Travellers arriving at Devonport are instantly impressed by the cared for appearance of this gateway to Tasmania. Yes, they are sailing into or flying into, a port, and it does carry the unavoidable scars of industrial waterside enterprises but it is obviously a place in which the local people and their Council take pride.

Devonport Tas - Beach
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Devonport Tasmania: a city made attractive by a proud community

Devonport: Gateway to Tasmania

Words by Len Langan and photos by Dan Fellow

Devonport is not a place to be treated as a transit station that one arrives at and drives out of as quickly as possible. Tourists are well advised to linger here before they take to the roads leading to other destinations on our beautiful island and also well advised to allow time on their return journey to spend time here before leaving.

Devonport Tas - Spirit of Tasmania
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The Spirit of Tasmania ferry arrives and departs from Devonport

Beneath the industrial portside crust is a delicious pie of architecture, culture and history to provide a feast for the mind and a natural open welcoming atmosphere from a place that loves itself and its present and is optimistic about its future.


 

Cities do not come about by accident; they are created by human necessity, determination, hope and brave optimism. The threads that form the tapestry of our history and retain and revitalise their colours, are always beneath our feet softening the path on our own individual journeys. The past propels us into the future and we should take time to appreciate it.

Devonport: the Joining of Torquay and Formby

Devonport started out as two settlements on opposite sides of the River Mersey, Torquay on the eastern side and Formby to the west. One wonders how the naval Lieutenant Charles Hardwicke would view it now remembering that in 1823 he told Governor Arthur that this area was “quite impenetrable and totally uninhabitable”. It took a few more years for Edward Curr – agent of the Van Diemen’s Land Company – to overlook the sandbar at the mouth of the river he named after his hometown river at Liverpool in the U K., to locate grazing land that might well be called the “Garden of Tasmania” for its rich unrivalled soil set in some of the finest scenery in the world though it was hard won by sheer human determination leaving us in debt to many brave pioneers.

Devonport Tas - Mersey River
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The Mersey River, originally the divide between Torquay and Formby

1851 established Torquay, the name again capturing that wonderfully human trait of giving the places of our birth to new settlements all over the globe, and it was a good swim or boat ride to visit the settlement that was to grow on the other side of the river known as Formby. This was a landscape of bush tracks and the river was virtually the only supply line supporting these brave early settlers. The timber attracted them and the demand for timber following the discovery of gold in Victoria in the mid eighteen fifties spread particularly towards the Don River forcing the construction of a tramway, a wharf and a saw mill. A small coal mine also supplied work in the district feeding the growth of the settlements. As the timber was cleared the rich soil attracted farmers and before long the rail tracks worked by horses acquired a steam engine covering some twenty one kilometres.

Devonport Tas - Don River Railway
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Don River Railway, an important link in the history of Devonport Tas

As the demand for timber waned a twist of fate opened another door of opportunity by the foresight of Broken Hill Proprietary moving to work the limestone in the area; a venture that demanded a better railway line. The resulting tracks never met a viable need for passenger services but the commercial advantages continued until the great depression and thereafter died out. In 1947 BHP ceased taking limestone.


 

The rail line from Deloraine opened a golden gate of opportunity firming up a viable link to the region as Torquay joined Formby in 1890 to establish this now attractive city. A city connected by a ferry service out of Melbourne, with a viable railway service, and an airline connecting the Flinders Islands and Melbourne surrounded by first rate agricultural and grazing land set in a beautiful countryside augmented by exceptional seascapes.

Home Hill: Joseph and Enid Lyons

Home Hill, the lifetime residence of two of Tasmania’s most remarkable people, Joseph Aloysius Lyons Premier of Tasmania and Prime Minister of Australia and his wife Dame Enid Lyons, is now owned by the City of Devonport and managed by The Tasmanian National Trust.

Devonport Tas - Home Hill, Joseph & Enid Lyons
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Home Hill, the Lyons family home in Devonport, Tasmania (photo by Tania Horne)

Joseph Lyons was of course, born at Stanley in 1879 and after an early life tinged with serious hardship eventually achieved success as one of Australia’s most respected political personalities. Enid and Joe made their permanent home base at Home Hill and the house grew to accommodate their growing family of twelve children.

Devonport Tas - Lyons Cottage, Stanley
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Jospeh Lyons was born and raised in Stanley in north west Tasmania

After Joe’s death from a sudden heart attack in 1939 – Australia’s only Prime Minister to die in office – Enid emerged as an impressive political figure in her own right although her family background provided her with strong political interests. In 1936 she was honoured as Dame Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire. In 1943 she became the first woman to sit in The House of Representatives. Dying in 1981 she is remembered as a remarkable wife, mother and politician and an honoured figure for all those who rightly champion the abilities and rights of women. The Lyons family have always been a credit to Tasmania and their examples of public service should inspire all politicians. (In this second decade of the twenty first century the writer must leave his readers to judge them accordingly.)

Devonport Tas - Lighthouse
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The lighthouse on Mersey Bluff is a well-known feature of Devonport

Another highly respected guidebook describes an “easy way to leave Devonport” but leaving Devonport is not a thing to be rushed.

Len Langan lives in Longford with his wife Jill.  They are both passionate
about Tasmanian heritage and tourism and things that can be done in this
industry. Len writes about Tasmanian history  for both The Courier in Longford
and the magazine Sagacity,  and works with Virtuosi taking music to rural areas.

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Map: Devonport Tasmania…