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.

Australian Geographic - - CONTENTS - STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHY BY IAN CONNELLAN AND GAIL MACCALLUM

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.

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