We traveled westward, In January,
Retracing our past, but fifty years on.
A Christmas present from our family
Was the reason to revisit Queenstown;
Provided by way of a Wilderness Cruise,
On the West Coast’s famous River Gordon.
You see, Tasmania’s Central Highlands’
One teacher Primary School at Bronte Park
Was my first appointment as principal,
“In the middle of nowhere!” some would remark.
The second, in ‘sixty-nine, when appointed
To South Queenstown, differences were stark!
‘South’ had two hundred primary students,
Five teachers, a vibrant community,
A fully serviced, large mining town with
Multiple schools, hope, and opportunity.
By comparison Bronte was very small
With isolation, a reality.
Queenstown in ’69 was a boomtown,
With a population of five thousand.
Copper prices, due to the Vietnam War,
Were high, surrounding hills were a waste land
Caused by sulphur emitted from the smelters,
Environmental effects not questioned.
And so, exactly fifty years later
We parked our van within sight of mountains
That featured so much in our lives back then,
When five special years were to begin.
Would it be a mistake to go back there?
Would changes be within what we’d imagined?
The waters of Lake Burbury covered
The King River’s picturesque, picnic ground,
Beside fast flowing water, near mountains,
Where impenetrable wilderness abounds.
We remembered the school sports and picnics,
Children’s laughter, and other happy sounds.
Trees had regrown in the Linda Valley,
The town of Gormanston had disappeared.
The bends on the ‘Gormy’ Hill were wider.
Around each corner we carefully steered.
Then, in the Queen River Valley below,
The old mining town of Queenstown appeared.
Two thirds of the population had gone,
The Mt Lyell mine in caretaker mode,
Yet the hope to open again was strong.
Many shops we remembered then, had closed.
Visiting tourists keep the town alive,
Some travelling on the rebuilt, railroad.
We drove in silence around deserted streets,
Past closed stores, repurposed pubs, empty places,
Both lost in thought and reflecting upon
The changes made to once familiar spaces.
Saddened by the sights we saw in the town,
Compared with memories our heart embraces.
We hated to see the South Queenstown School
Standing derelict, abandoned and sad,
With broken windows, set in long, dry grass,
Closed in nineteen eighty-nine when a fad
To save money by closing schools was enacted.
We were both left with the memories we had!
The residence on the corner still stood,
But, like the school, not as we expected.
It did look like the house we both knew then
But was somehow, different and neglected.
Our boys spent their preschool years in this house,
And their antics, we both recollected.
We have happy mem’ries of Queenstown then,
Of a vibrant time to have fun and play,
Of teachers who taught there, the friends we made,
Students we respected, endless rainy days.
Fond recollections we’ll forever have,
Inspite of the changes we saw that day.