The Arrival of Hops and the Family of Water Willie
It was William Shoobridge II who first brought hops – humulus lupulus, a crop used almost exclusively for adding flavour and aroma to beer – to Australia.
His son, Ebenezer Shoobridge, bought an estate between the Derwent and Styx Rivers in 1863. Bushy Park Estates is still Australia’s largest producer of hops, and is known worldwide for its successful hop production, as well as for unique Tasmanian varietals of the plant.
And although Ebenezer was producing an intoxicant that (it could be said) created negative social effects throughout his native island, he was a godly man. To offer his workers spiritual encouragement, the hop kiln was adorned with sandstone plaques bearing scriptural sayings. ‘Unexpectedly,’ said one employee of the hop farm later, ‘as you looked up from the work of emptying a bag of hop flower catkins ready for drying, your eye would catch a verse placed at eye level…’
One plaque extolled the unity of the Shoobridge family. And it was a family affair.
Ebenezer and his wife Charlotte (nee Giblin) had a task ahead of them to make the six-roomed homestead comfortable for living and raising children. Some years in, the roof collapsed under the weight of pigeon shit.
But it was a good life for the children. The ‘young ladies’ of Charlotte and Ebenezer’s clan would be the driving force for the annual Farm Tea and Strawberry Feast events. Along with their little cat Twissy, they would prepare and present a seemingly endless feast of sweet cakes, pies and tarts.
And son William Ebenezer Shoobridge, born in 1846, would go on to be one of Tasmania’s most innovative and prolific figures towards the end of that century. Engineering unique irrigation schemes at Bushy Park and other family properties (the water races at Bushy Park today are his designs, are heritage listed), he also invented a technique for pruning fruit trees, and came up with new designs for the hop kilns. His role in Tasmania’s burgeoning apple industry was equally important to what he was doing with hops. And he became involved in politics, representing in parliament and promoting agricultural policy including the government regular of water supplies.
For this, he became known as ‘Water Willie’.
Perhaps he was inspired by those verses chiselled in sandstone on the beautiful kiln house. The Shoobridges perhaps knew more keenly than anyone the truth of one biblical injunction, which you can still see there today:
‘THE EARTH IS THE LORD’S
AND THE FULLNESS THEREOF…”
Hops are a climbing plant, originally from China, grown extensively for its use in beermaking. The female flowers, which superficially resemble small pine cones, have been added to beer in Western Europe since at least the 700s. It chemically suppresses bacteria that compete with the yeast in the brewing process, and makes for a tangy, fruity flavour to the beer. The first Australian hops were planted in the upper Derwent Valley in Bushy Park, Tasmania by Ebenezer Shoobridge in 1867. This farm produces hops to this day, and is a major contributor to Australia’s one percent of world hops productions. Hops are a member of the cannabis family, Cannabaceae.
– From Plant Hunter at the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens
Bert Spinks is a writer, poet, storyteller and bushwalking guide from Launceston, Tasmania. He finds stories in all sorts of places. He is chasing local lore through his “Field Guide to Falling in Love in Tasmania”, and has roamed the world looking for good beer to spin yarns about. He writes short fiction, has performed poetry everywhere from Latvia to Los Angeles, and contributes to a blog about the great sport of Aussie Rules football. In 2014, he was the first recipient of the Woods Conservation Fellowship in Santa Cruz County, California, and spent a month on a flower farm learning about the ecological history of the region. See his work at www.storytellerspinks.com.
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