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Issue #1603      July 24, 2013

A Devil encounter in the Tarkine Wilderness

Many years ago, when I lived in Tasmania I camped and travelled around the southern part of the beautiful Tarkine wilderness in north-western Tasmania for a few days. A treasured experience vividly etched in my mind still. In late 2012, I was elated to be able to revisit the spectacular region again with my son, Andreas.

Bennett’s Wallaby. (Photo: Andreas Katsineris)

The area has a wide range of landscapes, including sand dunes, rivers, swamps, waterfalls, lagoons, mountains, caves and coastline. The Tarkine is Australia’s largest remaining temperate rainforest wilderness region and also contains a diversity of other vegetation types, such as Eucalypt forests, woodlands, scrublands, heathlands, button grass, wetlands and grasslands.

The wild region’s habitat is home to 28 species of land mammals, 130 species of birds, 11 reptile species, 8 frog species, 13 species of freshwater fish and many species of insects, spiders and crustaceans. There are over 60 species of threatened, rare or endangered plants and animals, including Tasmanian Devils, Wedged-tailed Eagles, Spot-tailed Quolls, Swift Parrots, Masked Owls, Orange-bellied Parrots, Grey Goshawks (white form) and the world’s largest freshwater crayfish, the Tayatea, a giant lobster, among other animals.

We entered the region from the northwest coast, through the town of Marrawah. We drove south through the Tarkine stopping to walk at various places and observed Metallic Skinks, Grey Goshawks, Green Rosellas, Blue Wrens and Wedged-tailed Eagles amongst the forest.

Eventually we arrived at the small town of Arthur River, where we stayed for a couple of days and drove and walked around exploring the nearby wild areas. On our various beach and bushwalks we saw Pademelons, Bennett’s Wallabies, Pied Oystercatchers, Pink Robins, Fairy Terns, Hooded Plovers and other animals.

On the second day, we travelled up the pretty Arthur River on a fascinating boat trip. The journey included a stroll and barbeque in the rainforest. During this trip we spotted Black Currawongs, White-bellied Sea Eagles and more Bennett’s Wallabies, as well as lots of other wildlife.

After our boat cruise finished we left Arthur River that afternoon to drive south to Corinna and then on to Strahan. The road is mostly unsealed and narrow and is quite rough in some sections, as it winds its way along, up and down hills and gullies weaving through the Tarkine wilderness. The road is known as the white road as it’s coloured white; from being constructed from sandy Silica material from a nearby mine. The panorama looks quite strange, but stunning, as you view the white road at a high point running into the distance meandering through the wild landscape.

Around an hour later we reached a junction in the road, with one road going north towards Smithton and Stanley, the other road to Corinna. We continued our journey south on a fairly straight section of the road south towards Corinna. About ten minutes after the turnoff we came around a slight bend and were utterly amazed to see a young, healthy Devil wander out of the scrub at the edge of the road.

I quickly stopped the car on the side of the narrow road as best I could. The fine-looking Devil was just a few metres ahead of us on the roadside. When it got onto the roadway, it turned and walked along the road lowering and raising its head sniffing the earth and the air. The Devil looked back towards us, but seemed quite unconcerned about our presence.

As Andreas grabbed his camera, I tried to move the car off the road a little more. But as I moved the car forward the Devil turned and at first ambled back away from the road and then a moment later swiftly bounded off back into the thick scrub. The Devil’s behaviour as it left highlighted how fit it was, with just three brisk leaps it went across the cleared area near the road and was gone.

Even though we were travelling through a remote area, it was a really unexpected event, to observe a Tasmanian Devil on the roadside in the afternoon. I’ve seen them in the wild before, at dusk and dawn, but usually at a distance. Although it was a brief glimpse, we felt incredibly fortunate to have such a close encounter with this young Devil. And we were very pleased to see that the Devil was in such fine condition.

Considering the dire situation of the Tasmanian Devils it is very heartening to know there are parts of the state where Devils have no Facial Tumour Disease. This disease has killed off 80 percent of the Tasmanian Devil population in the past decade. So, it’s encouraging that there is still a significant population of disease free Devils in the Tarkine. The Tarkine region is therefore really crucial to the continued survival of the species in the wild. Proposals for further mining, logging and more roads pose threats to the future survival of the Devil and should be rejected. Let’s strive to ensure that these unaffected populations can be preserved and left to continue to thrive there in the wild.

We drove on to Corinna, content with what we had observed and done in our short period in the Tarkine. It is an exquisite place and a journey through the wild region is a truly magnificent experience, made even more unforgettable for us after coming across this wonderful sight of such a lively Tasmanian Devil. It is a much-treasured memory of our visit to this marvellous wild region. And the presence of a healthy population Tasmanian Devils is one of many worthy reasons that the amazing Tarkine wilderness needs proper protection.   

Next article – Active and United for a Socialist Australia

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