The perfect showcase for Tasmanian creativity is Burnie, a port city that is home to about 20,000 people. Here, amongst all the large industries, you’ll find small craft workshops and art galleries where things are done the old-fashioned way.
Burnie lies along the Bass Strait coast and is just under 50 km west of Devonport. From Launceston the drive is a little over 130 km and Burnie marks the end of National Highway 1, also called the Bass Highway in these parts.
Originally the area was inhabited by the Plairhekehillerplue band of Tommeginne-speaking people. In 1798, when Bass and Flinders sailed around the island that would become known as Tasmania, they noticed a peak that looked like a volcano. This was St Valentine’s Peak, named in 1827 when a party led by Van Diemen’s Land Company surveyor, Henry Hellyer climbed it. Later that year a total of 100,000 acres was granted to Edward Curr, the company’s manager, while Henry Hellyer started a small settlement at the western end of Emu Bay. This settlement was called Emu Bay and Hellyer built cottages, a store and a blacksmith’s workshop.
Emu Bay became an important timber port and in 1842 its name was changed to Burnie after William Burnie, director of the Van Diemen’s Land Company at the time. The Burnie Inn, the oldest building in town, was built in this year too and was licensed five years later. You can find it in Burnie Park.
The 1871 discovery of tin at Mount Bischoff changed Burnie’s fortunes for the better. The port grew very quickly and by the end of the decade there was a tramway that connected the mines at Mount Bischoff to Burnie. This developed into a railway and in the 1890s another rail link was built between Burnie and the silver mines around Zeehan. The town grew even more when the railway from Launceston arrived in 1901. At the Burnie Regional Museum you can see reconstructions of what the town may have looked like at this time. The elegant Old Police Station was built in 1907 and you’ll also find many examples of Federation and Art Deco architecture along Burnie’s streets.
With so much timber in the area, it was only a matter of time before paper would become a major industry here. New Zealand-born Sir Gerald Mussen, a notable industrial relations consultant and highly driven entrepreneur, built Associated Pulp and Paper Mills in 1937 and the mill soon became one of Burnie’s largest employers. It closed down in 2010 but the last owners of the mill, Paperlinx, gave Burnie the fascinating Pulp Paper Trail. Along the path, which is reminiscent of a huge reel of paper unrolling, you’ll find interpretive signs telling the history of the town’s paper industry.
The paper mill may not operate anymore but paper is still being made in Burnie. At the Makers’ Workshop you can see how this is done and even try your hand at making your own by hand. The building also houses other artists and craftspeople and is a one-stop shop for unique, handmade items. For foodies, The Cheese Shop at the Makers’ Workshop is a highlight because here you can taste, and of course buy, locally made cheeses. Another foodie favourite in Burnie is the Hellyers Road Distillery, where you can see how whisky is distilled and can taste the award-winning single malt.
If you love nature, you’ll find plenty to enjoy in Burnie too. There are excellent beaches and lookouts to explore and the spectacular Guide Falls is only 19 km south of town. Near here you’ll also find the Guide Falls Alpaca and Animal Farm.
Another popular outing only a short drive from Burnie is the Emu Valley Rhododendron Garden with its stunning landscaping and great picnic spots. On the outskirts of the city is the Fern Glade Reserve, a peaceful haven where you can admire the native orchids and look for platypus in the river. If you’re in Burnie between September and March, don’t forget to visit the Little Penguin Observation Centre at West Beach, where you can see the smallest penguin species comically waddling ashore as the sun sets.
Burnie has a wide range of accommodation options, so there is no excuse not to want to stay a while and enjoy all the treasures this city has to offer.