Sunday, 21 July 2013

Geeveston

Geeveston is a small village located 62 km south west of Hobart on the Huon Highway, making it Australia's most southerly administrative centre. The economy of Geeveston is basically driven by apple growing and timber. In season, the fields beside the road are thick with apple trees sagging under the weight of their fruit and it is commonplace to be caught behind a timber truck hauling huge logs from the nearby forests to the local mills and pulping operation.

Although the area was explored as early as 1804, only months after the establishment of the colony at Hobart Town, it was deemed unsuitable for development. It wasn't until Lady Jane Franklin established the community at Franklin that any serious attempt to settle the Huon Valley occurred. Life in the early Franklin settlement was extremely hard and many of the early settlers were forced to move away. The town takes its name from William Geeves, an English settler who was given a land grant by Lady Jane Franklin in the area then known as Lightwood Bottom (after a type of timber prevalent in the area). William and his family, which included his son, John, had migrated to Australia in 1842. The town's name was changed to Geeves Town in 1861 and this eventually became Geeveston in the late 1880’s.

Geeveston styles itself as “Tasmania’s Forest Town”. Timber getters moved into the area in the 1820’s and the town grew from humble beginnings in the early days as timber-getters moved along the waterways in search of high quality timber. They discovered Huon Pine which proved perfect for ship building due to its resistance to rot.

Geeveston broke new ground in terms of machinery and ideas. The first steam driven timber mill, the Speedwell Mill, was built in 1874 and was owned and established by John Geeves. It was capable of cutting 40,000 feet of timber per week.

Around the same time, he built “Cambridge House” across the road from his sawmill which provided the timber to build the house. The building went on to become the social hub of the growing settlement. Cambridge House has been lovingly restored and exudes the warmth, charm and comfort of the twenty first century in its current guise as a bed & breakfast. Cambridge House is bordered by the Kermandie River where platypus can be seen playing in the river.

When the timber cutters took down the forests, the cleared areas were planted with potatoes, fruit trees, wheat, hops, corn & oats. Early settlers discovered that apples grow wherever gum trees flourish. By the late 1890’s, there were over 500 orchards in the district.

The construction of the Speedwell timber mill in 1874, and its subsequent sale to the Huon Timber Company in 1902 provided Geeveston with an industrial base, the Timber Workers Union ensuring that workers were well organised. Following a violent strike in 1921/22, the Company closed its Geeveston mill in 1925 and Geeveston suffered population loss, but the start of banking (1926) and arrival of electricity (1928) assisted slow but steady progress, based on apples and timber.
A pulp mill was opened in the town in 1962, and was Geeveston's largest employer until the plant closed in 1982, devastating the area economically. The opening of a branch of the Bendigo Bank, and a major tourist attraction in the district, the Tahune Airwalk (2001), brought new optimism.

The Forest & Heritage Centre, a tourist centre which details the history of the timber industry in the area, is also located in Geeveston.

It is not surprising that the town's largest symbol (it is impossible to miss as you drive through town on the Huon Highway) is the huge trunk of a Swamp Gum (eucalyptus regnans) logged in Arve Valley on 10 December 1971. A sign on the side of the trunk proudly declares that the length is 15.8 m, the girth 6.7 m, it weighs 57 tonnes and its volume 56.7 cubic metres. It was established as a tribute to the timber workers of yesteryear as the “Big Log – Big Job” memorial in School Rd. A special circular saw had to be custom made to enable the tree to be felled and ultimately dragged out of the forest.

Further along the road is the The Geeveston Community Church (1880s) which is the most prominent building on the highway. It is notable for its tiny steeple which seems out of proportion to the rest of the building.

It is worth visiting the town centre for the sheer unusualness of the main street which actually seems to get narrower from one end to the other. Geeveston is a reminder that the notion of a major centre (and Geeveston is the administrative centre of the Esperance Municipality - the southern most council in the country) in Tasmania is not the same as that on the mainland.
Originally cast as a Congregationalist settlement, Geeveston was a temperance town and to this day, no hotels have been established with the town borders. However, where there’s a will, there’s a way. In the early days, the locals would beat a path to the nearby Kermandie Hotel at Port Huon to quench their thirsts!

Wherever you stand in Geeveston, you have striking views of the mountains all around the town. The locals have enjoyed these beautiful surroundings since European settlement began.
A beautiful town to visit and from here you can access the Hartz Mountains National Park and the Tahune Airwalk

Information gathered mainly from information boards located around Geeveston 

About the Forest & Heritage Centre - Forest & Heritage Centre

3 comments:

  1. thanks for the kinds words. a lovely town and we enjoy living here.


    Laurie

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    1. Cheers Laurie. Thanks for visiting the blog.

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