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March 19, 2016

Mountain Men by Simon Cubit & Nic Haygarth

A friend loaned me his copy of this book when he heard I was reading histories of this part of the world. Having read it, I’ll now be going out to buy my own copy, then chasing up the authors to sit and have a chat with them. The book was researched effectively, well written and the subject matter fascinating. 

Parenthetically, I am glad I read Kate Weindorfer’s story before I picked up this book.

Ten men – ten chapters – linked but various encounters with the high country of Tasmania, especially in the north. The subtitles of the chapters, listed on the flyleaf sum it up: Travelling highland journalist, Career bushman, King of the Cradle, Bushman and highland guide, Hunter and Overland Track pioneer, Bushwalker and national park promoter, Cradle Mountain’s first ranger, Highland horseman and hut builder, Battle-scarred survivor, The last of the high country snarers. The first was born in 1851; the last in 1927. Their stories, arranged in order of their birth, describe the developing interaction between Europeans and this environment.

The diversity of their backgrounds contributes to the depth of the portrayal: Irishman, wealthy landowner, prospector, immigrant, journo, trapper/hunters, tourist guides and entrepeneurs, war veterans, alcoholics, and probable Aboriginal. They came from all levels of society but shared a love of this part of the world.

The style of interaction between people and this environment is one of the major themes explored. That much of the territory is now national park and a World Heritage Area is obviously to the fore in our awareness today. These personal narratives provide context for the more official developments of the park. The overall effect is a very personal, despite the often scholarly tone, account of the history, and insights which do not always sit comfortably with the current perspectives.

I was intrigued to find that the use of the area for wilderness tourism dates back over a century. Tracks were slowly developed, some from the routes established by the snarers, and huts built, for both the snarers and the sightseers. The tourism arose as an economic opportunity for the people who knew the area well and were equipped to supply and guide groups. Most of these men and their families had to work hard to sustain themselves, some barely surviving at times. Pragmatism seemed to be the order of the day in those early days. For instance, Weindorfer pushed hard for a vehicular track to carry visitors through the park from Cradle to Lake St Clair.

This book presents the history of this amazing part of the world from a frank, personal perspective. I really enjoyed it. Thanks, Simon and Nic.