Into the wild and untamed interior of the alluring Weld Valley
My second book, ‘Shadow of the Thylacine’ - having finally found a publisher - is due for release on May 1st.
And to coincide with its publication, I would like to enlarge on the
circumstances surrounding my quest to locate the thylacine in the Weld
Valley in March 1995.
Because of overall restrictions regarding word content there was
insufficient room to include all details in the book text, and I feel it
important to supplement my earlier account to this widely read
electronic newspaper with an in-depth narrative of my entry into the
south western section of the Weld Valley and that part which borders the
South West National Park.
Surprisingly little has been written about this seldom visited part
of Tasmania which is remarkable considering its alluring attraction, and
as such it deserves commendable recognition. Despite road building and
logging having since taken place to the east and north over the past 18
years, this particular area has to this point in time fortunately been
spared such intrusion.
The south-western sector of the Weld Valley is one of the least
visited tracts of back country in Tasmania, presenting any bushwalker
prepared and equipped to tackle it with something of a genuine
It is blessed with pure, pristine wilderness; extremely remote,
largely uncharted and seldom walked. There are no recognised tracks and
it can at times be subjected to powerful weather extremes; rain hail,
wind, snow and sleet, along with perfectly clear, sunny days thrown in
for good measure. To venture into its mysterious depths is to chance
whatever nature chooses to throw at you. Once in its clutches you are
tempting fate and your life will never be quite the same again. You will
rapidly fall under its spell, captivated by its magnificence,
breathtaking beauty and enticing allurement to draw you back time and
again. Bounded by the Jubilee and Snowy Ranges to the north and the
Western Arthurs to the south, this valley of the Weld is a special
place; a rare and wild expanse of untainted primordial splendour where
it appears time has stood still.
To enter its depths, one requires a definite purpose; a self-
motivated rationale to even consider such an undertaking, for this is
most definitely not your basic Sunday afternoon stroll. It would be
extremely reckless to enter such a challenging wilderness ill prepared
and without an adequate sense of bushcraft.
In penetrating its depths in March 1995, I did so with an obvious
premonition; an undeniable awareness of foreboding, that were anything
to go wrong it could well prove to be my undoing, for if misfortune were
to strike, it was unlikely I would ever be found. But it was a journey I
had to make and I could find little solace until this exacting task had
It was a carefully planned and executed manoeuvre on my part; an
unambiguous approach explicitly aimed at locating a thylacine presence
in the Weld River hinterland. I was acting on counsel obtained from two
elderly Tasmanian bushmen, one of whom had guaranteed that Tasmanian
tigers were living and breeding back in there. Were this covert advice
to be proven correct, it would lead me to my ultimate objective, and one
that had to that point in time continued to both frustrate and elude
Travelling alone as I always do on such expeditions, I fully realised
I was throwing caution to the wind considering I had little idea of
what lay ahead. For where these men had entered from the east, I was
attempting to infiltrate the area from the opposite direction. Other
than scant advice obtained from numerous old bushmen, try as I may, I
failed to locate a great deal of relevant information, either written or
spoken, on the actual nature of the country I was about to confront.
It was in reality a no man’s land and I was embarking on a journey that
it appeared few had previously undertaken. Mercifully the weather would
be kind to me; I could not have asked for better considering it was
early autumn, relatively fine, mild and with a satisfactory outlook for
the next few days at least.
Before embarking on such a journey it is always important to do one’s
homework and significant research revealed that the upper reaches of
the Snake River embrace noteworthy mineral deposits, while an earlier
route blazed by track cutter, Phillip Schnell, about 100 years before,
runs across its headwaters bordering the Western Arthur Range. I also
ascertained that Schnell, in order to avoid the worst of the thickly
forested country below had commenced his track to the east in a valley
between Mt. Weld and the Gallagher Plateau, concluding it at Mt. Sarah
Jane near the head of the Snake River where the richest deposits lay.
Regardless, I could find precious little information about the Snake’s
confluence with the Weld River. However, on the strength of Schnell’s
report, I realised that I may well be in for a battle with the densely
forested terrain I was contemplating tackling.
Where previously I had penetrated the Weld River Valley from the
northern side, and from where my progress had been continually barred by
dense stands of horizontal, I was now primarily tackling a far more
diverse landscape. My original intentions were to trace the river from
its headwaters under Mt Mueller, a task I found all but impossible. On
several occasions I followed a blazed track that led to the river on the
northern side, but on each occasion it was running a banker and far too
dangerous to cross.
Having been assured that the thylacine periodically negotiated a wide
area embracing the Snake River, previous experience told me the animal
didn’t live specifically in a defined locale but constantly moved
throughout the region on a regular traverse of its extensive home range.
The essence of my contract therefore, was to attempt to be in the right
place at the right time. It was an undertaking that, if successful, may
well pay rich dividends.
My strategy was to enter the region under the shadow of Mt Anne and
strike out for the Weld River as it skirted the escarpment far below.
Once locating the river, I would make my way south until eventually
reaching the Snake. On the map it looked uncomplicated, with everything
appearing easily negotiable, but nothing could have been further from
the truth. Initially the landscape continually rises and falls in a
series of scrub covered hills and gullies. Although the gradients were
more easily negotiated near the river, dense bush and rough terrain
necessitated seeking the best path further inland to avoid the worst of
And then, out of the blue appeared a tree blaze; perhaps the possibility
of a track? It appeared fortune was on my side, for it soon becoming
apparent it was an early survey track, lying redundant and neglected for
who knows how long? Later research revealed it may well have been
connected with that blazed by one of the early explorers in the region.
Could it possibly have been that of Thomas Frodsham who passed that way a
According to Frodsham’s track notes, he had struck out across country
from McPartlan’s South Gordon Track in atrocious weather and skirted Mt
Bowes before linking up with the Weld River. Turning right at the
Snake, he followed its main stream west before eventually meeting up
with Schnell’s Track, first blazed in 1890. From there it took him
through open button grass plains to the Huon River and McKay’s track
which linked up with the track to the Huon which in turn went though to
Port Davey. It must be remembered that many of these ‘tracks’
comprised no more than blazes on trees which acted as markers, and as
such required a concentrated effort to retrace.
I soon discovered there was precious little left of the old track to
follow, but whatever remained provided me with a reasonably traceable
gradient, and in that type of country this was a considerable bonus.
The wild and untamed Weld River varies greatly in width over its
long, rambling course, with rapids a common feature and huge boulders
scattered along its banks, many no doubt the result of land slips from
higher ground on the northern side. It is a most interesting and
enchanting stream, with waterfalls occurring every so often to break its
regularity including the aptly known Weld Arch, a large limestone
portico through which the river briefly flows. Although not running a
banker at the time, it was nevertheless a steady flow and to randomly
cross it may have presented some difficulty. Every so often the
watercourse squeezes between fissures in the rocks, and anyone
contemplating canoeing this far upstream would have considerable portage
to perform when confronting these obstacles. Log jams are another
hazard frequently appearing along its flow. Numerous small steams flow
across the escarpment before emptying into the Weld River including the
larger White water Creek, and each could present considerable crossing
problems if flowing fast at the time.
My objective though was a more demure watercourse fed by ample run
off from the Mt Anne escarpment. Steadily making my way through the
bush, I came upon patches of truly luxurious eucalypt growth,
periodically intermingled with fierce stands of the challenging
horizontal and cutting grass. Not surprisingly there was a profusion of
wildlife, including an abundant wallaby population, this aspect alone
giving emphasis to a possible thylacine presence in the area. The
landscape was truly mind blowing; pristine wilderness splendour that had
survived the so called ‘march of progress’ so evident to the north and
east where logging roads had, over recent years bisected large tracts
of this primeval terrain. Perhaps it may be asking too much in seeking
infinite protection for this untouched part of an exceptionally
magnificent valley, in an age when materialism and blatant environmental
recklessness so often outweigh common logic. For to loose this absolute
magnificence to some form of abject commercialism would amount to
little more than premeditated vandalism, as such a treasure as this can
never, ever be replaced.
The discovery of what I believed was a thylacine hide in the burnt
out trunk of a large, ancient tree gave me some optimism as I paused to
carefully examine it, noting recent use by an obviously large animal.
On reaching the Snake River, I found the bush to be a conglomeration
of thick tea-tree copse intermingled with lush stands of ferns and
various timbers. This river weaves a crazy path as it makes its way
downwards from beneath Mt. Anne. In poorly drained sections, button
grass plains flourished, providing perfect hunting grounds for any
itinerant thylacines plying their vast territory. Following its
convergence with the Snake, the Weld River appeared to open up somewhat,
presenting a more negotiable stream as it makes its way towards the
Making camp at the edge of a bank of ferns adjoining the river, I
bedded down to a cool, clear night. As I lay awake in my swag, that
first distinct hunting call came in early morning hours. It was
Clear as a bell, the unmistakable high pitched double yip was
followed some seconds later by a response – a hunting mother thylacine
calling her brood to heal as they plied the button grass plains further
up river. Some thirty minutes later that same clear resonance came
again, only this time from further afield.
What followed shortly after dawn that morning was cause for great
jubilation? Until then my quest had been largely unproductive; now I
was in no doubt that at least one pocket of thylacine had survived.
Coming face to face with the animal as I did later that morning
dispelled any reservations I may have had concerning its continued
existence. Despite seeing only the one animal, on the strength of what I
heard earlier that day, I was in little doubt that there were others of
its kind roaming the region.
Additional critical observance gathered over recent years has
reinforced my belief that the thylacine has indeed survived, albeit in
negligible numbers; there may be only a handful remaining. The possible
answer to that bewildering and all important question is, as they say,
‘blowing in the wind’.
The Tasmanian tiger I observed that morning and those that I heard
earlier would by now be long gone, for this animal’s lifespan in the
wild would likely be no more than 7-10 years. One can only hope this
colony continued to breed, thus prolonging their existence into the
During the course of my lengthy and challenging return journey, I
earnestly pondered the question of whether or not to reveal to the world
what I had seen back in there. I must admit it was sorely tempting, but
after seriously weighing up the consequences, I decided that for the
sake of the animal, it would be best to keep the lid firmly shut on my
discovery. Should news of this momentous breakthrough have leaked out,
the consequences for any thylacine in that neck of the woods may well
have been dire, and that is something I was loath to see happen. It has
not been easy to maintain my silence on this issue for so long, for
there were times when, pressed for information I was sorely tempted to
speak out, but only out of a deep and enduring respect for this
exceptional animal was I able to resist such a temptation – until now. I
reiterate, those particular animals would now be long gone and I can
only hope their offspring survive still, although not necessarily in the
I am only too aware that there will be those who, infected by
eccentric theories, scientific hypothesis and mere supposition delight
in ridiculing such claims. But as far as I am concerned, their
philosophies are largely unproductive and sterile, often based on little
more than misguided premise and unconfirmed conviction, for no one can
put a precise date on extinction. The validity of the matter is obvious;
I am in the box seat, having categorically seen the thylacine in the
flesh. I was absolutely in no doubt as to what I saw that morning and
that is of prime importance to me. Therefore, I am convinced there are
others in Tasmania today that, having personally witnessed this animal
irrefutably share my beliefs.
In my soon to be released book I magnify this event as well as many
other aspects of my search I have never before spoken or written about.
It is a tell-all account - well almost - of my 45 years search for the
thylacine. I commend it to you as possibly the first biography of its
type ever published.