Ghost towns of Tasmania

Mount Paris Dam looms like a concrete behemoth rising out of the scrub landscape.

Sarah Jacob and Gerry Young discover the shadows of history speak of a colourful past

Photographs by Fiona Walsh

A crisp June morning in Tasmania. Frost sparkled on the car windshield under clear blue skies. We packed the vehicle ahead of two solid day trips around our green state, searching for signs of Tasmania’s rich mining heritage.

Driving up the Midlands Highway from Hobart, the observant traveller will discover a sculpture trail featuring more than a dozen metal silhouettes placed in the surrounding countryside, documenting Tasmania’s fascinating history. From bushrangers to the thylacine, stage coaches to the now locally extinct emu, you can read more about the history and folklore behind the Shadows of the Past sculpture trail by visiting the Southern Midlands Council website. Along the highway, many wildlife species can be easily be spotted, including wedge-tailed eagles, brown falcons, echidnas and even wild fallow deer.

Moving on through Scottsdale, we were keen to find the Mount Paris Dam, an impressive structure located along Mount Paris Dam Road (C425), between the towns of Branxholm and Weldborough. The site is just 100m from the road, but it is not clearly signposted – only a modest wooden post marks the turn-off to a small car park. A visit to the friendly staff at the Scottsdale Visitor Centre will aid you in your quest to detect the area.

As we stomped down the sandy trail, the wall of the dam suddenly materialised out of the bush on our right, its slate-grey concrete walls pockmarked with decay after decades of disuse. A narrow stream filters through a blast hole in the dam wall, created after the dam was decommissioned in 1947. The dam was originally known as the Morning Star Dam, and was built in 1936 to service the Mount Paris Tin Mine. At the outset, an 11km race connected the dam to the mine zone. Incredibly, the reinforced concrete slab and buttress structure was built by hand and had a capacity of 1300 megalitres. A camp was established for the dam workers and their families nearby during construction. Little now remains of the camp, but when we scouted around the surrounding area, we came across numerous relics.

Nearby Weldborough is an excellent place to visit for a pub meal or for an overnight stay. There are several heritage cottages available as accommodation through Airbnb or private rental. The town still bears the signs of its tin mining history. Weldborough is of particular note because many Chinese immigrants flocked to the town to work in the 1870s and their legacy can still be touched on. The local cemetery bears a shrine to these workers and outside the Weldborough pub, ornate Chinese dragons flank the doors.

Bushranger sculpture on the Midlands Highway between Hobart and Launceston.
The Mount Paris Dam.

Late in the day, we came across the tiny ghost town of Lottah, 20km further east from Weldborough. The town is named after the Lottah Mining Company, which shipped tin ore from the nearby Anchor Tin Mine to Sydney. Once a thriving mining town, home to more than 600 people, only a small number of inhabitants now reside there and little remains of the original structures. However, less than two kilometres down the road, one of the stampers from the Anchor mine that the town serviced is well preserved. Only a short walk down the well-made track through beautiful ferns and gums, the stamper can be viewed at close quarters from a timber deck. Looming large out of the bush like a steampunk curio, ferns now push between the pistons of the stamper banks. There were once 40 heads of these stampers and when in operation, they could be heard in St Helens, 20km away. The waterwheel that drove the stampers was 20m in diameter and weighed 100 tonnes. It took 10 tonnes of water to push the wheel through one revolution, so many local streams were used to channel the water into races to drive it. On the left as we headed back up the track, we came across a large blowout area, like an out-of-place beach, largely bereft of vegetation. This is the remains of the tailings dam from the mine and we spied a few more relics of the mining operation. Nearby, Halls Falls is a beautiful place to eat lunch and is only a one-hour return walk. It can be accessed only a short drive further along Anchor Road. The weir that creates the falls is another hand-built relic of the historic mining operations in the region.

The historic Weldborough pub featuring Chinese foo dogs.
The ghost town of Lottah in its present day state.
The Anchor mine stamper near Lottah.

On day two of our ghost town adventure, we set off to explore the now-extinct town of Adamsfield, deep within the stunning Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. The township was erected during the rush in 1925 to mine the highly valuable natural alloy osmiridium, which was worth seven times the value of gold. At its height, more than 1000 people were resident in the town. After driving through the picturesque countryside from Hobart, we stopped at the tiny town of Maydena (which is also the last opportunity to fill up with petrol) and found another relic of the past – a steam hauler. An important innovation in the forestry industry in the 1920s, the steam hauler revolutionised the cartage of logs, replacing the horse and bullock teams that once toiled through the unforgiving mountainous terrain.

Further on from Maydena, we enjoyed the sight of several fast-flowing streams. The local shopkeeper warned us to go slowly through this area, as there have been many incidents in the past where vehicles have left the road during hazardous conditions and ended up submerged in the deep rivers. As we climbed into the hills, we were treated to stunning views of the surrounding mountains. There are several lookouts to stop at for photo opportunities. Thirty kilometres from Maydena, we reached the turn off on the right – Clear Hill Road. The dirt road is accessible by two-wheel drive vehicles. Almost 18km down this well-maintained path, we stumbled upon the Morley Track on the right. This is a four-wheel drive only track and the gate is locked. Parking off to the side of the road, we gathered our packs and tramped down the hill. Barely a kilometre along the track, we arrived at our first destination – the preserved huts of Morley and Clarke. Scattered around the huts were numerous relics – a stove here, a pick axe head embedded in the ground there.

In search of relics in the bush at Adamsfield.
One of the huts built by Clarke in the 1940s in Adamsfield.
The river crossing at the Adamsfield campground
The campground at Adamsfield.

During a chance conversation about our travels to Adamsfield after our trip, a rock climbing buddy of mine, Dave Morley, mentioned that his grandfather lived there as a child and attended the local school. When I spoke directly to Dave’s dad Russ, he told me that the diggings at Adamsfield were basically a tent town, with a few bark and slab huts. Sometimes Russ’s father and uncles would go mud puddling to help break up the clay for their dad. In 1938 the price of osmiridium dropped and most of the miners left the town, while Russ’s father enlisted in the army to serve in World War II. The Morley hut was built later, in 1941, and Russ made use of the hut until he signed it over to the Mountain Hut Society, which continues to preserve and maintain both the Morley and Clarke huts.

The huts themselves are not open for use by campers, but there is a campsite only 200m further down the track, across a tributary of the Adams River. Four-wheel drive vehicles can ford the stream and pedestrians can cross over a sturdy log with a handrail.

After our lunch break at the huts, we trekked further afield through the cool environs of the surrounding wet sclerophyll forest and past beautiful buttongrass moorlands. About 3km past the huts, we started to discover evidence of the Adamsfield town scattered through the bush. On the left, we reached parts of the race built to channel water down to the alluvial workings in Moore’s Gully; on the right, a cleared site where the hut of long-term resident Pat Roach once stood. At a fork in the trail, we hit upon the Adamsfield sign, flanked by further relics from the townsite, which has now been reclaimed by the overgrowth. To the left through the bracken fern, we came across the lone remaining telegraph pole, rising inconspicuously out of the undergrowth.

It is possible to hike further along Morley track, which intersects several others and makes for a full day’s hike or mountain bike ride. As we shared thermos tea back in the car on the drive home, there was a sense that we had barely scratched the surface of Tasmania’s fascinating mining history.

Further reading

Vanishing towns: Tasmania’s ghost towns and settlements. Published 2014. Author: Michael Holmes

Other resources

Scottsdale Visitor Centre, 4 Alfred St, Scottsdale. Ph: 03 6352 6520

Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office. www.linc.tas.gov.au

Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service. www.parks.tas.gov.au

Shadows of the past sculpture trail. https://www.southernmidlands.tas.gov.au/shadows-of-the-past/

While you are there

Lottah, Weldborough and Mount Paris Dam

Distances (to Weldborough)

Hobart: 296km

Launceston: 116km

Devonport: 210km

Accommodation options:

Hotel, cabins and camping:

Historic Hotel Weldborough – rooms available at the hotel and also a campground with cabins. http://weldborough.com.au/

Self-contained holiday houses:

Nearby attraction:

Blue Tier Giant walk – bushwalking trail to the widest living tree in Australia. https://www.discovertasmania.com.au/about/articles/blue-tier-giant-walk

Fees and permits: None

Adamsfield

Nearest township

Maydena

Distances

Hobart: 134km

Launceston: 277km

Devonport: 314km

Accommodation options

Campground located at Morley and Clarke huts (1km from junction of Clear Hill Road and Morley Track)

Self-contained holiday houses:

Nearby attractions

Maydena Adventure – mountain bike park and sightseeing tours. www.maydenabikepark.com

Mount Field National Park – bushwalking, picnicking and skiing. http://www.parks.tas.gov.au/?base=3589

Fees and permits

A Parks pass is not required to access Adamsfield, but if you wish to go onto the four-wheel drive tracks by vehicle, a key must be obtained from the Mt Field National Park Visitor Centre and a refundable deposit of $300 is required.

Other considerations

Temperatures can be cold year-round and parts of the track are often inundated after rain. If hiking, bring sturdy boots, warm clothing and wet weather gear. If four-wheel driving, vehicles should have a high clearance.

Stunning mountain views from the buttongrass moorlands at Adamsfield.

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