New Norfolk, Tasmania: Travel guide and things to do

New Norfolk and Plenty are genuinely fascinating. The richness and variety of their historic buildings, the superb Salmon Ponds, the old Oast Houses and the gentle undulations of the countryside on either side of the Derwent River make this one of the most attractive areas in the whole of southern Tasmania. Mercifully the town has not been over-developed and it is still possible for visitors to wander through the old Oast House, visit the historic asylum, walk along the banks of the river, or inspect the beautiful stained glass windows in Tasmania's oldest church, The Anglican Church of St Matthew.

Located 37 km north of Hobart and 30 m above sea level, New Norfolk is one of the largest centres in Tasmania. The townsite was first explored by Europeans in 1793 when Lieutenant John Hayes sailed up the Derwent River and, when the river became too shallow, proceeded to row to a point just upstream from the present site of New Norfolk.

The first person to build a house at New Norfolk was Denis McCarty, a larger-than-life Irish rebel who had been transported to New South Wales. In 1803 McCarty had been amongst the first convicts to arrive at Risdon Cove. By 1808 McCarty had converted from convict to police constable, been appointed to New Norfolk, and built the first house in the district.

McCarty's appointment to the district was as a result of an influx of Norfolk Islanders (which is how the town came to be named New Norfolk) in 1807-1808. By late 1808 544 people (soldiers, convicts and free settlers) had arrived in Van Diemen's Land from Norfolk Island. They put an enormous strain on the colony's fragile economy. However they did form a basis for the settlement of the district.

In 1811 the erstwhile convict McCarty (in fairness he was a political prisoner not a common criminal) played host to Governor Lachlan Macquarie when he visited the area. Macquarie was so impressed with the gentle undulating countryside and the fertile soil that he established a township which he named Elizabeth Town, after his wife. The name continued to be used from 1811-1825 when the local settlers changed it to New Norfolk.

McCarty was endlessly entrepreneurial. In 1812 he was granted 50 acres at Boyer just east of New Norfolk and shortly afterwards he successfully petitioned for a road between Hobart Town and the New Norfolk district. He won the construction contract and proceeded to build it himself.

The establishment of a road into the area combined with good river access meant that throughout the next decade people settled in the area in greater numbers. In 1819 John Terry established the Lachlan River Mills downstream from the present site of New Norfolk. By the 1860s the area around New Norfolk had become the centre of hop growing in Tasmania and oast houses had sprung up at strategic places in the valley. The oast houses were used for the processing and preparation of the hops which were subsequently sent to the local breweries. The hops were treated and pressed in the oast houses.

Things to see

The Oast House
Entering New Norfolk from the south the visitor should turn right into Tynwald Park where 'The Oast House' and the gracious old home 'Tynwald' are located.

The Oast House has been converted into a museum, gift shop and tea room after serving as a working oast house from 1867-1969. It stands on a hill overlooking what were once the extensive fields of hops. The museum in the Oast House has interesting displays which explain how the hops were processed. It also depicts the hop farming methods which were used throughout the Derwent Valley. For more information check out: http://www.theoasthouse.com.au/

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Beside the Oast House is 'Tynwald', the Willow Bend Estate. It is one of the most elegant rural residences in Tasmania. A huge three storey house on the hill overlooking the Derwent Valley. The site was first used by John Terry, one of the district's earliest settlers, who developed the Lachlan River Mill nearby. 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. For more information check out: http://www.tynwaldtasmania.com/.  Both these buildings are on the outskirts of town.

Old Colony Inn
Entering the town the visitor is immediately struck by the sharp contrast between the old and the new. The Lyell Highway crosses the Lachlan River and winds up the hill into town past the Old Colony Inn (1835), once a private home and a hotel and now a coffee and craft shop. It has a charm which is decidedly English. It was almost certainly built to cater for the coaches which started passing through the town in the mid 1830s. For more information check out: http://www.newnorfolk.org/~old_colony_inn/

Further up the road, although not as charming as the Old Colony Inn due to some very unsympathetic modernisation, is the famous Bush Inn (1815) which claims to be the oldest continuously licensed hotel in Australia. The hotel's one great claim to fame is that during a visit to New Norfolk in 1927 Dame Nellie Melba stood on the balcony and sang to the crowds below.

Willow Court
Turning into Burnett Street the visitor passes through the main shopping centre, which is modern and has little connection with the town's historic past, before arriving at 'Willow Court', a superb old stone building which was built as a military hospital in 1830-31 by Major Kelsall. Only one room wide, with wide verandahs and gabled two storey sections at the corners and in the centre, Willow Court was originally conceived by Governor Arthur as a location where invalid convicts could be housed. It was named 'Willow Court' because Lady Franklin planted a willow in the courtyard.

Willow Court is now part of the Royal Derwent Hospital and is the only, and reputedly the oldest, mental hospital in Tasmania. It is a remarkable and simple building of great elegance and character. Its military antecedents are very obvious.

Anglican Church of St Matthew
If the Bush Inn is reputed to be the oldest continuously licensed hotel in Australia it is probably fitting that the country's oldest church also exists in New Norfolk. The Anglican Church of St Matthew in Bathurst Street opposite the delightful Arthur Square was built in 1823.

The church was built as a response to the rapid expansion of population in the district. By 1822 there were 600 people living in the area.

The church, which has been changed significantly over the years, was consecrated in 1828 by Archdeacon Scott from Sydney. It has been the subject of numerous alterations. In 1833 extensive additions made it a much more impressive building. A tower was added in 1870 and in 1894, after a period of energetic fund raising, the chancel was added and the windows, roof and transepts were altered. It is clearly not the same church which was built on the site in 1823. All that is left of the original church are the walls and flagged floor of the nave and part of the western transept. Perhaps the most interesting feature of the church are the excellent stained glass windows.

Australian Newsprint Mills
About 3 km downstream from New Norfolk are the huge Australian Newsprint Mills at Boyer which were opened in 1941. The mill claims to be the first in the world to manufacture newsprint from hardwoods. It can be inspected. Details are available from the Visitors Historic and Information Centre adjacent to the Council Chambers.

The Salmon Ponds at Plenty
Some 11 km upstream from New Norfolk is the tiny settlement of Plenty with its famous salmon ponds. This delightful fishery can claim to be the first rainbow and brown trout farm in Australia having been in operation since 1864. The original trout and salmon ova were exported from England. There is a detailed history of Salmon Ponds and the establishment of trout fishing in Tasmania titled Origins of the Tasmanian Trout which is available from the kiosk. For more information check out:http://www.salmonponds.com.au/

The Salmon Ponds setting is quite extraordinary with mature gardens, well tended lawns and a hatchery which looks more like a collection of backyard goldfish ponds than a commercial operation. There is a poem by Margaret Scott which captures the magic of the Salmon Ponds perfectly:

'This formal garden with its lakes and lawns
gleams against the dim autumnal marsh
like an album portrait framed in weeping haze.
We linger on a rustic bridge to gaze
through smoked-glass gold of elm and beech to where
the full-fed salmon cruise the lily-beds.

Tourist information

The Oast House
Lyell Hwy
New Norfolk TAS 7140
Telephone: (03) 6261 1030

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