The village of Conara used to be very well known by travellers on the Midland Highway, though very few knew its name. What caught their attention was what they called "the disappearing house". Standing at the turnoff to St Marys at Conara, the so-called “Disappearing House” earned its name by the illusion of its sinking into the ground as travellers approached along the main road from Hobart to Launceston, due to the peculiar conformation of the landscape.
On the old road the house would “vanish” as you descended one hill, the other seemed to rise up in front of you and the house would “disappear” behind it. Then as you ascended the next small hill, it would miraculously reappear. Conara was by-passed by the Midlands Highway in 1969, and as a result the Disappearing House has all but disappeared for travellers on the current highway.
Today, the village of Conara is little more than a scant number of houses around a railway junction. The name The Corners, by which the settlement was first known, originated because it lies on the old intersection of the coach road between Hobart Town and Launceston and the coach road from Swansea passing through Avoca in the Fingal Valley.
Eventually, the construction of the Fingal Rail Line in 1886 met the Main Line Railway (Hobart Launceston) at The Corners and was primarily built to convey coal from the Cornwall and Mt. Nicholas mines near St. Marys, a practice that has continued for well over 100 years. Conara railway station was used for passengers changing trains from the Main Line (Hobart -Launceston) to the East Coast, via the Fingal Line. Conara is the aboriginal word for coal, or coal dust, no doubt taken from the major type of material that passed through the town by train.
The Disappearing House
This historic building that once performed a disappearing act for motorists on the Midlands Highway is actually called Smithvale. It was a staging stop for the coaches from Launceston to Hobart, the stables behind the Inn housed the change of horses. Smithvale was built on part of the original land grant to James and Catherine Smith; the future site of Conara went by the name of Willis Corner, or more colloquially, Humphrey's Waterhole.
When it was requested of Smith to construct an Inn to provide overnight hospitality to travellers on the coach routes, it became known simply as The Corners. Built in 1839-40 by the Smiths, The Corners Inn has since been known by many different names, including the Epping Banks Inn, Cleveland Inn, the Corners Inn and now Smithvale, but is still most often referred to simply as The Disappearing House.
Vaucluse is a 2654ha grazing, cropping and irrigation property. Set on 2,654 ha (6,560acres), amidst beautifully manicured gardens, Vaucluse is a C.1830 brick Georgian 10 bedroom homestead with slate roof on a 38ha parcel of land. Vaucluse was built for pastoralist Robert Bostock, who lived their with his wfe (Ann Cox, granddaughter of William Cox who famously built a road across the Blue Mountains) and family until his death in 1847. The property features the original glass conservatory and blacksmith workshop, its original 8 box brick stable, coach house and tack room are fully restored. The property has a long frontage to the South Esk River.
Initially the farmhouse at Vaucluse was near the river, however, after flooding, a new home was built on the current site in the 1820's. The homestead was completed in 1830 in its current form, as a four-story brick and stucco mansion, and subsequently renovated in 1940. At one time there were three pianos, and before the inground pool was installed in the 1970’s there was a tennis court which saw some great tennis parties in its day. Hunts at Vaucluse were renowned as were picnics on the riverbanks and in a previous era the governor would stay when he was visiting Northern Tasmania. Vaucluse Homestead has made a significant contribution to Tasmania’s history, culture and rural life and is listed on the state heritage register. The name 'Vaucluse' derives from 'Valla Clausa' which means 'secluded valley'.
Location: 643 Glen Esk Road, Conara.
St Andrews Inn
The village of Cleveland, 5 km north west of Conara Junction, was established in 1842 as a stopping point on the coaching route between Hobart and Launceston. It is said that in its early years, Cleveland was a gathering point for travelers before they ventured onward through the dangers of Epping Forest, a notorious area for bushrangers. A convict station accommodating up to 100 prisoners at a time was built in 1839 as a serving station to build and repair roads in the area. After 1842 it became a hiring depot for labour and by 1847 there were 23 convicts billeted there on a regular basis.
Cleveland was originally planned as a large town, similar to what Campbell Town is today, but it never eventuated. Plans were drawn up and streets laid out and named but the lack of a constant supply of clean drinking water led to the developmenmt being aborted. The plans of the town can be seen at the St Andrews Inn. Between the 1850s and 1870s, there were two main coaching inns in Cleveland, St Andrews Inn and The Bald Stag Inn.
Union Chapel and cemetery
Historic buildings that can still be seen at Cleveland include St Andrews Inn, a two storey Georgian brick inn built in 1845, and Starston (originally the Bald Faced Stag Inn) built in 1838. It is a short walk from St Andrews Inn to Cleveland's Union Chapel and historic graveyard. An unusual feature of the chapel is that it only had windows down one side of the building.
The building was originally used by the local Presbyterian settlers from Scotland, but was later used by the Anglican Church. Press reports from the period show that in January 1869, a juvenile bazaar was held at the Esk Vale woolsheds in order to raise funds for repairs to be undertaken on the little church. In case you are wondering what a juvenile bazzar is, it does not involve the sale of children, but is what today would be called a school fete, in which the children of a school perform fundraising activities.
10 km north-west of Conara Junction, Epping Forest is a rural locality on the South Esk River in the blue ribbon agricultural strip of Tasmania's Northern Midlands. Epping Forest was the name given to the area on 6th December 1811 by Gov. Lachlan Macquarie, when he spent the night there "at the northern extremity of Macquarie Plaims at the edge of Spping Forest". The township was originally named 'Epping' only. Since the 1820s it has been home to numerous cropping/grazing properties, such as Fairfield, a 2-storey homestead on a 1,417 hectare property that enjoys 8km of frontage to the South Esk River.
Fairfield is a two storey Georgian brick house built in 1843 on the site of the Eagle Inn. This inn was then on the original route of the Midland Highway but in 1835 Thomas Lennox Gibson abandoned this site and established The Eagles Return at Powranna on the 'new' highway. Location: Midland Highway, 4km north of Epping Forest.
Constructed of solid stone, Macquarie House shares a special part of the history of the Midland Highway and Northern Midlands area. Starting life as an inn and build on land granted to James Crear in 1824; this building is one of the oldest in the area. Operating as Macquarie Inn, the building serviced stopped-over for coaches who were commuting along the Midland Highway from Hobart Town to Launceston during the 19th Century. Tales of bushrangers such as Brady; who held up customers during there stay at the 'Inn' and of travelers as they sought their way as free settlement in the new country passing by for an ale; ring true with this property. Macquarie House has been a residential occupancy since 1923. Location: 13585 Midland Highway, Epping Forest.
The elongated 1838 sandstone homestead at Valleyfield was designed to be coach-house, granary and servants' quarters, but the Taylor family ended up moving in, and it has been the main residence at this famous Saxon Merino sheep stud ever since. Valleyfield is therefore quite distinct from other homes of its era. The low, two-storey structure more closely resembles a military barracks than your typical Georgian mansion, and the dimensions of the original part of the home are highly unusual; thirty-five metres in length and just five and a half metres in width.
Valleyfield was the first Tasmanian home of the Taylor family, who went on to become some of Australia's most revered superfine wool producers. Their Saxon Merino studs occupied vast swathes of land across the northern Tasmanian Campbell Town district, much of which remain in the Taylor family to this day and still produce some of the exceptionally superfine wool for which Tasmania is so renowned.