If you’re fond of a good yarn and love listening to a curly tale or two, settle in. We’ve put together some tips on sniffing out the stories of the Heritage Highway—whether it’s a guided tour, chat with a local, imagining based on remnants of the past, art installation, or a visit to the real places that inspired beloved books and movies.
1. Dial a Local at Ross
The red telephone boxes in the heritage village of Ross certainly catch the eye (and imagine the juicy conversations over the decades). Step inside the box marked ‘Dial-a-Local‘, pick up the phone, and listen to the stories and memories of local residents. Seven stories told by four generous locals have been loaded onto the vintage telephone as part of an ongoing oral history project managed by the Tasmanian Wool Centre. And to think, the residents once had to fight to keep the old fashioned phone boxes, which were marked for replacement by boring modern ones!
2. Tour Historic Estates
The grand country estates dotted along the Heritage Highway are treasure troves of history. The properties hold special remnants from the last two centuries, and have many stories to tell of days gone by. Visit Woolmers and Brickendon Estates near Longford and learn all about rural life in the early days of pioneer farming. Elegant Clarendon Estate, on the banks of the South Esk River at Nile, is enchanting to explore (check the National Trust for opening times). Tour the atmospheric Shene Estate & Distillery at Pontville and hear captivating tales over perfect G&Ts.
3. Unlock the past at Oatlands
The quaint sandstone village of Oatlands was once a bustling 19th century military outpost and stagecoach depot. Pick up a copy of Oatlands: Stories from the Sandstone—which includes companion book Oatlands: Law and Order—to gain a deeper understanding of Tasmania’s past through the stories behind the town’s stone walls. The booklet can be purchased for $5.00 from the Northern Midlands Council in Longford or via this online order form.
The Oatlands Key lets the public access the historic military precinct, unlocking the Oatlands Gaoler’s Residence, Supreme Court House and Oatlands Commissariat. Take a self-guided tour and admire the beautiful restoration work and view the archaeological and heritage collection items. Read the stories on the information panels and imagine the colourful characters of the 19th century. Pick up the fob key from any business in High Street displaying the key logo (you’ll need to register and leave a refundable deposit).
The augmented reality (AR) experiences at the Oatlands Gaol and Supreme Court House present an incredible merging of past happenings with today’s technology. There are eight sites to explore, including the chilling gallows where 18 men were executed. See virtual installations of the gallows, and find out about the people and their fates. For the AR experience, download the Uist app and follow the map and instructions.
4. Visit the old coaching inns
Several 19th century coaching inns and historic watering holes are still serving patrons today! The businesses have perfected the modern twist whilst retaining that old world charm. You know the locals love a good yarn, so pull up a chair and settle in for some curly tales about troublemaking bushrangers, ill-fated servants, hardy convicts, and more. Put the Clarendon Arms, Ross Hotel, St Andrews Inn, the Crown Inn & Bushrangers Bistro, and the Old Kempton Distillery on your list.
5. Find the Ross Female Factory
Look into the harrowing stories of Tasmania’s female convicts at the Ross Female Factory Historic Site. Women were incarcerated here between 1847 and 1854. Although little architecture remains above ground, it is recognised as the most archaeologically intact female convict site in Australia. The Overseer’s Cottage remains, and is open to the public. Check out the display on the history of this unique convict site, including a model of the Female Factory as it stood in 1851.
6. Hear voices from the graves
Pick up the Voices from the Graves booklet and companion CD from the Northern Midlands Council, Longford Newsagency, or Woolmers Estate and take a self-guided walking tour through Longford’s Christ Church graveyard. Listen as two early settlers, Mary Anne Wise and Zimram Youram, whisper their haunting stories from beyond the grave. Significant themes of the area’s colonial history are revealed, fostering a deeper understanding of the region’s history and people.
7. Browse Visitor Information Centres & Museums
Pop into the Visitor Information Centres along the Heritage Highway for a chat with the friendly locals, travel tips and advice, brochures, and information for self-guided tours of the historic towns. Some also have museums attached, with insightful displays and information about the area’s history.
Visit the following info hubs:
- Tasmanian Wool Centre & Museum, Ross (7 days)
- Campbell Town’s Heritage Highway Museum (part-time)
- Evandale Tourism & History Centre (7 days)
- Avoca Museum & Information Centre (part-time)
- JJ’s Bakery at Longford (part-time).
8. Interpret convict carvings on Ross Bridge
Take a closer look at convict-built Ross Bridge (c. 1836) and you’ll spy 186 intricate carvings over the beautiful sandstone arches. The icons retain an air of mystery to this day, and include animals, birds, insects, plants, Celtic designs, and heads of local personalities and authoritarians. Legend has it that the exquisite workmanship helped win the two convict stonemasons, Daniel Herbert and James Colbeck, conditional pardons (Herbert is thought to be the artist behind the carvings).
9. Walk the Convict Brick Trail
Stole handkerchief. Sleeping at post. False pretenses. Highway robbery. Attempted murder. These are some of the varied inscriptions along the Campbell Town Convict Brick Trail, which is dedicated to some of the nearly 200,000 convicts transported to Australia from 1788 onwards. Each brick tells the story of a convict transported to the other side of the world, for what was often a petty crime driven by the need to survive. So much is evoked just by reading a name, age, crime, sentence, and occasional outcome (ie. ‘respected farmer’). There are also bricks dedicated to transportation ships.
10. Play Skulduggery
Test your sleuthing skills with a game of Skulduggery! Follow the ‘real life’ adventures of Convict Field Policeman, John James, and try to solve three real crimes committed in Tasmania in the 1830s. The three games in the series are:
- Forgery for Fools (Oatlands): Can you uncover the nefarious dealings of George Dudfield, publican, gaoler, trickster and black-guard?
- The Arch Villains (Ross): Why did the bridge at Ross take so long to build? Grapple with the mysteries of Dr Zweigle’s code breaker, and find the sinister truth behind the 1834 Christmas Day riot.
- Where There’s Smoke… (Longford): Can you expose the sinister forces that laid waste to Joseph Archer’s wheat stacks?
11. Find a cave at Chauncy Vale
If Nan Chauncy’s ‘They Found a Cave’ captivated you as a child, then follow in Nan’s footsteps and embark upon your own adventure at Chauncy Vale Wildlife Sanctuary. Discover Browns Cave and other points of interest, exploring the beautiful Tasmanian landscape that inspired Nan’s beloved children’s books. The Chauncy family home, Day Dawn, is a living museum that is open to visitors by appointment.
12. Follow the Silhouette Trail
When travelling the Heritage Highway in your luxurious modern-day motor vehicle, you might spy some curious shadows of the past… The Silhouette Trail features 16 sculptures between Tunbridge and Kempton, which depict different aspects of the region’s history. The shadowy figures include bushrangers, convict chain gangs, stage coach travellers, railway line workers, policemen, soldiers, a professional hangman, and the now-extinct Tasmanian emu and thylacine.
13. Spot the cows in Lake Dulverton
Lake Dulverton‘s ‘Cows in the Lake’ sculptures are a quirky throwback to days gone by in Oatlands. Some of the locals still remember when 15 to 20 cows would wade into the lake in search of nourishing native grasses. The cows would go in so deep for a munch that they would almost disappear, with just the top of their rump, shoulders and head visible. All this was after a lovely day of roaming and grazing the village streets! After school, kids would find their family’s cow, tether her up and take her home to be milked.
14. Visit the Kiki’s Delivery Service bakery
Excited Japanese tourists get a bit giddy at the Ross Bakery Inn. Although their famous vanilla slice and scallop pies are worth travelling the world for, the bakery also has a particular allure for its likeness to the bakery in Kiki’s Delivery Service, the 1989 anime film from Studio Ghibli. Some fans even dress in character, with a big red bow in their hair, black dresses and brooms. Legend has it, the writer drew inspiration from the bakery to write the book, which was then adapted into the beloved film.
To see what’s on, check out our Events Calendar.
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Ross Bakery Inn | @gloriaheemay/Instagram