BOLD. CREATIVE. TENACIOUS.
Meet the Tasmanians rewriting the rules.
Fuelled by creativity, necessity and a strong sense of community, these are stories of island ingenuity.
The spirit makers
Start with our distillers. The quality of whisky being produced by Tasmania’s distilleries is acknowledged around the world. What’s not so widely known are the stories of innovation and invention that created those spirits.
Book a tour of Belgrove Distillery at Kempton, about 45 minutes' drive north of Hobart, and the first thing you’ll notice on arrival is the aroma. As the first rye whisky distillery in Australia, the spirit produced on the estate is spicier and more complex than traditional malts.
The next thing to capture your attention is the enormous repurposed tumble dryer used to dry the grain – it symbolises perfectly Peter Bignell’s sustainable approach to his craft.
Bignell, a sixth-generation Tasmanian farmer, came to whisky making almost by accident. In 2008, keen to avoid wasting the bumper crop of rye that his farm had yielded, he bought a welder, built a copper pot still from leftover materials, and distilled his first batch of rye whisky.
Since then, Bignell has expanded Belgrove Distillery in a unique paddock-to-bottle way. The roadhouse next door to the farm supplies waste cooking oil to power the whole operation, and every ingredient in the whisky is grown or collected on site. The only exception is when Belgrove uses surplus products from other local producers – beer for hop whisky and wine and cider for brandy – that would otherwise be thrown away.
In Devonport, Southern Wild Distillery’s George Burgess is influenced by French perfumery and uses those techniques to layer flavours in his Dasher + Fisher gin – named after the two rivers that deliver Cradle Mountain snowmelt through the region.
With a background in food science, Burgess used to focus on erasing variations from food and beverages. Now he embraces those regional, seasonal quirks, many of which depend on his relationships with specialist suppliers. As well as the trio of Tasmanian ingredients used in the core Dasher + Fisher gins – native pepperberry, lavender and wakame – Burgess experiments with botanicals that local farmers and gardeners bring to the distillery.
Award-winning gins have featured sloe and strawberries, the latter a clever use of surplus berries that would have gone to waste when export restrictions were placed on Tasmanian strawberry farmers in 2018.
The rain man
Supplied courtesy of Cape Grim Water
While the Dasher + Fisher name gives a respectful nod to nearby rivers, a fellow Tasmanian takes his dedication to water quality even further.
Mike Buckby is the rain farmer.
He’s always watching for cold fronts coming off the Southern Ocean, bringing rain that began its journey in Antarctica. In an area of spectacular beauty in far north-west Tasmania, Buckby collects and filters raindrops before they hit the earth. His Cape Grim Rainwater is then bottled and sold in restaurants around the world.
Buckby shares his patch with scientists from the Bureau of Meteorology, who have operated a station here since 1976. The winds that roar through here have travelled more than 16,000 kilometres without passing land, making this one of the world’s most important atmospheric monitoring sites.
The wood workers
Supplied courtesy of Hydrowood
A couple of hours' drive south of Cape Grim is another trailblazing operation with water at its heart: Hydrowood.
In 1986 the Pieman River on Tasmania’s west coast was dammed for hydroelectricity production and vast tracts of forest were covered in water. The trees – including highly prized species such as myrtle, blackwood and sassafras – would have remained submerged were it not for the revolutionary approach of two locals: David Wise and Andrew Morgan.
Supplied courtesy of Hydrowood
Hydrowood is the only underwater forestry operation in the southern hemisphere. After being salvaged from the depths of Lake Pieman, the striking, high-quality timber is used by woodworkers and artisans across the state. It can be seen in the benches at Hobart’s Franklin Square, the furniture at Freycinet Lodge, and the fittings on the RACT vessel Spirit of the Wild.
Like many great ideas, Hydrowood was conceived over a beer. Wise had flown over Lake Pieman in a Cessna and imagined the lost forests beneath. He sat down with Morgan in a pub to consider what might be possible.
“We kept being told we couldn’t do it, that it wouldn’t work,” says Morgan. “The fact that we had to push against adversity the whole way is one of the things I’m really proud of.”
Here’s a tip: never tell a Tasmanian they can’t do something. A combination of creative thinking, deep connections to the land, and healthy disregard for societal expectations means that in the island state, anything is possible.
The truffle hunters
Supplied courtesy of Tasmanian Truffles
Siblings Anna and Henry Terry, along with chief truffle hunter Doug the Golden Labrador, manage the business started by their father Tim in the 1990s. Tasmania’s cool climate and fertile soil – along with experimentation by Tim – have turned the company into Australia’s premier producer of black truffles and truffle products.
Slowly nurtured among the deep roots of hazelnut and oak trees on the Terrys’ farm, the truffles are carefully harvested by hand and exported across the country – some sold fresh, most used in products such as oil and honey.
The business has grown as chefs and home cooks have become interested in truffles – influenced in part by Henry and Anna’s appearance on the cooking show My Kitchen Rules – and the Australian market has blossomed. The Terrys can often be found chatting with customers at local events and offering tastings of their truffle products.
“The opportunity to speak directly with people is one of the great things about Tasmania,” says Henry, “and the quality of produce we have here is unlike anywhere else in the world.”
Book ahead for truffle hunts in season from December to October.
Share this article