Field Guide to Falling in Love in Tasmania

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  • The Hop Harvest

    The Hop Harvest

    It was a hellish journey. Within two months of leaving the port in Britain on the Denmark Hill, William Shoobridge buried four family members at sea: his 7-year-old son, 6-year-old daughter, and his wife and newborn child, who both died due complications during childbirth.

    It is said that he went berserk. They would still be on that boat for many weeks.

    Youngest surviving son Ebenezer Shoobridge was two years old when they arrived in Van Diemen’s Land. The remains of the Shoobridge family eked out a living in Hobart Town, mostly operating lime kilns. But William also introduced an exotic plant to Van Diemen’s Land, humulus lupulus, the hop, which they cultivated on their allotment at Providence Valley.

    Another story told about William Shoobridge suggests he had a little luck on his side. Tending to his hop crop, the senior Shoobridge was shot at by a bushranger. The bullet deflected off a metal object in his pocket.

    When the opportunity came to investigate the Derwent River valley for land, they took it. In winter 1833 William took Ebenezer, now an adolescent, up to New Norfolk and beyond. Farming had only recently begun in the Valley. Coming upon a cleared field, William scooped up a handful of nutrient-rich soil. Hops, he murmured, would grow there excellently.

    They rode their horses to the top of a hill and surveyed the land between the Styx and the Derwent; it was then known as ‘Humphreyville’. Soon after, it would be known as Bushy Park. It would be bought by Ebenezer Shoobridge. And indeed, hops would be grown – right up to this day.

    All was not perfect, though. Ebenezer and his brother Richard had come to disagreements and parted ways in 1842. And it had taken some decades for Ebenezer and his esteemed wife Charlotte to purchase Bushy Park, having rented land at Plenty and Richmond in the meantime.

    But finally, in 1863, they moved into the homestead and constructed a series of brick kilns, as well as developing the orchard, the dairy, some grain and root crops.

    Bushy Park Estates is regarded as the birthplace of Australia’s hops, and remains one of the world’s great hop cultivation grounds. Now owned by a German company, Bushy Park remains a town centred around rows of vines, climbing up simple scaffolding in yards separated by poplars. By this time of the year – when the poplars are turning yellow – the hops have all been harvested, some 35-40 tons per day. The yield of the harvest annually reaches to over 500 tons.

    A friend of mine worked in the lab this year during the harvest. Rising with the sun, he would go to his lab, put on a blue coat, switch on some classical music, and begin analysing the hops for alpha and oil content. After he’d knocked off, we had a few beers by the duck pond; a platypus ducked about in it. It was a scene not quite from the early days of Bushy Park, but with the sense of it being an historical moment in itself.

    It’s a picturesque place, rich in history. And it's a wonderful crop they're growing there.

    Raise a toast to the Shoobridges with me this weekend at Saint John's Hop Harvest festival!

  • It Began Here with John and Jemima

    It Began Here with John and Jemima

    In Bodney, England, in 1828, William and Judith gave birth to their son John.

    In 1845 John himself got married, to a lovely lass named Jemima King. They were both still teenagers. He was a farm labourer.

    After John and Jemima had been married for a decade or so, they were approached by the Launceston Immigration Aid Society, and recruited to move to Tasmania. They arrived on the Southern Eagle in 1857, and relocated their lives to the coastal hamlet of Penguin. With them, they brought their infant daughter, Caroline. In 1860, they had a son, Charles.

    Upon arrival, John armed himself with an axe and a cross-cut saw, and with no capital, cleared the dense wet sclerophyll forest of scrub and trees. For the bigger trees, the method of ring-barking was used. As the land was cleared, he began to build a home. Floorboards were adzed; furniture was home-made; candles of tallow were made for artificial light, and they had a fishy reek when extinguished. It was hard work, and a life with few comforts.

    Flour shortages were common. It was delivered on occasion by sailing craft from north coast towns, but once as it was being put ashore, the boat overturned and spoiled the product. Normally a draught horse brought it in from Forth, through the labyrinthine forest. If the flour supplies ran short, what remained was shared among the whole community to the last pound. Housewives made the bread in camp ovens; bachelors made damper, cooked in ashes.

    The new settlers grew oats and potatoes. As soon as the cleared land had enough grass covering, a cow was purchased. Gradually berry bushes and fruit trees gave produce. Meat was mostly wallaby and parrots; those on the coast fished. When they needed something they couldn’t grow, and once the Leven River was bridged, the women would walk to a store at Forth, a few miles away.

    The daughter Caroline met a young man with the fine name of James Sushames, originally of Caston, England, who arrived to Tasmania on the Whirlwind. They got married and had a son.

    Charles fell in love too, with a girl named Rachel Ling. They had eight children and raised them in Penguin. Six were sons. As these children grew up, a flour mill was built at nearby Sulphur Creek. The first churches were built, and a teacher arrived, Miss Neligan. By the mid-1870s, there was a general store.

    The youngest of these eight children, Leslie, preferred to go by his middle name, which was Herbert. He was born in 1899. In his late teens, he got a job delivering bread and milk; he would go around town in a horse and dray. His son, Vivian, would remember being taken to school in this vehicle. Herbert played footy at the local club, for the Penguin Two-Blues. He was also a bass baritone singer and sung at the Methodist church sometimes.

    Herbert Spinks and family moved to Launceston for a job at a wool factory. Herbert’s son Vivian fought in World War II. Vivian’s son Martin matriculated and built a white collar career. Martin’s son is the author of this article. I went up to Penguin the other week. These days, there is little clearing left to be done; flour comes from the local supermarket, along with a variety of pre-prepared products made from it; the parrots are largely left uneaten, although they exist in much smaller quantities. Coffee drinkers can satisfy their urges at several cafeterias, and an afternoon beer is available at the Neptune Hotel.

    Once this was pretty coastal town was covered in dense bush. Now, there's a grubby backpackers' hostel on its main road. We do not well understand the hardships and labours of the people who came before us. “With a low standard of living, few amenities, and little security, to win a bare living they worked from daylight to dark,” wrote local historian A.O. Barker. “For little return they toiled and we are reaping – as future generations will reap – the profit of their toil.”

     
    There are more stories about Herbert Spinks and the Penguin Two-Blues here.

  • A Short History of Shitty Weather in Northern Tasmania

    A Short History of Shitty Weather in Northern Tasmania

    I heard folks say that the weather in the north of Tasmania last week was worst in living memory. Is there no-one left to remember the 1929 floods?

    The rain started on Wednesday, and went on for three days. In that time, Burnie and Ulverstone recorded 500mm of rainfall; in one day, Mathinna copped 337mm.

    On Friday, April 5, 1929, Launceston was abuzz. The Examiner’s printing presses were employed in publishing single-page evacuation instructions. Both ends of the Esk River were rushing at an alarming speed. Chooks, horses, and even pianos were seen floating around the city’s streets and parks. And then, as evening fell, the power station at Duck Reach was washed out, plunging the city into darkness.

    The evacuations began at 2a.m. The working-class suburb of Invermay was on the way to becoming an island; thousands of residents there had to be taken to higher grounds, sleeping in churches and schools in other parts of Launceston.

    Most of the casualties happened outside of Launceston, the biggest town in the north. A truck carrying eight passengers was swept off a bridge in Ulverstone. Fourteen people died when a newly-built dam in the north-east of the island collapsed.

    When they woke up, the people of northern Tasmania woke up to scenes of destruction. In every town, road and rail bridges had been knocked down thousands of tonnes of moving water. 5000 people were left homeless; the Launceston Bowls Club had lost their building; the Tamar Rowing Club lost most of its boats.

    It was the middle of a global recession; between 1928 and 1933, Launceston’s total trade decreased by 29%. Banks wouldn’t loan money to restore lost savings; it took more than a decade for the town to fully recover, and by that point, World War II had begun.

    But that morning, as the rain stopped, and the river-water lazily sat above the levels of its banks, slowly subsiding in the streets, there was – I suspect – an eerie sensation of peace.

    Down in St. Mary’s, a baby was crying. He’d been born overnight, in a truck. His parents would later tell him that he wasn’t born, but rather, he’d been swept in by the rushing rivers.

  • Love Life of an Irish Rebel

    Love Life of an Irish Rebel

    Thomas O’Meagher (born as simply Thomas Meagher) was an Irish rebel. He was the leader of the Young Irelanders during the infamous Rebellion of 1848. He had been to France as a student of revolutionary movements, and returned with the new flag of Ireland – the tricolour of green, white and orange. At the Battle of Ballingarry, he and his cohorts were captured by the English. Public outcry saved the necks of a few of them. They received clemency, and were sentenced to transportation. Off to Van Diemen’s Land.

    As political prisoners, they had a strange deal. For convicts, the Irish rebels were comparatively free, but were forbidden from meeting. They also had to give their word that they would not attempt to escape without first informing the authorities. O’Meagher was sent to Campbell Town, then Ross, in the Midlands of the island; it was decent farming land, but O’Meagher was not impressed. He did, however, fall in love. On February 22, 1851, the Irish revolutionary married the daughter of a highwayman, Katherine ‘Bennie’ Bennett.

    The other Irishmen disapproved. They had been secretly meeting on occasion, at a special lakeside retreat. Almost immediately after their wedding, Katherine fell ill. Before a year of their marriage was completed, Thomas O’Meagher sent a letter to the authorities, informing them that within twenty-four hours, he would consider himself a free man. Katherine was pregnant. O’Meagher escaped to New York City.

    The infant son was buried here at St. John’s Catholic Church in Richmond. It is the oldest Catholic Church in Australia.

    In the U.S., Thomas O’Meagher became a citizen, studied law and journalism, and joined the U.S. Army during the Civil War. Incredibly, Katherine was able to reunite with them – albeit only briefly. She returned to Ireland pregnant with another child, a son who would bear his father’s name. It was a name that was to become famous, but Thomas jnr. would never meet his father. O’Meagher became the Governor of Montana, and married a Protestant girl. At the age of 43, he died, falling into the Missouri River and being swept away, his body never recovered.