Cashed-up and in the market for land, young English solicitor Philip Smith could hardly have timed his arrival in Van Diemen's Land better.
It was April 1832, and ten days before a proclamation had been issued to announce the sale of 32,000 acres of government reserve at Ross, in the Tasmanian Central Midlands. The grazing land was to be sold in eight blocks of 4000 acres in order to fund a government home for orphans in Hobart.
Philip bought seven of the blocks on behalf of family and friends and these combined to become the Syndal and Beaufront estates, later known just as Beaufront. And it is still some of the best fine-wool producing country in the world.
Beaufront is believed to be named after the Duke of Northumberland's Beaufront Castle, not because of its distinctive Regency bow front, created from carefully rounded, dressed sandstone.
The homestead was built for Philip's brother Arthur and his wife, and a stone in the cellar carries the inscription 'Dennis and John Bacon, stonemasons, 1837'. The elaborate fanlight and half side-lights in the portico were later but still classical additions, as was the two-storey, pre-1900 stone extension at the rear.
Within are a very fine hall and impressive formal rooms, and a new kitchen and conservatory area have sympathetically adapted the home for modern family life.
It is not only the Beaufront home and its impressive stone outbuildings, including stables likened to a Palladian mansion, that are important historically. The magnificent Beaufront gardens are also on the Register of the National Estate. They are described by the Australian Heritage Database as follows:
[A] rare Australian example of the transition from the Arcadian to the picturesque landscape styles ... demonstrates features such as spaces articulated by stone and brickwalling, garden ornaments with classical detailing used for focii, and the utilisation of
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distant views as enframed visual features. The garden has historical value for demonstrating the separation of the private pleasure garden from the utilitarian vegetable and picking garden. Aesthetically, the garden provides a high quality visual experience, with enclosed spaces, mature plants, structured views and a rich variety of colour and form.
Beyond the formal garden area is a stunning sandstone sundial that it is thought may have been originally carved for the Ross Bridge. This stone bridge, opened in 1836 and still taking traffic today, is not just a local thoroughfare but an astounding work of art. Former highway robber and convict Daniel Herbert is believed responsible for the 186 elaborate stone carvings on the side of the bridge, depicting animals, Celtic symbols and people involved in the construction.
The carving at Beaufront portrays an eagle clutching a lamb. How it arrived in the paddock below the stables remains a mystery, but it has been speculated that some of the overseers at work on the bridge may have sold government time and materials to construct local buildings. Though the practice was forbidden, it was nonetheless fairly common.
When Arthur Smith and his wife returned to England in the 1850s, Beaufront was sold to Thomas Parramore of nearby Wetmore, and in 1916 Beaufront and Syndal were acquired by William von Bibra, who farmed them with his brother Charles. The von Bibras acquired adjoining land over time.
William's son Donald von Bibra was a luminary in the wool industry and a founding member of the Australian Wool Board. He took on the management of the property at the tender age of twenty and involved Beaufront in many cutting-edge agricultural research projects.
Donald's son Kenneth and his wife, Berta, took Beaufront in some new directions, including the creation of Tasmania's first wildlife park and one of the state's first deer farms. They were among the earliest to capitalise on the tourism potential of the tiny historic town of Ross, population 400—the wildlife park attracted 25,000 visitors a year.
Both Kenneth and Berta were, and remain, leading members of the local community; between them they have been involved in everything from municipal government to party politics, the National Trust and a variety of other community organisations.
The couple first met in Tasmania and were reacquainted in England, where Kenneth was studying at the Royal Agricultural College in Cirencester. Berta, meanwhile, had an intriguing role in one of the greatest political scandals of the twentieth century: the Western Australia-raised and Oxford-educated lawyer had a watching brief for a person entwined in the Profumo affair, to ensure they were not defamed at the later trial of Dr Stephen Ward (who infamously introduced the cabinet minister John Profumo to showgirl Christine Keeler).
The tranquil countryside at Ross was a far cry from all that, but Berta threw herself into sheep and cattle breeding, raising children, and community life. She and Kenneth have now retired to another historic home at Longford, but their son, Julian von Bibra, and his wife, Annabel, continue the family tradition today.
Julian and Annabel are deeply respectful of the natural and cultural values of Beaufront and are delighted with the opportunities their children have growing up here.
Julian was encouraged to seek an education beyond agriculture and studied economics at the University of Melbourne, where he met Annabel who also studied there. But, like his father, he went on to study at the Royal Agricultural College in Cirencester, and then returned to Beaufront.
Farming won't be foisted on the next generation of von Bibras either, but there can be little doubt that they will share their family's strong sense of pride in being custodians of this precious part of the world.
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