In 1821, Governor Lachlan Macquarie travelled from Hobart to Port Dalrymple, today better known as Launceston. During his journey he chose sites where towns would be founded and gave these places English names. Probably his strangest decision was to name one of these sites Brighton, in honour of King George IV’s favourite seaside town on the south coast of England. It would have made perfect sense for a coastal location but Brighton, Tasmania lies inland, 27 km north of Hobart along the banks of the Jordan River.
The naming of the Jordan was an eccentric choice too but in this case, Governor Macquarie had nothing to do with it. In around 1806, troops were sent north from Hobart to hunt emus and kangaroos to help alleviate the new settlement’s food shortages. One of these troops was Private Hugh Germain, who came up with names like the Jordan River, Lake Tiberius and Bagdad. He found his inspiration in the two books he had with him: the Bible and a copy of the Arabian Nights.
Brighton today is effectively a commuter suburb of Hobart and home to some 3,000 people but back in the early 1820s, soon after it was founded by Governor Macquarie on his journey, the military outpost was a serious contender for the honour of becoming Tasmania’s capital. The plan was soon dropped, however, and by the next decade neighbouring Pontville had become a much more important stop for those who travelled to and from Launceston. Often people would simply use the names Brighton and Pontville interchangeably, as if they were the same town.
In 1914, thousands of Australians volunteered to fight in World War I and the Brighton Military Camp was set up as one of the country’s main training facilities. In World War II, this became the main training camp in Australia and just after the war it housed prisoners of war and later European migrants. It continued being used for military exercises too, but also housed victims of the 1967 Tasmanian bushfires and, more recently, refugees from Kosovo. In the 1990s the camp was decommissioned.
While Brighton doesn’t have as impressive a collection of heritage buildings as you’ll find in nearby Pontville, this doesn’t mean that there’s nothing to see or do here. In fact, the town is home to one of Tassie’s most popular attractions, The Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary which is a wildlife rescue centre that also runs breeding programmes, among them a programme to breed Tasmanian devils. You can tour the facility and come into close contact with animals such as kangaroos, koalas, pademelons, echidnas and wombats.
In a nod to Brighton’s pastoral past, one of the main events on the local calendar is the Brighton Agricultural Show. Normally held in November, it features a variety of entertainment and competitions, from sheep shearing to dog high-jump. On the first Sunday of every month, the town also hosts the Brighton Market.
Brighton makes a great base from which to explore the area just north of Hobart. Small towns such as Pontville and Bagdad are home to gorgeous heritage buildings while the countryside boasts orchards and vineyards. There are several conservation areas and nature reserves nearby also.