West Coast Tassie - Strahan & Lake Leather's New Shop
Alex Mileham·February 14, 2022
West Coast Tassie: Strahan - Go West:
Now, I don’t know about you…but I have never been a day-at-the-beach kind of gal. I need a really good book and a significant amount of shade if I am going to spend any time at the beach. I get sunburnt wayyy too easily, get sand in my sunscreen, complain about it heaps and am not the most confident swimmer to be mucking about in the water. I also like weather. Real weather, that blows and rains and changes from day to day, hour to hour. It’s not for me, a patchless blue sky – that never changing dome of blue overhead. Give me a moody sky any day of the week.
However, like many people, I am still drawn to water. I love being near the stuff. Running rivers, coastlines, waterfalls, the places where the land and the wet stuff mingle. So, when the opportunity to take a lease on a shop space in Strahan (a picturesque fishing town on Tassie’s west coast) presented itself, I jumped at it. It remains to be seen how sensible this idea was, but as always, I have jumped in feet first and at the very least Lake Leather's fine leather goods store will be ‘popping-up’ in Strahan for the summer.
Strahan, today, is a really beautiful place. It is situated on the north shore of a vast natural harbour on Tasmania’s west coast, Macquarie Harbour. The harbour is around six times larger than it’s more famous cousin Sydney Harbour, up on the big island. Strahan was originally developed as a port to service the mining towns in the mountains along west coast Tassie, such as Queenstown and Zeehan.
Today it is a bustling hub for tourism in the area. The town has such offerings as Australia’s longest running play ‘The Ship That Never Was,’ wonderful harbour and river tours, a splendid steam-train journey through the virgin temperate rainforest, and it is home to some of Tasmania’s growing network of world-class mountain bike trails. It is an access point for the UNESCO World Heritage listed Franklin-Gordon Tasmanian Wilderness Area. It is also a hub for the Huon pine industry; stumps and logs being dredged from the harbour and waterways rather than cut from living trees.
Macquarie Harbour has a number of interesting physical features that are worthy of note. Several rivers empty into it, such as King River, Braddon River, Bird River and the famous Gordon River. Day trips can be booked aboard one of two magnificent boats that offer fantastic daily harbour and river cruises. These tours will take you to look at the narrow entrance to the harbour – Macquarie Heads – and also visit the most famous island in the harbour, Sarah Island, before heading up the Gordon. There are no less than nine named islands within Macquarie Harbour, each bristling with forest to the waters edge. Sarah Island houses the remains of the first settlement in the harbour, a penal colony established in 1822. This penal settlement was only short lived, but its infamy has cast a long shadow.
The natural beauty of the place belies the dark history of Macquarie Harbour. Although the natural harbour has been a safe sanctuary for ships from the vast expanse of the raging Southern Ocean, it was a much-feared place. Its penal colony was a dismal and torturous destination for recalcitrant convicts from around Tasmania during Australia’s convict past. The penal settlement was situated on Sarah Island and was the most maligned convict settlement in Tasmania. The reputation of the place was such that the narrow entrance to the harbour was given the name ‘Hells Gates’ by convicts sent there. It was renowned for its extreme weather, isolation, hard work and brutal lashings. Very
few attempted to escape, and even fewer were successful. See the story of one of the most daring escapes ‘The Ship That Never Was’ performed by the Round Earth Theatre Company daily at 5.30pm. This fun, family play will have you cheering and jeering along as the audience take part as players in the production.
Strahan village itself was established to service the mining towns of the mountains and has a vibrant history of its own. With Macquarie Harbour being the West Coast’s only protected deep water harbour, the port facilitated virtually all transport to and from the area for the mining, and later timber industries. Strahan was the hub of the west coast, and an important stop for ships traversing Tasmania’s west coast from Hobart to Melbourne and further afield. Lake Leather’s new shop will be situated in the iconic Union Steamship Building on the esplanade. Now owned by the West
Coast Council, the beautiful building was built by the New Zealand company and opened in May, 1901. It is built in the Italian Renaissance style, featuring classical Corinthian cornices, fluted columns, and foliated mouldings on its imposing three-story facade. It sits in a prime position looking out over the water of Risby Cove, and its size and regal style are a mark of the importance Strahan had in the heyday of the west coast industrial era.
Now, I am pleased to say, the focus has shifted from extracting money from the abundant natural resources to conservation of this glorious natural environment. Tourism is now one of the major economic focuses of the area. Many historic entities have been repurposed to give them a vibrant second life in the modern era. One great example of this is the West Coast Wilderness Railway at Regatta Point. It utilises the historic train tracks originally built to service deliveries to-and-from the Mount Lyall copper mines of Queenstown. You can adventure through the pristine forest in the beautifully restored carriages, pulled by some of the original steam engines imported from Glasgow for the railway.
We are very excited to be heading to Strahan, and we have high hopes for our time there. You will find us open every day through summer at Shop 2, 21-25 Esplanade, directly opposite the Gordon River Cruise building. Our hope is that by bringing our unique mix of quality goods we can survive through the off season too, with the support of the locals. We hope that our presence in Strahan will appeal not just to visitors, but the people of Strahan and further afield. The West Coast is having something of a renaissance, and we are thrilled to be a part of the Strahan community at this exciting time. See you there or check out our extensive range online!