The 200-kilometre route between Launceston and Hobart includes lashings of world-renowned convict history and some of the prettiest towns in the state.

Story By Paul Myers

Being held up on the Heritage Highway in Tasmania is a far more pleasant experience than it used to be. In the first half of the 1800s, as the arable midlands of Van Diemen’s Land were being settled, it was common to be held up by convict bushrangers like Matthew Brady, Lawrence Kavanagh and Martin Cash, who roamed the villages and farms between Hobart Town and Launceston. These bushrangers were considered to be the wiliest, toughest and, occasionally, the most ruthless of their ilk. As transported offenders who had been re-convicted after their arrival in Sydney, they were sent to Van Diemen’s Land where they subsequently escaped.
Nowadays, although you can drive the 200 kilometres along the Midland Highway between Tasmania’s two major cities in three hours, there are many better things to hold you up than bushrangers. Even so, plenty of today’s stops are convict-related. And last August, two of the best – colonial estates Brickendon and Woolmers – were placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List of 11 Australian convict sites.
During Van Diemen’s Land’s convict period from the 1820s until the 1850s, the two neighbouring properties near Longford were operated by brothers William and Thomas Archer. They were assigned young, usually skilled convict labour as a pathway to the prisoners’ planned rehabilitation.
Brickendon, which is still owned by the Archer family, grew crops – oats, barley, hay, potatoes and turnips – while Woolmers ran sheep and cattle. The brothers ran their properties independently but shared their convict resources. Although life wasn’t easy for convicts anywhere in the colony, the Archers treated their charges fairly and, it is said, at times generously.
A farm-cum-tourism operation since 1987, Brickendon is almost certainly the only working farm in Australia with a convict history that remains owned and managed by direct descendants of its founders. Today, Richard and Louise Archer and their children – the sixth- and seventh-generation Archers to farm the 420-hectare property – are gratified that the efforts they and their forebears made to preserve its convict heritage have been recognised. “It has required a lot of dedication to maintain what we are fortunate to still have in the family and, while the farming side of the property has suffered as a result, being part of the World Heritage listing is wonderful,” Louise says. The two-storey homestead is a classical Georgian masterpiece and the collection of original farm buildings includes a blacksmith’s shop, shearing shed and stables, cookhouse, Gothic chapel and William Archer’s original homestead cottage.

This story excerpt is from Issue #76

Outback Magazine: Apr/May 2011