Nothing plain about Norfolk
NORFOLK PLAINS 200 YEARS – A HISTORY OF LONGFORD, CRESSY, PERTH AND BISHOPSBOURNE, TASMANIA
By Nic Haygarth RRP $ 59.95
Published by the Northern Midlands Council Prepared for publication by Forty South Publishing
AUSTRALIA’S bi- centennial of Captain Arthur Phillip’s arrival with the 11 ships of the First Fleet in Sydney Harbour was celebrated in 1988.
There was an outbreak of commemorative tree planting which was fortuitous, as many more began to be chopped down to make the necessary volume of paper for the associated proliferation of local histories.
Most of these parochial accounts have only been of interest to residents, especially if they or their ancestors received a mention, and consequently have tended to languish on the shelves of public libraries.
Nic Haygarth’s account comes into a superior category of this genre and even those with no connection to this part of northern Tasmania would find much to sustain interest.
Evidence of painstaking research accompanied by insightful commentary is contained in this handsomely produced book, with innumerable reproductions of drawings, etchings and especially photographs to support the text.
Norfolk Plains, as it was formerly known, echoes the 1813 initiative of Governor Macquarie to abandon the notorious penal island in the Pacific Ocean and resettle the inhabitants near Hobart, in what is now part of the Northern Midlands municipality.
The “golden triangle” of this lush agricultural area, wrested from the Panninher Aborigines, manifested in substantial, convict- built, Georgian- style mansions followed by the towns of Perth, Longford, Cressy and Bishopsbourne, with their spiritual, commercial, industrial and educational buildings of the Victorian era.
Haygath gives detailed descriptions of the progress caused by good farming practice, the advent of the railways and the benefits of increased mechanisation ranged against such vicissitudes as poor commodity prices, economic depression and a falling population.
The ebb and flow of prosperity over two centuries can be likened to the South Esk River, which has usually been a life- giving force but has occasionally burst its banks and wreaked havoc.
This river that romantically winds its way through lush pastures could also be seen to be carrying along an undercurrent of sadness.
Although the book takes us up to the present, it is essentially backward looking to the heyday of the 19th and first half of the 20th Century.
Such a history invariably provokes nostalgia for people and places, and the spirit of endeavour and “brave new world” ethos, much of which has gone, never to seep back.
Nevertheless, for all the photographic charm of the seemingly halcyon yesteryear, assuredly we could never return to those slow and silent days unpunctuated by radio or the sound of a motorcar.
World War II brought about many technological innovations that ultimately benefited farming while the arrival of state electricity with its instant heating, cooking devices and illumination greatly reduced the tedium and toil of daily agrarian and domestic life.
With their English names and their touristoriented image of lavender and Devonshire teas, it remains to be seen how the Norfolk Plains communities will respond to the realities of climate change and the need for renewable energies ecologically and economically.