Tasmazia and the Village of Lower Crackpot
It took the fanciful vision of a former dairy farmer and a hearty dose of good humour to create this whimsical and wacky wonderland in northern Tasmania.
DRESSED IN HIS trademark boiler suit (this one a dapper orange), 85-year-old Brian Inder stumps through the village of Lower Crackpot, of which he is, ahem, laird. Who among us hasn’t entertained an occasional king-of-all-we-survey fantasy? Brian has turned it into his own fanciful reality.
Lower Crackpot and its encircling puzzles of hedges, known as Tasmazia, are his domain. This courteous and benevolent despot designed and planted the mazes and imagined and initially constructed Lower Crackpot’s joyful but diminutive buildings. “Men like to make models of things,” Brian says. “My interest was architecture, so I just followed the building regulations. I took all the measurements down to one-f ifth scale, which sort of made it easy.”
Easy for some perhaps, but it suggests a particular combination of resourcefulness and determination. “I was considered a dead-end kid, who was just going to end up on a pick and shovel and die early from drinking and smoking,” he says. “But I had this vision that I wanted to get somewhere. And I did.”
In the shadow of 1234m Mt Roland, about 75km west of Launceston, and nestled in a rural locality that’s entrancingly named Promised Land, Tasmazia is, Brian believes, the world’s largest maze complex. It includes four hedge mazes (Great, Hexagonal, Confusion and Hampton Court) with a total path length of more than 6.2km. The Great Maze alone – the largest and first planted, in 1985 – has nearly 3.5km of path.
The leafy, winding corridors are disorientating, full of bushwhacking twists and vexing dead-ends. The aim is to reach the centre, but some don’t make it – at least the f irst few times. “When we f irst came I was a bit over it,” Rachel Kennedy says. “But we don’t get lost in there anymore.” Rachel and her son Jack are repeat offenders – “we come every couple of months”. You’d think they might get used to it. But a large part of the charm is the ever-changing idiosyncratic hand-lettered signs and hidden monuments that ref lect Brian’s sense of humour. Dad-joke epithets – “What do you call a sad coffee? Despresso” – line paths leading to child-friendly scatological ephemera such as the porcelain monument to Thomas Crapper – a 19th-century plumber who held several toiletrelated patents.
The place provokes a raw and fundamental kind of joy. It’s old-fashioned: visitors of all ages giggle and
groan at the signs, yelling out tips and taunts from behind foliage fences to parents, children and friends as they search for the elusive heart of each challenge.
Around one looping corner, Benita Young and her cousin Joseph Gatehouse are locked in the stocks at the Crackpot Correction Centre. Benita reckons it would be “mostly boring” to be in stocks for real. “The rotten fruit and tomatoes might wake you up,” growls her dad.
“I’m not a night-club guy,” says 20-something Sydney visitor Leo Zhang, smiling as he admires Nancy the Witch, who’s unfortunately f lown face-first into a telegraph pole.
“You see, it’s aimed at the child in everyone,” Brian says. “It doesn’t matter your age, your child’s in there. When [people] decide to let themselves go and enjoy it, and just run off mad…it’s extraordinary.”
BRIAN WAS PROBABLY always heading for Lower Crackpot. He reckons he’s had more than 50 different jobs and a range of them – builder, nurseryman and cook, to name a few – have come in handy on these few hectares of Promised Land.
He moved to Tasmania – his mother’s birthplace – after a childhood in Sydney. “I do not love a sunburnt country,” he says. “A land of f looding rains…the bloody thing horrifies me. So I’m down here.”
He was attracted to owning land. “I grew up pretty poor in the [Great] Depression, food was hard to get and I noticed that people that had land had food, and I thought, ‘I’m gunna get meself some’”, he explains. He eventually set up as a dairy farmer, but, struggling to get by on low returns, decided he’d turn instead to lavender growing: exit dairyman, enter rural entrepreneur. “I thought, I’ll get into something that no-one else is in, so I’ll control my own market and no-one [will have] a say over what my price is.”
Brian and his wife, Laura, grew lavender for a few years, and it helped fund Tasmazia’s creation. He propagated his chosen plant for the Great Maze, Viburnum tinus, began ploughing in 1985 for the maze – stopping brief ly when his plough tines snagged on an old, buried concrete cricket pitch – and then started planting. In 1990 Tasmazia opened to its first customers. Three other mazes have since been added and Lower Crackpot now includes a model embassy for other countries, galaxies and an unexpectedly moving tribute to refugees. These days Brian and Tasmazia’s staff expect 500 visitors on a busy summer’s day.
The laird now deserves to rest on his laurels. “I’m 85 years old, so I don’t have a real bright shining future ahead,” he says. “And we’ve got it to the size now where it’s a handful for the people who come in. They don’t want any more [mazes].”
Evelyn and Jack Manson, from Sydney suburb Chatswood, concur after a torrid bout in the Confusion Maze. “They’re diff icult mazes,” Evelyn says. “Hampton Court was our favourite but it was hard – Jack f inally climbed under a bush to get there.”
It’s easy to sympathise with Jack, given the creator’s mischievous mind. “I have this ambition to make the worst maze in the world,” Brian says. “I was making [the Great Maze] harder and harder, and this psychologist was here, and he said: ‘Stop that. If you make it…so it’s a challenge, but [visitors] can win, they’re all happy.’ You’ve got to keep it on that border.
“You don’t learn anything unless you make mistakes. I call it walking the unlit way. I can see the opportunity. Buccaneers keep the world going – and there’s not many of us around.”
Rachel Kennedy and her son Jack have fun navigating the topsy-turvy Balance Maze.
Brian Inder at the centre of the Hampton Court Maze, with Lower Crackpot behind and Mount Roland in the distance.