'Glenorchy from Elwick', c 1878 (W.L. Crowther Library, SLT)
Glenorchy is located in the undulating plains which form a narrow band between the River Derwent and the Mount Wellington range, from the southern New Town Rivulet to the northern Black Snake Rivulet. Little is known about the Mooheneener people who had occupied this land for at least 8,000 years when the first Europeans arrived in the Derwent in 1793. No censuses or records of contacts with settlers were kept; only middens and a few artefacts remain today. In 1804, soon after Sullivans Cove was occupied, the first land grants were made south of Humphreys Rivulet. Former Norfolk Island convicts were relocated there in 1807; by 1821, 71 percent of the population were convicts or former convicts and their families, and a convict road gang was active by 1828.
Farms grew up along rivulets and the Derwent with a few rural-based industries and several small villages supported by local amenities, including churches, inns and schools. Initial water transport was supplemented gradually with roads. In 1864 Glenorchy became a rural municipality with 208 dwellings, its population consisting mostly of farm and other labourers dominated by a few rich landowners. Growing in the shadow of the capital, it was regarded as just 'the northern suburbs' of Hobart. So Glenorchy was struggling to develop a separate identity.
Prosperity and expansion were upset by general economic depression in the 1890s. The period before and after the First World War saw rapid economic improvement; the army was based at Claremont, electrolytic zinc processing and Cadbury's chocolate manufacturing plants were established, and much private and government-assisted housing was built. The pain of the severe 1930s Depression was relieved quickly by the Second World War which generated more industrial activity, including employment opportunities for women. After the war, there were massive government housing projects and private dwelling construction with consequent population increases, including many European migrants. Southern industry and business took advantage of the readily accessible land and workforce to set up in Glenorchy. Community and sporting loyalties were strong at this time and Glenorchy started to assert itself. By 1964, when city status was achieved, the 1944 population of 12,000 residents had increased by 220 percent to a huge 38,400.
Despite fluctuating economic conditions and levels of employment, which included the closure or downsizing of some established industries, the forty years since then have been a period of diversification and expansion, consolidating Glenorchy as the industrial, warehousing and high technology centre for southern Tasmania. Among the outcomes have been: better planning, improved transport and infrastructure, innovative and high technology industries, extra community facilities and events, and most recently a Community Plan involving residents' participation, which was originally controversial but now has wide support.
Glenorchy Council is an active supporter of Australians for Reconciliation and resisted successfully attempts to merge it within a greater Hobart in 1998, thus asserting fully its independent identity. Council's proactive approach to sustainable progress and innovation, and the recognition and correction of previous planning, environmental and other problems have facilitated this progress. Today, Glenorchy is the fourth largest city in Tasmania, being home to around 43,000 people.
Further reading: A Alexander, Glenorchy 1804–1964, Glenorchy, 1986; and Glenorchy 1964–1988, Glenorchy, 1998; I Terry, Glenorchy heritage study, Glenorchy, 1994.