In recent years, remote Geeveston in Tasmania’s Huon Valley has drawn city folk to its idyllic natural beauty and small-town charm. But since the bushfires of 2019, which closed the drawcard Tahune Airwalk for over a year, and now the pandemic, the town has been doing it tough.

While I’m chatting with Cassy Faux about pickles at her Harvest and Light cafe in Geeveston, local resident Francis Shepherd walks in with a gift of 10 kilograms of homegrown apples. We have a brief chat, and he mentions he’s building a castle on the outskirts of town and asks would I like to pop over to see it.

More on the castle later – because my first reaction is to wonder if this is how things always are in rural Tasmania? I guess I had been prepared for quirky, just not quite like this. After all, Geeveston, about an hour’s drive from Hobart, is the main filming location for ABC TV’s fictional town of Rosehaven… and it has the same sense of small but vibrant community.

“It’s not about there being a big-ticket thing in Geeveston,” Ms Faux tells me.

“But when you’re here, there’s a feeling, there’s an intimacy to the street, and there’s the cosiness.”

Her passion is preserves and pickles, and the picklery menu consists of cheeseboards and sample plates. For example, $12 will get you a selection of blue cheese, pear chips, fig chutney, pickled Jerusalem artichoke and quinoa crackers.

If you’re looking for something more substantial, head around the corner to chef Masaaki Koyama’s outpost for some fresh, stunningly presented sushi.

At the Geeveston Visitors Centre, the old red-brick forestry office now houses more passions, showcasing local produce and art. There’s even a studio where a wood-turner is creating bowls, while another artist paints at a table at the back of the hall. Considering all the workers and volunteers, I wonder if most of the town’s 600 residents are here.

Geeveston’s main shopping street is only about 200 metres long and, wandering its length, I can’t seem to find any real estate offices, let alone the McCallum Real Estate at the centre of the Rosehaven television show (the interior shots of the business are filmed elsewhere, north of Hobart).

But I do find Ariel Korobacz, a young artist who runs the Aurora Fae studio gallery, which has an eclectic range of ceramics, paintings and other modern pieces. While the charm of Rosehaven is that it’s beyond the reach of tree changers, Geeveston’s appeal is that it’s not.

“Geeveston is in the process of discovering its new identity,” Ms Korobacz tells me.

That identity is part rustic, part contemporary. It’s relaxed but sophisticated, where some people have the means to do nothing but the time to do something.

As I explore, on one edge of town, I find the tree that is now ruled by a growing group of mean-looking roosters dumped by locals (amusingly next to the Kermandie Football Club, known around here as KFC). But driving for a few minutes out the other side of town, I reach the Beak + Whisker studio within artist Brian Looker’s 1890s home. (Note: the studio is closed during winter.)

Mr Looker paints the local wildlife but in unusual scenes – a wombat in a dress, a Tasmanian tiger with a set of scales, black robins on an hourglass – all with deeper messages. “It’s all about the environment and the detrimental effects that’s left with animals from the start of colonisation,” the artist explains.

“I’m not after an answer to fix things, it’s just to make awareness with what’s happening, to make that connection with the animals that are in danger.”

Look out Mr Looker’s window and you see the lush, green landscapes rolling out into the distance, with the Hartz Mountains on the horizon. In the centre of Geeveston, you’ll often see platypuses in the river, and people stop to spot them on their way to the nearby Tahune Airwalk. Wildlife, nature, the environment – they’re as much a part of this community as the buildings in the town centre.

I don’t see a platypus in the river in town but, later that afternoon I spot one in the moat of Francis Shepherd’s castle (I hadn’t forgotten to tell you about it!). Francis and his partner Christina Kent started building their enormous Gothic home in an old apple orchard more than a decade ago… and they’re still going.

They’ve finished the cave-like rooms underground and the tunnel that leads to the garden. The structure for the next three floors with grand circular rooms is there and the battlements have even taken shape. But the roof of the enormous edifice is yet to be completed, while the interiors and decorations are certainly still to come.

You can organise tours of Castle Phoenix to see the progress of this ambitious passion project, just one of many creative pursuits in Geeveston. The couple plan for the castle to be their home – but, if they did ever want to sell it, it might be the perfect job for McCallum Real Estate.

Take me there

Fly: Qantas and Link Airways have direct flights from Canberra to Hobart. Qantas, Jetstar, and Virgin Australia fly direct from Sydney.

Drive: Geeveston is about an hour’s drive from Hobart.

Stay: In Geeveston, there’s the lovely B&B Cambridge House. Or drive a bit further south to the award-winning Ashdowns of Dover.

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