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Hobart, TAS

Historic State Capital on the hills above the Derwent River

There is a reality about Tasmania which no one wants to talk about. Apart from a brief period when tin was successfully mined the island has never been truly self-sufficient. It relies on timber and hydro-electricity to keep the economy from stagnating but the reality is that when it finds a truly amazing tourist attraction the economy can be driven by mainlanders visiting and spending money. In 1973 the establishment of the Wrest Point Casino - the first legal gambling casino in Australia - gave the island economy an impressive boost and in recent times the remarkable success of David Walsh's modern art gallery - known simply as MONA - has, so one source claims, accounted for a staggering 30% of all visits to the island.

In a way this is a pity because unique among the state capitals, Hobart has a strong sense of its colonial, 19th-century heritage and the exploration of the city's Georgian past should be seen as a major attraction in its own right.

Named after Robert Hobart, Secretary of State for War and the Colonies at the time of its settlement, Hobart is Tasmania’s chief port. It is protected from the worst of the island’s weather, which courtesy of the Roaring Forties occurs on Tasmania’s rugged west coast. The city lies on either side of the Derwent River and is protected by Mount Wellington in the west and Mount Nelson to the south. Hobart’s location on the Derwent, its straggling, irregular appearance, and the distinctive old-world charm of its docklands and port have often been written about in glowing terms. The dockside warehouses at Salamanca Place are fine examples of this.

Mark Twain, in his book Following the Equator, sang the praises of the city's charms:
"How beautiful is the whole region, for form, and grouping, and opulence, and freshness of foliage, and variety of colour, and grace and shapeliness of the hills, the capes, the promontories; and then, the splendour of the sunlight, the dim, rich distances, the charm of the water-glimpses! And it was in this paradise that the yellow-liveried convicts were landed, and the Corps-bandits quartered, and the wanton slaughter of the kangaroo-chasing black innocents consummated on that autumn day in May, in the brutish old time. It was all out of keeping with the place, a sort of bringing of heaven and hell together."

In essence Hobart is about Georgian Australia, fine food and the charm of a small city.


Hobart is located on the Derwent River and is nestled into the upper reaches of Storm Bay on the south-eastern coast of Tasmania.


Origin of Name

Hobart is named after Robert Hobart who was British Secretary of State for War and the Colonies in 1804 at the time of its settlement.


Things to See and Do

MONA (Museum of Old and New Art)
By some estimates one third of Tasmania’s tourism is generated by David Walsh’s Museum of Old and New Art. With a continuing series of major art exhibitions/events at the riverside gallery/fortress-of-solitude it would be hard to find another person with as much influence on the way contemporary art is perceived in Australia. So how can anyone do it justice? Here are some pieces of advice which I hope will be helpful and useful.

(i) if you are in Hobart then you must see MONA. It is one of the wonders of the world. I know of no one who has not been moved to eulogies by this remarkable, privately owned museum/art gallery.
(ii) travel to MONA by ferry. You can travel by car but the ferry experience is part of the magic. Equally if you do travel by ferry be sure you exit and explore the area beyond the top of the gallery where there is a marvellous rococo cement mixer and, for a wonderful laugh, David Walsh and his wife have car spaces marked "GOD" and "GOD'S MISTRESS".
(iii) learn to love the special arrangement that makes you, as a non-Tasmanian, pay an entry fee and Tasmanians enter free of charge.
(iv) think about the materials used in the displays. This is a fine demonstration that modern art uses everything - displays include TV sets, water, a trampoline, insects, bones, excrement, human ashes, paint, plastic, polystyrene and myriad other materials.
(v) Before you arrive make sure you pre-book and read about the experience at http://www.mona.net.au. It is very detailed and comprehensive, provides details of changing exhibitions and allows you to book over the internet.
(vi) there is a brilliant account of the life of David Walsh and the history of the museum/gallery by Richard Flanagan, the Tasmanian writer who won the 2014 Booker Prize for Literature. It was published in The New Yorker and can be accessed at http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2013/01/21/tasmanian-devil. It is simply the best account of this unique artistic folly.
(vii) I could write a book about this remarkable museum. All that is left to say is for me MONA is a true rarity. An art gallery/museum I could return to over and over again. A place of wonder and magic. A place to excite the imagination.

The Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens
The Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens are located on the banks of the Derwent River just beyond Government House. In 1806 the 50 acres (20.2 ha) were granted to a farmer, John Hangan. In 1824 Van Diemen's Land was declared a separate colony and it was agreed that Hobart Town should be its capital. Governor George Arthur had plans drawn up for Government House and an adjoining Botanic Gardens. The Gardens first superintendent, William Davidson, was appointed in 1828. He was paid £100 per year and given a house which was built in 1829. Over the next five years Davidson imported plants from England and collected over 150 native species from Mount Wellington. The garden grew progressively during the nineteenth century. An interesting footnote from this period is the fact that Martin Cash (one of Van Diemen's Land's most infamous bushrangers) worked as an overseer in the gardens between 1854-56. The gardens have an excellent and very detailed website - http://www.rtbg.tas.gov.au - which provides detailed information on the highlights including the Japanese Garden, Chinese Garden, Conservatory, Historic Walls Lily Pond, Subantarctic Plant House, Peter Cundall’s Vegie Patch, Herb Garden, Cactus House. French Memorial Garden, Fuchsia House and Tasmanian Fernery and Plant Collection. Of particular note is the Arthur Wall built in 1829 to protect frost tender plants in the Colonial Gardens. It was commissioned by Governor Arthur. Hobart is uniquely suited for the Botanic Gardens. It is protected from the worst of the island's weather with an average annual rainfall of 630 mm and a temperature range from a summer monthly average of 21°C (February) to a winter monthly average of 11°C (July). These figures hide the fact that it often snows on Mount Wellington in winter and that in the "angry summer" of 2012/2013 the city recorded a record breaking 41.8°C.

Exploring the City's Historic Buildings
The Discover Hobart website (http://www.discoverhobart.com/hobart/historical_buildings.html) lists almost sixty National Trust-listed buildings in Macquarie and Davey Streets. There is a simple circuit from the City Hall up Macquarie Street to Harrington Street and then to Salamanca Place and along Davey Street which passes most of the city’s historic buildings.

During the walk, which can take as short as 45 minutes, note particularly Hobart's oldest building - the Commissariat Store (1808-10) at 40 Macquarie Street; the Bond Store (1824) which is located behind the Commissariat; the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (1863) and the Town Hall, with its impressive ballroom, which was built in 1864. In Davey Street, opposite St David's Park, there are a number of brick houses dating from the 1840s and 1850s, and next to St David's Park is the Parliament House which was opened in 1855. The old Court House complex in Murray Street incorporates the Supreme Court (1823-24), the Treasury Offices (1859-64) and the Deeds Office (1884). Further up Macquarie Street are the Tasmanian Club (1846), runs of stone houses dating from the 1850s, St Joseph's Church (1840).

Theatre Royal
The Theatre Royal at 29 Campbell Street was built in 1837 and is recognised as the oldest continuously operating theatre in Australia. The beautiful Georgian interior stands in sharp contrast to its early uses which included boxing and cockfighting. It fell into decline but, in 1948, Laurence Olivier helped launch a renovation program. It was seriously damaged by fire in 1984 but was relaunched in 1986. Today it is an integral part of the city's cultural life. Check out http://www.theatreroyal.com.au for program details or tel: (03) 6233 2299 or 1800 650 277. Guided tours are held every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 11.00 am. Check out http://www.theatreroyal.com.au/tours-merchandise for details.

Hobart's Docks and Salamanca Place
There is something pleasantly timeless about the Hobart waterfront and Salamanca Place. Every year, a few days after Boxing Day, the yachts which have sailed down the East Coast and across Bass Strait on the Sydney-Hobart yacht race moor and celebrate. Each Saturday Salamanca Place is crowded with over 300 stalls selling local produce and locals and visitors wander through the excellent Salamanca Markets. Check out http://www.salamanca.com.au for details.

The historic Georgian warehouses which were built between 1830-50 have been converted into excellent restaurants, galleries, craft and gift shops. Authorities acknowledge that the Salamanca Place warehouses are the finest dockside Georgian warehouses remaining in Australia. They form a coherent facade because of the consistent use of sandstone and a sense that they all fit together with a certain historic elegance.

Battery Point
No other Australian city has an historic area to equal Battery Point. It is a very elegant ‘suburb’ which has managed to sidestep the vulgarity of tourism and consequently the visitor can experience an extraordinary concentration of beautifully preserved 19th-century buildings - both Georgian and Victorian.

The best way to experience Battery Point is to mooch and wander. Walk up Kelly’s Steps from Salamanca Place and start wandering through the winding streets. Battery Point gets its name from the battery of guns which were mounted on the headland in 1818. They were called the Mulgrave Battery and were part of the coastal defences of Hobart Town. By the 1820’s the area had been occupied by free settlers who were farming the headland. By the mid-1830s houses were beginning to appear. These cottages and houses included elegant Georgian sandstone residences and charming cottages built around Arthur’s Circus. These were built for officers of the town and harbour garrison. It was around this time that building started with the Stowell and Secheron House (built around 1831 and located at 21 Secheron Road) and the construction of the impressive warehouses in Salamanca Place. Kelly’s steps were constructed by Captain James Kelly in 1839-1840 to connect Battery Point to Salamanca Place

By 1850, Salamanca Place and Battery Point had become the maritime focal point of the city. Sailors came from all over the world and sailors’ and workers’ cottages were built in an area which was already noted for its gracious Georgian mansions. In this sense, Battery Point is a unique combination of living styles. Neat, tiny cottages owned by working people stand next to mansions in a streetscape which includes roads and even 'village greens' designed to echo and mimic the streets of rural and urban England. The key to experiencing the full beauty of Battery Point is to recognise and enjoy the element of surprise. Every corner offers a surprise and every streetscape is characterised by charm and elegance.

The most impressive and famous building in Battery Point is St George's Church which was built between 1836-38 and the tower, a James Blackburn design, was added in 1847. It is regarded as the finest Greek Revival Church in Australia with its impressive Doric portico and decorative carvings.

A number of the cottages at Battery Point have been converted into guest houses and B&Bs. Barton Cottage at 72 Hampden Road was built in 1837 by Captain William Wilson and now a B&B. Similarly Colville Cottage (1877) at 32 Mona Street, Cromwell Cottage (1880) at 6 Cromwell Street, and the impressive two-storey Tantallon Lodge (1906) at 8 Mona Street, all provide historic accommodation. There is an excellent walking map provided by Tasmania.com. Check out http://tasmania.com/itineraries/battery-point-historic-walking-tour/ which provides details of the most interesting buildings on the point. This is a self-guided tour.

Anglesea Barracks
Governor Lachlan Macquarie chose the site in 1811 and the Anglesea Barracks were built in 1814. Troops were occupying some of the buildings by 1818. Today they are recognised as the oldest military establishment still in use in Australia. A process of architectural evolution means that today, over 200 years after their inception, they combine "a mix of Colonial Georgian, Regency, Federation and later buildings within a precinct that has been recognised both locally and nationally as of great historical importance to both Tasmanian and Australia." The centrepiece is the Australian Army Museum which is operated by volunteers and recalls the evolving role of the army at the barracks. Also of interest are the Guard House (1840), the Hospital (1816), the Military Gaol (1847), the Officers’ Quarters (1827-1842) and the Tap Room (1835). The museum is open from 9.00 am - 1.00 pm Tuesday to Saturday with a guided tour of the barracks on Tuesdays at 11.00 am, tel: (03) 6237 7160 for details and check http://militarymuseumtasmania.org.au/ for more details.


Other Attractions in the Area

Mount Wellington
Mount Wellington looms over Hobart. At 1270 m it has always been a popular place with panoramic views of Maria Island and the Derwent Valley. The mountain is an igneous intrusion known to geologists as a sill. Many visitors have assumed it was a dormant volcano. The dolerite rock which created the mountain was formed by 'magma' (molten rock) about 175 million years ago. It never reached the Earth's surface. The molten magma reached a certain level during its upward movement through the Earth's crust and spread out laterally in a sheet-like form. It lifted the horizontal sedimentary strata and then cooled slowly. This type of 'igneous intrusion' is called a 'sill', and the vertical columns which characterise the present Tasmanian dolerite landforms formed as a result of contraction during the cooling. In the case of Mt Wellington and many other Tasmanian peaks, the sedimentary strata which originally overlaid the dolerite have since been removed by erosion.

Mount Wellington was first sighted by Captain Bligh in 1785 and named Table Hill. In Christmas Day 1798 George Bass became the first European to climb the mountain. Over the years it has become one of the major attractions of Hobart and has been climbed by such famous people as Charles Darwin and the novelist Anthony Trollope who, having climbed it in 1872, rather dismissively described it as ‘just enough of a mountain to give excitement to ladies and gentlemen’.

The "New" Cadbury Chocolate Factory Experience
Historically one of Hobart's most famous "tourist attractions" was a visit to the Cadbury Chocolate Factory. It involved a cruise up the Derwent to Claremont where visitors could see chocolate being made and then sample and purchase the product. In April 2008 Cadbury announced that "new health and safety regulations adopted by Cadbury globally mean the Tasmania tours cannot continue". The company explained that to comply with increased health and safety standards visitors would no longer have access to the factory.

Today the Cadbury Chocolate Factory Tour and Derwent River Cruise picks visitors up at their hotel in a bus, takes them to the Cadbury Chocolate Factory Visitor Centre (you do not actually go into the factory), offers them the opportunity to sample and purchase the product, and then they join a Derwent River Cruise back to Hobart (http://www.viator.com/Hobart-tours/Cruises-Sailing-and-Water-Tours/d379-g3?pref=02&aid=g3189). A number of other cruises are available which go around the harbour, down the Derwent and through the D’Entrecasteaux Channel.



* Prior to the arrival of European settlers the shores of the Derwent River were home to the Nuennone Aboriginal people.

* In 1773 the French explorer, Marion de Fresne, sailed up the Derwent Rier in the Mascarin and Castries. That same year the English explorer, Tobias Furneaux, also explored the Derwent.

* In 1777 Captain James Cook sailed up the Derwent River in the Resolution.

* In 1789 William Bligh landed at the Derwent on his ill-fated journey on the Bounty. He returned in 1792 on his journey to Tahiti.

* Bruni d'Entrecasteaux and Jean-Michel Huon de Kermadec charted the Derwent in 1790. d'Entrecasteaux named the river 'Riviere du Nord' but that was changed to Derwent by Sir John Hayes.

* In 1798-1799 Bass and Flinders sailed into the Derwent on their circumnavigation of the island.

* In 1803, concerned that the French might try to establish a colony on the island, Governor Philip Gidley King sent Lieutenant John Bowen, with a party of 49 including 35 convicts, to establish a settlement and penal colony on the Derwent River. He established a colony at Risdon Cove.

* In 1804 David Collins arrived from England and moved the settlement to Sullivans Cove. On Sunday 26 February, 1804 the first religious service was held in the colony.

* A historian has described early Hobart as: "Such a hard and inhospitable place inevitably attracted a certain kind of person. By the 1820s the flotsam and jetsam of the world, men seeking refuge from the law or seeking isolation from other human beings, has been drawn to the shores of the island. Some of the men came as convicts and were emancipated; some came as convicts and fled into the bush; and some walked off boats and ships in Hobart Town or Launceston and became sealers, whalers, farm hands or drifters. They were rough frontiersmen. Not frontiersmen in the sense of opening up new land; frontiersmen in the sense that they despoiled and exploited everything and everyone they saw. It was against these men's natures to form a 'posse' to join forces with the military. They had laws of their won and those laws had nothing to do with the statutes and regulations which were being formulated in London."

* In 1811 Governor Lachlan Macquarie visited the Hobart Town colony.

* Throughout the 1820s there was open warfare between the island's Aboriginal population and white settlers.

* In 1824 the famous Cascade Brewery began producing beer for the locals. The same year Van Diemen's Land was declared a separate colony.

* In 1825 it was officially decided that Hobart Town would be the capital of the new colony.

* By 1827 Hobart was a thriving port with an estimated population of 5,000. It was the centre of trade with its chief exports included sealskins and whale oil as well as hides, wool and an extract derived from wattle. Ships from Europe, China, Batavia, Singapore and the United States were using the port.

* In 1828, after eight years, the Cascades Female Factory, for female convicts, was opened at the base of Mount Wellington. That same year the Botanical Gardens were created.

* By the 1830s the sealing trade was in serious decline.

* In 1831 Governor George Arthur attempted to round up all the Aborigines on the island. Not surprisingly this failed. That same year the Campbell Street Gaol was opened.

* In 1834 the Theatre Royal staged its first performance.

* In 1836 Charles Darwin visited Hobart and climbed Mount Wellington. He noted in the Voyage of the Beagle that "The lower parts of the hills which skirt the bay are cleared; and the bright yellow fields of corn, and dark green ones of potatoes, appear very luxuriant ... I was chiefly struck with the comparative fewness of the large houses, either built or building. Hobart Town, from the census of 1835, contained 13,826 inhabitants, and the whole of Tasmania 36,505. If I was obliged to emigrate I certainly should prefer this place: the climate & aspect of the country almost alone would determine me."

* In 1837 Sir John and Lady Jane Franklin arrived in the city.

* In 1839 Kelly's steps were built to connect Battery Point to Salamanca Place.

* By the 1850s Hobart was building more ships than all the other Australian ports combined. This industry was damaged by the migration of workers to the goldfields of Victoria.

* In 1853 transportation to Hobart ceased.

* In 1877 the Campbell Street Gaol closed.

* In 1891 Henry Jones established the famous IXL jam factory.

* In 1893 the Hobart Tramway commenced operation from the city to Sandy Bay.

* In 1895 Mark Twain visited the city and eulogised its beauty.

* In 1914 the state established the Hydro-Electric Department in Hobart to develop the hydro potential of the inland of the state.

* The Cadbury factory at Claremont was established to manufacture chocolate in 1920.

* In 1928 7ZL Hobart became the state's first radio station.

* By 1937 a road had been completed to the summit of Mount Wellington.

* In 1943 the bridge across the Derwent River was opened to traffic.

* By 1956 an airport had been built and visitors were flying to Hobart.

* On 7 February, 1967 - Black Tuesday - bushfires around Hobart killed 52 people.

* In 1973 Australia's first legal casino, the Wrest Point Hotel-Casino at Sandy Bay with its distinctive 64 m high cylindrical tower, was opened to gambling tourism.

* In 1974 the Tasman Bridge was completed at a cost of £7 million.

* On 5 January, 1975 the MV Lake Illawarra crashed into the Tasman bridge with the loss of 12 lives.

* In 2012 the city attracted more than one million tourists. Nearly five times its permanent population.


Visitor Information

Hobart Travel & Information Centre, 16-20 Davey Street, Hobart, tel: (03) 6238 4222. Open 8.30 am - 5.30 pm.


Useful Websites

The city's official website is http://www.hobarttravelcentre.com.au. It contains information about the major attractions and accommodation.

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  • As soon as I flew over Hobart I was in love. All the water! Apart from loving the city itself, we did a tour of Bruny Island which was also magic and had a lovely kind, funny and informative tour guide. This was in winter. Don’t be put off by winter travel, it was mysterious on the water and beautiful.Happy travels.

    Fiona Paige