D’Entrecasteaux Channel: North West Bay: Electrona and Peggy’s Beach (T476)

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.

Peggy's Beach
Peggy’s Beach (North)

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.

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Peggy’s Beach (N)

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.

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Peggy’s Beach (N): Margate Marina visible in the distance

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.

Electrona Beach
A deep strandline of seaweed on Peggy’s Beach (S).
View from the beach south of Peggy's
Fish farm activity off the beach with Coningham in the distance
Shady Peggys
Peggy’s Beach (S) on a still day.
The view north from Barretta
The view north from above Peggy’s Beach (S)
Driving along the Channel Highway in this vicinity, I’d seen a sign that said Sunshine Industries and it’s supported by some text that is possibly in Mandarin.  I couldn’t see where this company was actually located and so I searched the web and discovered that in 2005 five acres of land had been bought on the bay by a Lendlease Project Manager, Jeff Hunt, who had turned it into a company called Coastal Waters Seafoods.  On his Linked In page he says he was  ‘the sole Director & Secretary, CEO, Contract Administrator and tank Room Manager and built the company from Nothing to a $35m turnover per annum’ – and that he became Tasmania’s second largest exporter of abalone and lobster – ‘by 2012 [he was] exporting over 200 tonne of abalone and 100 tonne of southern rock lobster to Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Taiwan, Japan and Dubai’ (LinkedIn).   In 2013 he sold it to a Chinese company and it’s now known as Sunshine Industries.

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!)

D’Entrecasteaux Channel: North West Bay by kayak

What my kayak and I discovered in Ranggoeradde [North West Bay]

The Tortoise and the Elephant

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Cliffs passed as I entered  Ranggoeradde

And so I left vibrant Tinderbox Marine Reserve behind me and turned into Ranggoeradde,  better known as North West Bay. Calling it by a name so redolent in history restores something of its original character, despite the fact that it has been stripped of its myths and stories and the people who told them aren’t really recognised anymore.

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Fallen giant

A lot may have been lost in  translation.  It’s easy to withhold, mislead, confuse or misunderstand when it comes to words and their meanings, particularly when the relationship between the teller and the person with the quill is untrusting, or uncertain at best.  Ranggoeradde may not have been properly translated at all.

It’s a low energy embayment of about 2,000 ha. and it now  lay spread out before me.  It’s eastern shore is also the western shore of the Tinderbox Peninsula and it’s easy to forget this as you wander about this area.  There’s a long winding road that feels its way down that particular edge of the bay, past a number of Howden houses set in big blocks of land, a couple of small bays (somewhat muddy) and a bus shelter that doubles as a local book exchange or perhaps a community library.  It’s a good road to cycle but it’s still on my ‘to do’ list.  It’s a good area to walk too, and on this eastern side there are three spots of interest:  Wingara, Stinkpot Bay and the Peter Murrell Reserve, and I was heading to Wingara to catch up with the patient geo.

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The further I went into the bay, the more I noticed that diversity beneath my kayak  was diminishing, and I realised that this bay is like a tortoise trying to support an elephant on its stoic little back.  It carries the suburb of Howden, the country towns of Margate, Electrona and Snug, as well as Conningham, where shacks along a short series of sandy beaches now make up something of a commuter suburb.

The North West River plummets down the southern slope of kunanyi (Mt Wellington) and when it happens to be dry its bed gleams with large, pale boulders and when it’s in flood it’s strength is so awesome your breath catches.  It enters Ranggoerrade, and so does the lovely Snug Rivulet, hugging its secrets to itself in a dreamy sort of way, a perfectly beautiful miniature estuary.  They, along with various rivulets entering the bay, carry local litter, grey water, toxins and the like.  That’s more than enough,  but there’s a fish farm here that ups the nutrient load, a bit of light industry (pre-cast concrete and glazing), a seafood factory and a marina, moorings and a boat yard as well as a sewage works. (Jordan et al. 2002) as cited here.

It wouldn’t take me long to reach Wingara, I figured, but then I saw the sandstone cliffs and my speed slackened off again.  They were stunning and I got snap happy.  Never high, they sloped downwards, eucalypts and grasslands above, and gave way to a cobbled shoreline.

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Weathering artistically – when geology morphs into art form

Andrew Short (2006) doesn’t mention beaches on this side of the bay in his inventory of Tasmanian beaches, and I had flipped my strategy for exploring beaches.  Instead of high tide, for the D’Entrecasteaux and kayaking I wanted high tides, expecting mostly muddy shores.  That’s why, on this trip, I sometimes floated above beaches drowned by the tide and gazed at ancient ones laid down in the sandstone’s stratigraphy.  I came to a cove with  a private beach and tried that lifestyles on for size.

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The quietude of private beaches
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Only rec fishers! For a moment I thought they were  fish farm workers out to bust me for straying into fish farm waters
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The bay spread before me but below the water it wasn’t so uplifting anymore

It was as I paddled along the shoreline beside the fish farm that I really noticed the decline in seagrasses and seaweed. From the fish farm and that first house on the shore, it became less interesting beneath the water but the cliffs were awesome. Sometimes I had to go out a little wider to avoid the ‘bommies’. Occasional the kayak scratched as I went over them in too shallow water. I was constantly lifting my rudder.

I negotiated the fish farm and the Wingara jetty, passing cormorants holding their wings out to dry.  The geo was standing on the rocky platform staring at the cliffs.  So far, it had been an absorbing paddle, but I thought how westerners accuse some of the cultures amongst whom they’ve settled their flagpoles of not planning for tomorrow. We haven’t necessarily recognised that actually, we are the ones that haven’t planned for tomorrow in the most significant of ways.  We’ve used up ecosystems like their isn’t going to be one.  We’re the destruction and destruction doesn’t give a damn.  That’s why all around us there are tortoises balancing elephants.

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A little more about this tortoise and that elephant:

The State of the D’Entrecasteaux Channel and the lower Huon Estuary report (Parsons, 2012) states the following about North WestBay:

  • At risk from nutrient loading due to high terrestrial inputs of nutrients and reduced flushing times
  • Experiences turbidity values far in excess of the upper national guideline value during high flows of the North WestBayRiver
  • Dissolved oxygen (DO) levels in North WestBay are variable and have dipped as low as 58% saturation in bottom waters during summer, reflecting poor environmental health
  • Occasional elevated values of contamination highlight the vulnerability of some beaches and other recreational sites to short‐term spikes in bacterial loads. Primary areas of concern in recent years include Margate and Snug
  • Evidence of environmental legacy issues at the former heavy industrial site at Electrona, although measures have been implemented to mitigate impacts on the Channel
  • Heavy metals are also elevated in sediments in deep, silty areas of North WestBay

Source:  Kingborough Council. North West Bay