All that remains… ruins on a Tasmanian mountainside
ALL THAT REMAINS is a bit of stone work where the house once was. And a few pieces of iron rusted by the decades since the fires of ’67 devoured the building and the rest of the farm — one of them looks like it was once part of a pot-bellied stove. The others — who knows? All I know is that they are the remnants of a life lived on this mountainside.
Wind the decades back and you can imagine McDermott sitting close to his pot-bellied stove here on the slopes of Mt Wellington as the winter winds funnell past outside, wafting their chill in through the gaps below doors and around windows.
I think people of the past were a hardier breed of human that we find today and I imagine McDermott was well inured to winter’s snows and winds. How often through his years here on the southern slope of the mountain did he look up to see the summit clad in a blanket of snow, how often did he feel the iciness of cold, katabatic air masses flowing down the mountain’s flanks from its chilly summit? And how often did he look up at the eucalypt forest on dry, hot summer days and think about the possibility of bushfire? And what did he think on that summer day of 1967 when he looked up to see the forest being devoured by the worst bushfire to ravish the mountain in living memory? The story is that he stayed behind to try to save his animals and his farm.
That was a summer of terror but in his years living on his farmlet in this clearing on the mountainside, what a view he had. You can imaging him opening the door and stepping outside to look out, his eyes drawn down the forested ridges that enclose this narrow valley to the distant grey waters of the Derwent.
Standing there by the stonework and the scattered debris that mild December day, just a brief stopover on our way from The Waterworks to Fern Tree, standing among the scattered debris of what had once been McDermott’s farm raised questions for me… question I couldn’t possibly answer… rhetorical questions, though maybe they are more than that because I do want to know how people lived where there are now only ruins or mere hints of their presence… who were they? How did they see and related to the bigger world beyond? How did they derive a living from their surroundings?
Some of these questions are unanswerable. They are merely wonderings. Here, where McDermott’s house once stood, I look down towards the Derwent at the sloping land that steepens, at the still-open, grassy site and the few shards of debris from a life lived, and I wonder what became of McDermott.
From McDermott’s farm the track takes an easy rising path through the eucalypt forest until it deposits you at a picnic shelter where it joins the Huon Road. Walk on, past the structures of The Waterworks, and you get to the small settlement on the shoulder of Mt Wellington, a village amid those forests so prone to bushfire, a village known as Fern Tree. And I wonder… did McDermott come this way too, all those decades ago?