When the town of Oatlands was established in the 1820s much was expected of the Midlands site.
Located between Hobart and Launceston, the plan for Oatlands was to be the "interior capital" of Van Diemens Land.
Oatlands military precinct, bounded by High, Barrack, Church streets and the Esplanade, was created to be the central point within this Midlands capital.
While the town did not fulfil those initial lofty capital expectations, the precinct remains the administrative centre of Oatlands today.
This precinct includes the former Oatlands Commissariat Store, the Oatlands Guard House archaeological site, and a c1870-1880s shop and cottage fronting High Street.
Of the 30 buildings originally built within the civil and military precinct seven remain, with council recently focusing on the Oatlands Gaol, courthouse and commissariat.
Work had already been completed to restore the gaol and courthouse, with the commissariat the most recent addition to the precinct restoration project.
The commissariat was built on a 1108 square metre parcel of land at 79 High Street, Oatlands.
Overseen by Southern Midlands Council Heritage Projects manager Brad Williams, the commissariat was restored to reflect its original use and the town's history.
Recently opened to the public, the commissariat building now also has new purpose as a community heritage education and skills centre.
"The commissariat building was a store for convict provisions and the military department in the 1820s," Mr Williams said.
"Council wanted to buy the building and restore it to give the public access, in the same way the gaol and courthouse had been restored. We wanted to add another building to that suite," he said.
Council bought the commissariat building in May 2012 and put together a conservation management plan and master plan for the site.
The restoration team applied for, and received, $640,000 in matched funding through the federal government's National Stronger Regions program.
As outlined in the master plan, "Council had resolved to purchase the place based on the exceptional level of heritage value of the place and the desire to keep the place in public ownership and present it as part of a suite of the earliest government buildings at Oatlands (namely together with the Oatlands Gaol and Supreme Court House)".
The site was surveyed in 1859 with a view to selling it, and was later purchased from the Crown by Edward Francis Saunderson, an ex-convict who became a storekeeper.
When Mr Saunderson died in 1862 the property passed to his daughter Mary Ann Fish, and then to her husband Walter Fish when she died.
A shopfront and large baker's oven was added to the commissariat building around the 1880s.
This property stayed in Fish family ownership until 1945, when storekeeper Donald Smith bought it.
He sold it to Norman Barwick in 1950 and it then passed to Ernest Clarke when Mr Barwick died in 1983.
Mr Clarke's son, Mervyn Clarke, sold the property to Rose Glavin in 2007, who then sold it the the council in 2012.
"The building offers significant potential to create meaningful public space with supplementary interpretation and possible reinvigoration of the baker’s oven," the master plan said.
The shop and cottage on the site could work as an interpretation centre for the commissariat, acting as a gateway to the site, or could be sold to pay for ongoing maintenance at the site.
Archaeological potential had already been highlighted as it was the site of the guard house, which was demolished in about 1975, the military sundial, sentry box and the convict stocks, which are a "very unique type of archaeological site", the master plan explains.
The restoration project started in September 2016, taking just over two years, Mr Williams said.
"The building was in worse condition than we thought and we had to do a lot of work to stabilise the room, rebuild the oven and remove the concrete. We ran a lot of public open days as part of the heritage restoration," he said.
"The site had been derelict for a long time. It has breathed new life into the site."
Oatlands residents were already engaged in efforts to restore heritage sites, but they have since become even further involved through the site's community heritage hub.
Council put out a call to artists and makers who use traditional or heritage skills to become involved with the hub, workshop space and shopfront.
"We tried to engage the public in the restoration, including teaching heritage skills. The restoration has been a good way to showcase traditional skills, like timber shingles, pit-sawing, stone masonry, lime washing, carpentry and joinery," Mr Williams said.
"We tried to keep the original features as much as possible and the repairs were in keeping with them.
"We're bringing together local residents interested in heritage skills and crafts and we're giving them space to work and have a co-operative shopfront," he said.
As outlined in the site's conservation management plan, the first European documentation of the Oatlands district was on surveyor James Meehan's 1811 map.
Governor Lachlan Macquarie had commissioned Mr Meehan to undertake the first survey between Hobart Town and Launceston, which was then known as Port Dalrymple.
Oatlands was named by Governor Macquarie on June 3, 1821: "At quarter past 12, halted at the great lagoon [now Lake Dulverton] (about six miles from Knight’s in Westmorland Plains), and fixed on the site of a township on the banks of the said lagoon, naming it 'Oatlands'," the plan said.
While Bent's Almanac described Oatlands as an "undeveloped site" in 1825, Governor George Arthur formalised the town in 1826 when he divided the colony into nine police districts.
Thomas Anstey was appointed as the Oatlands district police magistrate.
In 1829 Dr James Ross described Oatlands: "Several cottages are already erected, also an excellent soldiers’ barracks and officers quarters. These were built by the Royal Staff Corps, and a church and gaol are in progress".
Surveyor William Sharland said "a few sod huts mark the site of the place" in 1827, but when he returned to Oatlands in 1832 he surveyed "500 acres of allotments, with 50 miles of streets".
"Sharland reasoned that being halfway between Launceston and Hobart Town, Oatlands would one day be proclaimed the capital," the plan said.
The December 1835 census showed Oatlands had a free population of 598 and 695 convicts.
Oatlands thrived during the 1830s and into the middle of the 19th century, but as the wool industry declined towards the end of the century the town's fortunes also dropped.
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