Hit the road with Greg Cure for an eclectic examination of the Midland Highway from the perspective of a traveller, reflecting on 50 or so years of travel from the north and north-west of Tasmania on this highway to Hobart. As we move through the landscape the fixed parts are examined, in some cases actual towns; in others the subsets of farms such as fields, plains, rivers, forests and lakes. We started the series with an overview.
The Midland Highway Part 2: Towns Starting with ‘W’ (North)
The enchanted highway
We had a reader at primary school called the enchanted highway. I never saw the Midland Highway as some mysterious and magical road akin to the Turkish poet’s Cavafy’s journey to Ithaca in his wonderful poem of the same name. Nor does it conjure up the modern magic of the USA’s Route 66. Yet reflecting on the road fifty–five years ago when I first traversed it that old road did have an element of enchantment to it. We looked out for the disappearing house, the elevated viaduct at Ross, the wind socks of private aerodromes attached to the large properties that lined the road, the army camp at Brighton where dad did his pre-WW2 military training and my brother did compulsory national service, we sped along the flying mile at Longford just as Jack Brabham had done. I saw in the mist at Spring Hill atop a coach the old colonial ghost, like an etching in a Dicken’s novel; I dubbed him coachmen’s chill.
I have driven this highway for all manner of human circumstances – birth, death, love, recreation, work and reconciliation.
As many will attest, the traversing of this highway due to the death of one’s parents is a most macabre drive, a drive one never forgets.
Most of us have a friend who perished in a vehicle accident and shudder when we pass that spot forever etched in our psyches. A lesser shudder when we see makeshift flower shrines on the roadside to persons unknown who too have recently perished in the same way. For me passing the former Wybra Hall at Mangalore, a former home for delinquent boys, evokes a trembling still; what horrors must have been inflicted on some of those boys. The magnificence of the building can never compensate for the pall of sadness that hangs over the building, even though it has been a private residence since 1988.
I have travelled the midland highway as driver and passenger in cars as diverse as a Standard 6 and a V8 Jaguar. I have hitchhiked many times in my youth and thankfully avoided any serial killers. I have travelled in cars at near zero speeds and constant water refills in the radiator, where head gaskets have blown sometimes using creek water, where you realise how few accessible watercourses are there on the Midlands Highway. I have travelled in cars where the full force of the wind was both exceedingly uncomfortable and bitterly cold due to a broken windscreen. On one occasion changing selectors manually by torchlight to stay only in low gear.
I have cursed the radio reception on the highway when one wanted to hear a race or get football scores. I have travelled in overloaded cars even with an opened beer barrel, even in the back of utes. Often travelling alone with my favourite music on the CD player I would suddenly come some familiar spot that would somehow out there weep for my deceased parents or friend. I have travelled by bus many times from the slick coaches of today that traverse the highway in no time at all to the agonising slowness of the old green coach lines that stopped in every town and hamlet on the way. The Tasman limited train journey too got me there many a time but that’s a story for another day.
Delightful Detours A: Deloraine to Perth
For the traveller who wants a longer but more scenic and sensory invigorating journey from the north-west coast to Hobart turn off at Deloraine, surely one of Tasmania’s most delightful towns. Take in the magnificent and calming view of the weir on the Meander River. Peer into the distance at the Great Western Tiers. Wander up the main street and take in the outcomes of alternate life style people mixing with an older established rural community with an overlay of local Palawa culture and you see a softer more vibrant peaceful Tasmania where there has been a gradual transition to the new rather than a big bang change. A palpable air of tranquillity enmeshes itself around you as you walk through the town. You get the same feel in Cygnet and Wynyard and some other places. You begin to understand why many Westbury residents are so opposed to the siting of a gaol there, you can’t rebuild or renovate ambience as if it were a brick wall fallen down in a storm. Leave Deloraine and heading east on the old highway, even in eastern Deloraine there is a wonderful old Church and an old mill.
Monds Roller Mills Building, Carrick.
As you travel through Exton, Westbury, and Carrick there are a plethora of Georgian and Victorian buildings. Peaceful rural towns with old coaching inns, of which Fitzpatrick’s Inn is the standout, churches, and mills still extant in some form or another. Hedgerows and English trees are ever present and there is a delightful village green at Westbury to calm the senses; if you are of more advanced years memories come flooding back to a time when this was the main highway. Hadspen is a near intact nineteenth century village. It has a distinctive bluestone Monds mill and approximately fifteen heritage listed premises. It is largely unspoiled with the possible exception of the speedway. It is here one turns south for the journey to Hobart and passes over the junction of the Macquarie and the South Esk river which re-emerges a few kilometres south as one exits Perth. The road that links the Bass and Midland highways has changed little over the years but as I write a Perth bypass out of Launceston is delivering substantial changes in road configuration and ending a long history of Perth as a major junction town. Perth itself has over forty historic buildings, including the famous leather bottle inn built using handmade nails.
I have never spent a night in any of the towns along the road, nor spend any major time there. My reflections are based on fleeting glimpses as I drive through these towns, research, or anecdotes but one has to concede that the real essence of these towns is to be found in the permanent residents.
These towns are quintessential Tasmania, a walk back to how we once were, a realisation that even our bigger cities are conglomerates of small towns but rapidly dissipating with the influx of tourists and new settlers from mainland Tasmania…attracted whether by the slick publicity campaigns to lure them, or those who genuinely want to live in a more leisurely pace of life, or who see in in this island an inspirational canvas on which to create.
Ostensibly, whether coming from Launceston or the north-west coast the journey south starts at Perth, that delightful junction town. Although an old coaching town perhaps the most interesting feature in Perth is the very modern off-grid house right in the main street at Perth with a distinctive windmill atop. It’s another tribute to that rare but reasonably successful meld of rusted-on local residents and newer often greener or more alternative immigrants. As your vehicle enters from the north-west you bisect two garages that stand at the very start of the Midland Highway. The southernmost one is a convenient one at which to stop as it has a large off-bowser carpark and a reasonably spacious cafeteria. There is a gentle slope downhill as you exit the town heading south, where the police often used conceal speed cameras; thrice it got me.
The 20th century : a century of sad epidemics in Tasmania
As one exits Perth you cross the beautiful South Esk River and if you glance westwards you will notice in the distance the old TB hospital or more formally the Northern Chest Hospital; this stands as a reminder of the scourge of tuberculosis that disproportionately affected Tasmania from around 1900-1960. Not only did Tasmania suffer from TB but also suffered the world’s second-worst epidemic of polio in the 1930s, with other outbreaks in the 1950’s. In 1919 the Spanish Influenza epidemic swept through Tasmania, affecting one third of the population. Most of my generation knew someone who wore the tell-tale leg irons of polio.
Leaving Perth it is only a matter of minutes before you encounter the Symmons Plains racing track. Actually, it is part of Symmons Plains Estate is a historic farm and mansion property; the estate dates back to 1820s, with the main Georgian house built in 1839. The Youl family lived at the property for several generations. In 1960, racing driver and family member John Youl developed neighbouring Symmons Plains Raceway carving it out from the estate. Simon Youl was also a noted professional tennis player getting to World No. 80 at the height of his career.
In the 1970’s I would go to the racing circuit with a friend who purchased a Matchless 600 CC plus motorbike with a Colin Seeley racing frame. He was able to get permission to practice alone on the circuit. The bike was a single cylinder machine and its high compression was not suitable for Le Mans starts and it could not compete with bikes such as the water-cooled Yamahas. It was however once wound up a truly beautiful motor bike. It was at this time a young Tasmanian Malcolm Campbell was making his mark as a motorcycle ace. The raceway continues to be an integral part of V8 supercar racing circuit.
The farming estate was sold in 2011 to Clovelly Tasmania, a farming subsidiary of the international Ingleby Company ending several generations of control by the Youl family.
Epping Forest is an extensive area of dry forest and grassland around 40 kilometres south of Launceston. The eastern side of the road seems to have more cleared forest than the western. It extends around 36 kilometres length ways and takes 20 minutes or so to drive through.
The two most extensive forests are on the western side being the Powranna and Tom Gibson nature reserves respectively supporting predominately rare black peppermint trees and the latter reserve has beautiful orchids. I have not visited the reserves as access is, as I understand it, not easy.
As a coach road the Midland Highway had coaching inns and or stables every 12 miles or so to change horses. The first stop after Perth is likely to have been Powranna in the middle of the forest with the next one probably at Conara junction at the ‘disappearing house.’
Conara junction and the Disappearing House
As part of the original land grant to James and Catherine Smith, the authorities requested of Smith to construct an inn to provide overnight hospitality to travellers on the coach routes, it became known simply as The Corners. Built in 1839-40 by the Smiths, The Corners Inn has since been known by many different names, including the Epping Banks Inn, Cleveland Inn, the Corners Inn and now Smithvale, but is most often referred to simply as The Disappearing House.
Anyone journeying northward from Hobart on the old highway was often surprised by the optical illusion of the old inn sinking below the line of a small hill the closer one approached it. Conara was by-passed by the Midlands Highway in 1969, and as a result the Disappearing House has all but disappeared for travellers on the current highway.
Today, Conara is little more than a scant number of houses around a railway junction. The name The Corners , by which the settlement was first known, originated because it lies on the old intersection of the coach road between Hobart Town and Launceston and the coach road from Swansea passing through Avoca in the Fingal Valley.
Campbell Town – the capital of the midlands?
Time for a sausage roll?
The approaches and entrances to Campbell Town make it less likely than some other towns to bypass. Its relatively easy to park here and its developed itself as quite a hub around fuel, food and drink. It seems to be always bustling. My theory is the advent of one coffee shop Zeps was a lamplighter for the town establishing itself as a non-bypassed essential stop on the roads north or south. Zeps quickly established a reputation, rightly or wrongly, as having some of the best coffee on the island. I am not about to argue with this. It too has expanded as a restaurant with an innovative menu.
Other food and drink outlets have followed suit. For some reason it seems easier to stop here than drive through. A sure sign that Campbell Town is on the up-and-up is the fact now days the large clock on the town hall there shows the right time on all four sides. We used to joke that at one time it showed different times on all four faces!
In earlier times my main reason for stopping here was to sample the wonderful sausage rolls at the old bakery on the right-hand side of the road heading south. These were the small traditional sausage rolls. I would buy one dozen cold ostensibly to take home to Hobart, however by the time I got to Bridgewater all twelve had disappeared.
Of course its not a good sausage roll unless it gives you massive heartburn and I would arrive home in Hobart with a massive attack of heartburn and an empty brown bag.
Todays ‘jumbo’ sausage rolls are no substitute!
The influence of James Blackburn
If you have worked for a state-wide organisation and you had to have face to face meetings from time to time, then it is likely you used the wonderful old building the Grange at Campbell Town for a state-wide meeting. Campbell Town is reasonably equidistant from most major Tasmanian cities. The Grange is a large Tudor Gothic style house built in 1848 with front gables. The house was another example of the architectural work of the former convict James Blackburn. There are also modern outbuildings at the rear that cater for conferences and meetings and the railway line goes right behind them, so it is not uncommon for your bosses’ key message to be drowned out by the clamour of a freight train!
Blackburn is reputed to have had some, either direct or indirect, influence on the three arch red brick bridge and causeway (see below) at Campbell town. Completed in 1838 it was designed for horse and buggy but today with little repair or alteration carries over two million cars and trucks across it. A stroll along the banks of the Elizabeth River or a picnic lunch is quite a rewarding experience. It is far more conducive to a quick picnic than the area around the famed Ross Bridge.
A brick walkway inlaid on the main street gives extensive information on convicts transported to Australia. There are other fine historic buildings in Campbelltown including St Andrew’s Church (1857); the old brewery (1840); the Campbelltown Inn (1840 ). The other town hotel was the Fox Hunter’s Return (1840) with attached stables and courtyard. A beautiful original duplex dating to 1838 by early Campbell Town builder, emancipist, William Henry Gage now converted to one dwelling in Pedder Street is easily spotted if one takes the Macquarie Road to Longford.
There are just under 40 buildings in Campbelltown listed on the national estate so a lot can escape your eye as you drive through and some, such as the magnificent Rosedale, are out of town, The brilliant art deco house Climar can escape your eye even though its on the main road because one tends to be on the lookout for ‘colonial’ buildings. It is truly magnificent and very unique with its ‘musical notes’ fence.
Campbell Town born aviator Harold Gatty, who in 1931, with American Wyllie Post, made the first round the world flight in the ‘Winnie Mae’ has a memorial to him opposite St. Andrews Church.
Both the Northern and Southern Midlands Council take great pride in the history of the district and have good documentation on the important structures throughout the Midlands. This is augmented by amateur societies, convict trail websites, local history rooms and Facebook pages in addition to rigorous academic histories. Most of the coaching towns are now off the main road so visiting them at leisure is easy. My advice is: before visiting do some homework using some of the sources mentioned so that you make the most of your visits to historic towns and buildings.
First Tasmanians at Campbell Town
The Tyerrernotepanner people were centred at Campbell Town. The suffix -panner may be redundant, as in fact this may just mean people. Evidence exists of middens, tool use and hut construction at Tooms and Leak Lakes, Mt Morriston and the Ross township and many of the lacustrine regions. Dense wooded areas seemed to have been avoided for settlement . Occupation may have been seasonal and Aboriginal roads seemingly led to the east coast.
The Tyeerrernotepanner, conducted raids across the midlands during the Black War and, until ‘conciliated’ by Robinson. The famous Aboriginal leader Umarrah1 (AKA Eumarrah and several other names) was a member of this clan and he was noted for his resistance campaign against the Europeans.
The majority of the conflict occurred between 1824 and 1831, during which period the Black Line of 1830 was established. The black line the largest, and per capita, most expensive domestic military offensive in Australia’s history with over 1000 people , black and white, killed. The biggest toll by far was on indigenous people of Tasmania.
Eumarrah born in Campbell Town is Campbell Town’s first famous resident, yet acknowledgement is uncomfortable for white Tasmanians.
It is an item of unfinished business we need to advance even if first steps are modest.
1See Professor Michael Roe’s article in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005. Professor Roe is an eminent authority on Australian history who taught for many years at the University of Tasmania at the lovely Sandy bay campus.
Ghosts of travellers past 2: Towns that begin with ‘W’
The traveller’s companion to the midland highway will tell you to break up this ‘boring journey’ down the midlands to stop at every town starting with ‘W’ for a beer. Rolling off his or her tongue, before you can reply there are no towns starting with W on the Midlands Highway, come these cheerful words:
It’s a stupid joke that only old Tasmanians will laugh at! Yes, these days probably a latte too rather than a beer.
Delightful Detours B : Longford to Campbelltown
When travelling between the Bass and Midland Highways, when you reach the outskirts of Longford, take a right turn into Longford rather than continuing onto Perth.
Longford itself is an interesting town. It is a town that lost its major motor race, a major folk festival and most of its thoroughbred horse racing meetings. It also lost its status as senior Tasmanian football club. Nonetheless it is such historic town it is worthy of a brief visit. My first contact with Longford was as a schoolboy when my sister and her husband-to-be took me to the long weekend car races. What a treat that was hearing the roar of those motors for the first time
As you drive along Wellington street there is a plethora of historic buildings.-take a brief walk around the town it has around 30 historic buildings. A splendid church Christ Church is a freestone building which dates from 1839. I visited the graves in this church and was astounded by the number of young men who went to World War just from Longford alone; their headstones are present in the church graveyard. Tasmania with a small population of 200,000 sent more than 15,000 persons to the war; nearly 2900 died as a result of their service.
The arrival of Thomas Archer and his three brothers in the mid-1820s to the Longford area saw the building of major estates, using convict labour, that still exist to this day They built ‘Woolmers’, ‘Panshanger’, ‘Northbury’ and Brickendon, still a working farm, with splendid estate gardens that demonstrate the drive and vision of William Archer, his convict work force, and the Archer descendants.
Longford is where the Macquarie River joins the South Esk and where the Archers on the banks of the Macquarie River built Woolmers Estate a colonial style bungalow the grounds are extensive and contain the wool and apple packing sheds, the coach house, farm stables, blacksmith’s premises and settlers cottages all convict built.
One of the highlights of any visit to Longford should be an extended visit to the remarkable Woolmers Estate so a return visit is needed just to explore Woolmers. If you visit Woolmers you can re-join the Midland Highway very quickly heading due east. The Archers remained at Woolmers until 1994 when Thomas William Archer died without an heir. He left the entire estate to the Archer Historical Foundation which has, over the years, maintained the property and opened it to the public.
Head out of Longford towards Cressy on road B51 called Cressy road or the Poatina Highway. Remember do not turn off towards Poatina but continue south east after Cressy on the Macquarie Road. One of the delights is you drive alongside the Macquarie River just after Cressy and right next to the road is a fishing spot. There always seem to be anglers there at any time of the day. Above you to the west are the splendid Great Western Tiers and the northern end of the great lake. The road is in some ways uneventful, but you do go through some Tasmanian sheep properties and duly arrive at Campbell Town. We are in John Glover country and you can see the countryside that inspired him from your vehicle. He is buried, not too far away as the crow flies, at Deddington.
If travelling from the NW and you want a little more back roads and a little less highway you can turn off just after Hagley (C507) and head south via Whitemore. I had taken this route often as my sister and brother in law ran a restaurant called Gossips at Whitemore. Originally the ‘Glenore Inn’, – it is worthy of a look ; from here by heading southwest you can link up with the road to Campbelltown near Cressy.
Long Weekend at Longford (1964)
This You Tube video is approximately 20 minutes long. Don’t be perturbed if you are not a racing car fan. It offers a charming insight into a great Tasmanian institution of the 1950’s and 1960’s. Longford hosted motor racing at the highest levels between 1953 and 1968. It was a continental style circuit – cars raced through the town, past a hotel over bridges and railway viaducts! 1960’s racing royalty raced there: Brabham, Graham Hill and Jackie Stewart. It attracted huge local crowds.
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