Shene Estate – Tasmanian gothic revival splendour in the southern midlands

The gothic revival stables and great barn at Shene Estate

I’ve had the pleasure of visiting Shene Estate at Pontville several times over the past couple of years, and in that time have been privileged to witness just a little of the efforts of the Kernke family to conserve it for future generations. Last weekend I joined a group of local Instagrammers to revisit the Estate.

The gothic revival style stables at Shene Estate
The gothic revival style stables at Shene Estate

Shene’s story goes back to the 1830s and has deep roots in Tasmania’s colonial history. The area, now on Hobart’s northern fringes, was prime grazing territory at a time when generous land grants were offered to settlers in order to ‘tame’ the land and develop the colony.

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Convict labour was available along with the land, and the owners used it to build the magnificent gothic revival stables, Shene’s most notable feature, constructed to house just 13 horses, with accommodation for convicts, labourers and grooms above.

The stables were built to house just 13 horses
The stables were built to house just 13 horses
The floor above the stables accommodated convicts, labourers and grooms.
The floor above the stables accommodated convicts, labourers and grooms.
Shene's great barn hosts special events instead of bales of wool
Shene’s great barn hosts special events instead of bales of wool

The great barn, adjacent to the stables, held bales of wool harvested from the property. The homestead itself surprises some visitors with its low-profile and single storey modesty. Apparently there were plans for a second story in a grander style to match the stables, but the end of transportation and the discovery of gold in Victoria combined with an economic downturn that saw the supply of cheap labour evaporate before it could be built.

A shy hint of spring in front of the single storey homestead
A shy hint of spring in front of the single storey homestead

The heritage significance of Shene was taken up a notch with the discovery recently of ritual markings, scratched into the brick and stonework by those building the estate to ward off evil spirits. This practice dates back centuries in England, but was previously unknown in Australia, although, as this ABC TV story reveals, other forms of superstition among early settlers are well-documented in Tasmania.

Ritual marks have been found on the stables and on the old kitchen at Shene
Ritual marks have been found on the stables and on the old kitchen at Shene

The property’s buildings languished during more recent times, and might have been lost completely if it were not for the Kernke family, who fell in love with Tasmania and Shene Estate. Since arriving a few years ago, they have lavished their passion for history and conservation, along with business acumen and substantial funds on alleviating the threats to the buildings and breathing new life into it.

Chains on a window sill in the stables
Chains on a window sill in the stables

They offer tours, accompanied by Anne Kernke’s memorable high tea spreads served in the restored stables, sharing the history and their own journey of conservation with visitors. Weddings, performances and other cultural events are held in the great barn, and polo matches take place on the field in front of the stables.

A distillery is being established in the great barn, offering 'the spirit of Shene' to visitors.
A distillery is being established in the great barn, offering ‘the spirit of Shene’ to visitors.

As I write, a new venture, a bespoke distillery, is being launched in the barn; visitors will soon be able ‘capture the spirit of Shene’ in the form of gin made on site, with tastings in the barn and tours of the estate to set the scene.

The estate has even been used as the location for film and TV productions, the stone stables standing in for all manner of old-world environments.

Shene Estate, Tasmania
Shene Estate, Tasmania

Shene Estate is open to pre-booked tour groups and by appointment – although keep an eye on their website, as there always seems to be something new happening there.

More on my Steller story about Shene Estate

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Shene's great barn hosts special events instead of bales of wool
Shene’s great barn hosts special events instead of bales of wool

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Shene Estate, Tasmania
Shene Estate, Tasmania

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