Located 152 km northwest of Launceston on the Bass Highway, Burnie is characterised by delightful wooden houses which cling to the hills and overlook the bay.
Like most of the north coast of Tasmania the area around Burnie was first explored by Europeans when Bass and Flinders circumnavigated Van Diemen's Land in 1798. As they passed the Burnie area they named Round Hill Point and noticed a 'peak like a volcano'. Bass and Flinders did not land on the coast and it was left to a party from the Van Diemen's Land Company to climb the 'peak like a volcano' on 14 February 1827 and name it, appropriately, St Valentine's Peak. The party, led by Henry Hellyer, reported that the area was agriculturally rich which resulted in Edward Curr applying for a series of grants which totalled over 100 000 acres. The land was densely timbered and this, combined with high rainfall, made it virtually useless for agriculture. This, however, did not stop the development of the district.
Later in 1827 a small settlement was established at Blackman's Point (it was named because of a large Aboriginal midden which was found in the area) at the western end of Emu Bay - near the present city centre. This settlement was established by Henry Hellyer who built a blacksmith's shop, a few cottages and a large store which measured approximately 20 m by 7 m and was used as the base for all the Van Diemen's Land Company operations in the district.
From the earliest days of the settlement Emu Bay (as Burnie was known) was a timber port. The timbers of the hinterland were felled and a sawmill was established near the port. Timber was exported across Bass Strait to Melbourne, to the new settlement at Adelaide and to Launceston along the coast. It was used for everything from roof shingles to road paving, from house building to ship building.
By 1842 the settlement, although still tiny, was opened up with land being surveyed and sold to settlers. The town was named after William Burnie who was the director of the Van Diemen's Land Company at the time.
It was around this time that the Burnie Inn (now located in the beautiful Burnie Park) was built to cater for the growing population. The inn gained its license in 1847 and is now the oldest standing building in the city.
The town grew slowly in the 1850s and 1860s. By 1863 there were still only 50 permanent residents. The discovery of tin at Mount Bischoff in 1871 did much to encourage the growth of the area. In 1878 the Van Diemen's Land Company, who were still dominating the economy of the town, built a tramway from the tin mine to the coast. It was a remarkable timber construction stretching over 75 km and using horses to pull the tin laden carriages.
Tin ensured the continued growth of the town. By the late 1880s the railway had been converted to steam locomotives and the port facilities had been greatly expanded. In the 1890s a railway was built through the difficult terrain between Zeehan and Burnie. Thus Burnie became the major port for the shipping of silver from Tasmania. And by 1901, when the railway arrived from Launceston, the town's population had grown to over 1500.
The combination of these factors - a port for both mining and rural products and a service centre for the surrounding area - ensured the continuing development of the town. By the 1930s the town's population was over 6 000. The construction of the Associated Pulp and Paper Mills in 1937 was instrumental in the town's population growing to 10 000 by 1941. In 1948 Australian Titan Products (now known as Tioxide Australia Pty Ltd) began operation. The town continued to grow. The port was expanded, the paper mill grew larger, container facilities were built. Burnie is now established as one of Tasmania's most important ports.
Things to see
Burnie Park with its lawns, shady walkways, animal enclosures and Burnie Inn is one of the prettiest parks in Tasmania. The city is justifiably proud of the park and there is an interesting brochure Burnie Park and Tree Guide (available at the Information Centre in the Park) which details some of the more interesting trees as well as providing information about the old Burnie Inn. The park's animal reserve, with its ducks, swans, peacocks, emus, wallabies and rabbits, is an ideal stopover point for children.
Pioneer Village Museum
The Pioneer Village Museum is located between Wilmot and Jones Streets adjacent to the Burnie Civic Centre. This unique recreation of an old town is sensibly located in a large building and has an extensive number of authentic recreations of shops which would have been commonplace on the northwest coast of Tasmania around the turn of the century. There is a dentist's surgery with a fearful range of old equipment including a foot operated drill, a cottage sitting room, a kitchen with the usual array of antiquated cooking utensils, an old wash house with a cast iron copper and galvanised iron tubs, a carpenter's shop with examples of the art of joinery as well as good displays of tools, an old butter factory, the Wellington Times Printery, a general store and Post Office, a saddler and bootmaker, a blacksmith's and wheelwright's shop and a chemist's shop which has an excellent display of early equipment and medicines. For more information on the museum check out:http://www.discoverburnie.net/what-to-see/museum.html
These buildings are merely facsimiles. The city's most elegant building is the superb Burnie Police Station (1907) in Wilson Street. A magnificent two storey brick Edwardian house with a huge verandah and magnificent ironwork it was originally built as a family residence and surgery for a dentist with the unusual name of Loucadou-Wells.
Bushwalks and Waterfalls
Behind the town are a number of waterfalls and interesting bushwalks. The most accessible falls are the Guide Falls which are clearly marked beyond the township of Ridgley which lies south of Burnie.
Visitor Information Centre
2 Bass Hwy
Burnie TAS 7320
Telephone: (03) 6430 5831