No Business of Yours
They were mine for paddling, and kayak along these cliffs I did, before discovering sailing and long before embarking on this humble little project. Now, standing on Hinsby Beach gazing south along their tall and shadowed extent, I wondered about the possibility of actually walking along their base. I’d once assumed the Alum Cliff track that begins at the bottom of Taronga Road on Bonnet Hill was the only way. Now I was not so sure.
The coastline south from Hinsby Beach to Kingston is known as Alum Cliffs; the hill’s abrupt and perpendicular descent into the river. There is no beach at its feet, just rocks and boulders, as well as a rocky platform containing fossils beneath Taronga Road (a cul de sac that runs from the Channel Highway down to the edge of the cliffs not too far north of the point where the highway – in reality a narrow semi rural road – begins descending down to Kingston Beach).
I knew about this fossilised platform from chats with locals on Hinsby Beach and from Sue Mount’s article. They said that once it was possible to reach it on foot but a local landholder had built a fence that now excluded the public. Did they mean from their beach, or, in hindsight, did they misunderstand me and mean from Taronga Road? Exactly how you accessed this platform wasn’t too clear but I was determined to try.
Many years ago, when I was deeply into archaeology I walked the Brickfields Track (also accessed on Bonnet Hill) with the Tasmanian Archaeology Society. The Taronga Road area has mudstone, dolerite and a patch of quality sandstone along its ridge and is strewn with evidence of early colonial activities.
On that walk we came across remnants of the Brown’s River Probation Station (1840s) where over three hundred predominantly road building convicts once lived. There were the remains of a kiln used for brickmaking. Bits of the station are scattered through local gardens now and there’s a house with a swimming pool built into the old quarry. As the years have unfolded some of the bricks once part of structures or left lying about have been removed and incorporated into new structures or lost altogether. Some have no doubt ended up in the river. On my earlier walks I’d encounter red bricks remoulded into satisfyingly round and textured shapes by water.
On the Channel Highway, close to Taronga Road, there is still evidence of an old convict built wall. Some of that high quality sandstone (by Tasmanian standards) from the Taronga Ridge became the Shot Tower, locally famous for being the last remaining circular standstone shot tower in the world, built in 1870, almost twenty years after the probation station had become redundant. It, too, eventually became redundant but in its heyday was used for producing lead shot.
Kayaking, you can get much closer to the cliffs than when you’re on a yacht, although it can be unpleasant when the waves rebound strongly off them. On a yacht it’s best to leave a little seaway, especially along a lee shore, and when I pass by Alum Cliffs these days I’m usually sailing, observing these dark cliffs rising from the water, more wildness in the city precincts, topped as they are by communities of trees and shrubs forming a satisfying stretch of bushland.
There was a strong north westerly wind blowing on the first day I first set off to uncover a route along the cliffs from Taroona itself and I was feeling uncharacteristically despondent, in need of an activity to blast that mood away. Sue Mount’s article seemed to be a hint that the Alum Cliffs track had once started at the right of way onto the beach at lllawong Crescent. I’d looked at other brochures and I’d looked on Google Maps. None of them show it starting at this point.
But still I searched. I returned to the start of the Hinsby Beach track at Wendell Crescent. I walked down it and saw that there was in fact a path to the right that went along the very edge of the cliff, somewhat steep and slippery. I got as far as a patch of escaped daisies from the garden above. They were growing over the track and to proceed I had to grab hold of vegetation to pull myself upward. It wasn’t clear that the path continued on the other side so I decided that as I was alone and the path a tenuous, unused one so hazardously close to the edge, I’d best go up to Taronga Road and see if I could meet up with it by heading north.
I was enthused by the discovery that I could indeed head north to Taroona on the Alum Cliff track but I was not far along it when I met a local walking her dog, one like Ash, and so we got talking. She confirmed what I had already learned: that once it had been possible to take a path down to a large rock platform at the base of the cliffs hereabout and continue along towards Taroona, but it had been closed off by a landowner. If I continued along this path I’d reach the Shot Tower.
‘And it’s steep,’ said a man I encountered a little further along, and he was right. I came to a point where I had a clear view of the path heading downhill and then up the other side. My focus is on beaches and the stretches of coastline between them, and with these beaches it’s on the river itself, particularly (but not only) where it interfaces the land.
I declined the path’s feeble invitation and turned back.
This was back in June 2015. Since then, I’ve gone back to Hinsby Beach on five or six separate occasions, all on the most promising of low tides, sometimes in winter but also at the supermoon’s low last month (9 March), when, unfortunately, the seabreeze worked against me, hurling waves at my knees in a quite malicious fashion as I tried to negotiate a watery gap in the rocks close – very close, I feel – to the little turn the cliffs take as they head to the area beneath Taronga Road. You’ve no business to be here, I felt they were saying. You people have made your track, now walk it.
But that day beneath the supermoon, I sat for a long time enjoying my splendid isolation, looking back towards Hinsby Beach, marvelling at seeing the cliffs with so much more of their base exposed, and enjoying their powerful presence at my back. They are not the only cliffs in the world. They are not even spectacularly tall but all the silence of the ages they contain gives them an undeniable aura in which I basked while deciding that, feeling personally rejected by the cliffs and the river, reaching the rocky platform and climbing up to Taronga Road wasn’t going to happen. The track above the cliffs is there for a purpose, I could only agree, and it affords a different vantage point from my watery stamping grounds. I decided with regret that I’d be satisfied with that.
And so that walk along the top of the Alum Cliffs from Taroona to Kingston is the subject of my next entry.