East Pillinger was once a thriving port town in Macquarie Harbour but only echos of the past remain. While forest has reclaimed much of the settlement's former glory, some substantial and fascinating relics await discovery.
As it was in its heyday, East Pillinger is accessible by boat but most visitors arrive on foot, taking the walking track which follows the old railway alignment from the Bird River Bridge.
There are reminders of the area's past along the trail. These include embankments and cuttings constructed for laying the railway line, occasional sleepers and sections of line, a wooden water tank, sections of telegraph line and a series of wooden bridges.
The return walk to East Pillinger takes three to four hours but allocate a couple of hours to explore the ruins. Generally the track is level and easy. It is often wet underfoot and walking boots or strong shoes are advisable.
East Pillinger history
All that remains at East Pillinger are three brick kilns, a jetty, two steam boilers, a railway carriage and the mess hall chimney. A short looped walk links the various relics and interpretation panels provide more information evoking an era when railway trucks loaded with timber, bricks and ore would shunt past leaving the smell of wood-smoke hanging thickly in the air.
East Pillinger was established at Kelly Basin on the shore of Macquarie Harbour by the North Mount Lyell Copper Company in the late 1800s. It served as a port and industrial hub and was connected by rail to the company's mine at Linda, smelters at Crotty and a settlement at Darwin.
By 1898 hundreds of men were employed constructing the railway and company facilities. At East Pillinger these included three long wharves, a sawmill and brickworks, an ore crushing plant, a railway and shipping terminus, workers' huts, a mess hall and company offices.
The population of East Pillinger peaked at about 600 in 1902. At this time there were 80 dwellings, 25 businesses, three hotels, a Catholic church, a coffee palace and a shipping agent's office. A hall was used for various events such as church services, balls and performances by the Blind Musicians Company. A library was well patronised, athletics meetings were held and a slipway was built by the Kelly Basin Aquatic Club. The town has its own cricket club and a State school was built, with enrolments numbering 65 at the start of the 1902 school year.
Strahan piners moved their families to the area to fulfil large contracts for railway sleepers, mining timbers and sawmill timber.
However, prosperity was short-lived. With the death of North Mount Lyell Copper Company founder James Crotty in 1898, the company merged with its competitor, making half the infrastructure redundant.
Strahan was chosen over East Pillinger as the preferred port on Macquarie Harbour adding further salt to the wound. While some residents stayed at East Pillinger harvesting timber and servicing the occasional ships and trains, most of the buildings and railway infrastructure were removed.
Trains continued to operate until 1925, mainly transporting firewood and mining timber to the mines. The following year, the track was removed between Kelly Basin and Darwin. Following the cessation of rail services, only one shop and one hotel stayed open. Only two families stayed on; the last left in 1943.
Flora and fauna
The Bird River Track to East Pillinger passes through luxuriant rainforest. At times the passage becomes almost tunnel-like with a dense growth of ferns, mosses and other plants on either side.
The various shades of green highlight the amazing multiplicity of trees, shrubs and understorey which thrive in the damp conditions.
Myrtle, leatherwood, celery-top pine and sassafras abound in this area. The forest floor is equally diverse with lichens, ferns, mosses and fungi.
Contrasting sharply with the green of the rainforest is the deep-brown tannin-stained water of the Bird River which flows beside the track for much of its length.
The forest is wet and quiet but it is home to a number of reptiles, birds and mammals.
Mammals include the Tasmanian long-tailed mouse, ringtail possum, pademelon, spotted-tailed quoll and dusky antechinus. Native birds regularly visit the rainforest, including the black currawong, green rosella, olive whistler and grey goshawk. Watch out for tiger snakes and brown skinks.