Burnie was established by the Van Diemen's Land Co. in 1827 as a port to serve its vast inland pastoral holdings and for the first 100 years of settlement its progress was less than spectacular.
Initially, this was due to the fact that its settlement was the result of two mistakes. The VDL Co. settled the town, first known as Emu Bay, to serve three of several land grants it took up on the North-West Coast.
The grants in the Burnie area were 50,000 acres at Emu Bay bounded by the Emu and Cam Rivers and to the south, 10,000 acres at Hampshire and 150,000 at Surrey Hills.
The first mistake was the company's chief surveyor, Henry Hellyer's, misjudgement that the land selected would provide good natural grazing for fine-woolled sheep. The second mistake was that the company's chief agent, Edward Curr, accepted Hellyer's judgement without first inspecting it himself.
Unlike the older sheep districts of the eastern half of the island, the country around St Valentines Peak was sub-alpine, with long, wet and bitterly cold winters. The native snow grass lacked nutrition and in the first few winters more than 5000 merino sheep and their progeny died of cold and malnutrition. The surviving animals were taken to the milder coastal climate of Circular Head and Woolnorth.
Those two mistakes were to result in a disastrous beginning for the VDL Co. and to condemn the isolated port settlement on the shores of Emu Bay to years of inertia while much younger centres to the west - Latrobe, Port Sorell, Formby, Torquay, Don, Forth - achieved steady growth.
The first permanent settlers of Emu Bay (the town was renamed Burnie - after VDL Co. director William Burnie in the early 1840s) arrived from England in the vessel Caroline on February 2, 1828.
During the lifetime of these first settlers Burnie was little more than a VDL Company-owned town existing because of and mainly for the company. Neither the company nor the town made much progress. Indeed, those first settlers, and others who followed in the next two decades, literally carved out the village of Burnie from the rain forests and tea-tree swamps. They made their own tracks to and from the company store and there was no semblance of a street until the first town survey in 1843. After the first 50 years of settlement, Burnie's population still did not exceed 200.
However, its fortunes took a dramatic turn for the better in the 1880s with the discovery of the west coast mineral deposits. In 1878 the VDL Co. build a wooden horse-drawn tranway - later upgraded to iron and steam - through its lands to serve Mt Bischoff, then the richest tin mine in the world. Burnie became the port for the mine and its town of Waratah and Burnie's population had nearly trebled to more than 1000 by 1891.
With the West Coast mineral bonanza of Zeehan, Mt Lyell, Dundas, Renison Bell and Rosebery generated by the Mt Bischoff discovery, the railway was taken over by the Emu Bay Railway Company and extended to Zeehan in 1900. This saw record growth of Burnie's business district and development of its outlying farms. Banks, churches and schools were established and by the turn of the century Burnie's population exceeded 1500.
Bischoff and the mines at Zeehan served by the EBR line were on the decline by about 1915 and Burnie, although its population had grown and its port facilities had been substantially developed, once more relied almost wholly on its outlying farms and forests for its livelihood.
In the years between the two World Wars it became clear secondary industry was needed to adequately employ Burnie's existing workforce and was essential if the town was to develop beyond its role as the centre of export and commerce for a rural area.
The industry which was so badly needed and which set Burnie on its path to gaining city status came in 1938 when Associated Pulp and Paper Mills Ltd began production.
The paper industry's impact on the town was spectacular. The rate of building in the pre-APPM era was a slow 20 houses a year. In the year ended June 30, 1938, when the South Burnie mills were being erected, 262 houses were built. When the paper industry came to Burnie the municipality had a population of about 4000. By 1945 it had reached 10,000, by 1965 it was about 18.500 and by the granting of city status in 1988 it had exceeded 20,000.
While APPM was not the sole industry responsible for Burnie's post-war development and others established since have contributed substantially to the town's economy and growth, there is no doubt APPM was the industry that set the ball of industrial development rolling. Indeed, Burnie's development history can be clearly and sharply divided into two eras - the 109 years before APPM and the APPM years.
However, Burnie is now entering a third era in its development history - the post-APPM years. The paper mills - now owned and operated by Australian Paper - have scaled back both production and workforce and Burnie is no longer able to rely on big industry to provide employment and economic growth.
Burnie is now a city in transition. Spurred on by the need to renew its economic base, it is actively campaigning to bolster tourism, attract new investment and build the capacity of residents to develop businesses of their own.
For more than 60 years a paper town, Burnie's industrial heritage dominates the city's eastern entrance, sustaining Australia's fifth largest container port and the regional economy. In the curve of Emu Bay, the mill known simply as 'The Pulp', once employed 3,500 people. But Burnie's history and character extend beyond the mill to embrace a city known for culture, sport and beautiful gardens.
Local musical productions share the stage with visiting performers and the Regional Art Gallery exhibits work from around the nation. In and around the city are public and private gardens that blaze with colour through the seasons; on the outskirts, Annsleigh Gardens and the Emu Valley Rhododendron Garden. A natural amphitheatre of 13 hectares, more than 9,000 plants line the paths and surround the lakes in a superb display of wild and hybrid rhododendrons.
Burnie's busy shopping district leads directly to a board walk on the beach, but once a year is jammed with competition: The Burnie Ten Footrace, among the richest in the nation, draws hundreds of athletes and crowds of spectators every year. But the 'milk run' that ends in Burnie at the Lactos Cheese Factory, has attracted even greater recognition, with some of the finest cheeses tasted at the door, and sold throughout the world.