Skip to main content


Walking New Town Rivulet – 2 Lenah Valley

A lasting influence? Lady Jane's "Ancanthe"

On my next visit, I started walking west from the Milk Factory at the end of Augusta Road. There was a dairy on this corner from as early 1932 when the Baker family delivered milk locally by horse and cart. By the 1940’s it was a statewide operation and by 1967 it was national. Several name changes and changes of ownership later, the company is now part of an international corporation that supplies some of our most popular brands of milk, cheese and yoghurt.

I knew that the Rivulet continued beyond it, not only because of the waterfall walk, but because I had once helped out with some water testing by the Kangaroo Valley Bushcare Group (Lenah is the Aboriginal word for Kangaroo) who, together with both councils (Glenorchy and Hobart), have done a lot of rehabilitation work along its banks.
The first part of the track follows the Rivulet along busy Lenah Valley Road. There's an amazing variety of homes here -talk about mix and match! - with some of its earlier rustic roots showing through.

Workman's Cottage - c.a. 1850 -1900. Perhaps it's owner worked at the dairy or the coalmine*

Lenah Valley, then known as Kangaroo Bottom, also started off as orchards* and with a major land grant, but apart from Lady Jane’s efforts to civilise the place with her Natural History Museum, not much else happened until the 1920’s when trams began running up Augusta Road. Even then, Lady Jane’s little Greek temple languished ignomiously as an apple shed until 1949.

Sometimes coming late to the feast has its advantages. Due to a combination of slower population growth and a succession of economic slumps, many more historical buildings remain in Tasmania than in our larger cities where demolition frenzy raged in the 1970s. Not that everything old is beautiful. Many older buildings were dark, damp and cramped and who would want to cook in a colonial kitchen or use a colonial privy, both of which were usually apart from the main house?

A typical weatherboard worker's cottage of the 1950's - Apologies for the picture quality lately. I pulled my camera in out so many times on this walk because of intermittent showers, that I must have changed one of the settings. Still, for semi historic photos it isn't a bad look and I promise to do better next time I am up that way

 Lenah Valley had at least retained much of its remnant bushland even after the postwar baby boom demanded closer settlement. Perhaps a little fairy dust did rub off from Lady Jane’s vision splendid after all. She had planned a Botanic Garden here celebrating not only the native species, but “the flora of the entire southern hemisphere” and surrounded herself with the best scientific minds of her time to create it.  Unfortunately, a year later, her ‘meddling” in state affairs, led to her husband, Governor Sir John Franklin being relieved of his post in 1814, and her beautiful little sandstone edifice, recently restored to its former glory, is all that remains.

1950's Ranch style. This is most likely made of painted brick though concrete blocks were also popular

Even then development proceeded slowly and patchily.  In the 1950’s a rash of houses erupted along Lenah Valley Road beside the Rivulet. These were much smaller than the earlier ones  -or the later ones for that matter, and were made of simple materials such as weatherboards, brick veneer or concrete and topped off with a tin roof, reflecting both post war building material shortages and haste precipitated by the need to house a rapidly expanding population of baby boomers and migrants. Visitors to our part of the world often remark on how uneven our housing stock is. As architect Robyn Boyd commented in his 1968 polemic:

“In Australia, the artificial background of life is all highs and lows. A modernistic folly in multi-coloured brickwork may sit next door to a Georgian mansionette on one side and a sensible work of architectural exploration on the other.

This is true of Lenah Valley as well, yet in Tasmania’s defence, there are at least three reasons for this. The first is that in Europe and the US, whole streets and communities were usually constructed at the same time. Secondly, councils in Hobart had no control over developers until 1945 when the Town and  Country Planning Act was passed, and even then it was generally ignored by developers, and the Commonwealth Government, anxious to resettle returned soldiers and immigrants fleeing war torn Europe, was not bound by it at all.

The triple fronted brick veneer  c.a. 1945 - 1965 doesn't seem to have made it to Lenah Valley but this one comes close

This one could be pre stressed concrete, though it's hard to tell what's  under the render

Post War Modern- This house probably dates from the 1960s or 1970s and would have been every housewife's dream since it would have been equipped with the latest electric appliances such as a washing machine and a refrigerator. They also had big windows, Laminex bench tops and tiled floors

I would venture to add, that these houses also embody something of the spirit of Australia, about a man’s home (usually it was a man) being his castle, where a person could do as s/he pleased, so long as they kept the front lawn tidy, removed fire hazards and built a decent fence. No matter how humble, owning one’s own home, was a source of pride, freeing one from the caprice and tyranny of landlords, rental usually being the only option in places such as the  UK or Germany. It was also a place to express one's individuality and provided a bulwark against unemployment, sickness or other hardship.

Houses were about providing shelter and relative independence by for example, being able to grow fruit and vegetables or keeping chickens, not about creating a work of art for the amusement of others.
Affordability was a theme which preoccupied many architects including Boyd and their ideas and plans were widely disseminated via popular magazines such as "Home Beautiful" and "The Woman's Weekly." Perhaps our architects and planners should revisit this idea.

A lovely bush track starts just beyond this bridge

Lastly, the fine early examples of architecture that remain generally belonged to wealthier citizens and were often constructed by free convict labour and maintained by an army of poorly rewarded servants. If less elaborate houses are the price of a more democratic society, then we should not complain. 
Could it be that in half a century or so when we are all living in high rises, we will look at these houses in awe and wonder? At least the earlier houses are compact and surrounded by trees to soften their hard edges and so are less visually disturbing than the the gaggle of houses on the hill opposite, or the most recent ones which look like a regimented army advancing on my right. [Groan. I can hear it now. First she complains about houses that are stylistically all over the place. Then she complains about them being all the same!]

With respect to the latest subdivisions, due to greater environmental awareness, pressure from the local community and far stricter oversight by the Hobart City Council, some bushland has been reserved and a caveat has been placed over the remaining trees to prevent them being removed. This is important for the survival of the endangered Orange Bellied Parrot, the Eastern Barred Bandicoot, the Growling Frog and other species which also call this area home. Some gardens have also been planted with native plants to encourage birds and wildlife. They are also more drought proof.

The upper section becomes more and more attractive
Early wattle is starting to come out

After a bridge, the road narrows, the houses diminish and a gentle walking track begins between the Rivulet and the road.  Thanks to efforts by the Kangaroo Valley Bushcare Group and both Councils, there are now signs about the flora and fauna, weeds have been removed and native vegetation around the Rivulet has been restored. Maintaining and improving water quality remains an important function too. I walk through pleasant woodland to the end of the road where the New Town Falls track begins. It’s on the way back that I notice a different track running off to the left, just past the bridge. This gently undulating path follows the Rivulet more closely and away from the road, taking in attractive cascades and riffles along the way and with parkland on the opposite side. Eventually it comes out at a covered bridge just below Lady Jane’s temple. This was a delightful surprise and a fitting end to the day’s walk.

Walking behind the houses away from the road
Looking at "Ancanthe" again I wondered why, despite the incongruity of the design (by convict architect, engineer and surveyor, James Blackburn 1803 -1854) it fitted in so well, as did the early buildings, despite their eclectic styles and their plans often being imported holus bolus from the UK without regard for site or orientation. I concluded that perhaps this was because they made much use of local materials such as the golden sandstone, the timbers which grew in the area and bricks made from local clay, which enabled them to blend in well with the landscape, rather than looking as if they had been imposed upon it.   

Riffles, rockpools and small cascades characterise this part of the Rivulet

*Speaking with Colin Dennison, the author of the book “Cheers” which I mentioned previously, it seems that at least one of the 1840s coal mines was in Augusta Road, not far from where I started and ended this walk. I also heard from Glenorchy Heritage Officer, David Parham, that in the early years the New Town area produced more apples than the Huon Valley. Many thanks to both for their patience and for answering so many of  my questions.

The walk ends with a fitting flourish