Electrona, the Great Lake and Broken Dreams
I did not expect much of Electrona, my next waypoint, because I remembered the community objection to the Pioneer Silicon smelter that was built here in the late 1980’s. The company actually only lasted three years. Profit eluded them and those industrial dreams crumbled.
The smelter had risen like a phoenix from the ruins of the Electrona Carbide Works with its strong link to the Great Lake up on the Central Plateau. This company, owned by James Gillies, who dreamed big and clearly had energy, was a motivating factor for the construction of Tasmania’s Hydroelectric Power Scheme. He needed power for his zinc smelting process and calcium carbide factory (built in 1917) and so he made it all happen.
He called his enterprise Electrona because of the electricity and electrodes used for smelting, but after the 1967 bush fires howled through and destroyed it, and demand for carbide kept falling, the company became insolvent and 250 people found themselves reshaping dreams of the good life and looking for work elsewhere.
I wasn’t thinking about wrecked dreams, huge ambition or job anxiety as I paddled passed. I wasn’t even thinking about the beach north of the marina – the one the swans had paddled out from. I wasn’t paying the shore much attention at all because I was tilting with white capped swells and that demanded most of my attention.
On Peggys Beach
To look more closely at what I’d missed, I came back on foot a couple of times and discovered that Electrona now consists of two areas, a residential community called Peggy’s Beach where most of the houses are reasonably new and a small industrial sector.
Where once there were workers’ cottages it’s now a quiet, middle class suburb with some particularly large houses up the northern end. But although it doesn’t look anything like an industrial suburb anymore, it still rubs shoulders with industry because up on the headland dividing the Peggy’s Beach community from Snug, the Electrona Industrial Park has a quite commanding presence on the skyline, and up there, on the road leading into the park, some of the more modest homes remain.
There are two beaches on either side of the community’s northern headland and on the advice of some small boys with fishing rods coming towards us along a track, we took a path through bushland down to the beach on the northern side. It’s about 250 m long and faces east across the bay, and it’s a varied beach, in some places narrow, rocky and undercut, and in others lightly coved, then spreading out to create, at low tide, a lovely sandy zone much loved by soldier crabs. There are reeds and a wetland of sorts and it has a beautiful serenity on a warm day. Even though it’s not that long, we poked around for quite a while here, chatting to the mother of at least one of the boys with rods. They were heading out in a dinghy to fish for flathead but she lingered on the beach and shared some local information.
What I liked in particular was the way the coastline weaved an irregular line and it was a great place to cast your mind back across the Holocene, because there are artefact scatters and traces of midden and we also found the silcrete quarry that it’s likely the Mouheneenner and / or Nuenonne used back in the day. Now it’s protected by the Aboriginal Relics Act 1975, so we looked and contemplated the quarry in particular, then walked gently on the beach, not wanting to crush the armies of crustaceans clicking their way across the sand. This beach extends northwards until it reaches the Margate Marina and it’s a shame that this marrs the view a little, as this marina is more of a working boat yard.
A walk around the headland in a southerly direction leads you to Peggy’s Beach (S), or beach T476, in accordance with Short (2006). I accessed it once via the track around the headland and on a different day by taking a path between houses. It’s short with a slight curve, backed by a rather weed infested hill that is crested by houses. It’s constrained by the headland to the north and to the south by a point that has been industrialised by Tassal. They’ve got two fish pens about opposite a stormwater, it seemed to me. Depending on where you’re standing (or kayaking) these pens don’t look that far off the beach and although they’ve been there each time I’ve visited, perhaps they are in fact empty. Still, the beauty of the beach is compromised by its proximity to aquaculture.
The southern headland is also better explored on foot but on the day I kayaked this stretch of coastline I was relieved to find that on rounding it I had at last reached Snug and that Coningham, my final destination, looked a whole lot closer.
Note: Like other parts of the coastline I’ve walked and kayaked, there’s a lack of certainty about the nomenclature. Getting conflicting advice about which beach was the actual Peggy’s Beach, I’ve referred to them as North and South, but the northern beach is in Barretta Bay and prior to construction along this shoreline may have been part of one beach around the embayment. (It’s confusing!)