Roaming With Convicts

Time for a roaming day and another little outing. Our destination was the nice little town of Longford and its two World Heritage Sites, the colonial estates, Brickendon and Woolmers. What a magic day, a crisp but mild winter day with an azure sky and not a breath of wind. Roaming perfection.

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Off for a roam through the past

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brickendon has been a working farming property since it was established in 1824 and has been in the same family, the Archers, ever since, with the seventh generation Archer now working the property. It was both a step back in time and a step back to England to roam through the Estate. The colonial buildings and the Estate itself were all built and worked by convict labour, with the original Archer, Mr. William, living on the property in a teeny tiny two room cottage.

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Mr Archer’s cottage made from brick nogging
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Room 2 of 2
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I was intrigued by the perfectly cut hole in the bottom of Mr Archer’s door. An early colonial cat flap perhaps?

He lived there until he married, when, thinking that perhaps his wife-to-be would not be too thrilled at the thought of living cheek by jowl with various criminals and ne’er-do-wells, he moved from his bachelor cottage and built a house across the road, which he considered a little more fitting for a lady and the new Mrs Archer. Personally, I think he probably, as often happens, underestimated the spirit and fortitude of the new lady of the house. I reckon she would have mucked in just fine without the need for grandeur and luxury. If they had stayed in the little cottage, they may have needed to add an extension here and there, but I’m sure she would have become on first name terms with her eclectic and worldly convict neighbours and workforce. Don’t underestimate women my dear fellow, the fairer sex they are not! I could imagine Mrs Archer, with mud dragging the hem of her skirts, wandering across the pastures, chatting to the wheat slashers or potato pickers as she went. She may have stepped into the cavernous cook house and been taught by Betty the Brothel Keeper (the Thames dockside made for a spritely trade, darn those Bow Street Runners for putting a stop to business and leading Betty to transportation to the colonies) how to dress a chook, mince some mutton or fluff the flummery. She could have taken wood splitting lessons from Stan the Sprinter, who was caught liberating loaves of bread to feed his family of fifteen, with a crumb always kept aside for his gerbil, Gerald, a crime which saw him now a resident of Van Diemen’s Land. Yep, I could see Mrs Archer rubbing along quite well with some felonious friends and was no doubt bored to tears with the dull life of fluttering handkerchiefs and feminine sighs in the Big House across the road. Yes, I could see into the past in my own fair way as we roamed the buildings, gardens and lanes of this Estate.

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The enormous cook house
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I think it definitely would have taken longer than “arf-a-mo” to churn butter in this!
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Mr Archer built a chapel on the property for the convict workers and farm labourers

We did discover that we would be hopeless convicts. Steve quickly realised that he would have spent his convict days with endless head injuries from passing through the doorways definitely not built for the modern day giant that he is and I would have been woeful at getting by dressed in those flimsy little bits of calico and cotton in the drafty, chilly cottages and buildings.  What would I do without endless layers of fleece and puff to see me through the chill? I would have to have been a law abiding citizen because I would have failed convict life dismally. Dismally I tell you.

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Definitely not the right height for a resident of the colonies

I could also see into England with the hedgerows, formed of hawthorn hedges, the wooden fences and gates and English gardens. The Archers hailed from Hertford in Hertfordshire and after trying their luck and failing in America, set sail for Van Diemen’s Land to become agriculturalists and pastoralists in this corner of the colony. They certainly brought a little piece of the Old Dart with them, in their architecture and design of the Estate. It was lovely to stroll around on such a glorious day and take a step back in time and place.

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Hands behind the back signal a contemplative stroll

When we had arrived at Brickendon, we passed the overseer of the property who appeared to be on duty at the entrance to the Estate. She didn’t lift a head, or eyebrow or even glance in our direction as we arrived, clearly quite relaxed in her overseeing position in the sun and just happy to let the world pass by. As we were leaving, we noticed she had changed location, so I went up for a chat. As overseers go, this four-legged lady was a picture of peace and relaxation, as she followed the sun to a different look out position. I bobbed down beside her and gave her a stroke between the eyes, which slowly began to close, followed by a dreamy yawn. She may have been on duty in body but I think her mind was about to drift off to fields of slow moving rabbits and bottomless bowls of fillet steak. I gave her a final, slow stroke, was thanked with another slow motion yawn and I left her to her dreams.

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Chatting to the Estate overseer

We popped across the road to have a look at the main house and gardens, taking a short stroll through the woodland area and manicured gardens having their winter rest.

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The Main House
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Still contemplating. Perhaps thinking, “Why can’t we grow trees like that?”

 

The little Silvereyes were out in abundance feasting on the hawthorn berries and while they may have given me the occasional glance to let me know I had been clocked, they continued their frenetic flitting and fluttering amongst the branches, enjoying the sun and their abundant lunch.

Just up the road from Brickendon is Woolmers Estate, the second World Heritage Listed Site. Woolmers was established by Thomas Archer, the brother of Brickendon’s William, in 1820 and was also built and run by convict labour. It was owned by six generations of Archers until 1994, when Thomas IV died without heirs. It was opened to the public two years later. It was only when I saw that date that I realised Steve and I must have been amongst its first visitors, for it was here, way back in 1996 that Steve popped the question, on the steps of the small, shed-like chapel on the Woolmers Estate. At the time, he asked the question in all its traditional form, as in, would I marry him, to which I replied, with a finger to my chin, “Well, now it’s all for real, I’m going to have to think about it.” The look on Steve’s face told me quite promptly that it perhaps wasn’t the right time for humour and levity so I swiftly responded in the affirmative and all facial expressions were set right. So that must have happened not long after the Estate was opened to the public, a little fun fact of our own personal history, discovered on this roaming day.

 

 

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Outside the modest little farm chapel where the Bush-Bambridge partnership was formalised all those years ago

We again took in the glorious sunshine and even though I had swaddled myself in no less than five layers of thermals and fleece in preparation for a chilly day, I felt I had perhaps overdone the sandwiching of myself amongst said layers, because the day remained beautifully mild. We strolled through the rose garden which, despite being winter, was still blooming in many places. That right there, is climate change my friends, the seasons are most definitely haywire and the roses defied the traditional time to be dormant and blossomed regardless.

We again strolled throughout the buildings, the gardens and the grounds, looking out at the sweeping landscape that gave us a magnificent pastoral view and we were again reminded of the pretty and very special little part of the world that we can call home on our small island.

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The Cider House with its enormous stone cider-mill

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Steve still practises his Napoleonic pose

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A lovely day of roaming and then homeward bound we turned, stopping beside Longford’s Village Green for a snack. I love that this little town has a village green that is actually called The Village Green, which is not an Australianism at all. To us, places like that are “the park”, so to have an actual Village Green is lovely.

On our return to our little hamlet home, we set off for a quick pedal on the bikes and as we were turning a corner through the bush, Steve hit the brakes with a squeal, sending a cloud of dust and fallen bark into the evening air. There, on the track in front of us was a small, round, bundle of quills. We stopped and looked and I slowly and quietly walked around to try and figure out which side was which. It was when I spotted the large, curved digging claw at one end that I could tell which was front and back on that darling little shy echidna, who must have heard us coming and bundled itself into a ball. It was now firmly in its, “If I can’t see you, you can’t see me” position, with its face tucked away under its quills, burying itself as best it could on top of the firm ground.

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Hmmm, which is the front and which is the back?

Steve pedalled away but I waited and sure enough, on hearing Steve depart, its little face appeared from under the bundle of quills and it waddled off into the bush. Absolutely darling. I adore echidnas and we don’t see them very often. I think they are the cutest things and the closest thing we have to Mole from Wind in the Willows. This little fellow, very quietly and calmly headed back into the safety and seclusion of the bush and I pedalled off to now leave it in peace.

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Oooh, out pops the nose…

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…then off for the “sprint” waddle into the bush.

A lovely roaming day, with some memories, some learning and a gentle pace, with a little bit of riding to round out the day. Once again, the simple pleasures that can fill a day. The win was also that my five layers of modern fleece and thermal kept me toasty and I didn’t have to suffer the convict clothed chill and Steve made it through all low beamed buildings without so much as a bump to the noggin. Two additional pieces of gratitude right there. A bumpless bonce and a toasty torso can leave us with a smile. Now to find another outing, to continue to see more of our own small island and take in the stories and vistas it provides in abundance. Onward we roam.

 

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