If you think that places like Queenstown and Strahan are isolated, spare a thought for those living in the little settlement that surrounded the Princess River sawmill, in the King Valley east of Queenstown. Who came first, the cattle ranch or the Bradshaw family? Princess River was once a cattle ranch many years before the Bradshaw mill was established. The cattle roamed around in great numbers. One particular bull called Barney had many scared of their own shadow especially at night time.
In the 1960’s and 70’s, living there included the Bradshaw families; Cliff, & Gert, Henry (Curly) & Noeline, Les & Pat. Geraldine & Rusty Bennett, Lana & Jack Evans, the Townsends, more Evans’, Williams‘ and McCarthys, and others that we have momentarily forgotten. Then there were characters like Jack Griffin and Alec Maywood, just to name a couple, who lived in the camps.
When the previous generation of Bradshaw’s started living there in the 1930’s, access to the school in Gormanston was difficult always, and nonexistent at times, but by the 1960’s the Lyell Highway going past the settlement meant that the children could go to school on the bus.
In this era of helicopter parenting and risk aversion, where risk management strategies are required before you step out the door, it is pleasantly nostalgic to look back upon the lives of those children in this isolated village. They spent the summers swimming in the river, played in the bush, and, while the saws were off limits, the sawdust pile and timber racks made for great cubby houses.
Bren gun rides, (an old troop carrier), through the bush were the highlight of the weekends for the children when family came from nearby Queenstown and Gormanston to visit. Who needs a trampoline, complete with safety netting and rubber protectors, when you can jump up and down on the wire netting over the turkey run. Sometimes children disappeared, parents got a bit worried and searches were conducted, until the little one was found safely, fast asleep under the house.
When the families came together music and laughter filled the air. Pier played his squeeze box, Colin on guitar, Cliff on the piano or flute and Curly on the mouth organ, just to name a few aspiring musicians. It was a wonderful place to grow up, surrounded by the West Coast Range, and with clean cold rivers running at their feet.
But even if you wanted to, you could not raise a family in the valley of the Princess River any more, as the area was flooded in 1991 by the hydro electric impoundment called Lake Burbury. The Princess River has gone completely, but the mill’s family name lives on in the bridge which crosses the lake. The Bradshaw Bridge affords brilliant views, north up the flooded King Valley to Marble Bluff and Eldon Peak, and south towards Mt Fincham and Frenchman’s Cap, and, if you listen carefully, you might just hear the voices and laughter of those long ago children, playing in the sawdust heap and water.
All photos Bradshaw family collection