OP-ED: Rediscovering Launceston's Hidden Gems

Thursday 18 February 2021, The Examiner



Living in the best city in Australia, as well as one of Australia’s oldest cities, we often overlook what is on our own doorstep with some of the best-preserved heritage and architecture, gardens and parks. Did you know for example, our City Park has been rated the 9th best park in Australia? Let’s take a little trip down memory lane and discover a few more gems about Launceston.

Again, the research of local historian Julian Burgess has been invaluable and a great place to start. For instance, did you know that in 1899, the Launceston Golf Club was founded? Being based in Kings Meadows, the LGC is Tasmania’s oldest 18-hole golf course and was the only one in the state until 1921?

The course at Launceston is regarded as the toughest championship layout in Northern Tasmania, caved out of natural bushland and provides something of interest for all levels of golfer: beginners to seasoned players.

Sporting firsts have been significant in Launceston and, as a mother of four boys, I can understand how important the availability and accessibility of sports clubs, teams and facilities are. In 1875, the Launceston Football Club – the first football club in Tasmania – was founded. Initially the sport was only played on a social basis and it wasn’t until 1882 when the Northern Football Association was established, that organised football really kicked off.

According to the club’s website, Launceston provided a number of players for each of Tasmania’s teams at the three pre-World War One Australian Football Carnivals and, being relatively successful during this period, contested eight grand finals between 1900 and 1914, taking three flags.

Referring strictly to AFL, I can’t mention football without reference to the mighty South Launceston Football Club – the red, white and blue Bulldogs, which is a combination of two former clubs in City South and East Launceston that resides in the heart of my electorate of Launceston.

Of course, we are also not philistines, because in 1891 the Launceston Art Society was established and became the first art society in Australia. It held its first exhibition on November 19, 1891 in the offices of Ritch and Parkes’ in St John Street and played an important role in broadening the range of art available to the community.

In 1927, Dame Nellie Melba visited Launceston to give a concert and to open a loan exhibition of early Tasmanian art organised by the LAS. Through the years, many members of the Launceston Art Society have won prizes at the Tasmanian Art Awards at Eskleigh, the Royal Launceston Show, Max Fry Rotary Exhibition, the Trust Bank, Wrest Point, Burnie and many other awards.

Impressively, the society maintains a good balance between amateur and professional members and aspiring young artists, keeping the love and appreciation of art alive and well.

Incidentally, in 1961, the first use of CCTV security in an Australian gallery- the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery – was implemented. Unfortunately, this does not seem to have helped in the case of the missing Brett Whiteley art work, which most likely has been miscatalogued as a result of an error several decades ago.

Also committed to scholarship and intellectual pursuits, Launceston can boast being where the ‘Silver City Writing Tablet’ – now known as the writing pad – was invented. In 1902, JA Birchall (of the erstwhile Birchalls book and stationery supply shop) had the simple, yet ingenious idea to bind together loose pieces of paper and sell them as the first notepad.

According to inventions-handbook.com, Birchall had difficulty getting his invention accepted at first, with his British supplier being reluctant to provide a product with the description of a notepad. Of course, history is written by the victors, and in this case, Birchall’s invention won out and is now found in homes, offices, handbags and gloveboxes everywhere. Isn’t it strange to contemplate a world which predated something as simple and common as the notepad?

Although we are an island state, our connection with the rest of Australia by air was first solidified in 1919, when Lieutenant Arthur Long completed the first crossing of Bass Strait – from Launceston to Melbourne – in a Boulton Paul single engine biplane.

Not content with that piece of aviation history, the Miss Flinders Monoplane has found its home here in Launceston, currently off-display at QVMAG while it searches for a new home. The Miss Flinders, amongst many historical firsts, lays claim to what was probably the first aero medical evacuation from King Island to Western Junction – which today is the home of the Royal Flying Doctor Service in Tasmania.

Launceston is an absolute treasure trove of discovery, whether a resident or tourist, and I will see what more of interest I can discover for my opinion editorial next week.

Independent Launceston Legislative Councillor

Rosemary Armitage MLC

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