On the map to the right, the site of our B&B accommodation, Kurrajong House, can be seen sited on a large hill overlooking central Launceston. While I refused to walk down hill to the centre of town (it was always raining when this issue came up!), our home for three nights was very conveniently located. We devoted one morning for our walk around the town centre, choosing to park in a Parking Station in Brisbane Street. This was a short walk to Paterson Street where the Civic Square was located and gave us an excellent point to start our exploration of Launceston’s beautiful central area.
We started our walk at the beginning of Civic Square and admired the recently renovated Macquarie House, built originally as a warehouse in 1830. Early settlements began at the mouth of the Tamar River in 1804 and Launceston down stream from the coast was the third choice of settlement. Macquarie House was built only 24 years after the beginnings of European settlement in Northern Tasmania. It was originally named after the Governor of NSW, Lachlan Macquarie, who we had encountered earlier in our travels at Campbell Town, but the name wasn’t popular in Launceston.
Further along on our walk through Civic Square, we encountered Launceston’s Town Hall. It is described as a ‘Victorian Italianate-styled’ architecture and was added to the Launceston skyline 37 years after Macquarie house was built. On the opposite corner was my favourite Launceston Building, the grand Post Office. It was opened in 1890 but not all the citizens were impressed by its architecture, particularly the tower. If asked today, many young people would struggle to explain what a pepper shaker was. In 1890, some citizens were displeased with the impressive Post Office tower because it looked too much like the Pepper Pot that was part of everybody’s dinner table setting. I can only presume that many Gen Z young people would be amazed at why such a huge impressive building would be devoted to mail today when in their suburb, mail needs are met by small shops in shopping centres…such are the social and technological changes of the last century.
We very much enjoyed our walk through Civic Square and on to Cameron Street. The grandiose buildings continued but the one that really attracted my camera was the Holy Trinity Anglican Church on the corner of Cameron and George streets. It was opposite the highly grandiose Grand Chancellor Hotel that catered for a different clientele but if its architecture and gorgeous landscapes you’re looking for, the Holy Trinity is the place. The original building on the site was replaced in 1841 and this replacement church had to go by the late 19th century before the current church structure arrived in 1902.
I have to admit that central city parks are often gorgeous and well maintained but I very quickly decided that Launceston’s City Park was step up from the usual. Cameron Street ended and the main entrance was just across the street taking us past the gorgeous gardens of the old Caretakers cottage. It not only was a showcase building in itself but it also houses a community FM Radio station (City Park Radio) as well as a radio Museum. One curious detail is that the Wisteria Vine (shown in all its finery in the image to the left) is the oldest in Australia, having been planted in 1837, only 17 years after the start of the park.
Continuing up the main path, we came to the Monkey enclosure. The City Park has a long history of exhibiting animals, monkeys in particular since the late 19th century. Originally they were Rhesus monkeys and the last member of this troupe died in 1979. In 1980, due to Launceston’s sister city agreement with the Japanese city of Ikeda, a group of 10 Macaque monkeys arrived to take up their new home in the refurbished enclosure. The layout of the enclosure has been specifically designed to reflect the range of habitats that the Macaques would encounter in the wild. We spent considerable time watching the climbing, chasing and bullying of these entertaining monkeys.
Our inspection of the Victorian Drinking Fountain wasn’t as entertaining as the monkey enclosure but it was lot more aesthetically attractive than the monkeys. Celebrating the life and time of the British monarch was very important in the Australian colonies before Federation and this fountain was originally intended as a gift for the 1887 Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria. Lack of funds interfered with the timeline so it became the Diamond Jubilee gift in 1897.
It was a short walk to the 1932 John Hart Conservatory. The hanging baskets of orchids were the stand out feature of the conservatory.
The largest building that made up a significant section of the City Park was the last building we inspected as we finished our tour of this beautiful green space. It was the Albert Hall and it was finished in 1891 to house the Tasmanian Industrial Exhibition of 1891-92. It is considered one of Launceston’s most significant heritage buildings, given its Classical Victorian monumental style. At the time it was apparently the 11th largest building in the world. It has a surviving organ that pre-dates the 1860s. One of the curious features of this organ is that its bellows are lined with kangaroo skin. Given that its still up for public debate in the 21st century as to whether we should serve the meat of our national symbol in restaurants, I suspect a furore would break out if we started using kangaroo skins to line our musical instruments, particularly if they were used to play the music for ‘Advance Australia Fair’.
After strolling two blocks down Tamar St away from the Albert Hall, we crossed the Victoria Bridge which would take us over the Esk River to our next destination, the Queen Victoria Museum & Art Gallery. On the well-grassed banks of the river we noticed a pair of Tasmanian native-hens fossicking around the grass. These birds are now common around much of Tasmania which scientists have put down to the fact that their number one predator, the Tasmanian Tiger, has been successfully eradicated by 19th century sheep farmers. They became extinct on the mainland around 4700 years ago, probably coinciding with the arrival of the dingo. Our Bruny Island bus driver later on in the trip referred to them as Road Runners” or “Turbo Chooks”
The above image of the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery (QVMAG) wasn’t quite the same picture of serenity on the day we visited. The whole landscape in front of the museum was getting an upgrade in October of 2021. One minor claim to fame of this institution is that it is the largest museum in Australia located outside a capital city. It was opened in 1891 and today has a wide range of exhibitions. As a long term visitor to Museums, I have long ago given up attempting to do justice to the whole range of offerings that museums have to offer so I chose a couple of areas of interest and spent my 1-2 hour concentration span on just those exhibitions. I chose the zoology collection to inspect, particularly its exploration of extinct Australian animals.
I found particularly interesting the reconstruction of one of Australia’s extinct megafauna, Zygomaturus, which disappeared from the landscape 50000 years ago. It was one of the largest marsupials to have ever lived, the female would have carried her young in a pouch. The wombat is its closest living relative today.
A complete skeleton was discovered in NW Tasmania in 1910 and casts were made of the original bones and used to assemble the skeleton shown above right. We had visited caves in the Margaret River area of WA earlier in the year and encountered the tales of this megafauna whose bones were found in the local caves. If interested, the reader can check these details in a different section of this website. (https://fogtravel.blog/margaret-river-areaday-2/).
The other exhibition that I found very interesting was the extensive coverage of the story of what happened to the Thylacine, the Tasmanian Tiger. The exhibition makes the startling point that the two top predators in Tasmania in 1803 before European settlement were the Thylacine and the Tasmanian Aborigine. Tasmania separated from the mainland about 10000 years ago and these two hunters successfully co-existed for all that time. Within 30 years, the aborigines had been displaced and the landscape changed due to the cessation of ‘firestick farming’ and the new European farming practices. The Thylacine didn’t survive this change either. This carnivorous marsupial had survived 25 million years of its evolution prior to the first shooting of one of these animals in 1805 and the last wild Thylacine being shot in 1830.
Another great display I would have liked to have spent more time on was called the Sydney Cove Collection. It tells the story of the 1796 shipwreck of the ‘Sydney Cove’ a merchant ship full of trade goods that sank off the islands on the north-east coast of Tasmania, the Furneaux Group. The story of the experiences of the survivors is fascinating.
In the end we had to drag ourselves away from QVMAG and make our way back to our parked car on the other side of the river. We were going to check out the Cataract Gorge that afternoon.
APPENDIX 1: Blogging the Launceston City Park
If you would like more details of the City Park, they can be found in the following excellent blog.