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  • Writer's pictureHelen Avaient

It’s worth a visit to the waterfall town of Waratah in Tasmania, Australia

On the edge of the rainforested Tarkine wilderness is an old mining town with an amazing history and incredible natural features. There is a waterfall in the main street!

The Waratah River forms a lake in town, a perfect place to walk around or sit and wait to see platypus swimming in the waters.

The river then plunges over the plateau as a spectacular waterfall. Cascading 600m to the fern covered grounds below, the river heads into the Tarkine wilderness.

This is a perfect small town to visit, although not on most people’s tourist maps. It is 205km west of Launceston and 377km north-west of Hobart. 61km, a 46 minute drive from Burnie. There is a caravan park next to the lake for travelers. BYO caravan or camping gear and pay at the post office.

A self-guided short walk around town is called the Town of Tin Walk with 8 highlights.

The standing Bischoff Hotel was built of brick in 1909, in the Queen-Anne style. Two previous wooden hotels that had stood on this site had burnt down.

One interesting story about hotel is that osmiridium (a rare alloy once mined in the district for use in the gold nibs of fountain pens) nuggets were tended at the bar as currency. The hotel has a magnificent view of the falls.

At one stage there were seven waterwheels working the falls.

The old post office is now a private residence. The information board shows pictures of snowy and icy yesteryears, as well as stories that bring the past to life. It was only 6C and raining the day of my visit. Not the cold icy conditions in the pictures.

In an isolated town, a venue for social interactions is very important. Opened in 1887, the Athenaeum Hall “represented a movement for working men to educate themselves and better their social status” – from the information board at the hall. It has also been used as a town hall, cinema, and hosted weddings and other social events. These days it is the Tarkin Interpretation Centre with information about the nearby wilderness.

Definitely step foot inside the stamper mill next door. I had no idea what a stamper mill was before venturing here. It is used for crushing tin ore.

Press a button inside and you can hear the stamper come to life and the loud noises the workers had to endure.

Posters on the walls detail life and struggles in the time of full mine operations, and include historical photographs which really help you to imagine the life that once flourished here.

The Philosophers hut is a replica of the type of housing early pioneers to the area lived in. Only basic essentials were catered for in those days.

In 1871 James ‘Philosopher’ Smith found the Mt Bischoff tin deposit and the town of Waratah began. Waratah is the oldest mining town in Tasmania.

James was born in Georgetown in 1827 to convict parents. He was a farmer and also spent time on the Victorian gold fields in 1852. James was a tenacious explorer and a prospector, often described as “trail-blazing”. He also discovered gold on the Forth River, copper on the Leven River and silver and iron ore at Penguin. He died in Launceston in 1897 and was buried in Forth.

Waratah holds quite a few of Australian records.

  • It is one of the wettest and coldest places in Tasmania. Temperatures struggle to get about 10C (50F), even in summer. Temperatures can range from 32C (91F) to -5C (22F). Snow is common in winter.

  • In the 1880s it was the richest tin mine in the world.

  • In 1883 the mine became the first Australian industrial plant to be lit by hydro-electricity.

  • In 1886 the town became the first in Australia to have electric street lights.

  • In 1914 underground mining had stopped.

  • In 1924 the town had the dubious reputation of wildness.

  • In 1935 the Mount Bischoff mine closed. Remarkably, it provided a dividend 200 times the initial investment.

  • In 1981 the Que River Lead and Zinc Mine opened, with an expected life of 20 years.

  • Waratah had a population of 245 in the 2016 census, but once was home to over 5,000 people.

This is not a town that is on many tourist’s lists of Tasmanian must see places, but it should be. This town symbolises the hardships of this state and the pioneering spirit of its ancestors. It is also an example of how a once thriving town can still prosper and remind us all of the remote beauty of Tasmania. Plus, that waterfall is damn impressive!

Happy Travels!

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