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Henry Allport, 'Hauling equipment off Rheban jetty', c 1913 (ALMFA, SLT)

Jetties were built from earliest times to solve the problem of off-loading cargo from sailing ships via dinghy and beach, with an estimated 31 erected on the Tasman Peninsula alone during the convict era. In the north, boat movements were dominated by the Tamar River's tidal rise and fall of 11–14 feet. Deep-water jetties enabled quicker and more reliable transport, as vessels could tie up alongside and use their own lifting gear or a crane to handle cargo.

As 90 percent of goods and passengers were carried by ship, jetties were a vital part of the transportation system. Road haulage was inefficient – dusty in summer, muddy in winter – and the major waterways were unbridged. Jetties were important both economically and socially, particularly in the 1860s with the advent of river steamers which offered pleasure cruises on the Derwent and the Tamar.

The most productive era for jetty building was the 1880s and 1890s, with the development of timber and fruit industries along many rivers such as the Huon and Tamar. On the Tamar River, steamers would stop at each jetty showing a red flag (signalling that fruit cases were waiting) and carry the load to the railhead at Launceston, where it would be transported to Hobart and then shipped overseas. By 1918 the great burst of jetty construction was over, as roads and bridges were built and trucks rivalled river shipping. Jetties became little used during the 1930s Depression. In 1941 the government decided to close many jetties, leaving only a small number still available to the public. (See also Shipping.)

Further reading: E Guiler, Gone and almost forgotten, Sandy Bay, 1998; J Branagan, The historic Tamar Valley, London, [1994]; A McConnell & N Servant, The history and heritage of the Tasmanian apple industry, [Launceston], 1999.

Wendy Rimon