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Tasmania’s Stories

On the sheep’s back

Edition 199_FionaHume

An innovative Tasmanian not-for-profit organisation is helping farmers – such as Fiona Hume who tends Australia’s largest flock of rare English Leicester sheep – realise their dreams.

Hume wants to set up a niche agricultural business built around her beloved sheep and has turned to ‘Sprout Tasmania’ to help get her idea off the ground.

Sprout, which is run by a dedicated band of volunteers, is a unique concept. 

It assists aspiring farmers turn their ideas into thriving, sustainable small businesses by offering free advice on everything from planting crops to business plans. It even advises on mental health issues.

One of Sprout’s key initiatives is its annual scholarships, which give small-scale producers a year of mentoring to assist in their agricultural start-up.

This year five scholarships were handed out under the ‘Sprout Producer Program’. Recipients included market gardeners, mushroom growers, olive oil and beef producers – and Hume.

Hume is well versed in the ways of commodity agriculture. Her family has been farming in Tasmania since 1840, particularly sheep.  Home is ‘Arundel Farm’ at Macquarie Plains, on the banks of the River Derwent, north of Hobart.

However, Hume needed help to navigate her way to a niche business involving her Leicester sheep.

She plans to sell hides, which she tans herself, and describes as “works of art, best put on display either draped over a chair or hung on a wall".

Hume also wants to supply meat to locals who are interested in provenance and has already made a start by selling 25 of her sheep to MONA for this year’s Winter Feast.

Eventually she would like a farmgate enterprise.

It’s an epiphany that struck two years ago.

“Lamb prices are just phenomenal at the moment – through the roof,” Fiona explains.

“However, a few years ago prices weren’t so good and my lambs were exported to the Middle East and I thought, eighty dollars, that’s all right, but what a shame because my sheep have a real story and it’s not being told.

“And I’m sure the people overseas would love them but they would have no idea that they are an endangered breed, and that they have a lovely life here. They get very well looked after.

“I want to tell that story about my sheep.”

That story is one of passion.

English Leicester, which are prized for both their meat and beautiful curly wool, are one of the oldest breeds of sheep dating back to the 1760s.

They are also rare, and Hume has a greater number than anyone else in the country: 220 breeding ewes, 20 rams, and currently 200 lambs.

“Dad started breeding them in the 1950s,” Hume says.

“We never made any money but we always loved them. They are very independent and have a real attitude.

“When the dogs go to move the sheep, you can see them thinking, why can’t we go and move the merinos instead, because the Leicesters will stamp their feet and they will charge at the dogs.”

Hume says her Sprout scholarship has been invaluable.

Over the past ten months she has attended regular workshops with other scholarship recipients, made important new contacts, and received on-going mentoring.

“The mentoring I have received has helped me to understand more about niche markets, branding, and it has even helped me to design a logo. I’m getting advice with all that,” Hume says.

As part of her scholarship, Hume has also been encouraged to write business and marketing plans, as well as complete regular assignments.

“We have had seven assignments to do, and they are actually great because they force me to do things I need to do but normally wouldn’t get around to,” Hume adds.

“I have had to do soil testing; I’ve written a weed mapping plan; I’ve looked at animal health; and I’m currently doing quality assurance.“

Sprout was formed seven years ago.

And in that short time, it is proving itself to be a little organisation that is already making a big difference.

“Our scholarship program is really fantastic as it helps small producers get their ideas in the ground and growing,” Sprout General Manager, Jennifer Robinson, says.

“They might have a fantastic idea but don’t know how to start it. We help them by giving them advice on whom to talk to, advice on pathways to their market, and advice on how to get their business ideas out there.

“And everyone is different. Some of our scholarship recipients may need more help with the farming side of things, while for others the need might be with the business side.”

Meantime, it seems the calls for Sprout’s help will only increase as more and more people follow their dream and buy those few acres of land in Tasmania’s countryside.

“There is a definite growth in the number of people who are really passionate about giving up their office jobs, to be on the land, to be outdoors and to connect with a local community,” Robinson explains.

The 8 scholarship recipients of the 2019 'Sprout Producer Program' have just been announced:

  • Old Forest Vale Farm (garlic and truffles)
  • Broadchurch Eco Farm (market garden)
  • Fork it Farm (pork)
  • Wilmores Bluff (sheep meat and wool)
  • Simple Cider and Welling Orchard (cider)
  • Langdale Farm (pork)
  • Eska Farm (pork)
  • Jordan River Farm (eggs)

Image Courtesy Cumberbatch Photographic

14 October 2018, Edition 199

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Facts about Tasmania


Tasmania is the southernmost state of Australia, located at latitude 40° south and longitude 144° east and separated from the continent by Bass Strait. It is a group of 334 islands, with the main island being 315 km (180 miles) from west to east and 286 km (175 miles) north to south.


Tasmanians are resourceful and innovative people, committed to a continually expanding export sector. In 2012–13, international exports from the state totalled $3.04 billion. USA, China, Taiwan, India, Japan and other Asian countries account for the bulk of exports, with goods and services also exported to Europe and many other regions.


Tasmania is similar in size to the Republic of Ireland or Sri Lanka. The Tasmanian islands have a combined coastline of more than 3,000 km.


The main island has a land area of 62,409 sq km (24,096 sq miles) and the minor islands, taken together, total only 6 per cent of the main island’s land area. The biggest islands are Flinders (1,374 sq km/539 sq miles), King, Cape Barren, Bruny and Macquarie Islands.


About 250km (150 miles) separates Tasmania’s main island from continental Australia. The Kent Group of Islands, one of the most northerly parts of the state, is only 55km (34 miles) from the coast of the Australian continent.


Twice named ‘Best Temperate Island in the World’ by international travel magazine Conde Nast Traveler, Tasmania has a mild, temperate maritime climate, with four distinct seasons.


In summer (December to February) the average maximum temperature is 21° Celsius (70° Fahrenheit). In winter (June to August) the average maximum is 12° C (52° F) and the average minimum is 4° C (40° F). Snow often falls in the highlands, but is rarely experienced in more settled areas.

Annual Rainfall

Tasmania’s west coast is one of the wettest places in the world, but the eastern part of the State lives in a rain-shadow. Hobart, the second-driest capital city in Australia, receives about half as much rain as Sydney.

Annual Rainfall

Annual rainfall in the west is 2,400 mm (95 inches), but hardy locals insist there is no such thing as bad weather, only inadequate clothing. If you travel 120 km east to Hobart, you experience a much drier average of 626 mm (24 inches) a year.


The 512,875-strong community spreads itself across the land; less urbanised than the population of any other Australian state. Hobart, the capital city, is home to more than 212,000 people.

Capital City

Hobart nestles at the foot of kunanyi / Mount Wellington (1,270 m / 4,000 ft) and overlooks the Derwent Estuary, where pods of dolphins and migrating whales are sometimes seen from nearby beaches. Surrounded by thickly forested rolling hills, the city is home to the state parliament and the main campus of the University of Tasmania.

Capital City

Its historic centre features Georgian and Regency buildings from colonial times. Hobart is home port for coastal fishing boats, Antarctic expeditions and vessels that fish the Southern Ocean.

Land Formation

Mountain ranges in the south-west date back 1,000 million years. Ancient sediments were deeply buried, folded and heated under enormous pressure to form schists and glistening white quartzites.

Land Formation

In the south-west and central highlands, dolerite caps many mountains, including Precipitous Bluff and Tasmania’s highest peak, Mt Ossa (1617 m / 5300 ft). More than 42 per cent of Tasmania is World Heritage Area, national park and marine or forest reserves.


Vegetation is diverse, from alpine heathlands and tall open eucalypt forests to areas of temperate rainforests and moorlands, known as buttongrass plains. Many plants are unique to Tasmania and the ancestors of some species grew on the ancient super-continent, Gondwana, before it broke up 50 million years ago.


Unique native conifers include slow-growing Huon pines, with one specimen on Mt Read estimated to be up to 10,000 years old. Lomatia tasmanica, commonly known as King’s holly, is a self-cloning shrub that may well be the oldest living organism on earth. It was discovered in 1937.


Tasmania is the last refuge of several mammals that once roamed the Australian continent. It is the only place to see a Tasmanian devil or eastern quoll (native cat) in the wild and is the best place to see the spotted-tailed quoll (tiger cat), all carnivorous marsupials.


The eastern bettong and the Tasmanian pademelon, both now extinct on the Australian continent, may also be observed.


The Tasmanian tiger, or thylacine, was Australia’s largest surviving carnivorous marsupial and is a modern day mystery. The last documented thylacine died in captivity in 1936 and although the animal is considered extinct, unsubstantiated sightings persist.

History and Heritage

Aboriginal people have lived in Tasmania for about 35,000 years, since well before the last Ice Age. They were isolated from the Australian continent about 12,000 years ago, when the seas rose to flood low coastal plains and form Bass Strait.

History and Heritage

Descendants of the original people are part of modern Tasmania’s predominantly Anglo-Celtic population.

History and Heritage

Tasmania was originally named Van Dieman’s Land by the Dutch explorer Abel Janszoon Tasman in 1642. The island was settled by the British as a penal colony in 1803 and the original name was associated with the convict era. It was changed to Tasmania when convict transportation stopped in 1853.


A resourceful island culture has generated leading-edge niche industries, from production of high-speed catamaran ferries and marine equipment to lightning-protection technology.


Tasmanians produce winches and windlasses for some of the world’s biggest ocean-going pleasure craft; large-scale inflatable evacuation systems and provide specialist outfit-accommodation services to the marine industry.


The Wooden Boat Centre at Shipwrights Point has re-established the skills and traditions of another age and attracts students from around the world.


Tasmania is a world leader in natural turf systems for major sporting arenas and in areas of mining technology and environmental management. Its aquaculture industry has developed ground-breaking fish-feeding technology and new packaging.


Tasmanians sell communications equipment to many navies and their world-class fine timber designers and craftsmen take orders internationally for furniture made from distinctive local timber.


The state is a natural larder with clean air, unpolluted water and rich soils inviting the production of 100 varieties of specialty cheeses, as well as other dairy products, mouth-watering rock lobsters, oysters, scallops and abalone, Atlantic salmon, beef, premium beers, leatherwood honey, mineral waters, fine chocolates, fresh berry fruits, apples and crisp vegetables.


Tasmania is a producer of award-winning cool-climate wines, beers, ciders and whiskies. Other export products include essential oils such as lavender, pharmaceutical products and premium wool sought after in Europe and Asia. Hobart is a vital gateway to the Antarctic and a centre for Southern Ocean and polar research.


The industries in Tasmania which made the greatest contribution to the State’s gross product in 2010–11 in volume terms were: Manufacturing (9.4%), Health care and social assistance (8.2%), Financial and insurance services (7.2%), Ownership of dwellings and Agriculture, forestry and fishing (each 7.1%).

Getting to Tasmania

Travel is easy, whether by air from Sydney or Melbourne, or by sea, with daily sailings of the twin ferries Spirit of Tasmania 1 and 2 each way between Melbourne and Devonport throughout the year.

This site has been produced by the Brand Tasmania Council © 2014

Brand Tasmania

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