The Launceston & Western Railway company (LWR) was established in 1867 in northern Tasmania for the construction of a railway to link the productive agricultural, forestry and mining areas of the north and west with the city of Launceston. A large piece of flood prone land between the Tamar and North Esk rivers, known as ‘the swamp’ was vested in the LWR to establish a Station, Goods Yard and Workshop for the construction of a railway line from Launceston to Deloraine. The Workshops at Inveresk then grew to be the central engineering, maintenance and repair facility for the whole Tasmanian railway network.
By 1875 timber railway carriages had been constructed at Inveresk and by 1909, boilers were manufactured at the site. The Stone Building, now known as The Academy of the Arts, represents a period of post World War One political and economic optimism, when an attempt was made to significantly upgrade the scale of workshop activities to reflect the greatly expanded rail network.
Throughout the 1970’s significant decline in passenger and light goods traffic was accelerated by the development of better road infrastructure and greater availability of motor vehicles.
In 1994, the Inner City Launceston Redevelopment Strategy Committee secured funding from the federal Labor Government’s ‘Building Better Cities Program’ for the adaptive re-use of the site.
The University of Tasmania’s School of Visual and Performing Arts relocated its staff, students and studios from the Newnham campus into the Inveresk Cultural Precinct in 2002. In July 2002, The Academy of the Arts was officially opened by the (then) Minister for Education, Dr Brendan Nelson.
By 1990 demolition and/or redevelopment of the Inveresk Workshops was being investigated.
April 1993 - In the paper titled, ‘Civic Potential of the Inveresk Railway Workshops’, Professor Vincent McGrath wrote, "It is my view that any contemporary cultural centre which truly develops and reflects community attitudes and aspirations, must engage the term ‘culture’ in its broadest sense. To limit the identification of culture to the exposition of the traditional arts would deny ways of expression in which contemporary Australia now sees itself. Delineation and separation fragment the whole and create impediments for crossovers and fluxing of disciplines, events, histories and expression that construct a fuller picture of who we are.
In larger cities the notion of hosting a football match alongside an exhibition of difficult contemporary artwork, seems improbable. Just as improbable is the idea of a weekend equestrian event conducted adjacent to a theatre production of Macbeth.
Here, in Launceston, we have this ‘once-off’ opportunity to consolidate a sense of civic pride through developing a unique cultural concept embracing complementary levels of human expression on the one site. The outcome would be a concentration of organisations, activities and facilities that provide genuine community access and participation, and at the same time, pinpoint the cultural complex as nationally and internationally significant.
Authorised by the Head of School, Tasmanian College of the Arts
5 October, 2011