Undated postcard of Huonville, showing the bridge, hotel, and orchards in the background (Tasmaniana Library, SLT)

Despite its closeness to Hobart, Huonville was not permanently settled until 1839 when Thomas and William Walton took up a land grant. The area had seen a few escaped convicts and timber cutters, but dense bush, lack of arable land and difficulty of access proved impediments to permanent settlement. By 1853 a hundred people, mostly convicts, lived at Huonville. Over the next few decades better transport a track to Hobart in 1855, a coaching service in 1869, a bridge over the Huon River in 1876 and the growing apple industry led to steady development. By 1866 Huonville believed it merited a railway link to Hobart, and there was a widespread belief that the Huon provided much of the economic impetus for Hobart.

By the 1880s Huonville, with a hotel, shops, wharf and bridge, was the main town north of Franklin. But there was confusion over nomenclature. Government plans called the area Victoria, but both Huonville and Ranelagh were known as Victoria, and there was even confusion with the state of Victoria. Huonville was finally gazetted a town in 1891.

By the 1920s Huonville was the Huon's administrative centre. Banking services from 1917, a short-lived high school in 1921, a new bridge and the arrival of electricity in 1926, and the ever-growing apple industry added further impetus to its importance. Until the 1960s its prosperity was based on apples, timber, small fruits and hops. Britain's entry into the European Economic Community in 1973 was a severe setback, and many orchards were grubbed out. Recently a more specialised apple industry, salmon farming and the wine industry have seen a resurgence in Huonville's prosperity.

Further reading: R Ely, The history of the Huon, Channel, Bruny Island region, Hobart, 1989; C Martin, 'War and after war', MA thesis, UT, 1992.

Chris Martin