In the central Highlands of Tasmania, the ‘village’ of Bothwell keeps its Scottish history alive.
Story By Andrew Bain
Flip open a map of Tasmania and it can look as though the world has come to visit. There are towns named Bagdad, Grindelwald, Interlaken, Mangalore and Swansea, a national park named Walls of Jerusalem, and rivers such as the Liffey and Mersey.
But nowhere is the sense of outside heritage treated so seriously as at Bothwell, the Central Highlands town founded in the 1820s by Scottish settlers. Here, in the Clyde valley, an hour’s drive from Hobart, the street signs are decorated in tartan, the Nant Distillery produces single-malt whisky on the area’s oldest property, and Australia’s first Aberdeen Angus herd, imported in 1824, still grazes at Dennistoun farm. The town has even registered a Tasmanian tartan.
“My original ancestor here, Archibald MacDowall, was a catechist, a lay preacher, and they say he preached in Gaelic, that’s how Scottish it was,” says John Bignell, a sixth-generation farmer still working one of the town’s original grants at Thorpe Farm. “The countryside looks Scottish too, real highland-type country. It’s the highest, coldest farming area in Tasmania.”
Bothwell’s most famous Caledonian link, however, is its golf course. The Ratho golf links was created in 1822, making it Australia’s oldest course and the world’s first outside of Scotland. Throughout the 19th century, as golf slowly trickled out to the rest of the country, there were at least five golf courses on properties around Bothwell as the Scottish settlers indulged in the most Scottish of sports. Today much at Ratho, a 2430-hectare property run by the Ramsay family, still resembles the 19th century, with sheep grazing the course’s fairways, its square greens fenced off to keep the flocks off the putting surfaces.
“That’s absolute tradition and the way so many courses were kept in shape right up until the advent of mechanical mowing,” says Ratho’s keeper of the greens (an old-fashioned golf title that incorporates golf pro and greenkeeper) Ross Baker. “They’re running about 3000 head of sheep [at Ratho] and we do go around mowing as well because it’s hard to train the sheep to do the nice contoured lines on the edges of your fairways.”
Visiting golfers can also play the 15-hole course with old-fashioned hickory-shafted clubs restored by the keen traditionalist Ross in his pro shop inside an early-1900s shearing shed. For Australia’s only professional manufacturer of 19th-century-style long-nosed clubs, hallowed and ancient Ratho is the perfect fit.
“When I came down here two years ago I could see this was the place for me; it absolutely is,” Ross says. “And the people who take the time to come here and look at the course love it. I haven’t heard anyone say it wasn’t a buzz for them.”
This story excerpt is from Issue #67
Outback Magazine: Oct/Nov 2009