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Updating the story of Launceston

Launceston has a new general history. The Fabric of Launceston: A Collaborative Community History was launched on Saturday 6 August 2016 and features contributions from 58 local historians and authors covering many aspects of the development of the city.

John Reynolds, father of prominent academic Henry Reynolds, wrote the last history of Launceston, published in 1969. This much quoted, and sometimes maligned, book tells the story of Launceston up to the 1960s in a chronological format.

Editors Tom Dunning, Barbara Valentine and Paul A.C. Richards have taken a different approach in updating the story of Launceston. “There is a large and vibrant community of historians who have written dozens of books and articles. We have called on the talents of this group to write a collaborative community history.”

With more than 80 articles the subjects covered are many and varied. They include the social, cultural and commercial influences on Launceston and the people and events that have shaped the city.

In his foreword, Henry Reynolds explains why Launceston has a special place in Australia and how it has evolved into a unique and important regional city. Here is a little of what he says:

“British settlement began at the sea ports -- at Sydney, Hobart, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth. They were the location of government from the beginning and remained so. Roads and then railways radiated out from them.

“Tasmania was different again. Hobart and Launceston were founded within a few years of one another and were initially administered as separate colonies. Each began with particular advantages. Hobart had a far superior port and was the centre for the large convict-centred bureaucracy. But Launceston had easy access to far richer agricultural land. It was also closer to the mainland and that became increasingly important with the settlement and spectacular growth of the settlement at Port Phillip.

"Launceston is, then, one of the oldest of Australia's large provincial cities. But it has the distinction of being the only one that has been, and remains, a serious rival to the capital city. It has had a larger role in Tasmanian history than comparable cities - Townsville, Rockhampton in Queensland; Newcastle in New South Wales; Geelong, Bendigo and Ballarat in Victoria.

"This is partly due to Hobart's slow growth but not entirely so. But we can understand much about Launceston if we see it in relation to these mainland cities. Many of them owed their foundation, or certainly their growth, to mining which had a far greater impact on Australian population distribution than either pastoralism or arable farming.

"And much of this spectacular mining development took place in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Launceston became wealthy, rather than just prosperous, at the time as a result of tin and gold, of Bischoff, Beaconsfield and many smaller fields.”

The Fabric of Launceston: A Collaborative Community History is published by the LGH Historical Committee with assistance from the Launceston Historical Society. It was printed in Launceston by Foot and Playsted.

The book sells for $50, plus $15 for postage and packaging if sent within Australia. Phone Paul Richards on 03 6334 0169 or 0407 643 419 to obtain a copy or for more information.

(The author of this article is a contributing writer to The Fabric of Launceston: A Collaborative Community History)

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