Aborigines, early explorers, and first settlers, trekking overland from the north of the island to the north-west coast, all found the best place to ford the Mersey River was at Kimberley. George Augustus Robinson spoke of these Mersey River flats as teeming with wildlife and being popular hunting grounds for the Aborigines. Hence the names Native Plains and Native Rock, the latter said to have an Aboriginal rock carving on it. Field Bros began expanding their vast cattle empire across this ford in the early 1840s. By 1858 they owned or leased over 7,000 acres west of the Mersey, including bush as far west as Dulverton. After their demise, this land was taken over by Foster Bros and new settlers.

In the 1850s Wm Kimberley, together with his two sons-in-law Thomas Bramich & Alex Hogg, purchased almost all of Native Plains that lay on the eastern side of the Mersey River. Thomas Bramich married three times and had a total of 21 children. In 1886 Alexander & Sarah Hogg handed their property over to their eldest son Alexander Hogg Jnr, who had returned from NZ. Alex Jnr waded across the Mersey River, purchased a property on its western bank, and built his homestead Kalangadoo close to what became called Hogg’s Ford. Around the turn of the century, most of Native Plains had been purchased by big time pastoralist and stock dealer Wm Winspear of East Devonport, who initially brought Terence & Louise Guthrie (17 chn) to Native Plains. In June 1914 the Tas Government, under its Returned Soldiers Closer-Settlement Scheme, purchased 1326 acres and divided them into three large properties, leased to: Percy Roebuck (567a), John (Jack) Hayes (396a) & Alex Clarke (363a).

Leaving England after the Boar War, Percy & Margaret Roebuck (2 chn) travelled via Sth Africa to farm in NZ before settling at Merseylea. They called their property Alfriston. A progressive farmer, in 1920 Percy purchased the first farm tractor in the district. When the Railton branch of the Agricultural Dept was formed in 1928, Percy Roebuck was made chairman and his son, Newcombe, secretary. When Margaret Roebuck died in July 1952, she became the first person to be buried in the new Kimberley Anglican cemetery. Newcombe & Jean Roebuck’s son John still farms the original property today, along with adjoining properties.

The farm of Jack & Nora Hayes (11 chn) was recognised as one of the most productive farms in the district. Jack and his sons were keen sportsmen. Jack Hayes Jnr married Ivy Sheean, sister of Teddy Sheean. Alex Clarke’s 363a property was later purchased by the Merseylea Pastoral Co.

1896 Merseylea gets its name

With rich fertile flats spread out for miles on both sides of the Mersey River, this district was discovered by new settlers to be ideal for growing apples. By the turn of the century, orchards were everywhere, yet the nearest railway station was at Kimberley. To solve the problem, in Nov 1896 the Government opened a new railway station they called Merseylea. This was followed in Oct 1897 by the opening of the Merseylea Post Office, with Mrs Louisa Gould in charge. Blenkhorns opened a sawmill with Geo Duke in charge, and Mrs Maria Stubbs a small store. A school was planned for Merseylea, but when a connecting road with Sunnyside was opened in 1908, they built one school halfway between the two districts. This was opened by the Hon John Hope on 22 Feb 1909. Merseylea formed their own Cricket Club in Oct 1906 and played their first football match against Kimberley in July 1922 on ground kindly lent by Terry Guthrie. Electricity was connected in Dec 1939, the first telephone in 1946.

Merseylea Rd was the original road that branches off the Railton-Kimberley Road down past the railway station onto the Mersey River flats. The first Merseylea bridge, connecting Native Plains with the railway station, was completed in 1921 with the help of Percy Roebuck’s Titan tractor. This bridge replaced a cage hanging from a wire. After several wooden bridges were damaged or washed away, the present, substantial concrete construction was opened on 17 May 2017. Merv Woodcock’s family lived in a house by the bridge.

About 1898, two brothers Walter & Sarah Murfet (4 chn) & Ern & Florrie Murfet (10 chn) moved from Kentish to Merseylea, where Walter leased three blocks belonging to Geo Bates, who lived in Uppingham, England. Murfet was chairman of the Railton Road Trust when in 1908 he was elected to the first Kentish council. He had a terrifying experience in Dec 1916 when the Mersey River flooded, and they lost 70 valuable sheep and nearly their lives. Early Sunday morning, after heavy rain, Walter and his nephew Bert Murfet went to move a flock of sheep to higher ground. While rounding up the sheep, the rapidly rising flood water broke over the land they had just crossed, cutting off their retreat. The raging torrent became so forceful, they were left stranded on a small hilltop, exposed to the weather without food or shelter, for two whole days. Not until Monday evening were they able to be rescued with the use of ropes. In 1922 Walter commenced a Sunday school in his granary, which, upon his retirement to Devonport in May 1928, was continued by his son Gordan until he, too, moved to Devonport in 1947.

Cleary Rd created a shortcut road from Railton-Kimberley Rd to the Merseylea Railway station. Built in July 1916, it was named after Charles & Elizabeth Cleary (1 ch) who, from 1909, remained one of the most prominent apple orchardists in Merseylea for many years. His huge packing shed created considerable local employment. Whole railway freight carriages were parked at the station to be packed with his apple cases for shipment interstate. The local store and PO were built on his land. Charles’ hobby was racing homing pigeons. A few years after his parents died in 1966, their only son Frank Cleary sold out.

Lamberts Rd led to Ken & Muriel (Roebuck) Lambert’s property Willowdene, where they raised their two sons Edward (Ted) & Ron Lambert & three daughters, before Muriel died in 1954, aged 47. Ken had previously worked with his brother-in-law Newcombe Roebuck on Percy Roebuck’s property to start their Afriston Jersey stud. Ken, who later remarried, worked at the Cement works for 43 years.

Kimberley-Railton Rd

Ted Lambert purchased his first property along this road when he was 17 years old.  After marriage Ted & Kathryn (Elliott) Lambert (4 chn) spent their first 15 years on Native Plains Estate, then moved to 380 Sunnyside Rd where son Mark now farms, then Flowery Marsh farm along Native Plains Rd, Railton, where son Paul farms, and finally to Cleary Rd, Merseylea. Kathryn served as a Kentish councillor between 2003-7.

In 1978 Ron & Winifred Lambert (3 chn) established Seattle Services at 1442 Kimberley Rd. A former racing-car manufacturer, Ron’s business, which won the 1983 Power Farm Machinery Award, has become the leading supplier of pump-sets and travelling irrigation systems in Tasmania. Since then, they have diversified into the mining industry, with pumping water from mines becoming a major part of their business. Today, son Jeremy Lambert manages Seattle Services’ 17 employees, while son-in-law Fred Slamen has worked with both the CSIRO and Tas Institute of Agricultural Research in developing new technologies.

David Bloomfield with sons Luke & Paul have run a highly successful dairy at 1340 Kimberley Rd for many years, milking several hundred Holstein Friesians. The Bloomfield family are amongst the oldest pioneers in the Railton district, with Walter Bloomfield working at Dulverton in the mid-1860s. He & Hannah Bloomfield began leasing a farm at Armistead from Foster Bros in 1898, but a disastrous fire the following year destroyed their big barn, stable with five draught horses, produce & new machinery. Luke Bloomfield reported that at Merseylea in the catastrophic floods of June 2016 they lost 180 cows and about 25% of their pasture. It took well over a year to move 1000 tons of river stones and debris, and replace all their damaged pastures.

From their dairy farm at 1345 Kimberley Rd, two old war veterans Ted Husey & Bernard Brown supplied Railton township & Cement Works for years with fresh milk. Opposite the junction of Sunnyside Rd, the property at 1568 Kimberley Rd was purchased by Percy & Marjorie Williams in the early 1940s. Raised on Native Rock farm, a son of Wm & Edith Williams, Perc Williams, became Warden of the Kentish Municipality three times between 1944-1949. In 1946, he was first to have the telephone connected. After a failed attempt to enter parliament in 1950, Perc & Marj moved to Devonport, where he served as their warden during the 1970s.

In 1949 Ken & Barbara Elliott (2 chn) moved from Bruny Island to Merseylea to commence dairy farming. By diversifying into beef and cropping, and purchasing several properties along the Railton-Merseylea Rd, in the 1970s Ken became the largest landholder in Merseylea. As well as being a long-serving Kentish councillor, Ken also had a bulldozing business that worked State-wide.

Native Plains Rd & Hogg’s Bridge 

As late as 1906, the Railton Road Trustees were trying to get hold of Foster’s estate maps to formerly mark out the beginnings of both the Native Rock and Native Plains Roads. Hogg’s ford finally became Hogg’s bridge when Hon John Hope opened it on 11 March 1908. It had been 13 years since their first request to connect both sides of the river and create a shortcut between Sheffield, Railton, and Sassafras. On his way to Kentish, in Dec 1897, Henry Rockliff had a narrow escape from drowning, trying to swim a young horse and a pair of bullocks across this flooded ford. During the construction of the bridge, local lad Ernest Bennett (12) drowned while riding in a workman’s boat that swamped. His body wasn’t found until nearly a month later, two miles downstream. That original wooden bridge was later replaced by the present steel structure. 

Along Native Plains Rd, 4th generation farmer Paul Lambert returned home in 1992 to run the family farm. In 2002 Paul with wife Nadine (6 chn) purchased land adjoining their Flowery Marsh farm to build a large freshwater irrigation dam. Awarded a Nuffield scholarship, Paul travelled overseas in 2011-12 to study robotic milking. In the devastating flood of 2016, parts of the farm and the entire electronic system in his dairy were ruined. To get this property back to normal production cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Commencing with 212 cows 30 years ago, Paul currently milks many hundreds of cows on a 50-unit rotatory milking machine. Paul enjoys returning cleared plantation forests back to productive farmland.

Native Rock Rd was named after the massive rock that sits in the bend of the Mersey River on the eastern side. Stuart Dove commented on it in Dec 1916 when coming from Sassafras to Native Plains: “we tied up our horses, crossed the swampy ground to the river, and stood looking at the great mass of rock, on which the last of the Aborigines, who frequented these parts, are said to have taken their stand.”  In 1862, ex-Welsh mining couple Henry & Priscilla Weeks (11 chn) took up the river flats adjacent to this rock to become the first settlers in the Railton region. Their pioneering story was told in the previous issue of Kentish Voice. Adjoining Weeks, the next two riverfront properties belonged to Colonel Alfred & Martha Wells (6 chn) and Chas & Sarah Oldaker (3 chn). Wells opened a butcher shop in Railton in 1895. Oldaker, who owned four properties at Stoodley, eventually moved to Somerset. In 1912 all three properties were purchased by William & Edith Williams (6 chn), who had a 25,000-acre timber lease over the China Bush. After Wm Williams (72) d in Sept 1942, his son Edward sold off the whole Native Rock estate in 1951 to Ron Douglas. In 1980 Alex & Joan Forster purchased it and later, with son Kevin & Helen Forster, operated their Native Rock farms as an extensive dairy for 40 years.

China Bush is the name given to the extensive pine plantation that extended from Hogg’s Bridge north to Great Bend Road. In pre-plantation times, the area was called China Flat, possibly because some Chinese had camped there. During the mining boom years, scores of Chinese fossicked around most diggings. Interestingly, Dennis Sheehan of Tarleton made an unusual discovery in this area. He unearthed nearly a dozen old coins, most in English currency. The oldest was a half-crown dated 1820 and the most recent a shilling dated 1877. Because of growing defence concerns, the Commonwealth Government built the Railton Rifle Range in March 1909. Federal politician Llewelyn Atkinson of Latrobe fired the first shot, which hit the bull’s eye, and declared the range open.

On 4 April, 1997, the Advocate’s front page announced China Bush was the preferred site for the Taiwan Company’s new $1.2 billion paper mill. It would create 350 new jobs and have an annual production of 525,000 tonnes of pulp. The news was met with jubilation at all northern local governments, none more so than Kentish Mayor Laurie Connor. But it was not to be. The project collapsed, as had a similar Wesley Vale project in 1989.

In 2020 a section of the popular Wild Mersey Mountain Bike Trail called the Railton Express opened between Native Rock Rd and the Warrawee Reserve near Latrobe. After the original trail bike bridge across the Mersey was destroyed in the 2016 flood, it has recently been replaced by a unique 100-metre single-span suspension arch bridge, the longest of its kind in Australia.

Next: Dulverton, Railton & Newbed Part 1 (Pre 1900)