Home' Journeys : Jun Jul 2015 Contents I know I’m getting close when I’m about five kilometres past
Ormley, heading east towards Fingal on the Esk Main Road.
Up ahead on the skyline I can see the notch that separates
Mt Durham from the rest of the Nicholas Range. I’m approaching
the eastern end of the Fingal Valley, one of the most fascinating
places in Tasmania for a scientist or naturalist, and far more
interesting to me than tourist icons like Cradle Mountain and the
Southwest. I’ve been visiting the area regularly since 1974.
Think of the area as a big triangle with one cor ner at Fingal,
another at Scamander and the third at Douglas River, south of
Chain of Lagoons. Near the centre of the triangle is St Mar ys.
The area’s well-roaded and you can do the Scamander to Chain
of Lagoons drive on bitumen either along the coast past Falmouth
and Four Mile Creek, or inland via St Marys Pass, St Marys and
There are plenty of gravel roads, too, offering access to the high
hills on either side of the valley between Fingal and St Mar ys. The
gravel road north to the South Sister lookout takes you up 800
metres above sea level, and you get to 850 metres going south on
Valley Road. On all the higher roads the views are mar vellous.
But it’s not natural beauty that keeps pulling me back to the area.
It’s natural strangeness.
Start with rain. It only rains about one day in four on average
at St Mar ys, but when it rains, it sometimes pours. Really pours.
St Marys gets the most intense rainfalls of any town in Tasmania.
It’s because St Marys is close to the sea, but separated from it by a
range of tall hills. When moist onshore winds get lifted over those
hills, the air cools and rain condenses out of the dark clouds that
form over the hilltops. In easterly weather, the recording station at
nearby Gray can get 250 mm of rain in 24 hours, while Fingal, 25
kilometres to the west, has had only 20 mm.
The drainage is odd, too. I like to explain it this way: while it’s
raining, stand with an umbrella on top of St Patricks Head, at the
St Marys end of the valley. The water falling off the eastern half
of your umbrella runs five kilometres down a little creek to the
sea. The water off the western half runs more than 120 kilometres
inland via the Break O’Day and South Esk Rivers to Launceston.
Then there’s the geology, which is fairly complicated. Visitors to
the area are often impressed by the steeply sloping St Patricks
Head. Like the Nicholas Range to the north and Fingal Tier to
the south, St Patricks Head is capped with dolerite, the hard gray
Bob Mesibov has been an RACT member for 37 of his 42 years in
Tasmania. For most of that time he’s lived in the North West, but his
favourite part of Tasmania is on the other side of the island. A retired but
active scientist, Bob specialises in the study of native Australian millipedes.
His webpage at the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery is
rock so common in eastern Tasmania. Underneath the dolerite
on either side of the Valley are coal-bearing sedimentary rocks
(there are coal mines at Fingal and Cornwall) and there’s a rubble
topping of sometimes gigantic dolerite boulders on the hills.
On the north side of the Nicholas Range the rocks suddenly
change. Here you find spectacularly steep ridges and valleys
where small-scale miners have extracted tin, tungsten, silver-lead-
zinc, gold and copper.
The hills bordering this part of the Fingal Valley have dry,
north-facing slopes and wet, south-facing slopes. There are several
different soil types in the area, including rich basalt on farms at
Dublin Town, near St Marys. With this big variety of growing
conditions, the area has a correspondingly big range of forests,
from old rainforest near Douglas River (in the Douglas-Apsley
National Park) to bare-ground ironbark forest on granite gravel,
and from valley-bottom dry woodland to misty, tall, wet forest
among the dolerite boulders on the hilltops.
And for reasons nobody understands, there are creatures living in
the area found nowhere else on Earth. The most spectacular and
probably best know n is the five centimetre-long, brilliantly white
blind velvet worm, strange enough as a member of the curious
‘peripatus’ group of animals, but also one of only two blind velvet
worms known worldwide. It’s common near St Marys but is
protected by law.
My own specialty as a bug scientist is millipedes, and I’m still
finding new millipede species at the eastern end of the Fingal
Valley, even after collecting bugs there for 40 years. The latest one
comes from that notch by Mt Durham. Now you know why I get
excited when I spot that notch ahead on the road. What will I find
Opposite page: View from South Sister; blind velvet worm. This page, clockwise from above:
the notch, Nicholas Range; St Patricks Head; Google Earth view. Uncredited photos Bob Mesibov
June / July 2015 45
In Tasmania today
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