History and Heritage: Oast Houses

From the very early days of colonisation in Australia, huge attention was given to trying to get hop cuttings to grow, so as to encourage the more wholesome consumption of beer by the early settlers and stamp out all the evils associated with the rum trade. There were many false starts in the harsh, dry Australian climate, not helped by confusion over what time of the year to plant hops on the southern side of the world. They struck paydirt when hops were first planted in the Derwent Valley and irrigated throughout summer courtesy of an abundant water supply from the River Derwent.

Although William Shoobridge is widely credited with planting the first hops in Tasmania, Lt. Governor William Paterson, beat him to it by almost 20 years. Paterson grew hops in his garden at Port Dalrymple (the site of modern day Launceston, which he founded) in 1804, just a year after Van Diemen's Land was first settled by Europeans. Richard Clarke also successfully grew hops in 1810 in Launceston and used them to brew beer (he operated Tasmania's first brewery), but it was certainly Shoobridge who set about turning hop growing in the Derwent Valley into a commercially successful industry.

William Shoobridge (1781-1836) came from a long line of farmers and hop-growers in Kent, England. He arrived in Hobart Town with his six children in 1822 after his wife and three other children died on the voyage. He took up an 8ha land grant at Providence Valley (North Hobart), and the devout Christian no doubt credited Providence when in 1824 he was shot at by a convict, and a metal rule in his pocket saved him from serious injury. Shoobridge devoted himself to growing hops from sets he had brought from Kent. Aided by the suitable climate, the first marketable crop was produced in 1825, with 453 lbs. (205 kg) in 1826, 362 (164 kg) in 1827 and 1043 (473 kg) in 1828; all was sold to local brewers. One brewery, established in 1824 by Frenchman Peter Degraves, was destined to become Australia's oldest: Cascade, still at the forefront of the industry today. William's son, Richard, carried on the farm until 1864.

One of the first families to own substantial tracts of land in the New Norfolk area was the Terry Family who were granted 100 acres at the intersection of the Lachlan and Derwent Rivers in 1819. John Terry built flour mills, and later branched into hop growing in the 1860s. The family farmed the estate until 1898.

Another of William Shoobridge's sons, Ebenezer, acquired land first at Richmond, and then at Bushy Park in 1867 where the hop yields were excellent due to the fertility of the Styx River Valley. Government Farm at New Norfolk was acquired, and here too the yields were excellent. Ebenezer leased this farm and introduced irrigation in 1844. By the time of Ebenezer's arrival, many of the other small farmers in the area had diversified into the hop growing industry, and rows of poplar windbreakers and oast houses were soon dotted around the valley.

Note: except where stated to the contrary, these oast houses are on private property. They are not open for public inspection and unlawful entry is trespassing. Please respect the privacy of their occupants.

Valleyfield Oast House, New Norfolk

Valleyfield, located in New Norfolk in the picturesque Derwent Valley of Tasmania, was the birthplace of Australia's commercial hop industry. The historic town of New Norfolk, 33km NW of Hobart, was pioneered around 1808 by Norfolk Island free settlers. Valleyfield homestead, built and licensed as the Kings Head Inn in 1822, became the first place in Australia to successfully produce hops commercially under irrigation in the 1850s.

Robert Shoobridge, the grandson of William Shoobridge who helped pioneer hop growing in Tasmania, took over Valleyfield estate in the 1870s, producing an annual apple crop of 40,000 bushels. He had a particular interest in cool storage: as president of the Fruit growers' Association he travelled to London with a cargo of apples, advising on storage and critical temperatures, to establish standard shipboard conditions.

Hops and orchards were the mainstay of this property, and the Derwent Valley region, until the 1970s when international hop and apple markets collapsed and about 150 hop growers were pared back to just one major producer located near Bushy Park. The district produces still most of the hops used by Australian breweries, although the main industry in the region today is paper manufacture.

The Valleyfield homestead is one of the oldest buildings in New Norfolk. Built as a single storey brick house, the shingled roof extends to a traditional verandah with columns.

Text Kiln, Bushy Park

In 1867 William Ebenezer Shoobridge (1846-1940) came to the Styx valley and began growing and processing hops. He was the first planted hops at Bushy Park in 1864. His 3 hectares of planting are now known as the Farm. In 1867 he built the Text Kiln to dry the hops, and as Ebenezer was a religious man, the kiln served as a place for prayer. On the walls of the Text Kiln are quotations from the Bible, such as 'And these words that I command thee this day shall be in thine heart and thy shall write them on the posts of thine house and on thine gate'. Appropriately in the middle of the building is the sign 'God is Love' and on the far side is 'God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life'.

Shoobridge, who was helped by his wife, three sons and five daughters, was committed to the motto 'Union is Strength' and believed that the words of The Bible would inspire his workers.

Some flavour of the Shoobridge milieu is conveyed by the annual strawberry feast the Shoobridges held for their workers at the famous Bushy Park hop-barn. The hop-picking was always closed with a festival in true Kentish style. Poles garlanded with hops and bedecked with coloured ribbons were carried around in procession amid wild cheering. A dinner, with music and song brought the day to its close.

William Ebenezer Shoobridge was a man of many talents and large vision, and was not averse to reminding others of the fact. He was an engineer, inventor, irrigator, sometimes parliamentarian, pillar of the community and prolific writer.

Shoobridge designed and implemented irrigation schemes at the family farms, Valleyfield and Bushy Park, as well as other properties in the Derwent Valley. He also designed and built hop kilns, invented the cup-shaped method of pruning fruit frees, and revolutionised the fruit industry by shipping apples overseas in refrigerated compartments. An early advocate of government regulation of water supplies, he became a tireless promoter of schemes to harness state waters for irrigation and other purposes, earning the sobriquet 'Water Willie'. His descendants still farm in the Derwent Valley, producing hops until the 1980s.

Swallows Nest, Plenty

Swallows Nest Hop Kiln Guest House is located in Plenty in the Derwent Valley. It is a fully renovated 100 year old hop kiln nestling on the banks of the Derwent River. Now luxury furnished and decorated, Swallows Nest is a tranquil place where you can fish for trout, or just enjoy the absolute pleasure of strolling through the seven acres of rolling lawns, complemented by fruit trees, white gums, lavender, rosemary and many other native shrubs. Adorning the walls are many examples of watercolour, pastel and oil paintings with tuition available for the artistically inclined.

Tynwald Park, New Norfolk

The property named Tynwald sits on 40 riverfront acres in New Norfolk, and was built early in 1830 by John and Martha Terry. In October 1818, John and Martha, their eight daughters, three sons and two millstones sailed from Sheerness, England on the Surrey, the only free settlers on a convict ship to Sydney, Australia.

Possibly unhappy with the terms of the lease and the size of the allotment at Liverpool, south west of Sydney, Terry, a Yorkshire miller, moved his family and business to Van Diemen's Land. Arriving in Hobart Town on the Prince Leopold on 6 December 1819, the family proceeded to build the mill on 100 acres (40 ha) at Elizabeth Town (soon to be renamed New Norfolk), where the Derwent and Lachlan Rivers met.

By the end of 1820 Terry was grinding wheat on what was now known as the 'Lachlan River Mill'. Further to this he took up a grant of 1,400 acres (567 ha) at nearby Macquarie Plains (later renamed Gretna). This property he called Askrigg, named after the village of his birth. In 1827 he purchased Slateford, a property at Hayes.

In about 1822, on the Lachlan River Mill estate, Terry built a granary; circa 1830 the family built the house that was to later be named 'Tynwald'; and, after introducing hops to the estate, John's youngest son Ralph built an Oast house in 1867. All three buildings still stand to this day.

In 1898 the prominent politician, William Moore, purchased the house, extended it dramatically - he added the tower, bay window, verandah and iron lacework, and renamed it 'Tynwald' after the parliament on the Isle of Man. Location: Tynwald Road, New Norfolk, Tas

The Oast House at Tynwald Park is the only Oast House in the Derwent Valley that is open for public inspection. It served as a working oast house from 1867 to 1969. It has now been converted into a museum, gift shop, craft market and tea room. It is located on a hill overlooking what were once the extensive hops fields. The museum in the Oast House has interesting displays which illustrate the methods of beer brewing, dating since the 6th century BC, to today, they explain how the hops were processed and the hop farming methods which were used throughout the Derwent Valley.

Ranalagh Oast House

The main house, which dates back to 1865, and the adjoining Oast house (1912) and gardens are listed with the National Trust. The home was owned by one of the Huon Valleys' prominent apple and cherry growing families and five generations later, the same family continue to farm the land in this peaceful part of the valley.

The main homestead is considered a landmark and is one of the most important buildings in the Huon Valley. The property has long been recognised as historically significant, and its prominence in Tasmanian apple production at one time earned the farm a brief visit from the Queen during a royal tour of the area in 1970.

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