Why are these wetlands called Murphy’s Flats? Who was Murphy?

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Thanks to http://www.parks.tas.gov.au/file.aspx?id=17347  I know that “Murphys Flat Conservation Area historically formed a portion of the property locally referred to as Marsh Farm, which was established through an ambitious land reclamation endeavour begun by Governor Arthur in 1824. The property was hailed as an agricultural “show place” throughout Tasmania and was one of the earliest land reclamations in Australia.”

The site http://www.derwentestuary.org.au/assets/NIE_-_wetlands.pdf provides the information that “In 1997 we nearly lost 40% of these wetlands when a farmer started draining the 66 hectare marsh known as Murphy’s Flat.”  This action was the catalyst for various tiers of government to step in and fund the process to purchase the land and retain it as a conservation area. The area known locally as Murphys Flat was acquired on 1 May 2001 by the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service.

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The 2010 Management Statement at (http://www.parks.tas.gov.au/file.aspx?id=17347) is informative.

Murphys Flat Conservation Area is located within a wetland complex on the southern shore of the River Derwent beside the Lyell Highway between Granton and New Norfolk. The area has been recognised as being particularly species rich, with expansive areas of marshes, underwater grasses, tidal flats and reed beds that provide habitat and breeding areas for large populations of fish, platypus and waterfowl. Murphys Flat Conservation Area comprises 25 to 30 per cent of remaining wetlands in the River Derwent. It is listed within both the Directory of Wetlands of National Significance and the Tasmanian Geoconservation Database.

Birds are particularly abundant in the reserve due largely to the diverse habitat. The vicinity is well known for its large population of black swans and it is a likely hunting and foraging area for five significant bird species including the wedge-tailed eagle, white-bellied sea-eagle, swift parrot, masked owl and great crested grebe. The secretive, little-known Australasian bittern is also known to occur there.

Murphys Flat Conservation Area serves as a nursery for the sandy flathead and also provides important shelter for other juvenile native fish. Backwater areas of the reserve are of particular biological significance with unique botanical assemblages and an abundance of gastropod molluscs.

Until the early years of this century, “Murphys Flat was used as a dump site for domestic rubbish, garden waste and for overburden from road and earthworks. As a result, the area of wetland vegetation communities has decreased and its condition has been further compromised through the spread of weeds, largely from this source.” Now a weed control program has been instituted. “The vision for Murphys Flat Conservation Area is that it will contribute significantly to regional biodiversity and geodiversity in the upper River Derwent estuary, provide water quality services and research opportunities and be a vehicle for increasing public awareness of wetland values.”

In addition to the natural history and situation, Murphy’s Flat has a cultural history.

Firstly, the site is reported to have been on a travelling route for two Aboriginal tribes (http://www.parks.tas.gov.au/file.aspx?id=17347).

Then, according to Kelvin Markham at http://www.km.com.au/tasmania/ch14.htmFour miles beyond Granton stood a derelict grey stone house, known to all and sundry as The Haunted House. No one can tell why it received its name, though it is popularly (and wrongly) supposed to have been the country seat of early governors. The haunted house was originally the Golden Fleece Inn, licensed on 22 October 1824 to one Henry Fitzgerald. It did not long cater for travellers and in 1837 was on the market. This building was also called Addington Lodge Villa at one time.”

Add Lodge drawing -UTAS library

The image above is a drawing of ‘Addington Lodge Colonel Arthur’s Marsh Farm between Bridgewater and Sorell Creek Derwent Valley’ / ‘The Haunted House on the Granton New-Norfolk Road’ by artist A. T. Fleury c1931 – from the collection of Linc Tasmania

Photo of Addington Lodge

The photograph above is of ‘Addington Lodge, Granton, apparently a former residence of Governor Arthur’ – from the collection of Linc Tasmania

The National Library of Australia (http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/30094484?searchTerm=Anthony+Geiss) offers the information that “Addington Lodge was named after Mr. J.H. Addington, the Secretary to the British Treasury at the time. It was constructed by Governor Sorell to serve as a country house in 1820, a year after the construction of the Hobart to New Norfolk Road. The lodge was a double storey brick house with an architectural style typical of a late Georgian villa with symmetrical doors and windows and a wide fan-lit front door. The lodge was renamed the Golden Fleece Inn and opened to the public after a Mr Barker sold it to Mr. Henry Thomas Fitzgerald in 1824 having owned it for 4 years only. Addington Lodge at Murphys Flat became a popular half-way house for travellers between Hobart and New Norfolk and earned an unsavoury reputation.”

If remains of this house still exist they are now obscured from view by the lush vegetation  growing across the wetlands.  I saw no sign of it as I walked past Murphy’s Flat.

To give you some idea about the look of the wetlands from the Highway, the photo below shows the landscape when I looked back over the road just walked.

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The wetlands looking toward the road yet to be walked.

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Along the kilometres (Murphys Flat Conservation Area is approximately 2.7 kilometres long and 550 metres wide at its maximum width) of Murphy’s Flat Wetlands, the vista consisted of subtle variations of the following:

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When I walked, most of the landscape between the Lyell Highway and the smoothly flowing Derwent River seemed impenetrable. I can only imagine this is a very safe place for water birds and fishlings to breed, and for native grasses and other plants to re-establish.

This posting started with a question which I have been unable to answer. I cannot discover who Murphy was. Regrettably.

Murphy’s law is a commonly heard saying which is typically stated as: Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.  I wondered if the land now known as Murphy’s Flat had been purchased for the purpose of grazing animals and growing crops without due checking, and then found the wet soggy land to be useless in the days when preservation of native flora and fauna was not considered – I wondered if someone bought the land without really checking how it was and having spent all their money decided Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. BUT according to the definitive book The History of Murphy’s Law written by Nick Spark, this adage was named after an American aerospace engineer Captain Edward Murphy who said as much around 1950. The naming of Murphy’s Flat at Granton seems to have preceded this ‘law’ so the area must have been named after a local – but who was it?  More research required.

Map of Murphys Flat 20150413_095018

Google maps cannot locate Murphy’s Flat so I have attempted to indicate the location this posting has referred to.  Within the hand drawn oval above, the Murphys Flat Conservation Area sits contained between the Derwent River and the Lyell Highway.

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