Mayor updates New Norfolk Distillery partnership status

THE mayor of the Derwent Valley Council has walked back comments made at this week’s council meeting to the effect that the council and local business the New Norfolk Distillery were not “partners”. Questions about the partnership status emerged during public question time at the April council meeting on Thursday night, April 27.

“There isn’t a formal partnership agreement,” acting general manager Ron Sanderson said in response to a question from Heather Shearer about the nature of the “partnership” that had been referred to in an open letter circulated earlier in the week by Kelvin Derksen on behalf of the New Norfolk Distillery, which owns one building at the Willow Court historic site and leases others from the council.

“It would relate to the fact that we’ve supported them with grant submissions, we speak with them about their project and their ideas, as we would with any community partner,” mayor Michelle Dracoulis said. “We’ve done the same with New Norfolk Basketball, we’ve done the same with Derwent Valley Arts. It’s not a formal partnership,” she said.

Two councillors associated with the business did not appear to react to the remarks at the time, but Kelvin Derksen was clearly disappointed from his position in the front row of the public gallery. His brother Justin Derksen and New Norfolk Distillery employee Sara Lowe are both elected members of the council. They did not engage in the discussion. Cr Dracoulis took on notice a further question from Ms Shearer about the public consultation process for development on the Willow Court site, as well as an earlier question from Fran Hartz about the dates when planning and building permits had been issued to New Norfolk Distillery.

With those two questions taken on notice, there was no further discussion of Willow Court during the open section of the council meeting. However, just before 5pm the next day (Friday, April 28) the council’s communications officer issued a statement of clarification on behalf of the mayor, explaining that the council had endorsed a “partnership prospectus” in 2020 with the New Norfolk Distillery, Agrarian Kitchen and Salamanca Arts Centre/Derwent Valley Arts and it was continuing to work with the “investment partners, service providers and stakeholders” on the adaptive reuse of the site.

“All our partners share the Willow Court long-term vision – with a strong focus on building the capacity of the region through community engagement, employment growth, industry development, tourism, and collaboration with other businesses and ventures,” Cr Dracoulis said in the statement.

Late this afternoon (Saturday, April 29), Cr Dracoulis shared her statement on Facebook, along with a photograph of herself and Kelvin Derksen in the old Occupational Therapy building at Willow Court. This in turn was soon shared on multiple Facebook pages by Mr Derksen, who wrote that it was “great to catch up with my friend Michelle Dracoulis about the New Norfolk Distillery expansion project.”

Following a recent council decision to “pause” progress on the subdividing of the council-owned section at Willow Court until a master plan had been finalised, Kelvin Derksen expressed the view to a Hobart-based newspaper that such a plan was not needed. “The key elements of the future Willow Court are already here,” he was reported as saying.

Pictured: Kelvin Derksen of the New Norfolk Distillery at Willow Court with Derwent Valley Council mayor Michelle Dracoulis.

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New Norfolk Distillery open letter

Published online on April 26

Dear Derwent Valley Community,

Wow, it ‘ s incredible how far we’ve come in just five years! Starting as three brothers sampling Tasmanian liquors at a Salamanca tavern and recognising the need for Tasmanian rum, New Norfolk Distillery has blossomed into an award-winning business on the verge of an exciting expansion. We are proud to have already taken ownership of a portion of Willow Court and have made a substantial investment in its adaptive reuse, resulting in a remarkable transformation of the building to the New Norfolk Distillery. As a local family, we are thrilled to finally see our partner, the Derwent Valley Council, have their vision for Willow Court realised too. For the past five years we have been working closely with them to be the only people to develop a comprehensive plan for the adaptive reuse of the site’s Allonah and Occupational Therapy buildings with planning and building approval that will transform the site.

Our collaboration with local Tasmanian businesses including Room 11 Architects, ERA Planning, and Purcell Heritage advisors has been integral in helping us develop these plans. By incorporating modern amenities and design elements while respectfully preserving the unique character of the buildings, we’re creating a space that’s not only functional but also inspiring. Our commitment to preserving the heritage of Willow Court while creating new opportunities for the community is unwavering.

As an occupant of Willow Court, we are excited to be a part of a community filled with amazing partners who are contributing to the growth and development of the Derwent Valley region in unique and meaningful ways. From Corumbene ‘s impressive and essential community health hub to the Agrarian Kitchen’s world class restaurant and cooking school that showcases Tasmanian produce, and the Salamanca Arts Centre/Derwent Valley Arts’ hub for local artists, we are surrounded by innovators and creative s who inspire us every day.

Another one of our proud collaborators is Willow Court Asylum Tours/ Tasmania’s Most Haunted Tours. We deeply appreciate their commitment to providing accurate and respectful information about the history of Willow Court ethically. Not only do they bring in many tourists per week, but it’s through their tours that more people have seen these buildings than ever before in the past 23 years. Exciting times lie ahead for our community of innovators and collaborators at Willow Court.

As innovators ourselves, we’ re proud to have 3D photographed the Occupational Therapy, Allonah, and Carlton ward buildings in Willow Court. This digital record accurately documents the unique features of each building, serving as a valuable resource for preserving the site’s history and heritage After construction is completed, this record will allow the buildings co be seen for how they were in the past, a crucial step in preserving Willow Court’s rich cultural heritage

As the future custodians of this historic site, we’re grateful for the support and enthusiasm we’ve received, and we wish to keep our community updated on tile project. We’ll continue to work diligently to ensure the success of this development and look forward to collaborating with local businesses and our partners, the Derwent Valley Council, to make Willow Court a thriving hub of activity and innovation for generations to come. Follow our Facebook page and website for updates!

Tarrant Derksen
New Norfolk Distillery director

(distributed online by Kelvin Derksen)

Derwent Valley Council statement

Emailed to media on April 28

Council wishes to provide clarification following last night’s council meeting.

A question was raised during Public Question Time related to a partnership arrangement with the New
Norfolk Distillery, following their open letter to the Derwent Valley community.

While this question was taken on notice with a comprehensive answer to be provided at the next council meeting, due to the discussion in the community, I wish to clarify Council’s formalised position that commenced prior to me being elected as mayor.

In August 2020, council endorsed the Willow Court Partnership Prospectus with the Agrarian Kitchen
Cooking School and Eatery, New Norfolk Distillery, and Salamanca Arts Centre/Derwent Valley Arts.

This followed a decision by council in 2017, to seek Expressions of Interest for the site through an open
process that allowed opportunities for the site to be explored. In 2021 council endorsed its Advocacy
document noting the activation of the site as one of our Major Strategic Initiatives.

This endorsement and agreements with stakeholders to activate the site, culminated in the decision by
council in 2022 to dispose of part of the land by way of a subdivision.

Derwent Valley Council endorsed lease and license agreements with the New Norfolk Distillery in 2019
for the Alonnah and Occupational Therapy Buildings and approved a development application in 2019
and issued a building permit in 2021 for the Tasting Bar. Applications for further approvals have not yet
been lodged with council.

Council continues to work with the investment partners, service providers and stakeholders on the
adaptive reuse of the site pursuant to these decisions.
All our partners share the Willow Court long-term vision – with a strong focus on building the capacity of
the region through community engagement, employment growth, industry development, tourism, and collaboration with other businesses and ventures. The sensitive interpretation of Willow Court
recognizes and respects the significant historical, cultural and built heritage while allowing for renewal,
creative growth, and development working with local communities.

All the above are formalised decisions of council with minutes from the Council Meetings located on our

Michelle Dracoulis,
Derwent Valley Council mayor

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One Comment

  1. Partnership.
    This to me communicates a collaborative relationship acting in good faith as bound in corporation law and that works within the council strategy and good governance. I also believe ethics and morals bind these collaborations. Am I wrong in this belief?

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