Willow Court tourism push

WITH tourists to Tasmania firmly in its sights, Derwent Valley Council has begun looking at Willow Court with an eye to the contemporary display techniques employed at Port Arthur and the Cascades Female Factory.

Council has appointed an executive officer for Willow Court, Mandy Bathgate, who began her specialist role in March and is currently talking with the precinct’s various public and private interest groups to formulate a long-term plan.

“We have in Willow Court an extraordinary history, a physical record from 1827 – before Port Arthur – as an invalid asylum for convicts, insane asylum, teaching facility and more, unlike anything elsewhere in Australia,” says Derwent Valley mayor Michelle Dracoulis. “This place is simultaneously both beautiful and confronting and should be understood not only in the context of this Valley, but seen as part of the multiplicity of historic sites across Tasmania,’’ Mrs Dracoulis said.

“It’s important, then, we consider ways to best present what this unique place has to offer, and to inform, entertain and hold the interest of the people who will come here.” Historic sites with significant tourist visitation are now using mobile interpretive presentations, such as handheld devices that replace traditional wall labels and signage with video and infographics.

The visitor is able to learn the many interwoven stories of a place, hear audio and see maps and historical photographs. Through geo-location, they can find other sites in the area they may be interested in, from museums to cafes and lookouts.

“You go to Port Arthur or the Female Factory, and it’s an experience, designed to prompt action and participation from the audience,” Mrs Dracoulis said. “Essentially, we want them to relive the place’s history, to send them back in time some 200 years. “That is going to require resources, financial and technological, of the kind available to other nationally significant sites, and that means we need to be looking for partners in both the public and private sectors.’’ Ms Bathgate is already talking with stakeholders, those with an interest in the site and its future.

These include Friends of Willow Court, the New Norfolk Distillery, the Agrarian Kitchen and Derwent Valley Council, as well as the new owners of the Ladies Cottage. “Mandy brings extensive experience in creating inter-government and community partnerships, building community inclusion and strengthening participation from local people in decision making,” Mrs Dracoulis said.