The Invisible Lake

The invisible lake. Derby, Tasmania 28th March 2015. After meeting the three toed, clipped-nail Bridge Platypus yesterday and engaging in Friday night’s pub conversations that brought forth a strong desire to see Briseis Hole, for that is indeed the unfortunate name given the mysterious and so far unseen lake in the heart of Derby, we did something else instead.

What we really need to do before I fall off any cliffs and bring myself and our house-sitting career to an abrupt end is have a look around the area. After the resurrection of our now very drivable Nissan Urvan camper, this sunny Saturday morning was perfect for filling the thermos by two (can you say thermoses?) with brewed coffee, pack a few sandwiches (not platypus) and hit the road.

There are surprisingly few roads in the north east corner of Tasmania and aside from the tracks and dirt roads leading into National Parks, there is almost nothing that brings one out to the most northerly point where I understand they are building a wind farm. We opted for a counter-clockwise circuit from which we could take the side roads down to the waters of Bass Strait named after the whaleboat man who skittled along the Victorian coast and whom we met in a previous article.

north east corner

We’d already gone a quarter of the way round before we came to the first village of any significance, Gladstone, which like other towns of the same name in other states, it’s named after the 4 times British Prime Minister of the late 1800’s and where, like Derby, tin was discovered.

The rather plain looking village survives now on a trickle of tourists and as a base for the adjoining Mt William National Park. We stopped to have a sandwich behind the community hall but saw no obvious way to contribute to the local economy.gladstone

The road was pleasant enough across the flat landscape but it was another 23 kilometres before we came to the first access road to Tasmania’s northern coastline and from there a further 7 ks to reach the water in a village called Tomahawk.

How it got its name is not stated in any signage or publication to our knowledge, certainly not from the Ringarooma River which springs into life 100 kilometre south in the high country of Mt Maurice, before passing through Derby at the half way mark and ending its journey here.

The approach to the village is, like the surrounding countryside, uninspiring, a bit ordinary actually and we could see no obvious reason for its existence, other than the shortage of access points to the sea which more than makes up for the first impression. There are a number of houses, probably more than the 110 residents can fill but this no doubt changes on weekend and holidays.

All the houses are set well back in the scrub and sand so serve only as a place to sleep as far as we could tell. Perhaps some had a view over the top of the scrub to the magnificent blue water beyond.

ederby (2)

The boat ramp and beach were as pleasant as you could find and the village probably fulfils its role as a quiet fishing retreat well enough but I’m not tempted to move here.

Approaching the half-way point on our circuit, we took the next opportunity to drive north towards the coastline through the Waterhouse Conservation Area. There is little information to be had for the visitor however it looks very much like a farming enterprise has been surrendered for conservation purposes.ederby (3) There are a number of small shacks near the three lakes which in some parts are quite picturesque although a 4WD and more time would be needed to properly explore the area.

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Our last stop is Bridport which  puts us about two thirds the way around our 175 kilometre circuit and today we had the time to take in this seaside town and quite a nice place it is too.

About 1250 people call Bridport home and it really is still an operational port where we watched cattle being unloaded from a small ship, the Matthew Flinders III that services the needs of the 900 or so residents on Flinders Island.

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The Last gasp

Then it was time for home where our new friends were waiting to turn a substantial pile of dog food into methane. Now I would never suggest for a moment that our black and white clever girl Quinie would fart. No, I’m sure it would be nothing more than a lady-like ‘phffft’ that would smell like roses and anyway she would be too busy watching Frost or Attenborough.

derby 10But the two boys, Kenzie and Cormack, well that’s another matter entirely. It is suffice to say they produce enough gas to raise the spectre of the air catching fire. There is little defense against this type of onslaught, one can only wait for the atmosphere to clear. Luckily methane is invisible or the fog would obscure the TV on the other side of the room.methane dogs


We had been to Launceston (pronounced Lonceston) once already since driving through on our way to Derby,  but had not paid a visit to Lonny’s best known attraction ‘Cataract Gorge’. I wanted to chat to Scott from Pabs Auto Car Parts in Launceston about the van and pick up a couple of tie rods for the steering too, so this was a great excuse to take the day off (postpone getting under the van to start on the gear box).

fderby 02

We found the Gorge and picnic area has changed little and still presents a wonderful family environment which is understated with a quaint, almost 1920’s feel about it. The chair lift that runs across the basin (zoom the photo) had not long been installed when we first visited 20 years ago.

fderby 01

The clutch. Again.

I was out of excuses so with no great excitement (dragging my feet actually) I put the old girl up on the stands the day before Easter and went to work on pulling out the gearbox.

Having already glazed up the ‘new’ clutch, we accept that before we can pull the trailer up a big hill with confidence, we need to replace it with a heavy duty version. Once again, Scott had come to the rescue with a new kit for $210 which had been delivered last week. It was a far cry from the nearly $600 demanded by Repco for the same unit, from the same manufacturer.

All I needed was to pull out the gearbox, fit the new kit and then replace the gearbox. Easy when you say it fast. Fortunately I had done this once already, although I was on my patma this time.

(For non Australians, slang, ‘patma’ is short for ‘Pat Malone’ which rhymes with ‘alone’.)

gderby 001

To be fair, the gear box is not all that heavy and getting it and the four-month-old clutch plate out was not a big job but don’t tell Julie. She thinks I was working hard and kept bringing me coffee and biscuits for the next 4 days.

gderby 02

All went well but I was struggling and swearing as I tried to wriggle the box back into position late on Easter Saturday afternoon. As luck would have it, a young bloke was walking by with his girlfriend and asked if I needed a hand. I have been kicking myself for not writing down their names because I would have liked to thank him for his kindness.  My two hour battle was over in 5 minutes with his help.

(I think his name was Brett or Brad and I think her’s was Rosemary because I remember thinking she had the same name as one of my secretaries long ago but maybe I’ve got the wrong one and its not that either.)

Within an hour I had the whole lot bolted back together, only problem was, the gears were not lined up, so it all had to come out again. Fortunately it only had to be partly removed but it took until well into Sunday before I could take it for a run.

The mysterious lake

Now at last I can get a look at Briseis Hole, which is the unflattering name for the lake that formed after the Briseis mine was abandoned decades ago. As you may remember, Derby, lovely as it is now, is an old tin mining village that was almost deserted in the mid 1950s. The lake, which almost no visitor has seen, is a resource and attraction so underdeveloped, most of the residents have not paid a visit either, partly I suspect because of the lack of access. Not that I consider the walk difficult in any way but it does mean a hike along the road and across the bridge with no footpath, climbing over a gate and crawling under a couple of fences. And getting permission possibly. The climb is easy going, rising to about 300 metres at most.walking to Brieses Hole

The house we are house-sitting for Neil and Liz is on the southern approach to the village and this end is nearest to paddocks that give an easy climb to see the lake from above. The whole walk including diversions and checking interesting features is still only 3 kilometres or so.derby brieses hole view of village

Once you reach the top paddock there is a fence set back a few metres from the edge but a substantial part of this in now nothing more than a memory so this is not a place to wander about at night. It would be very easy to simply step into space and find yourself falling the 1,000 feet into the trees beside the lake at the bottom. I have to admit to exercising some caution as I approached the edge which is in long grass and not clearly defined.

Looking south west I could clearly see the Derby General Store and if you zoom the photo below, right in the middle you can actually see a figure on the verandah. That would be Julie and the building is the red roof with the white front, dead-centre of the picture.brieses hole to julie on verandah 01

The only direct access to the water is by wading across the river and climbing the opposite creek bank but our time here is limited and the work on the van has to take priority so I never did get my feet wet.

It’s time to take the old girl for a decent run (the van too) so we’re heading off to meet a new friend in Bicheno. I’ll tell you all about it shortly.

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Dan Hughes

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