The history of convict-era Tasmania is a rich one, filled with stories of cruel characters and crueler conditions.
World Heritage-listed sites like Port Arthur, Cascades Female Factory and the Coalmines draw visitors curious about a time not so long gone within the context of the island’s human history. Sprawling, lavish estates like Woolmers and Brickendon also contribute.
These that exist today and the information gathered from those with fewer surviving features, enable those stories to be told.
It’s within this context that a site south of Launceston, unearthed in October after years of speculation and searching, came to public attention.
The Kings Meadows Convict Road Station was a construction camp first, housing labourers assigned to work on the series of aqueducts and tunnels proposed to deliver fresh water over 20km to Launceston. The Evandale to Launceston Water Scheme – one of the most ambitious engineering projects of the era – is the largest industrial archaeological site in Tasmania.
Elements of the water scheme were granted state heritage protection in 2011. The road station was included in that listing – albeit at a location further south in Relbia.
A DPIPWE spokesperson would not say whether the landowner had been contacted, or what the implications of an incorrect listing may be.
The accuracy of state heritage register listings have been called into question after the discovery – and whether other properties may also be incorrectly listed – with Heritage Minister Will Hodgman being urged to launch an “urgent” investigation by his Labor counterpart.
The station’s more-recently confirmed location is overlapped by a proposed residential subdivision given planning approval prior to that discovery, with the Tasmanian Heritage Council considering a nomination to grant it heritage protection.
Responding to questions about what impact a previous listing may have on the current nomination, the DPIPWE spokesperson said that application was being “considered” and research had been “initiated to confirm the site’s significance”.
“It is inappropriate to comment on the potential outcomes of an ongoing assessment,” the spokesperson added.
In November, the City of Launceston said their heritage advice suggested the value of the site had been captured, and no further investigation was “warranted or planned”. The general manager, Michael Stretton, has said they have no legislative ability to alter planning permits already granted.
Under the Historic Cultural Heritage Act 1995, the Tasmanian Heritage Council – or the Heritage Minister acting on their advice – has the power to issue a stopwork order for a maximum of 14 days if it is “necessary for the immediate protection” of the significance of the place.
Such an order can be extended by the Heritage Council, or appealed by a landowner, by application to the Appeal Tribunal.
The Greens and Labor called on Mr Hodgman to halt approved works on the site until the heritage nomination can be considered.
Mr Stretton has also said they would “consider” making public the report provided to them after the initial archaeological investigation – after providing $10,000 towards its completion – “in due course”.
Historical and archaeological groups have called for the report’s release, along with further investigation of the site.
The Examiner has asked on multiple occasions to view the document.
In November, the Australasian Society for Historical Archaeology – the sector’s peak national body – said they believed the former convict station would have significance on a state and “most likely national” level based on their understanding of it.
Remnants of the oven, a brick reservoir, a shed – which included some old horse shoes – and ceramic that predated 1840 were found on the site, according to Southern Archaeology’s Darren Watton. What is thought to be a previously unseen style of convict hat was also uncovered.
Mr Watton said Southern Archaeology had contacted Heritage Tasmania for advice prior to the dig, and provided them with a copy of their Archaeological Method Statement for review, but no further action was required as the site was not listed on the Tasmanian Heritage Register.
Based on their understanding of the site, ASHA president Anita Yousif said it would “satisfy most of the heritage/archaeological significance assessment criteria” and noted sites of this type were “rare”.
Ms Yousif pointed to similar stations as part of the Great North Road in NSW included in the UNESCO World Heritage List as part of the 11 Australian convict sites.
It’s important for us as a state to do the best we can.Peter Rae, Woolmers Foundation chair and former Tasmanian senator.
Ms Yousif “strongly” recommended a full archaeological impact assessment be undertaken to provide an account of the site's known potential archaeological resources, their significance and potential development impacts they may be subjected to.
She also recommended the preparation of a management plan to provide policies and procedures for further investigations, long-term management as part of the new development, and analysis and management of the retrieved artefacts and their public dissemination.
“The site would be highly significant for the state of Tasmania as it has the potential to provide tangible evidence of the convict history, in addition to that what is already known from the related sites of Port Arthur, Coal Mines and Cascade Female Factory,” she said.
Peter Rae – a former Tasmanian senator and current chair of one of the state’s five UNESCO listed convict sites – thought the recently discovered site seemed to be one of historical significance and “even if there was not much left”, should be investigated further.
“It’s important for us as a state to do the best we can,” the Woolmers Foundation chair said.
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