Bringing St Mary's Slaughter House Back to Life

Situated on a gentle slope between cleared land and the bush, the St Mary's Slab Slaughter House (pre-collapse) was a picturesque symbol of colonial endeavour

A small, rare part of Tasmania's bush heritage is being reconstructed thanks to an owner interested in history and heritage tourism.

When Ros and Jeff Wallace bought their property on the outskirts of St Mary's on the east coast of Tasmania four years ago, they had little understanding of the previous role of a small, timber structure on the edge of her property.

The structure in question is a slab slaughter house built in the early 20th century for the slaughtering of animals. That the wooden structure remained upright until its recent collapse is testimony to the innovation, skill and craftsmanship of men working in the bush.

“When I first saw the ruined shed in danger of collapsing, I found it difficult to guess at its original function and I couldn't see the point of propping it up. However I slowly warmed to the idea of an authentic reconstruction," said Ms Wallace.

Ros sought advice from Heritage Tasmania on how best to approach the reconstruction which, with the help of Parks and Wildlife Services, led to an introduction to Ian Hayes, founding member of Tasmania's Mountain Huts Preservation Society.

For Mr Hayes, working with wood is a passion and the challenge of working on such an interesting and important industrial structure was intriguing.

“As soon as I saw the photos of the structure I was in love with it. I do this work for the personal challenge and for owners who are similarly passionate. If the owners reflect the enjoyment of what is achieved, that is the icing on the cake," said Mr Hayes.

Constructed by saw and axe from local bush materials, slabs split from large tree trunks, the frame of the structure was fashioned from bush poles, the walls enclosed with split timber slabs and lined internally with sheets of flat tin. The roof was framed entirely with bush poles and split timber battens, then clad with approximately 1500 shingles. Perhaps the most interesting feature was a pole supported in the forked tops of king posts centrally located at each end of the building. This pole, complete with original tackle served as a windlass for raising carcases. A rudimentary concrete floor forms the basis of the processing area. On the southern side was a wide opening perhaps used for bringing a vehicle in to load dressed carcasses, and a narrower doorway on the north-western corner alongside the remnants of a post and rail fence that may have been a cattle race or corralling yard to bring beasts into the shed.

The reconstruction is a work in progress as newly sourced timber from local paddocks is worked back into the remaining original material. This task is being assisted by forensic examination of the remaining materials. A number of witness marks of where timber has been joined remain on the concrete slab and the lengths and corner posts. Past photographs, particularly one by Frank Bolt taken in 1985, are also assisting in understanding the original construction.

Witness marks in the concrete slab

The reconstruction itself began by carefully pulling apart each of the various sections of the structure, labelling the sections and placing them around the perimeter of the concrete slab. Next was the clearing of the concrete slab.

At this stage, it was heartening to realise that two of the wall sections were 100 per cent complete with the original split timbers intact. However about 60 per cent of the round timbers had become seriously affected by rot over time. All but one of the corner posts are the originals. These have been trimmed and mounted on concrete bases to compensate for the roughly 6 inches of rotten wood that was removed.

The original king posts mounted on the new concrete bases 

 

The walls take shape

 

 

The re-construction continues and once finalised, Ros Wallace is “excited to open it to the public".

“Being only a small building I feel its interest lies in its uniqueness in its original function. Seeing Ian Hayes brining the structure back to life with his skill and passion, I am now very excited in making it available to the public. The building is located near the main road on our tourism-accredited property, St Marys Camel Farm. By making the slaughter house part of our Heritage Tram Ride Commentary Tour, revenue generated will help with the ongoing maintenance of the Slab Slaughter House".

The owners are encouraging anyone with photos or stories of the structure to contact them at assist.travel@bigpond.com. These will be used as part of a future interpretation display.

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