10. Australian Road Trip: Tasmanian Tomahawk
Where the heck is Tomahawk?
Except for a couple of folks in the Caravan Park, Tomahawk is uninhabited for part of the year, oh and there are Tiger Snakes too.
Tomahawk - The Movie
If you study a map of Anywhere, you will invariably find at least one place with a name so enigmatic that you are compelled to go there, often against your better judgement. I do this all the time… I will never learn.
Tomahawk, on the remote north east coast of Tasmania is such a place. Now we’re camped at Frecynet National Park, wondering where to go next in this Tardis of an island, with its history of dark deeds and challenging landscapes, and I find ‘Tomahawk’, printed in 5pt text, and damaged by a split and tattered crease on our map. Both the name and the location cast a spell on me.
Tomahawk – what a strange and somewhat spooky name to bestow upon a town – especially on this island infamous for its mass murder, genocide and 19th century instances of cannabalism. We gotta go there and check it out, is what I’m thinking.
Up the East Coast
Despite it being on the map, there’s no mention of it at all in our Rough Guide and it looks like it is going to entail some dirt road driving to get there. “Yippee”, I think. Out of Frecynet we cruise up the sunny coast, past surfing beaches and through tidy looking fishing towns like St Helen’s. We cut inland for a fair number of kilometres and the road takes us into some fabulous landscapes. In the valleys there are lush green pastures. Along the mountainsides, which the road traverses, rainforests cling. Gradually we climb, higher and higher, until we are rewarded by broad panoramas over the lush pastures we had passed through earlier. Then we descend through the rainforests on the other side of the mountain until the topography once again changes. Now it is dry, spikey, Australian bush – all stunted gums and banksias. Eventually our road turns into dirt. For a small island Tasmania seems as vast and as empty as anywhere on the mainland. For the last hour or so we rumble along an arrow straight gravel road that leads directly to Tomahawk. The land around here seems uninhabited and is flat and relatively treeless. There is livestock about so there must be people somewhere. But we don’t see any.
Finally, in the late afternoon we come to a sign pointing down a gravel road in the direction of the coast. This road meanders through a barren salt marsh, and except for a naked, sandy hummock rising out of a thin line of scrub on the horizon, there appears to be nothing at the end of it. Then we see the first of the little houses and a big, flaky-painted tin sign:
WELCOME TO TOMAHAWK - TASMANIA'S BEST KEPT SECRET
I’m thinking that we might have hit pay dirt in the “Best Secret Place” sweepstakes, especially as it says so on a sign, but as we cruise through “Town” I am overwhelmed by déjà vu, it feels like we have been here before. To qualify this feeling I must state that in my opinion, nothing beats a good Aussie Horror/Psycho/Thriller flick – think Wolf Creek, Cars That Ate Paris, Razorback…. The Long Weekend … (brrrr…a little shiver my up spine), Mad Max 1 even .
Yes, I am experiencing another Road Movie Moment again. It goes like this…
"Two dusty travellers - newly weds, uni students, or perhaps a pair of hapless middle-aged tourists; whatever, they pull into a town at the edge of nowhere looking for accommodation and some fuel. The town appears to be uninhabited. All the houses are 1950’s style weekenders, built out of cracked fibro and corrugated iron. An afternoon nor-easter is blowing in chill and stiff from the Bass Strait, scuffing the Prussian blue sea with white caps and producing a discordant banging from a loose flap of iron roofing on one of the shuttered beach shacks.
At the end of the only street, the travellers come to a caravan park, which, like the rest of the “town,” appears to be uninhabited. At the entrance there is a dead stump in which is embedded a huge red Indian style tomahawk – another Aussie Big Thing! There is a sign on the stump too. It says
WELCOME TO TOMAHAWK – TASMANIA’S BEST KEPT SECRET
Tassie's Best Kept Secret - Not Any More
The travellers park up in front of the office and the handsome guy (that’s me) walks toward the door while the chick waits in the van, with the doors locked “to be on the safe side.”
The audience (it’s a movie, there’s an audience) is screaming “DON’T GO IN THERE MAN! DON’T LEAVE HER ON HER OWN! TAKE A F**KIN' WEAPON, YOU IDIOT!”
A bell jangles nervously as he pushes open the creaky screen door. Inside there’s a bad smell and the deafening drone of a hundred fat blowflies. What's behind the counter? Is there a body lying on the floor with his skull split in two by a tomahawk? No, of course there isn’t. There is only an old lady watching telly in the back room who, upon hearing the bell, hoists herself up, walks to the counter and says with a smile, 'How ya goin’?'"
That’s the Movie Moment gone. Just as well.
The old lady checks us in and an old man in a bush hat materialises and leads us to our pitch for the night. Wait a minute, this is still spooky, we are the only guests.
The caravan park is like a small village, consisting of jerry-built weekenders; beach-huts; permanent, heavyweight-canvas tents; static vans and a few vacant sites for pup tents or campervans. Most of the permanent structures have really cool names like Dunroamin and Dewdropin, and my favourite, Bringatinnywithya. It seems that Tomahawk is a very popular place amongst Tasmanians during the height of the summer season. It is an old-fashioned, family-style, holiday community – quite rustic, minimum facilities, self contained, isolated, wild; a place where everyone who holidays there must know each other over generations. I discreetly imagine the number of relationships that must have begun in a place like this over the years.
After we park in our pitch, Sheila wanders off to find the amenities block. A few minutes later she comes hurtling back to the van, her face drained of blood and her pumping heart audible above the whoosh of the wind in the trees.
“MICK! THERE’S A SNAKE!” she tells me. Apparently it’s a big one too so we go off to investigate. I grew up with snakes in the back yard and though I’m not scared of them I was taught to have a healthy respect for them, especially by my Mum who once killed one with a squeeze mop when we were little kids. I’ll not forget the screams she made as she brought the mop down on the writhing body of the Sydney Brown Snake. Our neighbour, Alec, came running down, alerted by the screams, only to find Mum panting, out of breath, and the snake chopped in half. The good part however, was when he picked it up by the tail and a family of half-digested frogs slid out of its insides in a viscous flow of slimy mucous – it was a memorable moment for a small boy.
I digress, Tiger snakes are endemic throughout Tassie so we have to exercise a bit of care. The spot where Sheila saw the snake is a difficult for her to find again as the “streets” all look vaguely the same – sandy roads, rustic huts, empty clothes lines, banksias and gums for shade. Eventually we find a grassy lawn that she reckons the snake was sunning itself on, but it is nowhere to be seen. I find The Man who is digging somewhere near the office. He comes over to the spot armed with a length of plastic pipe with which he beats about the bush trying to flush out the reptile who appears to have gone to ground. “Just have to keep an eye out,” he advises, “but mostly they wont hurt ya.”
Sheila’s a bit shook up and the incident just adds to the weird vibe that is Tomahawk. We walk down to the beach, following one of the trails through the low, bush-covered dunes separating the park from the sea, while keeping an eye out for snakes and making a bit of a noise to scare them off. We emerge onto a sweeping arc of golden sand that stretches as far as the eye can see. The wind is still brisk and the dark ocean is quite uninviting with its whitecaps and seaweed.
By now we are actively looking for weird and wacky things in Tomahawk.
We find it in a clump of rocks down the beach a bit. A rounded boulder, about the height of a man is split in two but still joined together. The join forms a deep cleft which has prompted someone, probably one of the jovial dads from holiday seasons past, to paint “BUM ROCK” in red paint across the cheeky formation.
Just to round off our stay in Tomahawk we run out of propane gas while making our last cuppa of the night. As we are out of season, there is no gas available at the office but at breakfast I conjure up a blaze, boil the billy and make tea and toast over the open fire. When in doubt, make tea.
We both know that our Tasmanian adventure must now end. We could spend more time on this island, but Australia is a big place and there’s a force that is driving us forever forward. Unlike the protagonists in my imaginary Road Movie, we safely leave windy, lonely Tomahawk and put in a full day of relentless driving to reach the ferry at Devonport. As the sun goes down behind those dark jagged mountains, full of mystery and woe, the Spirit of Tasmania takes us north into the night.
Letting go of Tasmania, it's back to the mainland for yet more, serious road tripping.
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