New Norfolk is a place that is often overlooked as a destination for fine food and the makings for an interesting afternoon out. Given its past steeped in stigma of incest in the close by mountains, and overall its little selection of eateries, its no wonder. However, if it offered a place where you could indulge in some delicious Tassie food and beverages whilst sitting in the former grounds of one of Tasmania's most notorious and misjudged collections of buildings, you would probably start to get interested in poor old New Norfolk. Forget Port Arthur or Macquarie Harbour (although completely justifiable in their own right and not to be missed), head to New Norfolk and to the Patchwork Cafe, situated in the former grounds of Willow Court, of the Royal Derwent Psychiatric Hospital. Willow Court, steeped in urban legends, has received a lot of attention, ranging from stigma, taboo, historical interest, the paranormal, and of coarse its tragic part in the discrimination and abuse of the disabled and mentally ill exposed prior to its closure in 2000. I must say its a strange place to go and enjoy a coffee and cake, I could not shake the fact that I was sitting in Willow Court. Although the cafe is lovely and offers fantastic food in a nice section of grounds enhanced by the old trees and green gardens, out of the corner of my eye sits the old wards, disheveled, boarded up, smashed out windows and piles of junk left from deconstruction the buildings and vandalism. In addition, it also seems to serve as a creepy grave yard for old broken down cars. It is certainly a curious place as you can roam around the accessible sections, stealing a peek into an old ward, whilst dodging a potential hazard. This may not be everybody's cup of tea, but I am fascinated by our history and this is an interesting attempt by some individuals to utilise the space, renewing the energy and stepping away from its jaded history.
The cafe is located in a new building made from reclaimed timber near the Willow Court Motel (yes you read that right). It looks fantastic, simple in design, yet full of character. It is surrounded by its own little grove of shrubbery and trees that offset its location slightly away from the administrative buildings and old wards. They offer tasty cafe savories and sweets, are licensed and also sell home made and Tasmanian specific preserves and produce. This place was bustling with tourists and locals, and they offer live music every Sunday of the jazz/blues genre, weather permitting, a good place to catch up on local gossip and history.
Of course New Norfolk is famous for its collection of antique shops and this also applies at the Willow Court site where you can roam the lower floor of the former nurses quarters, filled with bizarre and amazing antiques, ranging from vintage buttons, kitchenware, art and former security doors of the wards and prison, a scary site when you first come across them. I could not help but blow out at this experience, walking around willow court looking at antiques, the rooms have a faint odour of heritage and institution, with original fixtures and hospital flooring, and with the random collection of music playing in the background, it's a strange experience. However, it is a new era and although we have been quick to judge and forget its past, this place is slowly going through a transition, preserving the older convict era buildings, and rejuvenating the area through land sale and new development. This place was built to house invalid convicts, before it became Australia's first psychiatric institution open to the wider community and private patients. Maybe one day it will be a place to come and openly discover its rich and turbulent history, free from shame and stigma. But, for the time being this place is still a raw reminder, and as it slowly transforms, you can at least enjoy a little food and drink there.