Western Wilds - Hawthorn Lodge

Western Wilds

Hawthorn Lodge is the story of taming the Western Wilds.

As you pause and look out over the gardens here at Hawthorn Lodge, imagine Ebenezer Shoobridge, sitting in this spot 160 years ago. Exhausted after taking days of traveling to arrive in Bushy Park, relieved at not having been attacked by bushrangers, he looked out over an untamed land covered in bush at the Western Wilds.

He was thinking of his father William, who had risked all by leaving England in 1822, and had brought with him hops from their farm in Kent. It turned out to be a perilous journey, one that would lead to the death of his mother and two sisters, leaving Ebenezer the sole survivor at the age of two, along with his father.

William was shocked by Hobart upon his arrival, seeing a city far removed from the gentrification he enjoyed on the family farms in Kent. His dream was to reproduce his farms in Hobart, but failed due to the dry soils. He died in 1837, leaving Ebenezer, aged 17, to manage the struggling farms he had established. Inland the Western Wilds had not been explored.

As Ebenezer sat on the foot of the hill where you sit now, he saw fields of hops and orchards and said to Robert, his son, “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.”

The land was perfect, with deep, loamy soils and plenty of water from the Derwent and Styx rivers. The sun was out 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 winds blowing over the Western Wilds.

“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.

Rushing back to Hobart, Ebenezer Shoobridge organised the purchase of Bushy Park in 1864, and this is where the story of “Taming the Western Wilds” really begins.

It was an arduous task for him, transporting goods in by bullock carts from Hobart.

The distinguished octagonal ‘Text Kiln’, designed by Ebenezer Shoobridge, was finished in 1867, and had been designed by his son, William Shoobridge (who was clearly a gifted engineer). The Text Kiln was also used for Sunday church services, with stone tablets in the brickwork displaying biblical texts.  Shoobridge drew inspiration from the scriptures and was a keen educator of others on the value of religion.

Next to the Text Kiln is a pond, created as insurance in case of fire, which is a high risk when drying hops.

Ebenezer, Robert, and William worked hard to create Hawthorn Lodge, seeking an attractive style that would also provide comfort and warmth. Landscaped gardens were made to create a sense of grandeur in the Tasmanian bush. Early plantings were oaks, elms, birches, pines, redwoods, magnolias, and ornamental shrubs. The magnolia, especially, 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 some magnificent trees, planted by Ebenezer in 1869. A true taming of the Western Wilds.

At the rear of the house, the existing farm buildings still stand. This includes a store room 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.

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.

Robert Shoobridge moved in with his family in 1869.

In 1878, Ann Benson Mather Shoobridge, along with her husband William Shoobridge, took over Hawthorn Lodge from Robert Shoobridge. They had 9 children, and sadly, one daughter, Sarah Charlotte a baby born in 1878, was dropped down the stairs at Hawthorn Lodge.  This tragedy left her an invalid for her whole life, and died in 1941. William Shoobridge led a very productive and distinguished life, dying in 1940 at the age of 94.

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.

Each day, William collected meteorological records, which are some of the earliest in Tasmania. The weather station at Bushy Park continues to report this day.

Behind Hawthorn Lodge 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 (still there) which generated power to dry the hops and generate electricity for the village. It is claimed that Bushy Park had electricity before Hobart.

William Shoobridge created an irrigation system for hops and apples that altered the dryness of the deep, porous soil. By 1879, hops and apples were being exported from Bushy Park to London, making use of the cool chamber fitted on the Warwickshire. This was the start of a major trade system from Australia to the UK.

William Shoobridge is recognised as having developed the ‘cup’ pattern technique of pruning. In 1892, he became the first president of the Tasmanian Agricultural Council, where his knowledge as an irrigation engineer was in high demand. His weather-keeping records that began in 1873, continued for 50 years, and gained him a place in the International Scientists’ Directory.

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.

Most hop pickers were ladies who could earn equal pay to men.

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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.

Together, the Shoobridge family made Bushy Park the biggest producer of hops in Australia and Hawthorn Lodge, a place where much of the early Tasmanian agricultural ideas were discussed amongst innovative farmers.

The original farm buildings are at the back of Hawthorn Lodge, and the small rooms you see were where some of the workers lived.

The Shoobridge family farmed the area 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.

If you look beyond the front entrance, the plants behind the houses are hop plants. They can also be seen on the roadside as you enter the village.

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.

Bushy Park became one of the most extensive hop farms in Australia, covering 1133 acres. Over 3 kilometres of hawthorn hedges were planted to protect the hops. These hawthorn hedges are still to be seen today and grow to 12 metres in height.

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.

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.

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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.

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Ebenezer believed that if you kept your employees happy and comfortable, it would attract a respectable class of worker.

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.

Bushy Park now boasts the largest hop processing plant in the southern hemisphere, and HPA exports hops to 25 different countries. Local brewer, Cascade, takes the first harvest hops to craft a unique tasting, full-flavoured beer each year.

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.

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.

Base yourself at Hawthorn Lodge to explore the Western Wilds.



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