards. In April 2022 Targa Tasmania cancelled their annual car rally following two fatalities on this same treacherous section.

Misadventures & Tragedies. Before walking tracks were well-marked, it was easy to become lost on Mt Roland. Particularly when choosing the right gully to descend to the bottom, as many gullies closest to the Pinnacle only lead down onto the tops of precipices. This was the experience of Surveyor Calder in 1845. Four times his small party descended gullies for 1000ft only to find themselves stranded on top of sheer cliffs When clouds cover the mountain, even expert bushmen can become disorientated in the dense fog. This occurred to four Claude Road youths shooting on the mountain in 1907 when fog separated them. Two got down via O’Neill’s Creek, but Thos Elliott (17) and Victor Hetherington (15) were lost for several days. Recently, a couple planning to climb up the front track of Mt Roland and descend the back track left one car in O’Neill’s Creek carpark and drove their other vehicle up King’s Rd to commence their climb. Seven hours later, they arrived exhausted at their locked car at O’Neill’s Creek, only to discover its key was in their other vehicle parked up King’s Rd.

A weather-beaten human skull was found on Bartholomew Thomas’s bush selection on the foothills of Mt Roland in Oct 1908. More recently, in June 2007, the body of a missing Sheffield man was found in a Mt Roland cave. On 16 April 1952, Brian Shorey (24) of West Kentish was killed when the tiger moth he was in crashed at Claude Road, and in Oct 2001 a pilot flying a light plane was killed when it hit the front of the mountain. Upon arriving at the top of the mountain in Oct 2007, a 57-year-old woman reached into her haversack for a drink of water. By mistake, she drank from a bottle of lighter fluid. After dialling 000, air ambulance paramedics picked her up and delivered her to the Mersey hospital. In Feb 2009, a helicopter was called to remove local man Barry Poulton (56) who died climbing up the mountain’s front track. On 11 Feb 2015, a brutal murder occurred just 200 metres from the summit of Mt Roland: a senior South Australian health official (63) viciously attacked his 44-year-old wife with a rock before leaving her to die. Four months later, the accused official committed suicide in the Hobart jail. Closing this section on a more positive note, when my son Tim Dyer suffered a cardia arrest at Bruce French’s shack, high on the mountain in Nov 2018, it was only the French family’s immediate commencement of CPR and the arrival of the Sheffield ambulance within 6 minutes that saved his life.

Environmental Preservation. In Dec 2000, a 7600-hectare area incorporating Mt Roland, Mt Vandyke and Mt Claude was officially gazetted as the Mt Roland Regional Reserve and brought under the Parks & Wildlife Service to develop a management plan. New walking tracks were made, including the O’Neill Nature Trail, and new permanent signage was erected on all Mt Roland tracks. In 2022, Mt Roland Land Care became the new name for the old Mt Roland Rivercare Catchment group formed in 1999. Over the years, its dedicated members have completed a huge amount of impressive rehabilitation work in creeks and rivers and are currently planting out many thousands of trees. Last October they won the 2023 Tasmanian Landcare Group Award.

On Top of Mt Roland
The ultimate unforgettable ‘wow’ experience is to stand on the top of Mt Roland embracing its magnificent panoramic views of the northern half of our island. With increasing numbers of us older people wanting to enjoy this experience in later life, it seems discriminatory that this unique privilege continues to be confined to the minority of people fit enough to make the gruelling four/six-hour trek to the top and back. Especially since our mountain is so uniquely designed that around on its hidden western end a well-planned, environmentally sensitive vehicular or cableway access to the top could be carefully constructed and remain totally concealed from the magnificent iconic views of its front-face.

When a motor road to the top of Mt Roland was first proposed back in Jan 1937, it generated lots of support. The state government surveyed a 4½ mile (7.2km) road up through the saddle between Mt Vandyke and Mt Roland, and reported no great difficulties. It would cost about £80 a chain and its benefits would be second only to the road up Mt Wellington. But WW2 intervened. After the war, agitation to build the road returned, and in April 1946 the government reassured the Kentish Council that it would be constructed as soon as the enormous backlog of essential road work permitted. In Sept 1949 the Kentish Council unsuccessfully suggested the government bring out 400 immigrants to Gowrie Park to get the job done. By the 1950s, Kentish’s dynamic leader councillor Ray Duff took up the vision and had five parliamentarians inspect the proposed road in Oct 1958. They considered it an ideal route, completely hidden when viewed from most surrounding districts. After a helicopter flight from Sheffield to the summit, Premier Eric Reece told the Kentish council, “The government is with you in this proposition. It has all the elements of a good investment for Tasmania.” Reece indicated he would personally make building this road his hobby horse. But, sadly, the much-anticipated road up Mt Roland was hijacked once again. This time, the fast-growing Northern Tas Alpine Club, based in Launceston, began pushing hard to have a road built up to the snowfields of Ben Lomond. The club’s Launceston backers had considerable clout in Hobart, and eventually the government agreed to build the long, expensive, zigzagging road to the top of Ben Lomond instead.

Years later, in 1999, several Kentish councillors with state representatives again flew by helicopter to the top to assess the tourist potential of Mt Roland. This time, the Tas Institute for Regional Development reported that a cableway on the mountain would “likely deliver considerable benefit to the Kentish municipality, and the cable car would appeal to people who cannot hike or climb to the summit.” In 2008, the late Brian Inder of Tasmazia with John Sinclair and Justin Carman of Silver Ridge Retreat formed the Mt Roland Cableway Pty Ltd, investing thousands of dollars in advancing this project. When a public meeting was held in the Sheffield Town Hall in Sept 2018, opinions were divided. Those disagreeing formed a Mt Roland Preservation Society. Des Brown later cited the success of the award-winning Skyrail Cableway in Cairns that skims harmlessly above the rainforests and had recently been voted Australia’s best major tourist attraction. In Mar 2019, the state government gave the local Cableway Co. the green light to commence a lease and licence negotiations. But shortly afterwards, the global COVID-19 pandemic shut down the nation’s entire tourism industry. After two long years of uncertainty, on 2 Nov 2021 Justin Carman announced that their Mt Roland Cable Car project has been discontinued for the time being.

COVID-19 certainly did disrupt our local economy. Most of our annual Kentish festivals closed, only returning last year – some in new formats. Last November, the Mt Roland Folk Festival made a successful return to Sheffield. Our annual Muralfests and Steamfests are now the biggest events of their kind in Australia. Wilder Tasmania now regularly provides popular musical events at Gowrie Park. Co-owners of Eagle Nest Retreats, Des Brown and his daughter Sheree Kent frequently make the national finals for award-winning accommodation and wedding venues. So, concluding our review of how we have utilised the robust resources of our beloved Mt Roland, we need only cite the comments of one visitor: “What a magnificent place! It’s overwhelming driving around out here; it’s just so beautiful. Mount Roland is such a sensory overload.”