Then and Now

Ap­ples to art in the “go-go” Tas­ma­nian town of Cygnet

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NAT­U­RAL­IST AND ex­plorer François Péron had spent more than a year sail­ing the world when he reached Port des Cygnes (Port of Swans), where Cygnet would later be founded, in 1802.

“Of all the places which I had seen dur­ing the whole course of our long voy­age, this ap­peared to me to be the most pic­turesque and pleas­ant,” he wrote in A Voy­age of Dis­cov­ery to the South­ern Hemi­sphere, his ac­count of the trip. The French­man was taken by “ro­man­tic lit­tle creeks” and “le­gions of black swans, which sailed about with great el­e­gance and majesty”.

Euro­pean set­tle­ment would re­shape the land­scape around Cygnet, lo­cated less than an hour south-west of Ho­bart. Forests that Péron called “al­most im­pos­si­ble to pen­e­trate” were cleared for tim­ber and fruit trees were planted in their place.

Bar­bara Har­vey, who moved to the town at 18 months old and is still there 86 years later, re­mem­bers the view from St Mark’s Angli­can Church when the dis­trict was cov­ered in or­chards, one of them owned by her fam­ily. “You’d look over all of Cygnet and all you’d see in the spring was blos­soms. It was ab­so­lutely beau­ti­ful.”

Cygnet be­came an im­por­tant cen­tre for Tas­ma­nia’s famed ap­ple in­dus­try – Prime Min­is­ter Robert Men­zies even vis­ited in 1954 to open the town’s Huon Val­ley Ap­ple Fes­ti­val – and suf­fered badly when that in­dus­try went into de­cline.

In 1973, a cru­cial ex­port mar­ket dis­ap­peared when Eng­land joined the Euro­pean Union. While the Har­veys stayed on the land – with Bar­bara’s daugh­ter-in-law, Ma­ree, car­ry­ing on the six-gen­er­a­tions-old fam­ily busi­ness at Glen­burn Or­chards – hun­dreds of or­chardists left the in­dus­try. “It was sad to see so many fam­i­lies mov­ing to Ho­bart to look for jobs,” says Bar­bara. “It was very rough.”

It led to a big change in the fab­ric of town life. Hip­pies moved in, at­tracted by cheap land and a ru­ral lifestyle, and were fol­lowed by artists, mu­si­cians and tree chang­ers. In­stead of the ap­ple fes­ti­val, the an­nual Cygnet Folk Fes­ti­val (cygnet folk­fes­ti­ now draws thou­sands of vis­i­tors to the town.

Richard Stan­ley, a for­mer West­ern Aus­tralian who came to Cygnet in search of a town where he could open a stu­dio and gallery, was struck by the nat­u­ral beauty of the re­gion. “I’m a land­scape pain­ter and it’s just mag­nif­i­cent,” he says. “You have all the yachts on the water, the beau­ti­ful big hills and the beaches. It’s like a lit­tle piece of Europe with­out the crowds – ex­cept in sum­mer, when we get in­vaded.”

But it was the lo­cals, not the land­scape, that made a last­ing im­pres­sion. Eigh­teen months af­ter ar­riv­ing, Richard’s wife fell ill while preg­nant with their fourth child. “Peo­ple we never even knew were bring­ing over cakes and pies, telling us, ‘We’re here for you if you need any help.’ I re­alised then that this re­ally is a spe­cial com­mu­nity.”

It’s some­thing Bar­bara Har­vey, who vol­un­teers for Meals on Wheels, has long known. And to­day she sees a re­newed vi­tal­ity in Cygnet. “It’s get­ting back to how it was in the old days. But it’s more vi­brant than ever, be­cause all sorts of peo­ple live here,” she says. “It’s a real go-go lit­tle town now.”

Lo­cals and out-of-town­ers con­verge on Cygnet for the an­nual folk mu­sic fes­ti­val (above)

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