Mole Hill Fantasy, Tasmania

Mainland Australia has big stuff. The big banana; the big merino; the big prawn. You get the picture. Tasmania though, well, we have little stuff. Miniature villages from Tasmazia to models of early colonial towns such as Hobart and York Town.

Academic Elizabeth McMahon wrote a paper on what she termed Tasmanian Lilliputianism. If you remember back to your Gulliver’s Travels, you’ll remember that our hero landed on the shores of Lilliput which was somewhere north-west of Van Diemen’s Land –

It would not be proper, for some reasons, to trouble the reader with the particulars of our adventures in those seas; let it suffice to inform him, that in our passage from thence to the East Indies, we were driven by a violent storm to the north-west of Van Diemen’s Land. 

Jonathan Swift

McMahon’s assertion was that the proliferation of Lilliputian miniature villages in Tasmania was a reflection of Tasmanian culture being that of a displaced Europe. An exiled colony that recreated memories of England, especially, in miniature form. The reference list at the end contains the details of the paper for those interested.

Some of the tiny attractions discussed my McMahon, and visited by me in childhood have since closed, including my favourite, Mole Hill Fantasy.

A favourite excursion from my childhood was a day-trip to Mole Creek. While there we would visit the Mole Creek caves, then to Trowunna Wildlife Park. The trip home always included a stop at Mole Hill Fantasy which was next door to Trowunna.

Mole Hill Fantasy was a series of dioramas of moles going about their lives in a pre-industrial English-style village, lovingly crafted by Max and Valerie Staines. Mole Hill Fantasy was attached to a restaurant and holiday village owned and operated by the Staines.

THE DEVELOPMENT OF MOLE HILL FANTASY

Three grade 6 students at Mole Creek Primary School wrote a lovely article about Mole Hill Fantasy for the Western Tiers newspaper in 1986. Max and Valerie Staines were originally from England, where they had moles digging up their back garden. This memory was triggered when they moved to Mole Creek. Mole Hill, wrote the students, was originally a craft shop and the restaurant was in the Staines’ living area.

Max Staines said of the development of Mole Hill –

Fifteen months and hundreds of hours were spent in constructing the Mole Hill. Searching the bush for twisted roots and branches to make the caves look realistic, and to make furniture. One hundred and thirty moles were made and dressed by my wife Valerie, carefully choosing fabrics so that no two lady moles were dressed the same. Clay was extruded, cut into bricks, and fired in our kiln, so that blacksmith’s forge and brickmaker’s kiln looked authentic.

Max Staines, as cited in McMahon 2001
Daisy Mole’s Grocery Shop | Mole Hill [Postcard from personal collection]

Max, according to this blog by an extended family member, was from an artistic family. He himself went to art school in England and was reportedly always ‘making things’. His artistry was apparent in his attention to detail and the level of craftmanship for Mole Hill.

THE GRAND OPENING AND BEYOND

Mole Hill opened at Easter in 1982, with over 400 people viewing the dioramas during the Easter long weekend.

The moles were around 15 cm (6 inches high), dressed as humans and going about their every day business of pre-industrial life. This included mining, grinding acorn flour, baking and so on, and then moved to the more domestic scene. Nearly all furniture and machinery were hand-crafted miniatures

Magic Moles Open, Western Tiers, 1982
Underground Crushing Mill | Mole Hill [Postcard from personal collection]

In 1986 it was reported that more than 60,000 people had passed through Mole Hill in the four years since it had opened.  At one point it was reported that the Staines’ seriously considered selling the attached restaurant and chalets, to build a bigger and better ‘Disney’ type Mole Hill.

The Staines did sell their Mole Creek Holiday Village, including Mole Hill Fantasy, around 1988. But sadly a Disney style Mole Hill wasn’t on the cards. The little moles remained an attraction for a period after the Staines’ moved on, though.

A 1990 article discussed the impact a highway bypass would have on Deloraine, and therefore on tourists visiting the Meander and Western Tiers areas more broadly. Mentioned in the article was concern for Mole Hill, and that it could be lost to the district. The author writes that the moles hadn’t yet reached their full potential and enthusiastically proclaimed that Mole Hill –

… Could put Mole Creek on the WORLD map let alone the Australian one.

GB Woods, History of Bypass: Early Bypass Proposals, Western Tiers, 1990
The Acorn Mill Company | Mole Hill [Postcard from personal collection]

Whilst perhaps an overly optimistic view, it demonstrated the level of love and passion there was for the little mole village.

MOLE HILL IN THE MEDIA

According to a newspaper report Mole Hill appeared on an episode of Simon Townsend’s Wonder World as well as on an episode The Leyland Brothers. I’ve been cruising old episodes on YouTube, but I am yet to come across the episodes featuring Mole Hill.

Various sources reported that Max Staines intended to write a trilogy of books about Mole Hill titled The Trip Here, The Arrival, and The Settlement. Perhaps the fictional journey of the tiny moles was to reflect the Staines’ own journey from England to Tasmania. I haven’t been able to locate the books so it doesn’t seem they reached publication.

WHERE IS MOLE HILL NOW?

At some point Mole Hill Fantasy moved to Penny Royal World in Launceston. I saw it there in the mid-1990s. The move to Penny Royal was definitely pre-1997 as an article of that year references a tour bus of travellers viewing Mole Hill Fantasy, amongst other attractions, at Penny Royal World.

Maxie Mole’s Carpenter Shop | Mole Hill [Postcard from personal collection]

Does anyone know where Mole Hill went? Let me know in the comments.

References

“Fantasy Mole Village”, Georgina Howe, Rachel Hynes, Taanya Spiter, Gr.6  Mole Creek Primary School, Western Tiers, 25 July 1986, p.17

“History of Bypass: Early Bypass Proposals”,  G.B. Woods, Western Tiers, 24 May 1990, p.3

“Magic Moles Open”, Western Tiers, 23 April 1982, p. 3

McMahon, Elizabeth. “Tasmanian Lilliputianism: miniature villages and model citizens on the tourist trail.” Southerly, vol. 61, no. 2, summer 2001, pp. 70+. Gale Literature Resource Center, link.gale.com/apps/doc/A83516812/LitRC?u=utas1&sid=bookmark-LitRC&xid=243f01bf. Accessed 6 Feb. 2022.

“Mole Creek Holiday Village”, Western Tiers, 15 December 1988, p.15

Swift, Jonathon. Gulliver’s Travels Into Several Remote Nations of the World, https://www.gutenberg.org/files/829/829-h/829-h.htm. Accessed 11 Feb. 2022.

“Tour Breezes into Market”, Western Tiers, 23 September 1997, p.39


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