On Day 4 of our stay in Swansea, we decided we would head inland rather than pursue further exploration along the coast line. Our destination was Campbell Town and the drive along the Lake Leake Road was highly forested so a beautiful drive. The only detour along the way was when we came to the turn off to Lake Leake itself. However, it had started to rain by this stage and no matter how hard I tried, the camera refused to take a decent, illustrative photo of Lake Leake and its surrounds. The dam was constructed in 1883 to supply Campbell Town with a permanent water supply. The Snowy River feeds into the lake and the Elizabeth River is the system by which water is channelled into the town from here. It is clearly also a very popular fishing centre.
The forests that marked most of the route from the coast gave way to rural properties not far after Lake Leake and they looked very prosperous with both grain crops and sheep farming. One can’t help noticing as you enter Campbell Town that this is an old town by Australian standards…it boasts over a 100 houses still standing from the 19th century, generally called ‘Georgian’ houses after the four King Georges that ruled the British Empire between 1714-1830. The town’s name is a curious story in that it was named by Governor Macquarie when he passed through the area in 1821. He gave it his wife’s maiden name, ‘Campbell’. He had already visited this area in 1811 and had already named the river, Elizabeth River, his wife’s first name. If you are one of the first European Governors of a newly colonised land, you get to name a lot of things. I wonder whether Governors like Macquarie checked with locals whether the river already had a name before bestowing a new name linked to his family. Research among the original inhabitants of the area, (the Tyerrernotepanner) would have revealed it had an ancient name, the ‘Parndokennerlyerpinder’. History belongs to the victors.
The first citizen of Campbell Town built a cottage here in 1821 when Macquarie decided that this pastoral area needed a police presence. There were four ‘garrison’ towns set up between Hobart and Launceston because the rapid spread of British settlers into the centre of Tasmania brought to a head the violent conflict between the original inhabitants and the colonists. The sheep farmers took over all the good land and conflict between the first Tasmanians and the armed farmers meant that by 1818, the numbers of indigenous had fallen to about 2000. The most infamous event in Tasmanian history occurred in 1830 when the Governor declared martial law and the so-called ‘Black Line’ was organised to sweep across settled districts and force Tasmanian aborigines onto the Tasman Peninsula where they could be rounded up and moved to Bass Strait Islands. The proclamation announcing this was accompanied by the diagram to the right which was meant to be convincing that both sides of the conflict would be treated equally!
Driving into town meant that we arrived at the crossing over the Elizabeth River where the Red Bridge had been started in 1836. It was built by another class of humanity at the bottom of the local social order, transported convicts from England’s crowded gaols, and was finished in 1838. It has survived nearly two centuries with only one major overhaul in 2000. It was a site well worth stopping at and we completed a slow circuit of this bridge.
On the town side of the bridge there was a remarkable art piece, a wood carving by Eddie Freeman, that is meant to depict the history of the town. It shows a British soldier, a convict, a bush ranger and a number of late 19th/early 20th century prominent towns folk. It is a very impressive work and its setting next to the Red bridge was particularly apt.
We drove up the main street and pulled over soon after crossing the Red Bridge as we decided this was a town demanding a slow stroll. As I emerged onto the foot path, I noticed there was a straight line of red bricks running down the middle of the footpath. This was the Convict Brick Trail that ran down the footpath on one side of Midland Hwy from the Red Bridge. The bricks told of convicts who had reached Australia and gave succinct details of their life. An explanatory plaque further up the street adds to the information about the convict role in the construction of the Red Bridge. “They hand made 1250 bricks and then built the bridge on dry land. When completed they were then told to divert the river beneath its arches. This was accomplished by digging the new river course on both sides of the arches.”
On the corner of the next block up the street is another fine looking ‘Georgian’ building that is today the Wildes Antique shop. This is also a convict-built building, constructed around 1833. Today if you book in, you can investigate the holding cells below this building where the convicts, who were building the Red Bridge, were held at night. It was originally a coaching Inn and is now a listed National Trust building; they describe it as “the finest and most substantial hotel building of the late colonial period in Australia.” If you are interested in the history of this building, check out this blog. (http://ontheconvicttrail.blogspot.com/2013/11/foxhunters-return-campbell-town.html)
Further up the main street we noticed the Town Hall on the other side of the road. I am not sure when the original building was constructed but in 1939, somebody had the idea to add a small clock tower to the front roof area to remember a prominent local citizen. It didn’t enhance the architectural merit of the building. Two signs on the front façade of the building announced that it was now the Campbell Town Museum & Visitor Information Centre. Going inside was a dreary experience, a small display area that needed a lot of work. We escaped and walked further up town to admire the old Hospital Building (above right).
By now it was lunchtime and we headed back to a pleasant café and bakery opposite Valentines Park, the main public green space in the centre of town. We had a window seat so over lunch I was able to decide that this was a park worth investigating. On the far side of the park was a very impressive building called the Grange. It was built in 1847 and became the home Dr William Valentine (thus the Park’s name), a much admired local doctor and amateur astronomer. He apparently hosted a big party for scientists from the United States Naval Observatory to witness the transit of Venus across the face of the sun from here in 1874. The image to the right is of a memorial sundial built in 2004 to commemorate this event. The sundial is made of old agricultural machinery and its location can be seen in the image of the Grange below. The Grange today is owned by the National Trust.
The other memorial in Valentine’s Park is a statue of Eliza Forlong, an early 19th century Scottish woman who is credited with developing the Merino Sheep industry in the Campbell Town district. The plaque beside the statue explains that she walked 1500 miles in the 1820s throughout the state of Saxony, Germany, selecting sheep from the best flocks of Merinos. She sounds like the Tasmanian equivalent of John Macarthur, the NSW Rum Rebellion character who is credited with the development of the Merino Sheep industry in NSW.
By the time we had read the tourist information boards in Valentine’s Park, it was time to stroll back to our car, satisfied with a pleasant day in lovely Campbell Town.