New era for Woolmers
An exciting addition to Woolmers Estate, one of Tasmania’s biggest heritage drawcards, is already paying dividends with a sizeable increase in visitor numbers.
World heritage listed Woolmers is one of Australia’s most significant historic properties, and during the past two months tour group numbers have jumped by 76 per cent.
Furthermore, 22,500 people visited over the last financial year, up 38 per cent on the previous 12 months.
Impressive numbers indeed. And all agree, the stunning new $5.3 million Nigel Peck Centre which opened in February, is largely responsible.
With two art galleries, a multi-purpose function room and café/restaurant, it has been playing host to a crammed roster of events, adding a new tourism dimension to this world-class attraction, and helping to secure Woolmers’ future along the way.
Former Senator, and Woolmers Foundation Chairman, Peter Rae calls it “transformative”.
“An estate such as Woolmers is very expensive to run; for example at one stage we had 61 people on staff – either volunteers or paid workers,” Rae explained.
“Without the visitor centre we would have had to rely solely on increased government contributions or private contributions to keep the estate going.
“It gives us the earning capacity we need by bringing people back to re-visit the estate for events we will be holding in the future, rather than just to view the historic aspect of the estate.”
Woolmers’ rich history is intrinsically tied to that of Tasmania.
It was built in 1817, just outside Longford in the Northern Midlands, as the grand estate of Thomas Archer I, who made his fortune on the sheep’s back.
The property was home to six generations of the Archer family until 1994, when Thomas Archer VI died leaving no heir, and Woolmers was bequeathed as a museum. In 2010 it was declared a World heritage convict site – a perfectly preserved capsule of life in colonial Tasmania.
Assigned convicts, sent as labour to Woolmers, built out-houses and cottages that are still intact, while the grand manor appears frozen in time with furnishings and personal belongings in place, just as they have been for generations.
“Woolmers is irreplaceable because it is the one heritage property that has all the equipment, the personal, the social and operational gear that was virtually ever on the property,” Rae said.
“We have 200 years of clothing, correspondence, and records of all sorts as well as furniture and artworks.
Woolmers is also famous for its rose garden which attracts visitors from across the world especially during the Festival of Roses in November.
There is no doubt that the visitor centre heralds a new era for Woolmers Estate.
The concept was first mooted seven years ago by the great-great-grandson of Thomas Archer I, Nigel Peck, who made this dream a reality with a very generous $3.6 million donation. The remainder of the cost was topped up by the State Government.
Unfortunately, Nigel passed away 10 months before his vision came to life.
However, beside him every step of the way was Peter Rae who has his own personal connection with Woolmers. His aunt was married to Thomas Archer V, and he spent childhood years living on the estate.
Meantime, there is already an impressive calendar of events slated in for the Nigel Peck Centre.
Art is at the forefront. The main gallery has already hosted an impressive Convict and Colonial Artists Exhibition curated by Hobart’s Masterpiece Fine Arts Gallery, while the Collection of Northern Artists Exhibition is currently on display. Artist-in-residence, Launceston based Josh Foley, will also be exhibiting his works in September.
Then there are other events planned for the coming months: a spring-time wedding showcase; chamber orchestra recital; antiques fair; classic car display; even memorabilia from the Tamar Yacht Club.
“We wanted to build up a widespread and varied list of attractions and events, so that there is something different – and interesting – happening at Woolmers the whole time,” Rae said.
“As well as the built-heritage component, this also gives people a reason to come back and visit time and time again.”
It is no wonder then that as he officially opened the Nigel Peck Visitor Centre on February 10, Premier Will Hodgman declared Woolmers to be “one of the most significant heritage properties in the country” and that the new centre is “a most impressive addition to this splendid property".
Image courtesy of Woolmers Estate
Watch the video below to take a tour of Woolmers Estate and the new visitor centre.
13 August 2018, Edition 197