Thanks to the passions of those who set foot on Van Diemens Land in the early days, Tasmania has been gifted with many firsts, including Australia’s oldest brewery and oldest pub. The early settlers certainly had their priorities in order.
Indeed Ratho farm, established on a patch of land in Bothwell in 1822, is one of the nation’s earliest inland settlements. It’s also home to the country’s oldest golf course.
For the boatload of early Scots including Alexander Reid though, it wasn’t all swinging hickory clubs and sipping whisky. There were bushrangers to contend with, as early settler Jane Williams (née Reid) recalls vividly:
The others took axes and began to break open the chests of drawers, boxes, etc., when my mother with her usual admirable composure told them it was a pity to destroy the furniture, and if they were determined to help themselves she would open the drawers, and getting her bunch of keys threw everything open, while they turned out the stores of clothing and other comforts my father had provided, thinking to give us all the necessaries of life which could not then be obtained in the bush.
It wouldn’t be the only attack at Ratho Farm during those fragile and spirited early days. The farm played host to colourful characters ranging from Melbourne Cup winners, bushrangers, 100-year-old gardeners, fierce political debates, golfing royalty, and one of England’s best known artists. These folk became pieces of the Ratho patchwork, each leaving their mark.
Today, the farm buildings built by those early settlers provide an important heritage backdrop to Ratho Farm Golf Links. Several settlers were from families and places quite partial to a game of golf back in Scotland, and were determined to continue this pastime in Tasmania. So over three generations, the Reid family created the Ratho Farm Golf Links, which are now recognised as one of the world’s best-preserved ancient golfing grounds.
Like most early private courses, the first tee and 18th green were positioned close to the homestead and outbuildings. From here, the dairy, skin shed, convict cottage and bakery were all in Alexander’s full view.
Following a grand restoration headed by Greg Ramsay (fourth generation on the property, well known for developing Barnbougle Dunes), Ratho Farm is now a tourism destination featuring accommodation for up to 40 guests in renovated farm buildings, and the original homestead, the 18-hole golf links, and a dynamic heritage interpretation experience. Oh, and Australia’s oldest chook house.
As with any farm, all work, rest and play revolves around the Homestead. It’s changed enormously since the early settlers were ransacked by bushrangers but has now been restored to its former glory. Visitors can cosy up by the big open fire with a Tasmanian whisky from the Highlands Bar or explore the History Room and see how those three Alexanders shaped Tasmania’s central highlands. Visitors can stay in the original homestead, farm barns or convict cottages on the banks of the Clyde River, buildings that whisper the story of Ratho’s past.
In keeping with the traditions of Old Scotland, Ratho Farm will remain a public course and is open to all, every day of the week. Hickory clubs are available to help you enjoy the course as the earliest golfers once did. The newly re-opened course features a unique mix of holes, including the open and windswept old holes, restored original holes in a parkland setting, and four newly-designed holes along the Clyde riverbank towards neighbouring Nant Distillery.
Today the golf balls might not be made of kangaroo skin stuffed with merino wool, nor are there bushrangers ready to attack, but the history of Ratho Farm is very much alive, as the Ramsay family add a new chapter to Ratho’s well-documented past.
VISIT: 2122 Highland Lakes Road, Bothwell