Throughout my Tasmanian childhood  there were  two small oil paintings  hanging  beside the open fire in our farmhouse  sitting room. When the wind blew, the hessian backed  wallpaper ballooned out, and the pictures  nearly fell off their nails.  I  was always intrigued by them, and when  I  inherited them from my  mother  in the 1980s  they took  pride of place in my  own home.

The pictures are quite primitive, and  date from the 1930.s  Unsigned and   originally unframed, they  were given to my mother by her brothers Reg and Ray Larcombe.  My uncles   had purchased  them from an amateur artist by the name of  Archie Cameron,  for five shillings each.  Ray, Reg and Archie   were workmates  on the Tasmania’s first  Hydro Electric Scheme  at Tarraleah.   My mother told me that Archie  Cameron was an alcoholic, and that he dashed off  the paintings and  sold  them whenever  he was short of cash. But was this true?

They were done on sections of  old tea chest.  One is of the upper reaches of the Derwent River;

1930s Tasmanian painting, The upper reaches of the Derwent.

The other is a stark portrayal of  the newly constructed hydro canal, built to carry water 14 miles  from the river to the power station. According to my mother, there was a tragic event connected with the canal.  Apparently  some young children were playing  on it when one slipped and was left hanging onto a  cross bar.  The others ran home to tell their mother, but just as she arrived the child fell, and was washed away  by  the torrent of water.

The newly constructed Tarraleah Canal pictured in one of  the Tasmanian  paintings.
The newly constructed Tarraleah Canal

Here is an old photograph of the canal under construction, taken from a similar spot.

Tarraleah No.2 Canal Construction - 4

Certainly there were  children in the area. The families of workmen  began to arrive  almost  as soon as the project  began. They were  housed firstly in tents and later in more permanent dwellings.  Life must have been  so difficult , especially during  harsh  Tasmanian winters.  Note the outdoor washing stand in the photo below.

Camp at Tarraleah, where the Tasmanian paintings were done.

A  one-room school was established.

Some of the children at Tarraleah's first school.
Some of the children at Tarraleah’s first school.

This huge hydro electric project created work for nearly a thousand men as the country struggled to recover from the Great Depression.  The following is a poignant  letter from the era. It was preserved by the recipient  (a storekeeper) and discovered fifty years later in the pages of a book bought at a rural  ‘clearing out’ sale.  Coincidentally, Cethana would also  become the site for a hydro-electric  power station.

Depression era letter from Cethana, part of  Tasmanian social history..

Depression era letter from Cethana, Tasmania.

I always wondered who Archie Cameron was. To my shame it was not until after my mother’s death that I did some research and  found his obituary (22 August 1966) in  The Examiner, a northern Tasmanian newspaper.


It is difficult to separate family folklore from fact.  Judging from the obituary, Mr Cameron had led a very interesting life.  An earlier  snippet from the Examiner  (July 1928) mentions Archie giving  a talk to the Launceston TOC H club about a six month  archaeological expedition into the Sudan.

I  can’t  help wondering whether  he was a manual  labourer at Tarraleah, or held some more important position.  Unfortunately, the Hydro Electric Commission have not retained a  record of his employment.   And was  he really  an alcoholic?  I do hope not.  Thankfully, I have never been able to find any record of a child being swept away in the canal either, although certainly  workmen lost their lives in it.  Sadly, my Larcombe uncles are no longer alive and  I am unable to check the stories.  After  the Tarreleah project was completed they were employed on others; Bronte Park, Poatina,  Gowrie Park etc.  Archie Cameron was a good deal older, so it is doubtful  if he did the same.

Here is the completed canal as it appears today;

Much as I love them, the pair of paintings would not be regarded as great works of art, and have little  intrinsic value.  However, they are important items of Tasmanian social history. I now live in New South Wales, but it is my intention to return them to Tasmania one day.


Following publication of this story I was contacted by Archie Cameron’s grandson, Roger Cameron. I was delighted that he confirmed my feeling that his grandfather was not a drinker. He also forwarded me a photo of Archie in British Army uniform.

Archibald Cameron

Today, Tarraleah village is privately owned and operated a boutique leisure complex.

If you would like to read a story about Tasmania’s world class limestone caves, click HERE

  1. Always look forward to your blogs Pauline. Well written and always insightful.

    • Pauline

      Thanks so much, Fiona. I really appreciate you taking the trouble to leave a comment.

      • That is so interesting Pauline. Can just imagine Archie dashing off a painting when the need arose.My father and grandfather worked for the HEC and we lived at another site Butler’s Gorge until I was four War years then and as our name had the ‘sch’ associated with Germany we left and went to the Lower Midlands where my grandmother’s family lived When my sister married they lived at Tarraleah for a while before going to Wayatinah. I remember the heating at Tarraleah was a Warmray to be stoked with wood That seemed unusual with all those turbines etc Thank you for reminding me of days long gone

        • Pauline

          Thanks for taking the trouble to leave a message, Valerie. My mother’s brothers also worked at Bronte Park and Gowrie Park.

  2. Pauline, when I saw the painting in your post my first thought Was that it was painted by grandfather. After reading your post it does indeed refer to my grandfather Archibald Cameron. Interesting read, there are still a number of his paintings scattered around family members here in Tasmania, including similar paintings of the canal. He did not sign his paintings but generally initialed them in the lower right corner with the letter “A” surrounded by the letter “C” His life story is as far as I know basically correct but to my knowledge he was not an alcoholic. Thanks for posting this.

    • Pauline

      How wonderful to hear from you Roger. Your grandfather certainly didn’t seem the type to be a heavy drinker…he sounded so busy and engaged with life. Would you have a photo of him I could add to this story? Funny how those two little paintings have been such an important part of my own family history.
      By the way, did he work for the Hydro and do you have any other information about his life before he came to Tasmania?

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