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  • Writer's pictureHelen Avaient

10 things to see and do in George Town - the oldest town in Tasmania, Australia

In 1804 a colony (named Outer Cove) was established at Port Dalrymple and was proclaimed an official settlement on 11 November, the first town in Tasmania. Unhappy with the supply of water, they decided to move the main camp to York Town on the opposite site of the Tamar River. Construction began in York Town in December 1804. York Town also proved to be unviable and that settlement moved to Launceston in 1806.

In December 1811 Governor Macquarie visited Outer Cove and renamed it York Cove. He laid out a street plan for a new town, naming it George Town after King George III. There is a Macquarie Street and Elizabeth Street (named after Macquarie’s wife) in George Town. Similar street names appear in Launceston with the notable exception of Macquarie Street. There is no street with that name in Launceston as the Governor did not like that town.

Bell Bay, just south of George Town on the Tamar River, is Tasmania’s major international port. Aluminium, ferroalloys and MDF (medium density fibreboard) are all manufactured locally and exported to national and international markets. Paper products, timber, vegetables, minerals and dairy products are just some of the Tasmania goods transported from here.

The closest point on mainland Australia is about 220kms away.

1. Batman Bridge

Batman Bridge was built in the 1960s and was the world’s first cable-stayed truss bridge. A picnic area below the bridge gives a great vantage point to watch the river and admire the beauty of the bridge.

2. The Watchhouse

Visiting the watchhouse is a good start to a George Town visit. There is a fascinating diorama of how the town looked in its early days.

The staff here pointed out which buildings still stand today and handed out a self guided walking map of the town. You can walk into the old cells and imagine being confined in this small space. The building has had many uses, including a gaol, arts centre, doctors surgery, counsel chambers and even a hardware shop. There was an art exhibition on display when I visited, and these displays change regularly.

In 1821, the George Town Female Factory was established in the town, nothing remains of it today. In 1834 it was closed and a new female factory opened in Launceston. One display in the watchhouse symbolises aprons on a clothesline and each one tells the story of a woman convict.

3. The Departures and Arrivals exhibition

Artist Dr Christina Henri created a moving installation in 2003, of 900 calico bonnets to represent the babies of convict women that died. Some of these bonnets are on display in the watchhouse.

Since 2007, Dr Henri has been working on Roses from the Heart, a memorial to the 25,556 women transported as convicts to Australia from 1788 to 1853. She invited people from around the world to make a servants bonnet to symbolise the life of each convict woman. People embroider the name of a convict on the bonnet. A short video can be viewed in one of the watchhouse rooms that details this incredible story. It was so touching that I felt close to tears. These often forgotten women pioneers are now being remembered in a constructive and beautiful way.

Blank bonnets are available in the gift shop here for people to purchase and embroider. Of course, I purchased one and will be following up on this in the future.

4. Heritage Trail

This self guided walk starts at the old watch house and leads you around town. I love looking at old houses, and this walk had enough to satisfy my desire. The Grove was built in 1836 and now is available as a Bed and Breakfast. Thelmara Cottage was built about 1860 and is now privately owned. Whitestones build around 1839 was originally a tavern, then a private school and is now a private home.

Classis older pubs also feature on the walk. The Pier Hotel was first licensed in the 1850s. The Heritage Hotel was originally known at the British Hotel and build around 1846.

At Windmill Point is the Paterson’s Monument which commemorates the first landing in Northern Tasmania by Colonel Paterson. The tree sculptures here are stunningly detailed. This was a perfect place to sit and enjoy a picnic, overlooking the river. It was a delight to see a large seal frolicking in the water.

5. Bass and Flinders Centre

Housed in the old picture theatre is this marvelous maritime exhibition. The friendly volunteer explained a wealth of information about the various displays, and even gave me a cup of coffee. Very welcoming on a chilly winters day.

A replica of the sloop Norfolk is displayed here. In 1798 the English explorers George Bass and Matthew Flinders were sent to Van Diemen’s Land (now called Tasmania) to ascertain if it was an island or not. They sailed with a crew of 8, right into the Tamar River and anchored off what is now George Town. In 1998 Bern Cuthbertson in the replica Norfolk re-enacted the Bass & Flinders journey. The replica was constructed by Bern and his team of volunteers in Hobart. The hull is Huon Pine and the mast and deck are made out of Celery Top Pine. Not a screw or a nail was used – trunnels, or treenails, hold the vessel together. (information from brochures at the centre)

Not only was it a beautiful boat to look at, but people are able to come aboard and get a feel of the size of the boat. You can even go below into the galley, sleep quarters or captains room.

A video showing various construction stages of the replica can be watched. It was interesting to see the Huon Pine log being sourced and then seeing and touching the final product. There are various boats, sailing stories, maps and maritime artifacts to see here and it can take an hour or two to wander through the entire centre.

6. Low Head Pilot Station

Hosting 13 rooms of different maritime historical artefacts and interests, this museum is housed in the 1835 convict build Pilots Row. It is managed by friendly and knowledgable volunteers.

The walls are covered with valuable information boards and a sheet of guide notes is given to visitors upon arrival. The notes are handy as you pass from room to room, they give a brief description and background information.

In the telegraph room you can try sending morse code. It is definitely not as easy as you might think. I gave it a crack and had difficulty spelling my name. Huge respect to anyone who can send and receive this code.

In the Low Head room there are artifacts found around Low Head, including convict shackles. I enjoyed reading the stories of people who lived or holidayed in the area. A diving suit in the diving room is one of the favourite exhibits I was told. Imagine wearing this and descending into the cold waters of the Tamar? There was also a line launching rocket and breeches buoy in the same room.

In the whaling and sealing room I discovered that whaling was an important industry in Launceston. Different pieces of scrimshaw are on display here.

The information presented in the museum was extensive and interesting. I definitely learnt a lot about the pilot station and the need for one to guide ships past the dangers of the river. This station is still operating today, and has been continually operating since 1805.

7. Low Head Lighthouse

The present lighthouse was built in 1888. The first European navigation marker was placed here in 1804. This was the third lighthouse built in Australia and is still in service. These days it is completely automated. Walking around the site is a perfect place to see the Tamar River and coastline.

The lighthouse is 19m tall, an elevation of 43m, with a range of 23 nautical miles.

Every Sunday at 12 midday the fog horn sounds from here. It is one of the few operating type “G” diaphones in the world.

8. Windmill Point and East Beach Carvings

The old macrocarpa pines have been transformed by a chainsaw and chisel into another amazing display of carvings. Penguins, whales, ships and more capture the moment in this maritime themed display. Look out for the ship Captain’s hook!

9. Painted Water Tower

The painted silo and water tower trails are becoming more popular. The water tower in George Town was painted way back in 1985, and locals say it is due to be repainted in the near future.

10. Mt George Lookout and Historic Semaphore

This scenic lookout offers great views over the valley and Bass Strait. Climb up the viewing platform for the most amazing 360 degree view. On a clear day you can see all the way west to Burnie, 80kms away.

Picnic tables and a walking platform are available here. There are various walks through this area, including a native habitat trail.

Back in the 1800s, the George Town post office would display a message to be transmitted in code flags. The Mt George Station would then relay by semaphore to Mt Direction, and from there to Windmill Hill in Launceston. This system operated until electric telegraph became an easier way to transmit messages.

In 2016 George Town had a population of 6,764. This small town packs a lot of history and was a very enjoyable place to visit.

Happy Travels!

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