Exploration: After European settlement, the first overland journey through central Tasmania was attempted by Lt Thomas Laycock in 1807. Searching for agricultural lands with a group of men, he passed through the midlands along Lake River near the Central Plateau. Ten years later naval officer John Beamont was directed by Governer Sorell to explore this further and journey to the Great Lake, which had been sited by settlers who had ventured to the area. The party reached the great Lake and travelled through the Central Plateau to the West of Tasmania. However they were troubled by hail and knee-deep snow and eventually a shortage of supplies forced them to turn back. Unofficially, the area was likely to have also been explored by escaped convicts and bushrangers. It has been speculated that well-known cannibal Alexander Pearce may have ventured onto the central plateau as he made his way from the prison at Macquarie Harbour. The bushranger Michael Howe was captured and killed in the area and surveyors had a run in with Matthew Brady and his gang near Little Pine River. The fur industry: The Central Plateau was also a popular location for hunters. Since European occupation native Tasmanian animals such as wallabies, possums and the now extinct thylacine were all hunted for their skins. Living in colder temperatures high elevation on the central plateau resulted in these animals having particularly thick winter pelts. These were prized and attracted high prices, so there was strong local as well as international demand. Around the beginning of the 1900s the ‘skin shed’ was invented. Often built from the Pencil Pines endemic to restricted areas of Tasmania above 800m, skin sheds used smoke to dry out skins overnight. This made it possible to quickly supply large numbers of skins and attracted people to the industry. Often shepherds would move their sheep down from the plateau during spring and make additional money from trapping when they returned over winter. By the 1950s prices had dropped so low that the industry collapsed. Trapping and snaring of animals was eventually banned in 1984 however licensed firearm hunting is legal and occurs in some parts of the Central Highlands. Recreational Fishing: The introduction of trout to the region after 1864 also began to draw visitors to the central highlands. After many failed attempts over 12 years, Sir James Youl was finally successful in introducing trout and salmon to Tasmania from England. The successful introduction attempt had the ova packed in moss in kept wet by melting ice from the icebox that they were stored in. These were hatched and developed at the New Norfolk salmon ponds and then the first brown trout were sent to the waters of the central plateau. It continues to be a popular destination for anglers from all over Australia and the world, and stock levels are now managed by the Inland Fisheries Service. Farming: The land around the central plateau has also been used for grazing sheep and cattle. In the days following settlement emigrants were given small holdings of land for migrating to Tasmania and were able to use convicts for labour. Areas such as the midlands were popular and with the high demand for wool coming from England grazing lands were expanded. Sheep grazing on the Central Plateau commenced during the 1820s, first on the lower edges of the plateau, then the lower and mid elevations, followed by the better subalpine areas. During the 1840s this was extended to over 1000m near Lake Augusta. By late 1840s the desirability of the Central Plateau was recognised because the area was well watered and continued to provide grass feed in the summer after grass at lower altitudes has dried up. Many graziers sought to obtain both low and high land to utilise a transhumance system of migrating livestock between seasons, moving to the plateau in summer and returning to lower pastures in autumn. Eventually farmers held grazing land in alpine areas through the central plateau and near the Walls of Jerusalem. These areas were abandoned for lower altitudes by 1860 until animals were reintroduced again in 1890s. The number of stock on the Central Plateau began to decline after the 1920s however the surrounding areas and parts of the central highlands are still used for sheep and cattle. Electricity: In 1905 Alexander McAulay, a professor at the University of Tasmania, designed a hydro-electric scheme for the Great Lake on the central plateau and some years later private construction began. When the company went broke the job was taken over by the Tasmanian Government and the scheme was completed in 1916. It was originally intended for the electricity to power the Hobart Zinc Works, however was also marketed to other businesses. As demand increased over the years it was further expanded to provide electricity to many Tasmanian households. In the 1930s the Marlborough Highway was built which further opened up the Central Plateau and a network of roads was built by the Hydro-Electric commission over the years. In 1966 the Poatina power station was commissioned which replaced the Waddamana station that had previously utilized the waters of Great Lake. Poatina remains today one of Tasmania’s largest power stations and contributes to electricity used within Tasmania and sold to the mainland. However, in 2016 use of the station was downscaled due to low water levels causing environmental concerns.

Photo credit: Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office

Photo credit: Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office