We weren’t political protesters, or petty thieves who had to steal a loaf of bread to survive. Or steal clothes from washing lines. We didn’t even steal a sheep or steal from a dwelling. These were all transportable offences to Van Diemans Land where you became a convict and got hard labour, often for the rest of your life. Except if you stole a sheep. Or stole from a dwelling. The punishment for those shocking crimes was the death penalty.
Is confession still a thing? I’m talking Catholics here …
My friend, Phil and I didn’t ever commit any of those crimes. Well, at least I don’t think so. If we had, we would have been transported to the confessional and confessed our crimes (aka sins) to the local priest. The penance was a few Our Fathers and a couple of Hail Marys or something similar. And then we were clean and ready to start sinning again. But the poor convicts had to face a Government Superintendent and be dealt shocking punishments.
Nevertheless, we were transported back in time to Australia’s colonial past when we stayed at Pumpkin Cottage recently. The cottage is one of three convict cottages nestled in Brickendon Estate, an historical farming property located on the outskirts of Longford, in the northern midlands of Tasmania. Brickendon, together with its neighbouring property, Woolmers Estate, was jointly listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2011. Pretty fancy eh?
On arrival, Phil’s dog Benny was the first to exit the car. Benny, an adorable King Charles Cavalier was eager to make friends with a couple of huge woolly coated sheep that had come up to the fence to assess the situation. I was only interested in checking out the digs to make sure we had electricity, running water and a flushing toilet. Oh, and toilet paper. As a pig farmer’s daughter from southern rural Tasmania, I had seen more than my fair share of farm animals in my time so they could wait. Despite the modern amenities in the cottage, it was a reminder of the hardships endured by the early settlers.
Stepping back in time
It was as though we had stepped back in time, as we walked through the squeaky doorway and onto the creaky floorboards of the place we would call home for the next few days. The low ceilings with exposed wooden beams, dimly lit rooms and open fire place gave it a cosy atmosphere. Thankfully, there was a stacked pile of chopped wood in a box outside the front door, so we wasted no time in kindling a fire. It was a cool Tasmanian winter after all. Benny ran from room to room sniffing around and wagging his tail. There were four rooms. Two bedrooms, a bathroom and the kitchen, dining table and lounge area were all in the other room. A minimalist’s dream perhaps?
Dragging ourselves away from the cosy crackling fire wasn’t easy but we did manage a few strolls around the Estate and immersed ourselves in the rich history of the place at the same time. The property was settled in 1824 by William Archer from Hertford, England, who was soon joined by his brothers. Their home is far from a minimalist’s dream; instead it’s a Georgian style manor house that is still home to many of the Archer descendants to this day. The Archers began a mixed enterprise primarily centered around cattle and sheep production. Today, the historic buildings and heritage gardens are still maintained by the Archer family, preserving a slice of time for all to appreciate.
A walk to Woolmers
The next morning, we decided to walk from Brickendon to Woolmers along the back paddocks. The air was crisp and cool but we were well rugged up for the adventure. We had to pass through wooden gates to the open countryside from where we could look back and really appreciate the well- preserved convict village of Brickendon. The walk takes you through vast open spaces of rolling hills and paddocks where sheep are grazing. Benny was very interested in a couple of shy white donkeys on the other side of the fence. It was so peaceful, something that is hard to experience these days. The only sounds were the birdsongs, the sheep bleating and the occasional bark from Benny when he got excited by something rustling in the long grass.
Along the way, we stopped to read the information signs that shared stories from the past. The stories about individual convicts stood as a testament to their resilience that allowed them to build a new life in such harsh conditions. As we continued our leisurely stroll, we couldn’t help notice the contrast between the stories of struggle and the beauty of the Tasmanian landscape encompassing the historic buildings of Woolmers Estate.
No dogs allowed
We headed over to the café/restaurant/function centre because my coffee addiction needed a fix. A lunch for members of the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra was taking place. Phil went in to buy a couple of take-away coffees while I stayed outside the building with Benny on the lead. When Phil disappeared beyond the wall to ceiling windows and out of sight, Benny started barking. An official looking person, dressed in a mourning suit, came out and told me there were no dogs allowed. I simply replied, “I’m waiting for my friend who’s gone in to get coffee.”
With a nod and a faint condescending smile, he allowed me to stay. When Phil appeared armed with the coffees, we headed straight back to Brickendon where dogs are welcome, inside and outside the property.
Have your say!
Have you ever visited an historical site? Or perhaps you have similar travel experiences to share. If you do, I’d love to hear from you.
To read all about Brickendon Estate, the history and the buildings with diagrams, please go to https://brickendon.com.au/attractions/farm-village/
“The property of Brickendon is situated on the land of the Panninher People of the North Midlands nation. We acknowledge the Tasmanian Aboriginal community as the traditional custodians of this land, who cultivated and cared for Country in this region for thousands of generations. We honour their enduring connection to culture, language, and country and pay our respects to Elders past and present.”
Images include: Phil, Benny, Pumpkin Cottage, Brickendon Manor Estate. For more information go to https://brickendon.com.au/