Old is Relative

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Here I’ve been, for the last six months, vaunting my 400-year old house in the Loire Valley and I arrive in Tasmania which has some of the oldest buildings in Australia. The trouble is, most of them look just like the buildings in the centre of Townsville where I grew up and the oldest date from the early 1800s. I must confess that it’s a bit hard to get excited about houses that are not even 200 years old.

Main street of Campbell Town, in the heart of Tasmania

On our way from Launceston to Coles Bay, we stopped to get some lunch at Campbell Town, in the heart of Tasmania, established by Governor Macquarie in 1821, (population 800). We went past a place selling R.M. Williams clothing. Last time we were in Australia, Relationnel bought a shirt of that brand and we love the quality, so we went in. The young man in the shop looked about 16. He didn’t seem to have any idea where the shirts were to be found and the sizes seemed to be all mixed up.

Changing room at the R.M. Williams store in Campbell Town

Most of the shirts were Stockyard, but he didn’t think to explain that it was the same brand. They were having a sale – 120 dollars for two Stockyard shirts. It took a lot of rooting around to find two Ms that we liked. What we loved was the changing room which looked like something out of a film. It seems the shop was once a grocery store.

Convict paving stones in Campbell Town

As we left the shop we noticed a line of paving stones, with the names and details (crime, year, punishment) of the local convicts. We also passed an “Antiques and collectables” shop selling my mother’s old sewing chair for 12o dollars. I could make a fortune selling my Henri II furniture!

Antiques and collectables in Campbell Town

We crossed the road and I saw a church for sale. Now that’s an unusual piece of real estate! At the supermarket where we bought some coleslaw (we are pining for salad and vegetables in adequate amounts), I asked the lady at the check-out if there were any interesting villages to visit in the neighbourhood and she directed us to Ross (population 300) about 12 or 13 kilometers along the highway.

Church for sale in Campbell Town

I consulted the Lonely Planet which was rather scathing I thought : “Another tidy (nay, immaculate) Midlands town … These days Ross’ elm-lined streets are almost gagging on colonial charm and history.” Not very encouraging , I thought. I was therefore very surprised to find a sleepy little town with hardly a soul in sight. Maybe the L.P. people don’t travel in early spring. We had our lunch at a picnic table near an old school which I initially thought was a church.

Old school in Ross

As it was starting to spit, we set off for the 3rd oldest bridge in Australia, which was a bit of a come-down (I was somehow expecting something bigger) but still very pretty with its intricate carvings sculpted by one of the two convict stone masons that built it in 1836. I was pleased to hear they were pardoned for their efforts.

Ross Bridge built in 1836

We walked up to the Uniting Church on top of Church Street hill with its panoramnic view of the surrounding countryside (that’s were we should have had lunch!), then took the Heritage Walk down past the Ross Female Factory.

Uniting Church on Church Street, Ross

This was one of Tasmania’s two female prisons, operational between 1848 and 1854. I find it hard to imagine there were still convicts in those days. It was open for viewing so I lifted the latch and walked inside. Only two buildings remain, the assistant superintendant’s and overseer’s cottages.

Ross Female Factory convict prison

The site was both a factory and hiring depot, as well as an overnight station for convicts travelling between settlements. Because of the fresh air, it was also  a lying-in hospital and nursery. I reckon the mothers and babies must have been pretty cold. I certainly was. Posters on the wall trace the history of some of the inmates. We got back to the car just before the rain started in earnest.

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9 thoughts on “Old is Relative”

  1. Two of our favourite memories of Launceston from our visit 36 years ago were Cataract Gorge and the Penny Royal Mill. Are they on your list to do?

    1. 36 years ago! So one year after I left France. Cataract Gorge is on the list (we have 3 days in Launceston on the way back) and I’ll add the Penny Royal Mill.

  2. Don’t be tempted to buy the church unless you have a tame architect who enjoys the challenge of turning a difficult space into a dwelling. Churches are notoriously difficult to convert sympathetically, without resorting to having floors cutting the windows in half and such like.

  3. EXACTLY Mum!!!

    You completely get it. This is why it’s very hard for me to be excited about Sydney’s architecture/city/stuff when I grew up in Paris.

    Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of other things I do like about Australia. It’s just that the lack of history is something I miss so much and I didn’t realize it before leaving Europe… Moving is a fantastic learning experience and even though it’s been hard I don’t regret it for a second. I’m very grateful you allowed all this for me by teaching me the English language, culture, and giving me Australian citizenship…

    By the way, I want to write something for anyone who is reading the blog. My Mum, the Aussie in France, is the best mother anyone could have ever dreamed to have. Always caring, always looking for everyone’s best interest, loving, supportive and accepting. I’m now over 30, I’ve met lots of fantastic people in many countries, yet still, my mother is one of the people I look up to the most, and one of the smartest too.
    For sure, we all have flaws, weaknesses, but not once over the years has she done or said anything to make me question her ethics, character, and commitment to be the best person she can be, for her and for others. What a great role model!

    Some people are lucky in life, and I definitely consider myself to be one of them.
    Thank you so much.

    1. What a wonderful, loving tribute to your Mum, Leonardo. Obviously her positive traits have rubbed off on you (and Black Cat who I have been lucky enough to meet). Your Mum has been a wonderful friend and support especially when I hit a bad patch in France this year. I hope you all enjoy your family reunion.

  4. What can I say except thank you, my son. I am very touched, particularly by the fact that you have written it on my blog.

  5. Aussie, you’ve done yourself proud to have brought up a loving son who writes it here for all to see.

    Nothing like the age here in France, but as you head north to NSW, add to your visit ‘Rose Cottage’ Wilberforce; my great grandparents x several generations who built it in 1811 and is now Australia’s oldest house. And for bridges, whilst not the oldest, certainly hairy to drive across resulting in an adrenalin rush, is Tabulam Bridge between Casino and Tenterfield.

    A couple of fun things to add if you are near them. Can’t wait to hear about it in person when you return.

    1. Did you know Tabulam Bridge was damaged during flooding in 2011 and only reopened in July 2012? I just checked the net!

      Imagine being the descendant of the people who built Australia’s oldest house! I’ve just checked the map and I see that we can include the bridge on our route between Armidale and Tweed Heads, our next stop after the Big Family Reunion in Armidale. Rose Cottage will have to wait for the next visit.

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