Hobart is Tasmania's capital city. It is unique amongst the state capitals in that it has a strong sense of its colonial, nineteenth century heritage and still happily enjoys the notion that it is nothing more than a big country town.
Named after Robert Hobart, Secretary of State for War and the Colonies at the time of its settlement, it is Tasmania's chief port.
It is protected from the worst of the island's weather and consequently has an average annual rainfall of 63 cm and a temperature range from a summer monthly average of 21°C (February) to a winter monthly average of 11°C (July). These figures tend to hide the fact that it often snows in winter on Mount Welling ton just behind Hobart and that it rarely experiences truly hot days in midsummer, although this is a case of definition with many days reaching beyond 30°C.
The city lies on either side of the Derwent River and is partially protected by Mount Wellington in the west, which dominates the landscape from a height of 1270 m, and Mount Nelson to the south. This dramatic landscape actually results in a series of microclimates which produce considerable variations within the city. The western suburbs experience more rain and the southern suburbs have mild on-shore breezes during the summer months. In part this is what makes Battery Point Hobart's most desirable address.
The population of the city is relatively stable. There were 164,400 people in 1976 and this had risen by less than 10,000 by 1983 when the population was 173,700 and less than another 10,000 to 183,500 in 1990. The stability and smallness of the population means that house prices, unlike every mainland city, have remained relatively low. Equally job opportunities in the city are limited.
Tasmania is the most non-urbanized of all the Australian states with only 40.2 per cent of its population living in, Hobart, the capital city. This compares dramatically with New South Wales, where 74.7 per cent of the state's population live in Sydney, Wollongong or Newcastle and even the Northern Territory where 46.6 per cent of the population live in Darwin.
It is widely recognized that Hobart is one of Australia's most beautiful cities. Its location on the Derwent, its straggling, irregular appearance, and the distinctive old world charm of its docklands and port have often been written about in the most glowing terms.
Hobart had the most inauspicious of beginnings. Its sole raison d'etre was to keep the French out of Australia. Fearful that the French might try to establish a colony on the island Governor Philip Gidley King sent Lieutenant John Bowen, with a party of 49 including 35 convicts, to establish a settlement on the Derwent River.
By 1827 Hobart was a thriving port with an estimated population of 5,000. It was the centre of trade not only for Tasmania but also for the sealers operating on the islands in Bass Strait and the whalers who were sailing the southern oceans. Its chief exports included sealskins and whale oil as well as hides, wool and an extract derived from wattle. Ships from Europe, China, Batavia, Singapore and the United States all used the port.
The problem of Hobart was that it was always at the mercy of trade. It has no enduring economic base and the hinterland it served was simply not large or diverse enough to sustain its existence.
By the 1830s the sealing trade had virtually disappeared. Whaling continued but the need to find an additional industry led to the establishment of considerable shipbuilding facilities. The quality of Tasmanian hardwoods, combined with the excellent port facilities, meant that by the 1850s Hobart was building more ships than all the other Australian ports combined. The inevitable march of technology saw ship design change to vessels driven by steam and manufactured out of steel. Hobart's timber-based shipbuilding industry was in decline by the end of the century.
Since World War I Hobart's economic livelihood, particularly in an industrial context, has been largely determined by the cheapness of its hydro electric power. This has given the city a small industrial base. However by the standards of the mainland cities Hobart is the least industrialized of all the state capitals.
At Boyer, near Hobart, there is an Australian Newsprint Mill which exploits the state's combination of timber reserves, hydro electricity and water supply. Risdon on the north eastern shore of the Derwent has an industrial area where electrolytic zinc, superphosphate and sulphuric acid are produced.
Apart from these heavy industries the city is dependent on light industry. There is a cannery and a number of fruit processing works. Furniture manufacture, silk and textile printing and the manufacture of soft drinks are typical light industry activities.
Perhaps the most famous of Hobart's light industries is the Cadbury factory at Claremont where chocolates and confectionery have been manufactured since 1920. The complex now covers an area of over 100 hectacres and is owned by the multinational Cadbury-Schweppes company.
In recent times tourism to the city has increased significantly fuelled by the establishment of Australia's first legal casino at Sandy Bay. The Wrest Point Hotel-Casino, with its distinctive 64 m high cylindrical tower, now has a number of competitors on the mainland states but still attracts significant numbers of tourists to its gambling tables.
In recent times Tasmania has become a popular retreat for people wishing to practice an alternative lifestyle. The Huon Valley and the rural areas around Hobart have been settled by potters, woodworkers and craftspeople who sell their wares in the gift shops which have sprung up in the city centre.
There is a very real possibility that Hobart will always lag behind its mainland counterparts. There is no reason why it shouldn't remain as a colonial outpost at the edge of the world. It is hard to imagine that the city will ever develop a late twentieth century high rise skyline and there seems little possibility that it will ever experience an economic boom which will force it to abandon its distinctive nineteenth century charm.