The Irenabyss Gallery - The Photography of Matt Brain

The Wreck of the Svenor, January 2004

Southwest of Pedder - Part 1: Melaleuca to Wreck Bay

The Wreck of the Svenor.image
The Wreck of the Svenor. Wreck Bay. Southwest Tasmania.

Participants : John Mclaine & Matt Brain

Planned Number of Days : 15 Actual Number of Days : 12

Cameras: Linhof Technika IV with Rodenstock 65mm f4.5 and 90mm f4.5 Grandagon Lenses. Minox GL 35mm Camera (malfunctioned). John : Pentax 67 Medium Format Camera with 45mm lens

The squalls could be seen as dark patches on the water, more marked by the loss of horizon in the grey hue of rain. For three days the clouds had been running fast from the west. The drizzle and rain would last five minutes and then sunshine again. Rain coats on and off, hats on and off. Far from being a nuisance, this weather pattern had allowed us the spells and breaks needed as we carried our brutal loads northwards on this rugged coast. And now the squalls provided the perfect atmosphere for photographing the shipwreck.

Inside the Svenor.image
Inside the Svenor. Southwest Tasmania.

The Svenor, wrecked in 1914 after her ballast shifted in rough seas is an imposing wreck that dominates the subsequently named Wreck Bay. The large swell driven by the westerly wind was breaking before the boat and smashing out through the hull. After taking many images from the shore, I left the Linhof and made a run for it between the breaks.

The holes in the side were easily big enough to climb through and John soon followed, passing his camera to me inside. After waiting on a beam for the next wave to smash through we clambered through the ship and up onto the remaining deck. The hulk shuddered as each wave hit while the next squall came through. The tide was rising so we took some quick photos, John made some stunning black and white images from these some of which are shown here with his permission.

The deck of The Svenor.image
The deck of The Svenor. Wreck Bay, Southwest Tasmania.

The Svenor, Wreck Bay.image
The Svenor, Wreck Bay. Copyright John Mclaine,

The Svenor's Deck.image
The Svenor's Deck. Copyright John Mclaine,

After returning to our tents at Trepanner Creek near the south corner of Wreck Bay, heavy rain ensued. This was followed by soft evening light, and we both returned to the beach for more photos. We were then treated to a spectacular rainbow starting only meters away in the dying light.

The pot of gold. Trepanner Creek. image
The pot of gold. Trepanner Creek. Wreck Bay, Southwest Tasmania.

The Svenor was the first major landmark on the trip and would mark a change in direction as we left the coast behind.

View The Wreck of the Svenor, The Propsting Range and Greystone Bluff in a larger map

The Miner's Hut.image
The Miner's Hut. Denny King's work shed at Melaleuca. Southwest Tasmania.

Our journey had begun with the flight over the southwest wilderness to land at Melaleuca airstrip. As we descended through dark clouds over Bathurst Harbour we could see a yacht motoring up the narrows. This turned out to be Damien Killalea in Close Encounter with whom we would rendezvous later that morning. Stormy seas had been battering the south coast but they had sailed through to meet us, passing the Breaksea Islands late in dim light to shelter in Bathurst Harbour.

While awaiting Close Encounter's arrival at Melaleuca inlet, we spent the morning exploring and paid a visit to the homestead of the late Denny King to photograph some of the relics of his lone mining site. Denny's garden is especially remarkable considering it is only meters from the button grass plains. Denny had died the year before I first visited Melaleuca, however John has fond memories of Denny striding out to meet him as they approached from Moulters Gap saying 'You're the first I've met coming from that direction' after their nightmare end to their Old River Descent.

The Vegetable Garden.image
The Vegetable Garden. Denny King's work shed at Melaleuca. Southwest Tasmania.

The Old Stove.image
The Old Stove. Denny King's Garden, Melaleuca. Copyright John Mclaine,

The Boat Shed,image
The Boat Shed, Melaleuca. Copyright John Mclaine,

Melaleuca Weather Station.image
Melaleuca Weather Station. Copyright John Mclaine,

Mount Rugby from Bathurst Harbour.image
Mount Rugby from Bathurst Harbour. Southwest Tasmania.

Early afternoon saw us motoring down Melaleuca Inlet, stopping at the Clayton's Residence before continuing out into Bathurst Harbour. Grey clouds hung over Mount Rugby as we passed another yacht heading for the inlet. Damian recognised them as a craft that had left with them from Cockle Creek two days prior and slowed down to hear that they had passed the night in big seas, hove to off Southwest Cape - an impressive effort in the conditions.

Dusk in Schooner Cove.image
Dusk in Schooner Cove. Bathurst Harbour. Southwest Tasmania.

We anchored below Heather Hill, moving to Schooner Cove just before dusk to better escape the wind that was turning southwesterly.

Next morning we awoke to a brisk breeze and white caps inside the narrows. It wasn't long before Damien had the sail up and we were moving swiftly past the Breaksea Islands and out into Port Davey where he tacked across the bay. A big swell was running in from the Southwest - and while Damien was clearly in his element, John and I wasted our breakfast over the side. Multiple tacks eventually left us in the calm waters at Whalers Point on the western shore of Port Davey where Damien ran us in.

Damian Killalea sailing across Port Davey.image
Damian Killalea sailing across Port Davey. Southwest Tasmania.

We went ashore at a calm, quiet beach that looked toward distant Mount Berry. A small creek snaked down the beach from the forest behind and we ate an early lunch while watching the yacht rocket back towards the Breaksea's. Damien's plan was to spend a few more days exploring Bathurst Harbour in the hope of more settled weather before they continued their journey up the west coast to Strahan.

Mount Berry.image
Mount Berry. From the western shore of Port Davey.

Our own westward journey began initially through thick tea tree and bauera before opening out onto buttongrass plains and that we followed to the shore of James Kelly Basin. To the north we could see open ridges ascending toward Castle Hill and the De Witt Range however we planned to head west and see this remote part of Tasmania's coast rather than climb them directly.

Mt Berry and Port Davey.image
Mt Berry and Port Davey. From the plains south of James Kelly Basin.
James Kelly Basin.image
James Kelly Basin. Port Davey, Southwest Tasmania.


We skirted around the base of some low hills along the southern edge of Quail Flat before descending to Quail Beach where we found a small creek between the tall sand dunes at the southern end. Several circular depressions existed in this area, possibly an indication of past aboriginal dwellings.

John traversing above Quail Flat.image
John traversing above Quail Flat. James Kelly Basin and Port Davey in background.
The Trumpeter Islets.image
The Trumpeter Islets. From Quail Flat Beach. Southwest Tasmania.

After pitching camp and a cup of tea, I left to explore the beach while John started his book.

A stiff westerly wind met me as I clambered over the sand dunes and numerous rain bearing squalls could be seen darkening the seas to the horizon. The high dunes ended abruptly where our creek ran out onto the southern end of the beach, passing between several rocky outcrops which nicely framed the Trumpeter Islands. I sheltered behind these outcrops while the next squall blew over before visiting the massive Aboriginal midden at the north end of the beach.

We returned to the beach next morning with our heavy loads. Before descending the dunes, I set up the tripod to take a photo when a wedge tailed eagle came to inspect me. This giant bird was clearly not used to humans as it hovered right above me in the strong wind and then to my amazement started getting lower with its claws out, after a swoosh of my hat it flew several meters to settle in a nearby tree but did not fly away for several minutes.

Giant midden and dunes.image
Giant midden and dunes. Quail Flat Beach. Southwest Tasmania.

John was equally impressed with the size of the midden. Apart from shells, many stone tools lay on the surface. One particular piece of quartzite was remarkable; three inches long and perfectly fitting to an adult hand with a smooth place for the index finger, it was razor sharp on the underside - one can only wonder when it was last held.

From Quail Beach we journeyed north, traversing Toogee hill and rejoining the coast at Paradise Lagoon, a sand bound body of water perched above a narrow gully to the sea. Below the lagoon was a small clearing where clearly someone had camped before - a wide board scavenged from the flotsam had been placed across a large whale vertebra to make an ideal seat. Too early for us to camp, we continued northwards following the shore line around Dennis Gulch where we found two massive bouys chained together in a small gulch. These were the size of cars and we enjoyed bouncing on them before continuing north.

Flotsam. Two massive buoys in Dennis Gulch. Copyright John Mclaine,

Davey Head and the Trumpeter Islets.image
Davey Head and the Trumpeter Islets. From Dennis Gulch.

Jagged Rocks near Wreck Bay.image
Jagged Rocks near Wreck Bay. Southwest Tasmania.

The rocks along some sections of this coast line are brutally sharp and we were wary of a slip with our heavy loads so we hit the scrub to make Alfhild bight. We emerged several kilometres north with an odd sense of being below sea level as only a short bank of gravel seemed to be stopping the surging tide from entering the forest. Alfhild bight is a known anchorage for fishing boats and unfortunately there was lots of rubbish on the high tide mark, but the biggest surprise was coming across 3 penguins apparently playing in a small rill. They didn't notice us at first and continued splashing and diving before suddenly darting away.

The day ended on Towterer beachTowterer beach after traversing a rock ledge with the sea below and thick scrub above. Behind the dunes of Towterer is a sheltered lagoon with grassy banks perfect for tents. I spent the evening repairing my pack harness with some plastic and fishing line scavenged from the beach, sipping tea while John read

The windswept Towterer Beach and Hobbs Island.image
The windswept Towterer Beach and Hobbs Island. Southwest Tasmania.

Wanting to camp at Wreck Bay and needing a break from our loads, we made the decision to climb Mount Hean. We left our packs on an obvious knoll between Towterer and Wreck Bay and headed inland over the plains to the base of the De Witt Range.

South from Mount Hean.image
South from Mount Hean. The coast from Davey Head to Towterer Beach can be seen. Southwest Tasmania.

None of the creek crossings were too scrub filled and we arrived at the base of the range after an easy hour. There was no steady increase in the slope here, the De Witt Range starts abruptly out of the plains as if folded out of paper. The sides where we climbed were clad with low button grass and sedges and we rapidly ascended to the ridgetop.

The summit of Mount Hean.image
The summit of Mount Hean. The De Witt Range. Southwest Tasmania.
Wreck Bay from Mount Hean.image
Wreck Bay from Mount Hean. The De Witt Range. Southwest Tasmania.


Mist enshrouded us as we gained height and after reaching the ridge crest we began heading north on a compass line. Hean has a massive cairn built on top with remnants of a wooden tripod lying near by - we guess this has probably been built by fishermen and would have taken some effort.

On our descent the weather cleared and we got views of the coast we had come from and east toward Port Davey. We returned to our packs and followed Trepanner Creek down to the Wreck Bay shoreline finding a flat tent site next to the creek.

Blackwater Creek from Mount Hean.image
Blackwater Creek from Mount Hean. The vista sweeps from The Western Arthur Range to Settlement Point, Port Davey. Southwest Tasmania.

The report continues in Part 2: The Propsting Range.

Copyright Matt Brain, last updated December 2011

The Wreck of the Svenor.image
The Wreck of the Svenor. Wreck Bay, Southwest Tasmania.

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