January 16, 2012


NOT quite Hollywood, but a welcome mat from the heart.
CUT-out of history: the start of the Silhouette Trail at Kempton.
WILMOT Arms Inn was built by convicts in 1844 – and a good place to stay today.
ONE-time Presbyterian Church is now a community hall known as the Blue Place.

David Ellis

KEMPTON's not one of those places that springs quickly to mind when planning a motoring holiday in Tasmania, yet the little community has had the welcome mat out since the mid-19th century when it was the first overnight stop for horse-drawn coaches making their way along the rough dirt road north from Hobart to Launceston.

In those days, it was a lively settlement dotted with coaching inns where travellers could eat well, quaff thirsts, sleep and rest their horses.

The welcome mat is still out, despite the now-highway by-passing the town. And it's not so much a mat, but a giant hillside sign of white-painted car tyres that have been arranged to read "Kempton Welcomes U".

The classified historic town – population around 400 – is 49kms north of Hobart and marks the start of the Silhouette Trail on The Heritage Highway. That trail runs 23kms to Oatlands, a larger colonial-era village of Georgian architecture put on the media map in recent times by the restored and working wind-powered Callington flour mill, and then on to Ross and eventually to Launceston.

In the paddocks along the highway between Kempton and just north of Oatlands, fifteen larger than life black steel cut-outs define the Silhouette Trail and reflect on the region's frontier days: stage coaches in full flight, bushrangers, sheep farmers, gold-panners, surveyors, convict road gangs, railway workers, soldiers, a hangman, emus and Tasmanian Tigers amongst them.

A cut-out stage coach at the highway exit to Kempton marks the start of the trail. The first significant building is Dysart House, a large stone two-storey Georgian inn built in 1842 and regarded as one of the finest coaching inns on the old Midlands Highway.

It is now a private residence owned by Leo Schofield, and a good spot to park the car and take a stroll into the village. The square tower and tree-lined entrance of the 1844 sandstone St Mary's Church of England heads the list of other noteworthy buildings, along with the Congregational Church built in 1840 and the 1844 Wilmot Arms Inn built by convicts and operated as a licensed inn until 1897.

It was restored in 1978 and today is part of Tasmania's Colonial Accommodation Circuit for a cosy and comfortable stay, with five double rooms, modern facilities, and an overnight tariff that includes a full English breakfast of home-made muesli, fresh eggs from the Inn's chickens and hostess Dot's home-made jams.

A small room at the top of the stairs has facilities for making hot drinks as well as a comfy chair and a fridge for guests' own food and drink. A sitting room was once the inn's main room but is now used for group dining and as a guest lounge.

The big garden out the back is filled with cottage garden flowers, roses and European trees, but it's a giant Tasmanian Blue Gum that dominates.

A contrasting standout building though is the weatherboard ex-Presbyterian Church now community hall, painted blue, and known affectionately as The Blue Place. The interior is beautifully preserved Baltic pine.

Clinging to its accommodation history yet adapting to modern travel, Kempton has created an off-road, no-charge park for campervans including for the third Sunday of the month when a popular local market is held at the Blue Place. And during the third weekend of September "A Kempton Affair" really turns it on with three art exhibitions, a film show, a quilting display, Raku firing, local artists stall, music, historic town walks, coach museum and historic house inspections.

On one of the walks, the former Catholic Church garden and the Anglican cemetery reveal graves from the First Fleet.

The organising committee is staking claim to the Affair's Cafe providing "the best coffee and scones this side of the island" but dropping in at Kempton at other times, the local pub, the Huntington Tavern, serves lunch and dinner (from Wednesday to Sunday).

And we're told that in the weeks leading up to the Affair – one of the 28 arts events in 12 locations across Southern Tasmania – the white tyres on the hill into town mysteriously rearrange themselves into "A Kempton Affair".

DETAILS: A Kempton Affair, www.tasregionalarts.org.au, (03) 6268 6196;

Wilmot Arms B&B www.wilmotarms.com.au, (03) 6259 1272;

Huntington Tavern, bar, lunch and dinners Wed-Sun, (03) 6259 1292.

(Photos: Catherine Johnson)

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