Shene Shines On

Just north of Pontville in Tasmania’s southern Midlands, a tantalising glimpse of a striking and mysterious sandstone Gothic Revival structure captures the attention of passing motorists. The building hints at being a grand country home reminiscent of those found in the Cotswolds in England, yet in reality it is a far-from-humble stable complex.

The magnificent stable, which includes a coach-house, tack room, and stablehand quarters, is part of one of Australia’s earliest pastoral holdings, known as Shene. A few metres away stands a substantial early 19th century sandstone Georgian farmhouse. The house, grand stable and various outbuildings were the grand vision of colonialist, Gamaliel Butler.

The passionate 21st century owners of this historic property are David and Anne Kernke, and they are on a mission to restore the heritage-listed Shene to its original condition.

“We want to ensure this unique and historic property is conserved for future generations”, David says. “The home is a lovely place to live in and tells a wonderful story.

“The house evolved from the 1822 original rustic component which still includes the original kitchen, scullery and meat rooms. The main body of the house was added in the 1830s and two more rooms were constructed at front of the farmhouse between 1850 and 1870. The house has evolved over time, but most of it is still in its original condition.”

Francis Butler, Gamaliel’s son, designed the adjacent convict-built stables. Completed in 1851, the striking building was a statement to the world about Gamaliel Butler’s place in the colony and his vision for the future. Butler was a lawyer and a significant colonial figure with large landholdings and business interests and Shene was a grand country estate befitting such a figure. The estate also contributed grain to the fledgling colonies of Van Diemen’s Land and New South Wales—helping to feed the early colonial population.

Like any early property, Shene has its mysteries. The recent discovery of a daisy wheel by Australian ritual markings expert, Ian Evans, was an exciting and unexpected find. It is an unassuming and imperfect marking scratched into the sandstone next to a window in the stable. “These symbols were placed to ward off evil spirits and date back centuries,” Anne Kernke says. “Although ritual markings are not uncommon in early colonial houses, it’s the first time a daisy wheel has been found in Australia—it’s quite thrilling to have found one here at Shene.”

The Kernkes happily share their passion for Shene and its history and stories with visitors, and last year participated in Heritage Tasmania’s annual Open Doors program by taking guests on free tours of the home and stables. “The guests were genuinely interested in Shene and the stories we’ve uncovered about it.  This made it so special for us. It was rewarding to give people such a unique experience. We were particularly thrilled when we discovered some of Gamaliel Butler’s descendants were on the tour. That was a real treat” Anne says.

“We loved showing Shene off. It also gave us an opportunity to test-run our tours, because now we’ve opened our own business, giving exclusive small-group tours of Shene followed by a gorgeous high tea.”

For booking information including times and tour cost, visit Proceeds from the tour are invested by the Kernkes in further restorations of Shene.

  • Words: Robyn Shaw © DPIPWE
  • Photos: Simon de Salis © DPIPWE
© 2011 Tasmanian Lifestyle Magazine
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