Devastation

Sometimes, all it takes is a one-word prompt to get us writing. Today’s Daily Post writing prompt: DEVASTATION.

THE ROAD SOUND CHANGED from the hiss of rubber on asphalt to the rumble of rubber on gravel as we started down the unsurfaced road that crosses Tasmania’s Central plateau.

My partner was driving the minivan and she slowed, knowing how easy it is to get into a skid on roads with loose gravel surfaces. I gripped the top of dashboard, though I had no reason to be alarmed. Just being cautious. I too had seen spinouts on roads like this. Behind, I could see a plume of grey/yellow dust marking our passage.

“Is it like this all the way to Great Lake?”, she asked. “Sure is”, I replied as I settled back to enjoy the drive. “It’s all all-weather road”, I assured her, “except maybe in winter when snow drifts block it”.

She had never been up here, on the Central Plateau. I had, when I used to live in Tasmania, but time had dulled memory of the place. We had followed the road from where it left the farmland of the lowlands to ascend through the cool temperate rainforest of the Western Tiers, as the escarpment of the Central Plateau is known.

We had come up past Quamby Bluff but my partner had a cold and lacked the energy for the steep climb. That takes a good half day, depending how fast you walk uphill. There’s a track and in good weather, like today, it would have been an energetic but worthwhile climb from the top of which the vast stretch of Tasmania’s northern Bass Strait coast would have laid revealed. I made a mental note to add this to our list of places to go, next time.

“Snow gums”, I pointed out to her. “They’re a dominant vegetation up here, up at this altitude. Like their kind over on the mainland they’re a low, stunted tree here too.

“Hey… here’s some more of those shacks we’ve been seeing”, she interjected, interrupting me. “Wow! This lot are like a small village… and there’s one with a wind generator. Guess we’re a long way from electricity lines out here, so the photovoltaic panels we see on some of the shacks make sense too”.

“The shacks belong to fishermen and women who come up here to catch the trout”, I replied.

“Uh… so do they come in winter too?”, she asked, briefly looking over at me.

“Don’t think so. The road is blocked by heavy snowfall sometimes and it’s cold up here. And wet. Maybe a few do spend time here or overwinter, but they have to bring all their own food and supplies — no shops, no electricity here. And the only heating is wood collected in the bush”.

My partner is a good driver and didn’t really appreciate my occasional suggestions about slowing down or about sharp corners coming up. When I offered that all I would get would be a telling look that was an unspoken suggestion to cease. Figured I had better keep my advice to myself, but as a driver it’s something of an automatic response to be cautious when it comes to the driving of others.

We travelled in silence for awhile. Then she slowed to avoid a dead wallaby on the road, what looked like a recently fresh kill. “There’s so much roadkill here! I’ve never seen so much in so short a distance”.

“Lots of wallabies up here”, I responded. “Lots of possums too. And wombats. Should see what wombats and ‘roos can do to the front of a speeding car. Most of what you see are probably night collisons. Wallabies and ‘roos just stand there in the road, dazzled by the headlights. And they suddenly rush out of the bush onto the road and there’s no time to stop. Turning away can result in a skid and a skid can trash a car if it spins off the road into a tree”.

I was tempted to remind her of how, when I lived in Tasmania, a friend would occasionally bring over a leg of wallaby for the freezer. It was tasty in the gamey sort of was that ‘roo is. It was also roadkill. My friend had a habit of stopping at fresh roadkill. He would pull over, get out of the car, inspect the dead animal for freshness and condition and, judged still edible, take it home. This is one of those Tasmanian things and it is also a practice on the mainland, though perhaps less common. Old practices last longer on this island.

She was right, though, in saying that there seems a disproportionate amount of roadkill up here on the plateau. I’ve seen much roadkill along rural roads but there seemed much more of it here. Possums seemed the most common victims.

We drove on, emerging from the snow gum forest along the lake shore onto a wide grassy plain. Part way across this plain we drove into Liawenee. Like other places in Tasmania it appears as a town of village on maps but when you get there all you find is a small collection of houses. It sits on the banks of a shallow, fast flowing stream that drains into Great Lake. The minor road out to Lake Augusta, over to the north west, follows upstream for quite some distance before reaching the lake shores.

We drove on, slowing where roadworks were in progress. Finally, asphalt and Great Lake. Not quite a village, Great Lake, more a hotel and store where the Marlborough Highway branches off the Highland Lakes Road.

Something of a grandiose name, I thought, for a two lane gravel road. After traversing the Plateau the Marlbourough joins the Lyall Highway that links the eastern and western divisions of Tasmania. It’s a lonely drive through an isolated region and we didn’t take it this time and drove on the few kilometres to Miena to start the long descent to Bothwell.

Even here, at Great Lake,  the roadkill we had seen so frequently was still evident. I looked down on a wallaby in the drain beside the road. It was a victim of a collision some time ago, a victim drying out, its grey fur still visible as it slowly decayed into the surrounding earth.

Roadkill is a devastation of wildlife, I know. It is testament to the reality that when wildlife and technology in the form of motor vehicles collide, wildlife is the loser. I see no solution to this. It is a given in this country.

Maybe, I thought as I stood there and as my partner wondered why I would stand staring at a dead wallaby, maybe we should see the devastation in more positive terms, maybe we need to reframe it away from devastation and position it as a resource, just as my friend had done all those years ago. Maybe, I thought, we should think of roadkill less as devastation and more as nature’s butcher shop.

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