Just under 80 km southeast of Launceston and 117 km north of Hobart, there is a sudden kink in the Midland HIghway, also known as National Highway 1. This kink is to bypass the little town of Ross. Just because the highway bypasses Ross, however, doesn’t mean there’s nothing to see here. In fact, Ross is one of the most picturesque towns along the Heritage Highway.
Home to only a couple of hundred people, Ross lies along the Macquarie River. The Tyrernotepanner people originally lived in the area and called it Mackerler. However, when Governor Lachlan Macquarie passed through in 1811, he called the site Ross, after his friend H.M. Buchanan’s parliamentary seat in Scotland.
The town was proclaimed in 1821 and a timber bridge was built across the river, making Ross an important stop along the route between Hobart and Launceston. In 1836 the bridge was replaced by a magnificent sandstone bridge designed by colonial architect John Lee Archer. James Colbeck and Daniel Herbert were the convict stonemasons who worked on the bridge for a shilling a day. Herbert, who had been convicted of highway robbery and transported to Van Diemen’s Land in 1827, is credited with the intricate carvings on the bridge, which so impressed his superiors that he was pardoned and set free. He stayed on in Ross and was buried here.
Just after you’ve crossed the Ross Bridge, you’ll come across the town’s main intersection, made up of Bridge and Church Streets. In the middle of this intersection there’s a war memorial and a field gun that was used during the Boer War in South Africa. The intersection is known as the Four Corners of Ross and each corner has its own humorous label: The northeast, where the Man O’Ross Hotel has been standing since 1831, is called ‘Temptation’; the southeast, site of the Town Hall, is ‘Recreation’; the southwest, where the jail once stood, is ‘Damnation’ and the northwest, site of the Roman Catholic church, is ‘Salvation’.
About half of Ross’ heritage buildings are located along Church Street and you can pick up a map from the Ross Visitor Information Centre at the Tasmanian Wool Centre to go on a self-guided heritage walk through town. One site not to miss is towards the southern end of Bond Street, where the Ross Female Factory once stood. It’s one of the Australian Convict Sites on the UNESCO World Heritage List and was a workhouse for female convicts. The factory operated from 1848 to 1854.
Ross Village Bakery has been operating on the same site for more than a century. It was originally an inn built in 1832 by convicts. Today the bakery has a rather strange claim to fame: To the surprise of the owners, fans of the Japanese anime Kiki’s Delivery Service decided about 15 years ago that a room in the building resembles one in the movie and now as many as fifty tourists a day come here on a Kiki pilgrimage. Some even come dressed as the cartoon character.
Ross is also an important centre for the Tasmanian wool industry and a popular attraction is the Tasmanian Wool Centre with its museum exhibits dedicated to wool and local history. It’s a good place too, to stock up on woollen clothing for those cool Tasmanian days.