Nestled within the grounds of IMAS Taroona is a humble, heritage-listed cottage that serves as a vital piece of Tasmania’s agricultural and wildlife conservation history.
Now the former Taroona Quarantine Station Caretaker’s Cottage – built in 1908 – has been restored for the first time in 34 years, as part of the IMAS Taroona Fisheries and Aquaculture Research Centre redevelopment on Nubeena Crescent. The development, which will start in the last quarter of this year, includes a new research and teaching building and a car park with after-hours community access.
The 115-year-old Federation-style weatherboard cottage is located near the IMAS Taroona entrance and was originally home to the quarantine station caretakers. The station operated between 1891 and 1975 as a site for landowners and farmers to quarantine livestock, dogs and cats imported from the United Kingdom, with the caretakers tending to the animals.
The four-bedroom house was last refurbished in 1989 to host caretakers and volunteers in the Orange-Bellied Parrot Conservation Program, who lived there and watched over the birds between 1990 and 2011. It’s remained unoccupied in the 12 years since, but our latest renovation will allow it to now be used as office space for IMAS researchers. Making these upgrades even more essential is the fact it was listed on the Tasmanian Heritage Register in 2008, along with part of the old station.
“As part of the IMAS Taroona redevelopment, it was crucial that we restored the Caretaker’s Cottage to commemorate and protect its value to Tasmania’s agricultural and wildlife conservation heritage,” said Associate Professor Sean Tracey, IMAS Fisheries and Aquaculture Centre Head.
“We’ve undertaken heritage-sensitive refurbishments with some modern touches to make it a functional office for our scientists. To further honour its legacy, we’ll also install an information sign on the cottage’s history for the community to view once the new build is finished.”
Agricultural heritage and a family home
George and Jessie Doughty, grandparents of former Taroona local Kate Evans, called the cottage home from 1947 to 1963 as the quarantine station’s caretakers.
They migrated to Tasmania from England to take up the caretaker role after Kate’s father, who was already living in the state, sponsored them. The cottage was repaired and renovated both before and during their time there, in 1938 and 1949.
“Grandad fed and cared for the cattle and kennelled dogs that were quarantining there after coming over from England or going overseas from Tasmania,” Kate said. “He also maintained the large gardens, so I guess he was a small-time farmer in a way.
“My family lived on nearby Jenkins Street, which was a short walk to the cottage, so we spent a fair bit of time there. It was like a little farm and the cows would come up and we’d feed them. We also camped in the paddocks and swam at Taroona and Hinsby beaches below the station.
“I can remember one Christmas where we set up long trestle tables outside the cottage and had lots of people there, not just family. Nan was also a good cook, and we’d listen to her play the piano and sing to us. It really was a homely little cottage.”
Kate hadn’t visited the cottage since her grandparents left in 1963 – exactly 60 years ago – so we recently invited her back to check out the upgrades.
“It was great to come back and have a look,” she said. “It brought back memories of family, my nan and grandad, and all the things we got up to over the years. The restoration has done the cottage proud.”
From agriculture to wildlife conservation
In 1970, the Tasmanian Government opened the current Fisheries and Aquaculture Research Centre – now run by IMAS – on part of the quarantine station site. The station closed in 1975, and with no need for a caretaker, the Research Centre’s cleaner rented the cottage from the government between the late 1970s and 1980s.
In 1990, the Parks and Wildlife Service established the Taroona Wildlife Centre on part of the former station, including aviaries for the Orange-Bellied Parrot (OBP) Conservation Program and a captive breeding facility. The cottage was converted into a home for the program’s caretakers and volunteers, who tirelessly cared for the birds.
Former PWS wildlife biologist Peter Brown once managed the OBP program. He and his wife Helen and their two daughters were the first people in the program to live in the cottage, residing there from 1990 to 1999. The house was run down but had been refurbished the year before they moved in, making our latest restoration the first in over three decades.
“I was manager of Parks’ new Threatened Species Unit in the city, but Helen and I lived in the cottage and looked after the birds too, including feeding them and aviary maintenance,” Peter said.
“It was our home for ten years and it was a lovely place to stay. We enjoyed it and our young kids had a great time too. We had family and friends over regularly and, in the summer, we also used to love going down to Hinsby Beach for a swim in the evening after caring for the birds.”
While Helen was a part-time employee of the OBP program, after the Browns departed in 1999 there were a few volunteers who lived in the cottage and cared for the birds up until 2011. The cottage has been unoccupied since, with the OBP program moving to Five Mile Beach in 2019.
Standing the test of time
The restoration has given this historic cottage a new sense of purpose as office space for our researchers, pleasing one of our current longest-serving employees.
IMAS Associate Professor Neville Barrett has worked at the Taroona facility for 31 years and has seen countless changes to the site in that time.
“What’s stood the test of time has been the Caretaker’s Cottage,” he said. “It’s been a constant since I started in 1992, which is wonderful and I’m glad it’s now been restored.”
Stay tuned for more news on the IMAS Taroona redevelopment, including a feature on the quarantine station’s history, later this year.
Published 16 June 2023