Geoffrey Smedley Grandson of Edward Higgs: No, I’m not to be classed as a “Greenie”. I have just witnessed a stunningly sad event and this is my reaction to it …
MORE THAN a century has passed by since the big wheel turned, being driven by the crystal waters from “The Dalebrook” now known as Western Creek … a priceless hamlet beneath the shadow of the Great Western Tiers in Northern Tasmania.
The Mill showing the “Big Wheel” on the R.H.S. taken in 1897.
Edward Higgs and his eldest grandson taken at his shipyard in 1895.
Edward Higgs was the second eldest son of Joshua and Mary Higgs, Joshua a gifted artist and surveyor emigrated with his young family to Australia in 1852 sailing from Liverpool on July 22nd. on the passenger ship “Delta” of 971 tons under the command of Capt. John Dennis. It was “Delta’s” maiden voyage arriving in Melbourne on the 15th. October.
Joshua’s credentials are well documented, many of today’s treasured old homes across Northern Tasmania, several major bridges, surveying and laying out the whole of “Trevallyn” and building his home “Arnwood,” the very first home in the new Launceston suburb, but perhaps his most evident achievement was the planning and construction of the Cataract Gorge and Cliff Grounds, building the pathway from Kings Bridge and designing the cottage, in the same style as can be seen on “Arnwood” nearby, also much of his now prized artwork is in the Queen Victoria Museum, some being gifted through the Henty Collection adding a deeper insight into our early and enthusiastic history.
Edward was just 4 years old when he arrived in the new colony and the experience of the long voyage were to have a lasting impression on the young lad, his determination to become a shipbuilder did lead Edward to become a master craftsman and seaman establishing his shipyard on the banks of the Mersey River in the exact spot where “Spirit of Tasmania” berths today, Ships were in vital need for the young colony as they were the main means of transport, the lifeblood for Tasmania’s growing population and were relied upon as sole means for survival and many great ships crafted by Edward Higgs were servicing this ever expanding colony.
Torquay, today known as East Devonport, was where he built his shipyard in 1876 and also became actively involved with Municipal duties of the day while bringing up and providing for his growing family. While timber for his trade was always a concern he had become an expert in the study of Tasmanian timber soon becoming aware that Tasmania not only had the best of the best timbers on this side of the world but it was in abundance and while being a conservationist he found the perfect place to implement his dream of selecting and milling precisely what his needs demanded.
The Dalebrook area, or Western Creek as it is known today, was the site of the Higgs Mill, one of the first water powered mills in Tasmania and was driven by the then plentiful waters of Western Creek. A large waterwheel constructed by Edward and his sons was the motive power, a long wooden fluming from further upstream guided the constant flow of water over the massive wheel providing the power to break down the largest of logs, thus providing work for the males of the family; all six boys worked the mill without pay; just their keep leaving Edward to never quite understand why at the age of 21 each son left home.
Western Creek became a mecca for the traveller, a vibrant and happy place that always attracted interest in so many ways, artists, musicians, photographers, (some of the first images taken in Tasmania were taken at the Higgs home by Frank Styant Brown a close family friend) Joshua Higgs Jn., Edward’s older brother followed his father (Joshua Sen.) and became a noted artist and both Styant Brown and Joshua Jn jointly travelled in a horse drawn caravan, painting and photographing the untouched countryside and rugged mountains.
As a child I was privileged to spend some very happy times in this wonderland, to see those sparkling waters of the beautiful brook, to drink the purest water the world could offer and the air was the breath of angels. I would marvel at the fossils of sea shells embedded in the rocks in the creek telling the story of a millions of years without menace or harm, a time when even these Great Western Tiers were partly seabeds, the wonderful old homestead built as strong as a ship by its creator with its sturdy timbers all cut at the mill. The use of Blackwood, Huon Pine, Pencil Pines plus other species unique to the area. A home of a great pioneering family.
This is just a very brief introduction to the family of Higgs that arrived here in 1852 and in many cases family’s children have moved on to settle in other lands but Tasmania’s “Dalebrook Area” is the magnetic point for all those who make the pilgrimage back to their Australian rootes.
On a recent visit to the site I was a little overcome to be confronted by a mass of unsightly growth, the invasion of aliens, pulp wood trees a noxious looking tree whose only ability is to destroy what was once a very special place. Respect for our heritage seems to have vanished; the distruction of Tasmania has certainly been ramped up in the past fifty years when the area calender can go back back millions of years without harm.
The future has been made very bleak indeed and the Western Tiers are aptly named and there’s very few left who cares … what an enditement.
Quote from “The Australians” 1943 by Arnold Haskell as a tribute to our forebears:
“It is the little man, his wife and children who never get into history,who made Tasmania out of Van Diemans Land, who suffered from the stupidity of officials, who broke the first soil and planted their crops, who defended themselves against bushranger and black and whose sturdy commonsense won the day. With grit and determination they carved out a life for their families and decendants, homesick for their families, friends and homeland, bringing with them a limited supply of their treasures.” Etc.