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OP-ED: Launceston Really is the Mouse that Roared

Thursday 4 February 2021, The Examiner

You are holding in your hands, or perhaps reading on a screen, Launceston’s Examiner newspaper. This publication, which was founded on March 12, 1842, has told the stories of countless people in our community, from their triumphs to their tragedies, and everything in between.

It is both a mirror in which we see a reflection of our community and as ingrained in the fabric of our city as the town clock or the iconic City Park gates. This got me thinking: in its 179-year-history, what kind of stories about Launceston would The Examiner have told? What about our city can we learn by looking back and remembering some of our greatest achievements?

I decided to do a bit of research into some of the fantastic ‘firsts’ that have happened right here, on our doorstep. Julian Burgess, local historian, has complied an excellent list, Launceston, a city of firsts, that is very illuminating on the subject and worth delving into. According to Julian, Launceston Municipal Council can claim two important firsts.

Our underground sewers date from 1860, the oldest in Australia and the third-oldest in the world. This is a testament to the quality of the work done in early sewage construction in and around Launceston, but also emphasises a need to re-examine the quality of this infrastructure and its suitability for purpose today, as I am not sure much has changed in recent times.

Of course, the health of the Kanamaluka Tamar estuary remains a key issue for the management of our city and this particular first for Launceston has echoed long throughout time. The other major first for Launceston Municipal Council was the construction of the Duck Reach Power Station, which was commissioned on December 11, 1895, making Launceston the first Australian city lit by a publicly-owned hydroelectricity supply.

The Duck Reach Power Station closed in 1955, following the construction of the Trevallyn Dam, but its historical significance cannot be understated. According to the Duck Reach website: ‘In the Duck Reach Power Station, with the combination of its historical significance, natural setting and scientific and educational value, the city has taken the great opportunity to preserve the remaining, fading evidence of a dying age and reflect on the way people lived, worked and thought in the past and to conserve this important fragment of Australian heritage.’ Very true indeed.

Some are perhaps more aware of some of the medical firsts made in Launceston. Dr William Pugh, in June 1847, at his private hospital in Charles Street, in an Australian first, successfully performed surgical operations with the use of anaesthesia. According to the Australian Dictionary of biography, Dr Pugh’s pride in his experimental practices ‘provoked hostility amongst Launceston’s doctors, with whom he was reluctant to act in consultation’. Whether this was due to an established attitude of caution or professional jealousy among Launceston’s medical fraternity, we can never know.

What we do know however, is that Dr Pugh successfully performed surgery to remove a tumor from a girl’s lower jaw and removed the cataracts from a man’s eyes. Given what seems to us now, some of the especially barbaric medical practices of the past decades and centuries, we cannot deny that successfully performing operations with anaesthesia was of great benefit to the medical community and most importantly, their patients.

Support for commerce and business has also found its home in Launceston. The Launceston Chamber of Commerce, established in 1849 is the oldest continually-operating Chamber of Commerce in Australia, its founding Presidents, H Du Croz and JW Gleadow, begat an organisation which would continually run until this very day.

At that time, the concerns for the Chamber were primarily vested in shipping, pastoral and mining matters, with construction coming into focus in the following decades. In 1876, on of the most well-known figures in Launceston’s commercial history, Charles Henry Smith, became the President of the Chamber to boost Launceston’s interest in, and exposure to, importation of goods for farming and general retail, such as groceries.

Today, the Launceston Chamber of Commerce is a boutique organisation operating across a significant portfolio of interests. Of its core operations, the Chamber regularly runs networking events for its members, to come together informally and hear about new and innovative business activities and share information and knowledge. Its influence in policy is undeniable.

There are so many firsts that Launceston can boast about, be it the founding of Tasmania’s first golf club in 1895 or the wonderful invention by Dr William McIntyre of Australia’s first infant respirator in 1944. You might need to check back in two weeks’ time while I put together some more insights on our community. Until then, I would encourage you to perhaps do some research of your own. You never know what you might discover.

Independent Launceston Legislative Councillor

Rosemary Armitage MLC


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