Hellyers Road Distillery

With our favourite restaurant, Bayviews, closed for annual holiday, we chose an alternative venue for a mid-week lunch with a very special friend. Hellyers Road Distillery is located in the hinterland behind Burnie with fabulous views across the Emu Valley to the Dial Range beyond.

Behind the walls of the architecturally designed visitor’s centre, interactive tours inform visitors about the origins of the brand and provide guests with the opportunity to pour and wax seal their own bottle of whisky. We have yet to experience the Whisky Walk, something to pencil in for the not too distant future.

We were met in the lobby by a wonderful paper sculpture of namesake, Henry Hellyer and his dog. Hellyer came to Tasmania in 1826 as architect and surveyor for the Van Diemen’s Land Company. He is credited with opening up much of the northwest to settlement and the road we find the distillery on was, at one time, named in his honour.

There is opportunity to relax for a casual whisky tasting treat

and a retail area for those tempted to continue the indulgence at home.

Expansive windows make the most of the rural panorama

and landscaped gardens surrounding the restaurant.

Our meal choice took a while, with so many enticing options on offer but our wine selection was easy, Josef Chromy is always a winner. I finally decided on Five Spice Roasted Pork Belly; Scottsdale pork belly rubbed with five spice, soy, and garlic, roasted and served on buckwheat soba noodles and shredded Asian greens. Finished with tempura mushrooms and an aromatic ginger and chilli broth.

Michael wisely chose something else in fear of random coriander (he was right but I love coriander) and went for The House Special; potted pie of north-west coast beef, braised in Hellyers Road Original Whisky, caramelised onion, and aromatic vegetables, topped with flaky pastry and served with thick cut rosemary scented potato wedges, crusty sourdough and butter. Our lovely friend was happy with Braised Duck Leg with Chorizo Fettuccine; duck leg slow cooked in tomato, onion and herbs, roasted and served with house made fettuccine tossed in tomato sugo with olives, capers, chorizo, chilli and preserved lemon. Finished with parmesan and fresh herbs.

A magnificent rainbow brightened the landscape outside

as our desserts had a similar effect inside. I couldn’t resist the Lemon Delicious Pudding with blueberry compote, served with a rolled up brandy snap filled with lemon mascarpone cream.

My accomplices indulged in a Mini Apple & Raspberry Cake; sautéed Tasmanian apples topped with raspberries, baked in a light fluffy sweet pastry and served with pouring cream and raspberry coulis and a Warm Whisky Raisin Brownie served with Anvers dark chocolate mousse, double cream and VDL cookies and cream ice cream.

I was especially surprised to discover, on paying the bill, a complementary bottle of coffee cream liqueur. Along with a jar of Whisky Relish (a must in any pantry) and a branded whisky tumbler, my collection is complete …. for now.

Heritage Walk

After discovering the beautiful Federation Homes of Burnie and delving further into the history of the town, I set out to investigate the civic buildings from this period. These are by no means the only significant heritage buildings in Burnie, they are merely the example promoted by the ‘Federation Walks of Burnie’ pamphlet. The prominent Ikon Hotel was established as the Club Hotel in 1912 by J.T. Alexander. The Alexander family pioneered European settlement at Table Cape and with support from his family, J.T. built his own hotel after leasing the Sea View (now the Beach Hotel) from 1902 to 1910.

Known for his generosity to many needy families during the Great Depression, Alexander faced mounting debts and was forced to sell the hotel in 1933. The three storey building, dominated by the tall pyramidal tower, is an example of Federation Free Style architecture with very fine cast iron valances and balustrades.

Built by the Hobart Bank in 1921, the St. Luke’s building is on the site originally used by the Don Trading Company as their wood yard. ‘Burnie Brick’ was used in the construction of many buildings of this era, dug and fired in the Cooee brickworks until 1967 when the clay was eventually exhausted and the business closed. Federation Free Style often incorporated features from other styles such as the Romanesque semi-circular arches and Art Nouveau pediments above the downstairs windows seen on St. Luke’s.

In 1899, a Baptist Church was established in the town with services held in the Town Hall. Funds were raised to purchase land and erect a purpose built weatherboard church and adjoining two-storey brick manse. By 1925, the church proved too small and the new brick version was completed almost entirely by voluntary labour of the parishioners. There are some medieval elements to the Federation Gothic style including pointed arch windows and doorways, blind turrets and arrow slits and a parapet resembling a battlement.

The Christian Brethren began services in Burnie in 1875 and a simple timber building was constructed a year later. The current Gospel Hall, built in 1915 and enlarged in 1930, is another example of Federation Gothic architecture with a steeply pitched roof, arched windows and the inclusion of Art Nouveau leadlight.

The current SES Regional Headquarters is housed in a magnificent two-storey Federation Filigree home originally built for the Lucadou-Wells family as a combined residence and dental surgery. The ornamental screening on verandahs and balconies was usually timber but in this case it is cast iron.

Constructed in the Federation Free Style for the Commercial Bank in 1913, I think this sandstone and brick structure is looking somewhat neglected. Known as the T.G.I.O. Building (Tasmanian Government Insurance Office) through the nineties, it is now inhabited by Steadfast Taswide Insurance Brokers.

Another beautiful building sits sadly neglected. The former Burnie branch of the Launceston Bank for Savings opened in 1928 and was most recently the premises of the Spirit Bar, a welcoming hub offering Tasmanian beer, wine, cider and spirits as well as delicious fare and live music. The forlorn façade has deteriorated dismally since the unfortunate closure of Spirit Bar a couple of years ago.

My disappointment reached a new level when I saw the condition of the Old Post Office. Purpose built in 1898, it is considered an important example of Federation Free Classical architecture. An enthusiastic couple bought the property in 2014 with plans to renovate but I can find no further reference to that story and it certainly appears deserted and decrepit.

The former Bank of Van Diemen’s Land (V.D.L. Bank) building, just a few doors down from the Old Post Office, has been beautifully restored and maintained. Completed in 1892, the prominent corner position is ideal for what is now ‘Food & Brew’, a successful restaurant and wine bar serving Tasmanian produce and making the most of the stunning period architecture, both inside and out.

I fail to understand why some these buildings that are considered significant enough to be listed on the Heritage Register are not being maintained. Surely the conservation recommendation of, “this place should be retained” indicates an obligation to upkeep the premises? Perhaps some Council coffers could be allocated to restore Burnie’s historical buildings, especially those promoted in brochures to entice visitors to the town?

frosty fingers

Having just returned from ten days in Darwin, I am struggling to adapt to the climate shock. Tasmanians are used to the four seasons and we enjoy the positive in each of them. Not long before my recent sojourn, I took Poppy for her morning walk into the Blythe Conservation Area that adjoins our property. There is no need to consult the BOM website to know the temperature has dipped into the minus, the frozen birdbaths are evident enough.

Risking frostbite to my digits, I transformed my thermal mittens to fingerless gloves (an ingenious design purchased at Cradle Mountain some years ago). Crossing the paddock, it seemed the forest was on fire with the trees reflecting the glow of early sunlight.

To the north, an aircraft’s vapour trail draws a line across the pale blue sky.

Looking back, the frost is heavy on our house roof

and the neighbour’s horses are rugged up against the cold.

Once into the forest, brushfires of rising sun create autumnal hues

and someone is patiently waiting for me to catch up.

Further into the woodland, I have stumbled into paradise,

even Poppy takes a moment to appreciate the spectacle.

We may have trespassed into sacred sulphur-crested cockatoo territory at the end of the trail, the ear-piercing screeches from on high warned others of our presence.

Retracing our steps, highlights from ascending Sol lingered

and the frosty paddocks would soon warm to the glow.

Reclaimed garden edging and fallen leaves hold onto the frost

but the daffodils are promise of the coming spring.

Federation Walk

The town of Burnie in northwest Tasmania began to boom after the discovery of tin at Waratah in 1871. Two years later, the Mount Bischoff Tin Mining Company was floated and in 1875, the VDL Company moved its headquarters from Stanley to Burnie. The tin was transported to the Burnie Port, the horse-drawn wooden rail tramway was replaced in 1884 with steam trains and steel rails. The relevance of this (yes, I’m getting there) is that it brought the wealth and impetus to build the magnificent Federation architecture that abounds in Burnie today.
Some time ago, I came across a leaflet for ‘Federation Walks of Burnie’ and only recently, on a sunny afternoon, indulged in a journey of discovery. It transpires that many of the buildings from this period are reflective of the Federation Queen Anne style, a fine example being the house known as Wyona.

Built in 1914 for Edward Alfred Joyce, a leading Tasmanian manufacturing jeweller, the house sits in a prominent position above the town on William Street on a bend where the name changes to Queen Street. Bow-windowed bays with prominent gables face both streets and a verandah projects diagonally between the two, making the most of views across the city and sea. The Tasmanian State Institute of Technology established a study centre at Wyona in 1983 and it is now the private residence of the Mayor of Burnie.

Continuing down Queen Street, Kandaha is a magnificent home built in 1888.

Set in an acre of immaculate gardens, the wide verandah is decorated with intricate cast iron brackets, fringe and railings. This was becoming rare, as cast iron was replaced in favour of machine-cut timber for balcony and verandah decoration by 1900.

Outbuildings include the original laundry with Huon pine washtubs but I’m not sure if this is it.

Queen Street was originally called Chaff Street and apparently became known as ‘Rotten Row’ due to the sub-standard housing at the time. Obviously, the area improved and in 1907 the street was renamed after Queen Alexandra of Denmark, wife of King Edward VII. In a region of rich timber resources, weatherboard became the preferred building material. Many Federation Queen Anne residences are an ‘L’ shape plan with a front room projecting forward toward the street and a verandah extending along the remainder of the frontage. Concealed within a mature garden, number 30 Queen Street was constructed in 1906 and has many of the additional characteristics of the era such as a prominent gable with half-timbered effect, valance and bargeboards with finial.

Francis Tallack is credited as being the ’architect of Burnie’ and was responsible for the construction of hotels and numerous business premises as well as private homes. Number 24 Queen Street was built by Tallack in 1910, the large front room windows face the sea and double verandah posts and curved timber have been used to create the decorative valance.

Just around the corner on Princes Street, number 1 is the house where Francis Tallack lived. The remarkable keyhole entrance is surrounded by decorative timber that continues along the verandah railing and the front door features Art Nouveau leadlight.

Princes Street is not a long street but the houses are stunning. It was originally the private driveway of a well-known homestead, Berthonville, and was renamed in 1907 after the three sons of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra. Carinya (number 3) is beautifully maintained, decorative timber embellishments, tall chimneys and simple leadlight enhance the façade.

I would love to see inside these homes. The decorative timber continues into the hallways, mantels and wall panelling and some have the Art Nouveau touch of pressed metal ceilings. Number 5 Princes Street has an interesting turret, though I’m not sure if it is original or a later addition.

Heritage listed number 7 has all the features of the Federation Queen Anne style and is, again, superbly presented.

Across the road, another keyhole entrance leads to the verandah at number 2.

Back on Queen Street, number 22 was built in 1908 by Joseph Alexander who also built the heritage listed Ikon Hotel in Burnie. The warm red of ‘Burnie brick’ makes a change from the weatherboard façades of the era and is complemented by the paint colours on trimmings.

Nearing the end of my ‘guided’ stroll, number 20 Queen Street is a late example of the architectural style, having been constructed in 1923.

At the bottom of Queen Street, running parallel to the ocean, is Olive Street. This was the former driveway to the property known as Olive Grove, home to Joseph Law who built the Burnie Inn, the first licensed premises in Burnie that opened in 1847. Manresa, at number 7 Olive Street, was built around 1900 by Captain William Jones, a prominent local identity known as the ‘King of Burnie’. Jones was a very successful Burnie business owner and entrepreneur, owning the Burnie brickyard, hotels, butter factory, abattoir, cordial factory, timber and mining holdings and several farms. He lived in his mansion, Menai, in South Burnie and built Manresa for one of his sons.

As I delve further into the history of Burnie, I am boggled by the enterprising people who had vision for this town nearly two hundred years ago. Hopefully, the heritage of this region won’t be lost and will come to be appreciated by future generations.

timber strings

There are many artistic folk here in the northwest of our island and last weekend saw the opportunity for local luthiers to showcase their creations. Fourteen music makers presented their unique musical instruments at the Tasmanian Timber Strings exhibition at Wynyard.

The drawcard for me, even though I can admire them at any time, were the two gorgeous guitars made by my talented husband. Michael attended his first guitar-making course at Highfield House, Stanley, in October 2012, led by Chris Wynne of Thomas Lloyd guitars. Benjamin is named after the last captive thylacine who died at Beaumaris Zoo, Hobart on 7th September 1936.

The 7-string dreadnaught has a magnificent tiger myrtle backboard, sides & headstock along with celery top pine soundboard, blackwood double-rosette & body bindings, Tasmanian oak neck and Queensland gidgee fretboard & bridge .

In May 2014, a second guitar-making course in Italy, again with Chris Wynne, produced the beautiful 6-string dreadnaught, Corinna.

This time, the soundboard is Huon pine with a musk rosette, figured blackwood backboard & sides, gidgee fretboard, bridge & bindings and Tasmanian oak neck. The musk headstock is inlaid with a blackwood thylacine graphic, designed by Michael to reflect the name of the instrument, the Aboriginal word for a young thylacine.

Michael O’Donnell also started making guitars after attending a workshop in Italy under the tutelage of Chris Wynne and took over the business Woodtone Guitars in Penguin in early 2018. As well as creating customised acoustic and electric guitars, he conducts guitar making courses, sourcing specialty timbers for you to build your own.

The gifted Kille family of Tarkine Strings are best known for their beautiful string ensemble music. Murray has another string to his bow (pardon the pun), making a striking guitar with sassafras back & sides under the guidance of Michael O’Donnell in 2018. The soundboard & neck are Huon pine and the fretboard is figured Tasmanian blackwood with a myrtle headstock.

Alongside was an elegant violin made by luthier Cecil Bynon in 1983 with King Billy pine top, Tasmanian blackwood back, sides & neck and ebony fingerboard.

Murray also repairs classical string instruments including violins, violas and cellos, though I think this one is beyond redemption.

The Australian Ukelele Company specialise in unique Tasmanian timber and offer the choice of a custom made instrument or a kit to make your own.

Gary Fleming has always been fascinated with making things since spending many hours in his Dad’s shed when he was growing up. He made his first guitar as a challenge, to see if he could do it and went on to make electric guitars from locally sourced material. On his two most recent guitars, he has experimented with custom bridge and tail pieces as well as asymmetrical neck carve and scalloped fretboards.

Already a talented fine furniture maker, Stephen Oram added harp making to his repertoire in 2002. It started when a friend of his partner needed an extra pair of hands. Now furniture has taken a back seat as he creates seven or eight harps a year.

Michael Tharme couldn’t be present on the day but his cigar box guitars, branded Mikhail, offered a very different and colourful alternative. Michael has been building instruments since 2016 based on the original Cuban cigar box guitar but uses all kinds of material such as biscuit tins, number plates and anything else he might find in an old shed or antique shop. They are one of a kind, hand made in Tasmania from local and reclaimed timbers whenever possible.

Local luthier, Peter Sutcliffe, had a diverse display of his handmade instruments.

The delicate inlay in the neck of this guitar is exquisite.

There were fine examples of handcrafted guitars and mandolins from another local, Gary Radcliffe, including an unfinished soundboard with an intricate rosette.

Just when I thought I’d seen it all, I discovered a very unusual violin made from kelp. Yes, kelp! Chris Henderson has been working tirelessly to perfect the process of turning giant kelp, gathered from the west coast near Marrawah, into a musical instrument. It is not an easy material to work with. Kelp shrinks about ¼ to ½ in size and about ¾ by weight. Because it doesn’t shrink evenly and curls up, it is dried for four days sandwiched in a metal grid. The cured kelp is more like hard plastic than wood and will not stick with any glues or take varnishes. It can be bent and cut after 15 minutes in a 50°C oven but, if it were not clamped in a fibreglass mould, it would slowly reform its original shape. If it weren’t for carbon fibre tubes and wooden blocks, the seaweed would sink at the bridge under the load of strings and distort with changes in humidity. So, why make a musical instrument from kelp? Michael summed it up in one word – bonkers!

Later in the afternoon, we were entertained by the various exhibitors. Peter Sutcliffe and his associates opened the session with an upbeat jazz number, followed by ‘I Can See Clearly Now’, a little optimistic considering the deluge outside that was predicted to continue for the next few days.

Philip Nicholas has been teaching strings and performing since 1980, he shared his rendition of three works by Bach on a guitar he made in 1984.

The afternoon concluded with a number of pieces from Tarkine Strings along with guest musicians.