As you drive out of Hobart and past New Norfolk and you start to hit the upper reaches of the River Derwent and the landscape starts to become a little greener and looks more fertile. Thirty two kilometres north west of Hobart is New Norfolk which is the gateway for the region and it worth having a walk around before heading on up the valley. It was one of the first colonial towns and was originally settled by 163 people who were resettled from Norfolk Island in 1807. The town was originally called Elizabeth Town but the name was changed in 1825 to New Norfolk in honour of their former home. The town has Tasmania’s oldest Anglican church (St. Matthews built in 1823) and Australia’s oldest and continually used hotel – The Bush Inn, whose licence was first granted on 29 September 1825. There are other building that date back to this period. There is also a very pleasant scenic walk along the banks of the river at The Esplanade.
When we got to Westerway things took a familiar turn. I spent part of my childhood in the “garden of England” as the county of Kent is sometimes called, and in particular a village called Hawkhurst, it was the English countryside at its most bucolic and it was character was shaped by the growing of a very particular crop that shaped both the landscape and the architecture. The crop was hops, used in brewing beer, and they are grown in a very particular way in sheltered hedged fields. The architecture was dominated by oasthouses which were used to dry the hops after they had been picked. When I was a kid I could look out of my bedroom window and see the hop fields and there was an oasthouse in the distance. The crop at that time was picked by hand by teams of itinerant pickers who came down from London in late summer and early autumn. It was like something out of the HE Bates novel Darling Buds of May (trivia alert – it was the TV adaptation of that novel which launched the career of Catherine Zeta Jones). Well as you drive through Bushy Park you could be mistaken for being in an Ossiefied Kent for it is one of the last areas in Tasmania to commercially grow hops. The fields look just the same, however, the oasthouses are not made out of flint and brick, and the crop is harvested by machine, but it was a pleasant trip down memory lane.
Hops are essential for the brewing of beer as they give the characteristic bitter flavour and they were introduced to Tasmania to reduce the consumption of rum. In the Nineteenth Century alcoholic drinks were drunk all through the day, partly because of the lack of safe drinking water and partly to numb people out to the harsh realities of life. In colonial Australia rum was actually used as a currency and huge profits were made, so beer was thought to be a better drink because it was less alcoholic, could be made easily, and it would break the monopoly of the rum barons. Hops were first planted by Colonel Paterson in his garden at Port Dalrymple in 1804, but it was William Shoebridge in 1822 that made the big breakthrough that made them a viable crop in Tasmania. Ebenezer Shoebridge, William’s son, went to the Derwent Valley in 1852 and then established Bushy Park Estate in 1864. Today, although not owned by the Shoebridges anymore it is considered one of the world’s best hop producers and grows enough to flavour 1 billion litres of beer. That’s a lot of beer! The harvest starts in early March and can take about a month to complete. If you aren’t in a rush a look around Bushy Park at the fields and the hop museum in the local hall. The hall also has a bit of a market that sells local produce.
* The title for this blog post is inspired by the Pet Shop Boys hit “Go West”, which was originally written and performed by The Village People. I prefer this version and particularly like the imagery of the video. The song’s title is attributed to the nineteenth century quote “Go West, young man” commonly attributed to Horace Greeley, a rallying cry for the colonization of the American West.