I have a few favourite things… amongst them, historical buildings and gin. There is something old world and romantic about the two combined. Well, in my mind there is.
That is what I love about Tasmania, you don’t have to look too hard to discover this old world romance, it pretty much surrounds you, especially when it comes to Shene Estate.
The other thing I love about Tasmania is its distilling industry, especially that of gin.
Shene Estate is old but new to the Tassy touring scene. Old as in it has been there since 1819. New, because it has only just started offering private tours of the estate, of which has undergone quite the transformation, by new owners, Anne and David Kernke, who purchased the property in 2007. Located in Pontville, it is just a short drive from Hobart.
Upon our arrival, we are greeted by Anne and David’s daughter, Myfawny, who has made Shene Estate her personal joy and project. You are immediately swept up in Myfawny’s enthusiasm and quite obvious passion for the estate, it’s history and restorations, and most importantly, its conservation.
To say they have breathed life into the old building would be an understatement. They have done so much more than that. They have given the building – no, the property – life yes, but they have added to that spirit (literally), soul, heart and integrity and I can’t help but be insanely envious of the incredible great fortune of Myfanwy and her family that resulted in the estate being in their charge. After listening to Myfawny narrate the mystical tale of Shene’s convict built origin, as she leads you in and out of the beautiful gothic structures, you can’t help but be enchanted by her passion and dedication to its authentic restoration.
What an epic undertaking!
The story of Shene Estate began in 1819 with a Gamaliel Butler, who Myfawny temporarily brings to life; links with royalty (King George III) and Governor Lachlan Macquarie, ocean travels, sixteen children(!) and who planted the roots of the estate and its incredible historical buildings.
The estate itself, originally encompassing 22,000 acres, grazed sheep and cattle, and cultivated wheat and barley which gave inspiration to the creation of the distillery.
The buildings were built in 1851, largely by convict labour and included a gothic stable for 13 horses, of which the family has taken great care to ensure that the building’s original purpose is reflected in the restoration. Hence, the Hobart Polo Club taking up residence at the estate.
It is quite fascinating passing through the incredible chambers and being able to appreciate the structures and building techniques, elements left exposed for this exact purpose. There is even some pagan symbolism etched into the stonework that lays open possibilities of superstition and witchcraft – a hexafoil lining the sandstone window sill, possibly one of the earliest pagan symbols in Australian.
The repair and preservation of the buildings as well as some of the more unique features taking years so far, and they are far from being finished.
Initially there were plans to utilise the space of the barn as the distillery, but the estate dictated otherwise and new neighbouring structure was resurrected in the place of the original hay shed taking great care remain true to the estate and blend in with the existing buildings.
When we visited, the distillery was just days off having the 2,000 litre copper pot still relocated to its new home in the distillery. The incredible fireplace had just been completed and lay ready for its first fire up… note to self; *I must return soon* and *I want one*
Its buildings are no longer crumbling and decaying, they are fresh with new life and ready to tell some new stories… enter gin.
It was the discovery of some fragments of old gin bottles in what appear to be old kitchen middens scattered around the property that inspired the original idea of a distillery on the site and a collaboration with Damian Mackey, the master distiller of Shene Estate and creation of the sensational Poltergeist Gin was born.
The estate and the gin are the perfect fit. I would say that. I was quite mesmerised. Myfawny had me transported to another time. I wanted to crack open a gin, settle in and hear more stories – that or run off and become my own master distiller!
And then of course, there is the gin…
Gin is currently enjoying resurgence. Often considered a bit of an ‘old persons’ drink, it is becoming quite fashionable again, amongst the young and young at heart – probably because of this old world connection. Incidentally it was a lovely old lady that introduced me to gin in my early 20’s and it has been a firm favourite ever since – there is nothing quite like a G+T on a hot summers’ day – works in the cold as well…
The juniper berries that the spirit is based on, give the spirit its unique flavour that has made gin a popular mixer drink, seeing some wonderful cocktails spring up using gin as its foundation. And well, for me, you can’t go past a gin martini…
Poltergeist is no ghost to acclaim either – it has been receiving its share of awards, recently winning both gold and silver at the San Francisco World Spirit Awards. My favourite is the filtered ‘A True Spirit’, but I was quite intrigued by the flavour of the unfiltered – I picked up a strong sense of eucalyptus, which I quite enjoyed… like I am surprised…
They have also just seen the first release of their Mackey’s Single Malt Tasmanian Whisky.
Shene Estate is not your typical tourist stopover – which I am thankful for. The old girl is proud and is treated with respect, so tours are small and intimate. The estate is open to the public by appointment in the form of intimate guided tours and gin tastings. Myfawny, or one of the other family members, will lead you on a journey of history and mystery of the buildings that are Shene Estate. This is more than just a tour, it is a special treat and I thank the Kernke family for the privilege of allowing us an insight into their personal journey as custodians of this beautiful majestic estate and thank them for their commitment to the conservation of some wonderful Tasmanian history. It is definitely not to be missed.
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BTW… try a martini with locally made wasabi cherries that you will find at the Salamanca Markets instead of olives… ahhh… I will drink to that 🙂 to Shene… *glass raises*
This story was written by Petra Hughes – Pebbles + Pomegranate Seeds