Taming the “Western Wilds”
The story of Hawthorn Lodge
As you pause and look out over the gardens at Hawthorn Lodge, imagine Ebenezer Shoobridge sitting here with his two sons, nearly 160 years ago, when they arrived after a long and tiring journey in search of land to grow hops. Their journey had started in Hobart, where they boarded a steamer and steamed north up the Derwent River to New Norfolk. From there, they hired a packhorse and headed west, following the fertile alluvial plains of the Derwent. It was a difficult journey in those days, and they had to be vigilant against bushrangers -organized bands of escaped convicts. After a few days of hard travelling they crested a hill and saw a large valley before them – a flood plain framed by the junction of the Styx and Derwent rivers. They were looking down at Bushy Park.
The land was perfect. The valley floor was rich and fertile, with deep, loamy soils and plenty of water from the Derwent and Styx rivers. The sun was shining, and the heat was just what hops needed. Bushy Park, being the hottest place in Tasmania, was far enough from the cooling sea breezes and was protected by the hills from the cold westerly and southern winds.
As Ebenezer surveyed the land before him, he thought of his father William. In 1822, William sailed from England to Van Diemen’s land with his family to make a new life. It was a perilous journey, one that would lead to the death of his wife and three of his children. When he finally arrived in Hobart, he was granted access to some land in West Hobart and started farming with the hops he brought from Kent. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the dream he was hoping for – he worked hard but had limited success due to poor soils and lack of water to irrigate. He died in 1836, leaving his son Ebenezer to manage the struggling farms he had established.
Almost thirty years later, as Ebenezer sat at the foot of the hill where you sit now, his vision of burgeoning fields of hops and orchards crystalized. He turned to Robert, his son, and said “This is the spot; and down there, acre after acre, my hop fields shall stand, easily irrigated from the river; the orchards shall be planted farther up where they have good drainage on the slopes.”
“Where do we live?” said William, his other son. Ebenezer responded to him, “What does it matter? We can surely sleep in tents until our house is built. This is where we must have the house, sons, in the lee of the hill and far enough from the river so that it does not flood.”
‘Why, Father you’re right,” said Robert. “And we will produce our own beer and sell across the land,” remarked William.
“We will bring civilisation to this land. I can see a croquet lawn on the flat piece over there; we will frame the entrance with two English Oaks to remind us of England,” said Robert.
“And I will collect trees from all over the world and bring them here!” Ebenezer exclaimed.
“We will plant two Sequoias next to the Oaks as a symbol that we will transform these lands with the world’s tallest trees,” said Robert.
“Let’s make the garden to remind us of Kent and in memory of my father, William, and his dream of civilising this barren landscape,” said Ebenezer.
This is where the story of “Taming the Western Wilds” really begins. Where better place to start than exploring the area of the family that brought hops – humulus lupulus, a crop used for adding flavour and aroma to beer – to Australia.
Ebenezer, carrying on the indomitable spirit of his father, was determined to succeed in the hop growing business. In 1864, Ebenezer Shoobridge purchased Bushy Park. It was an arduous task for him and his family, transporting goods in by bullock carts from Hobart, but Ebenezer and his family worked tirelessly to turn the land into a productive hop farm. He was in good company – his son William had attended Horton College in Ross, where he studied hydrostatics and irrigation. He was affectionately known as “Water Willy” and was clearly a gifted engineer. His other son Robert was also making a name for himself as an accomplished agriculturalist and innovator, with an interest in developing cold storage techniques for orchard fruit.
One of the first things Ebenezer and his sons did at Bushy Park was remove a log jam that was responsible for constant flooding at the confluence of the Styx and Derwent rivers, allowing the Styx to flow freely again. William then built a dam 5 km upstream and an 8-tonne water wheel, which you can still see standing, to feed the irrigation pond at his new Bushy Park property.
Over 3 kilometres of hawthorn hedges were planted to protect the hops. These hawthorn hedges are still there today and grow to 12 metres in height. It is from this that Hawthorn Lodge got its namesake.
Building Hawthorn Lodge in the Western Wilds
In 1869, Ebenezer and his son Robert built Hawthorn Lodge, designing it in a European style reminiscent of their family’s ancestral home in Kent. The house, a single story, was built of locally made brick. All the ground floor rooms had two doors as a precaution against the bushrangers, who were living in the area in the early days. They had reason to be cautious – years before in 1824, a bushranger by the name of John Logan shot at Ebenezer’s father as he tended his hops near Hobart. In a stroke of good fortune, the bullet was deflected off a metal object in his pocket, and he survived (John Logan did not – he was later executed for his crime).
Landscaped gardens were made to create a sense of grandeur in the Tasmanian bush. They planted oaks, elms, birches, Canadian Sequoias, pines, redwoods, magnolias, and ornamental shrubs. The magnolia that still stands has always thrived and is now recognised as the oldest tree in Australia. As you walk around the garden, imagine this as wild bush 150 years ago, now transformed with magnificent trees from around the world.
The original farm buildings are at the back of Hawthorn Lodge, and the small rooms you see are where some of the workers lived. These include a storeroom for the men’s rations, which were issued twice a week and included 12 pounds of meat, 4 loaves of bread, a quarter pound of tea, and 2 pounds of sugar, flour and salt. On either side of the central garden were extensive vegetable gardens and orchards, containing numerous experimental varieties.
The backyard of Hawthorn Lodge was presided over by “Old Hardwick”. He would pay 5 shillings for any black snakes brought to him, dead or alive, and even kept one hanging on a nail outside his room. Hardwick also looked after the carriages, which were many, including the milk cart, pony cart and the largest cart that could carry 20 people to a family picnic.
Pioneers of Agricultural Innovation in the Western Wilds
Hard work, innovation and an enterprising spirit defined the Shoobridge’s. Bushy Park became a place where new and emerging agricultural methods were discussed amongst the farmers in the area. Their family made Bushy Park one of the most extensive hop farms in Australia, covering 1133 acres. Over the period 1866-79 the acreage trebled, and the crop increased sevenfold, becoming the basis of an important export industry.
Their innovations, such as the text kiln, water race and orchard management techniques can still be seen today, 150 years later.
The Text Kiln
In 1867, Ebenezer commissioned the building of a kiln for drying the hops and asked his son William to design it. Revolutionary for its time, they built the “Text Kiln.” The Text Kiln is an octagonal structure that was probably the largest kiln in the world at the time. Ebenezer, being a keen educator of others on the value of religion, wanted it to be more than just a functional building. He envisioned it to be a place in which family, hard work, and devotion to God came together – a place that would encourage his workers to lead better lives.
When the exterior of the kiln was finished, he set about creating a series of sandstone plaques engraved with inspirational biblical sayings and set them into the exterior walls, so his workers would be constantly exposed to scripture.
As you enter the text kiln, you see a plaque that reads:
“Erected by E. Shoobridge J.P. 1867 Assisted by his wife, three sons and five daughters. Union is Strength.”
And walking around it, you can see others. One plaque reads:
“And these words that command thee this day shall be in thine heart and thou shalt write them on the posts of thy house and on thy gates.”
Another simply reads,
“God is Love.”
Not only a beautiful, inspirational building, the Text Kiln could dry 2,000 bushels of hops a day. It was designed so that the heat source and air intake was kept outside the structure – an innovation that had not been seen at the time. Six-inch diameter pipes drew air so that the hops never came into contact with the fires. Traditional kilns at that time would be heated from the fires that would directly heat the hops, which would cause an undesirable smoky flavour.
Next to the Text Kiln is a pond, created as insurance in case of fire, which is a high risk when drying hops.
The Water Race
Behind Hawthorn Lodge in Tasmania is the 3 km water race built by William Shoobridge, which takes water from a dam on the Styx River and runs to the Oast House to power the waterwheel (which is still there). The waterwheel generated power to dry the hops and provide electricity for the village. It is claimed that Bushy Park had electricity before Hobart!
Innovating the Orchard Industry in the Western Wilds
Not content with farming only hops, the Shoobridges innovated the apple industry as well. In fact, William is credited for developing the “cup” method of pruning. This method allows the sun to shine on all the fruit, thus increasing the quality and yield of the apple crops. He also developed a ventilated cool store system to prevent deterioration of apples through brown-heart. He developed apples for export to Europe and expanded the British and European markets, starting the Derwent Valley Fruit Growers Association. In 1887, he oversaw the first significant export of 12,000 bushels of apples. In 1892, he became the first president of the Tasmanian Agricultural Council, where his knowledge as an irrigation engineer was in high demand.
Recording the Weather in Derwent Valley
Not only known for his work on irrigation and agriculture, William Shoobridge recorded the weather at Bushy Park each day. Armed with a set of standard instruments, he collected meteorological records, which are some of the earliest in Tasmania. He continued to record the weather for 50 years, until the Federal government took it over. His efforts gained him a place in the International Scientists’ Directory.
The Glorious Days of Hawthorn Lodge
Nearly a decade after Ebenezer and his family moved to Bushy Park, in 1878, Ebenezer’s other son William and his wife Ann Benson Mather Shoobridge took over Hawthorn Lodge (Robert and his family went on to farm in the New Norfolk region).
William and Anne had 9 children. With such a large family, the house was always busy and welcomed many visitors, who came to learn to farm from William, who had become recognised as one of the leading farmers in Tasmania. William would generously serve up a half-sheep to feed the gatherings of people.
Tennis, croquet, bicycle races, and horse riding were all very popular each summer weekend. In the winter, they hosted charades and impromptu concerts, where all were encouraged to take part.
Their best clothes were worn on Sunday, when all would head to St Augustine’s Chapel next to the Styx River. William and Ann would ride on the pony cart and the rest of the family would walk.
The Shoobridge family hosted a strawberry banquet each year at Bushy Park for his workers at the hop barn. The end of the hop picking season finished with a Kentish hop festival, where poles garlanded with hops and bedecked with colourful laces and ribbons were carried about in a procession in the middle of chaotic cheering. A meal, along with singing and music, brought the night to its close.
What was it like to work and live at Hawthorn Farm?
Apart from the kilns and numerous farm buildings, there were also small cottages with gardens for the permanent staff, as well as rooms for the hundreds of workers who arrived to pick the hops. Many hop pickers were ladies who could earn equal pay to men.
In the village, a brick building contained two large assembly rooms and ten other rooms, where there was also an oven for baking scores of loaves of bread for the hop pickers. Meetings of the Working Men’s Club were held here, and the reading room and library contained 600 books. Cricket and football teams were also set up in the area.
Many of the hop pickers were better fed during harvesting season than at any other time, because the property produced meat, vegetables, dairy produce, and flour, but they could also buy jam, sardines, and other goods.
When a family first started at Bushy Park, they were given a cottage, garden, seeds, a “one eyed pig”, poultry, and the use of a cow. The term, “one eyed pig” meaning after an animal had been killed, half went to the family that had fattened and raised the pig while the other half went to the Shoobridge family.
Hop picking was a very happy time and much chit-chat went on in the hop fields. At the end of the hop season, a procession of hops and coloured ribbons took place, followed by a grand dinner with music, singing, and dancing. Ebenezer believed that if you kept your employees happy and comfortable, it would attract a respectable class of worker.
This tradition continued for many years and many guests taking tea on our veranda tell us of the fun times they had as youngsters helping their mothers.
Modern History of Hops
The Shoobridge family farmed the area for several generations until 1970, when overproduction caused problems, and by 1980, all the established Hop properties were joined as one to create the Bushy Park Estates. In 1988, the current proprietors of the property, Haas Investments, bought the property from Elders IXL, and began farming as Hop Products Australia. The new owners began a period of upgrade including the present harvest complex that was built in 1992. Thanks to the Shoobridges, Bushy Park is still one of the most technologically advanced hop producing sites in the world.
The harvest complex is one of the largest and most modern in the world with a capacity to pick 35-40 tons of dry hops per day. The two picking machines will pick 80 vines (max) per minute and dryers dry a floor in 8 hours. Sheep are grazed in the hop growing areas to eat the base growth from the hop plant before harvest.
For a view of the whole hop farm, visit the cemetery behind Hawthorn Lodge, where you will be presented with a good panorama. Hops are best seen in February and early March, when they grow up the vines. They are harvested in early March and then remain small until they start growing again in the spring. Visit at harvest time to take in the delightful hop aroma.
About Hops in Bushy Park
The hop plant began in China, but it was the Germans in the 11th century who noticed the crop’s capabilities as an ingredient for beer. Hops are used as the herbs and spice in beer to add a bittering element that evens out the sweetness of the malt. Hops can create a full assortment of aromas and flavours in beer.
Hops are the cone shaped flowers on the female Hop Bine, and they develop exceedingly quickly, capable of growing 8 metres high in one year. They are cut down almost to ground level following each harvest.
The flavour of the hop comes from the Lupulin Glands on the inside of the cone. Hops are dried on big drying platforms.
The “green” hops are transferred to hop kilns where they are spread out on a drying floor to a depth of about 1 metre. These floors consist of still woven wire mesh through which hot air, generated by an oil furnace, is forced out by use of high-speed fans.
The drying period lasts about 10 hours, during which time moisture is driven from the hops to the extent that every 4 kilos of hops, originally in the green state, are reduced to 1 kilo in the dried condition.
Once dried, the hops are then shovelled onto cooling floors where they remain for up to 4 days, until a balanced moisture condition of about 10 percent is attained.
The hops are then transferred into a hop press for balling into a pack of about 113 kilos. They are then sent to a pelleting plant and processed into pellets for sale.
Hops are now picked by machine, which can cut 40 vines per minute. These hops are then transported to the hop complex and wire fingers strip the hop cones and other material from the vine. Mechanical cleaners then separate the cones, which are then sent onto a conveyor belt and into the kiln for drying. There are twelve drying floors which can carry 45 tonnes per day. The original Text Kiln could manage only 7 tonnes a day.
Bushy Park now boasts the largest hop processing plant in the southern hemisphere, and HPA exports hops to 25 different countries. The local brewer, Cascade, takes the first harvest hops to craft a unique tasting, full-flavoured beer each year.
As there are no hop fungal diseases in Tasmania, the absence of fungicide residue makes them very sought after around the world, the reason for why it is now exported to 28 countries.
Website: Hawthorn Lodge http://hawthornlodge.com.au/
Website: William Ebenezer Shoobridge:S3_William_E_Shoobridge.pdf
Website: Australian Dictionary of Biography – http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/shoobridge-william-ebenezer-906
Website: About Bushy Park: http://www.visithobartaustralia.com.au/bushy-park.html