New life in spirit of past

THE advertisement for the Callington Mill in Oatlands is now more than 180 years old, but it’s remarkable how accurate it remains. The Mill premises, it says, include “a good granary, stable, chaise and cart houses, piggeries and fowl house and two acres of garden”.

The fact that Callington Mill, a six-storey, wind-driven flour mill and its sandstone buildings have survived is largely due to how well they were built in 1837 – and a lot of luck in the decades between. The fact they are together again as a single integrated complex, a contemporary visitor attraction setting a new standard in Tasmania, is due to a man called John Ibrahim. He’s a Sydneysider who came to Oatlands five years ago to make whisky.

To understand how this remarkable place came into being requires going back those 180 years, to the time of the original flour mill and an entrepreneur called John Vincent, fresh off the boat from England with his wife and seven children.

The Southern Midlands town of Oatlands had a promising start in life. So many newcomers had come to what was then Van Diemen’s Land in the 1820s that the track between Hobart and Launceston was crowded with coaches, carts, horses and those on foot. Improving the route fell to a state surveyor, and a visionary in his own right, named William Sharland. In Oatlands, he saw a major centre of the future rooted in rich agricultural soils, and he laid out more than 80 kilometres of streets around the western side of Lake Dulverton. Among the buildings that followed were Oatlands Gaol, the largest regional jail in the colony, completed in 1836 – the same time as John Vincent’s Callington Mill. Around them rose dozens of substantial sandstone homes and businesses: today, 138 of those still stand, making Oatlands the largest collection of Georgian buildings in Australia.

Callington Mill operated successfully as a flour producer until 1892, but in 1909 a storm blew off its characteristic sails and three years later, it was gutted by fire. While the building was restored by the National Trust as part of Australia’s Bicentennial in 1988, it struggled as a visitor attraction, finally closing in 2017. Enter John Ibrahim, who’d come to Tasmania at the same time. Although his eyes were on a hobby farm about 30 minutes away, at Kempton, Mr Ibrahim was accidentally introduced to whisky making by Lark Distillery’s Bill Lark. John subsequently initiated a number of businesses, including producing the oak barrels critical to aging and storing the whisky.

Over two years of design and construction, with architectural smarts from Cumulus Studio, support from the local council and financial backing from Mr Ibrahim and his partners, the Callington Mill complex was extended to include a purpose-built distillery. Its restaurant overlooks the massive copper and stainless steel vats of the whisky operation and a clever self-guided tour.

Callington now combines 19th-century history and modern technology into a first-class visitor attraction. Callington Mill, according to the official record, was built to legally grind flour but, on the quiet, its original owner boosted profits by illegally making whisky.

Today, what was once illicit is now legal. By the end of this year, 2022, the first of the whisky produced entirely by Callington Mill Distillery will be ready for the pouring. And elsewhere in Oatlands, some 10,000 full oak barrels await.