The region of Latrobe was first settled by B.B. Thomas in 1826. The settlement of Latrobe was named in 1861 for Charles Joseph Latrobe (1801-1875), who was the administrator of the colony of Tasmania. Once Tasmania’s third largest settlement, Latrobe was a bustling township with inns, hotels, a hospital and three newspapers in circulation.

Latrobe - Mersey River, Bell's Parade
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Top: the Mersey River at Latrobe ~ Bottom: Bell’s Parade Reserve

Latrobe: Bell’s Parade, A Little History

by Carol Haberle

Situated on the banks of the beautiful Mersey River at Latrobe is the picturesque Bell’s Parade. The site was named after Robert Bell, who with his half-brother, Henry Bentinck, constructed a wharf and also a store in 1855. From the 1880’s the main port on the Mersey River was located here, with it being the second major trading port in Tasmania for a period. Bell’s Parade is the venue for the popular Henley on the Mersey Regatta and home to both The Axemen’s Hall of Fame and Sherwood Hall. A Bi-Centenary project in 1988 saw Bell’s Parade being extensively restored by the community, and today the history is told on interpretive sculptures (created by Tasmanian artist Stephen Walker) located in an area at Bell’s Parade known as ‘Settlers Wharf’.

Latrobe - Mersey River
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The footbridge across the Mersey River at Bell’s Parade, Latrobe: this location was once a busy wharf

The Famous Henley On The Mersey Regatta

The Henley On The Mersey is a carnival held annually on Australia Day, 26th January, at Bell’s Parade. This event is co-ordinated by the Henley-on-Mersey Management Committee, a joint effort of the Rotary Club of Latrobe, Lions Club of Latrobe and Latrobe Council. For over 85 years this carnival has been a major social and sporting event to raise funds, all of which are spent in the Latrobe region. One of Tasmania’s leading sports carnivals, The Henley On The Mersey attracts thousands of people.


 

One of the highlights of the day are the Ferret Races, which creates much excitement, not only amongst the audience, but also amongst the ferret owners. The ‘ferreting’ traditions of the region are remembered when ferrets were used to ‘hunt’ rabbits. The ferret would be placed down a rabbit burrow after all ‘exits’ from the burrow had been netted…the ferret would then seek out the rabbits within the warren and as the rabbits tried to escape they would be caught in the nets. Legend has it that many of the farming properties in the Latrobe district were originally purchased with thanks to the efforts of the ferrets and also the incomes from the sale of the rabbit pelts. At Henley On The Mersey, the ferrets are placed in one end of a long pipe that lies along, over and around hay bales. The first ferret to fully emerge from the pipe at the other end is the winner.

Latrobe - Ferrett Races, Henley on the Mersey
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Top: Ferret Racers, Sarah FitzGerald, Cameron Whiteley and Mayor Michael Gaffney.
Bottom: the Ferret Racecourse. (Image Credit – Mitchell Dutton)

Another highlight is the Betta Boat Race, sponsored by Betta Milk, where competitors take to the water in ‘water crafts’ created from Betta Milk containers. This event gives a laugh a minute as one watches the thrills and spills on the river. Other events include:

  • The Axemen’s Carnival
  • Musical Entertainment
  • Cherry Spitting Competition
  • Food and Refreshments
  • Gumboot Throwing Competition
  • And much, much more fun for the whole family
Latrobe - Henley on the Mersey Regatta
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Fun for everyone at the Henley On The Mersey Regatta with the Hurdy Gurdy,
Wood Chopping and the Latrobe Federal Band (Image Credit – Mitchell Dutton)

Sherwood Hall

Sherwood Hall, believed to be the oldest house in Latrobe, was built between 1848-1850 by Thomas Johnson. Thomas was a pioneer and settler whose life began in Van Dieman’s Land as a convict. Thomas married Dolly Dalrymple Briggs, the first known child of an Aboriginal and white person union. Thomas moved to the Mersey in 1845, where he acquired large amounts of property, including around 500 acres at Tarleton where he opened a coal mine, and another 500 acres at Sherwood (south west of Bells Parade) where he and Dolly built ‘Sherwood Hall’. Sherwood Hall was their home, and it was considered to be one of the most unique wooden colonial homes in Australia, and so has been preserved. Sherwood Hall was moved to its present location at Bell’s Parade and fully restored. Sherwood Hall was officially opened on Tasmania Day, 26th November, 1995, this date also being the anniversary of 150 years since Thomas and Dolly came to the Sherwood and Tarleton area. Today, Sherwood Hall stands as a monument to the history of not only Thomas and Dolly, but to our early settlers and also displays many items that were used during the era.

Latrobe - Sherwood Hall
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Sherwood Hall in Latrobe, once the home of Thomas and Dolly Johnson

The Axemen’s Hall of Fame

The Axemen’s Hall of Fame is also located at Bell’s Parade, the location being the site of the first world wood chopping championship in 1891. It was here the sport of wood chopping began, creating the history of competitive wood chopping and telling the story of Australia’s pioneering bushmen and their families. Sadly these unique bush skills are dying, along with the last generation of people to work the forests with both axe and cross-cut saw.


 

The Axeman’s Hall of Fame museum shows the harvesting, milling and building techniques of our early pioneers, and celebrates the greats of wood chopping and sawing. Displays include photographs, trophies, championship axes and other interesting memorabilia relating to both the history of wood chopping and our pioneers. Other facilities inside the Australian Axeman’s Hall of Fame include the Latrobe Visitor Information Centre, a function centre, a café, a gift shop for both crafts and souvenirs, the Platypus Interpretation Centre and Trout Fish Tasmania Information Centre.

Latrobe - Platypus
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The Big Platypus, located outside the Axemen’s Hall of Fame in Latrobe

Today, the Bell’s Parade Reserve is a tranquil place of beauty, with many of the original old English trees still standing, providing a kaleidoscope of colour in all seasons. The Mersey River meandering through provides both swimming and fishing opportunities. Toilet and barbecue facilities are available within the reserve, and the location is a very popular venue for family picnics and wedding ceremonies.

Latrobe - Bell's Parade
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No matter the season, there is always much beauty to be found at Bell’s Parade, Latrobe

All photos strictly ©Carol Haberle, H&H Photography.
You can follow Carol on Facebook at Haberle Photo Cards
Carol writes feature articles for this website about all things Tasmanian.
If you’d like Carol to visit you, please contact Think Tasmania.

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Map: Latrobe Tasmania