I left Burnie at 17 to come to Hobart and study, and fell in love with this small city squeezed between the river and the mountain. It’s hard to appreciate the unique qualities of your home town when you are a kid. I didn’t ever feel like I was giving up very much by leaving. My friends were all headed for Hobart, Melbourne or somewhere else as soon as they could get there, and I had pretty much written everyone else off. I knew practically nothing of Hobart (my relatives were all in Launceston or Sydney), and I really thought it was beautiful and better.
It was scorching hot when I arrived, there was beer flowing everywhere and smart people saying smart things. Everyone in Hobart seemed beautiful, fit, clever and switched-on. Winter came and there was snow on the mountain, then suddenly snow on everything - right down to the waterline. Hobart was blanketed with it. It was so exciting and different from Burnie, where you would get a cold wind and up-country you might get a nasty frost, but no snow. (In fact it has never again snowed in Hobart like it did that day in 1986).
Burnie now is a post-industrial city. Last time we were there I blogged about its attempts to eke tourism gold from the grimy past. The drive in from the east used to take you past Tioxide paint factory, a huge quarry that had eaten away the base of Round Hill, the Acid Plant and the Pulp Mill. The water was often brick red from the effluent and the smell of ‘The Pulp’ was unsettlingly meaty. The Pulp is now in the last throes of dismantlement, the Acid Plant has been gone twenty years, and the site of Tioxide is gradually returning to bush.
Burnie’s setting is actually very beautiful. It sits on a broad bay, and spreads over the steep hills set a little back from the coastline. From down there looking up it has a bit of a Greek village vibe. (Although I have never seen a Greek village, to be honest). Little houses and big ones, brick and weatherboard, clinging to ridiculous steep hills. From up on the hill in Montello, where the soccer tournament was played, there is a panoramic view of the verdant farmland all around Burnie, and the coast from Table Cape around to Round Hill. And the dominating feature (for someone from Hobart) is the horizon.
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South East Tasmania is all fractured isthmuses, peninsulas, islands, estuaries and harbours. There are spots where you see water in front of you, then land, beyond that water, beyond that land, etc etc. But up around Burnie there is just Bass Strait. Somewhere out over the horizon is Victoria. Every five or so miles along the coast there is another river, but they just run out to sea, south to north: BAM, no fiddling around. Inglis, Cam, Emu, Blythe, Leven, Forth, Don, Mersey.
Downtown, practically everything is different from when I was little. As I have written before, the site of the hospital where I was born is now a Harvey Norman, and my old primary school was demolished for another Harvey which is now a Target. One little vestige remains, though. I took the family over to see where we used to line up for the buses - on the fence the names of the districts are still visible, written vertically down the palings. We used to go home on the Waterfall bus, which in fact went past a small but perfectly legitimate waterfall.
Unlike the middle of town, in the burbs not a thing has changed. Driving through Montello I felt like it was 1985. Look at this spot - you have to love the yellow house with the matching mini-me letterbox.
I’ll just leave you with one more. I grew up just beside Marist College and used to roam the grounds on weekends and through summer as though it was my personal territory. I had a few favourite spots to sit and muse, looking out over the empty fields and Bass Strait. Join teenage-me for a few moments and enjoy the view, with not another soul in sight, just the way I like it.