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Streetscape with mountain behind Hampden Rd Battery Point

Walking Battery Point - Small Suburb, Big History

These days they're quiet, rosebush-trimmed and expensive, but the buildings of Hobart's Battery Point still provide clues to the area's true tale – especially if you're exploring on foot.

Covering less than a square kilometre, Hobart's first suburb has navigated more than 200 years of poverty and prosperity since European settlement. In the preceding 12,000 years it was home to the Parlevar people and the semi-nomadic Mouheneener tribe who dived for crayfish off its rocky point. Since colonisation, it's been whalers, jailers, sailors and art dealers vying for a piece of Battery Point real estate.

The suburb was named in 1818 after the Mulgrave Battery: a defence station cobbled together from ship cannons to guard the port at Derwent Bay. Soon, colonial whalers began fishing the harbour and for the next 60 years or so Battery Point thrived on maritime business.

A good starting point for a tour is the wharf at Salamanca with its flight of sandstone steps leading to the houses of Kelly Street. Whaling captain James Kelly built the stairs in 1839. (He might have circumnavigated Van Diemen's Land in a fishing boat discovering Macquarie Harbour along the way, but he still wanted a shortcut to work.)

Battery Point was the obvious choice of residence for those who drew their incomes at the wharf and these days both dockworkers cottages and merchant class mansions remain. On Hampden Road, one of the more opulent examples is open to the public. Now the Narryna Heritage Museum, this town house was built in 1836 as a residence for Captain Andrew Haig (who still faced a climb every Sunday to St George's Anglican Church – built two years later in Cromwell Street at the highest spot on Battery Point).

Back down Hampden Road lies Arthur Circus – a circle of cottages surrounding a park. These were built as part of a controversial property 'sub-division' presided over in the early 1840s by landowner Lieutenant-Governor Arthur, who promised that the area would become "the resort of the beau monde". As if to prove his point, further down Runnymede Street sits the colonial mansion of Lenna. Built in 1874, it's now literally a resort – or, at least, one of the city's most sumptuous hotels.

Rich or poor, the residents of mid-nineteenth century Hobart Town enjoyed a rapacious taste for liquor. Convicts, captains and even the Rev. Robert Knopwood didn't mind a tipple – especially at the Shipwrights Arms, which still pulls pints in its original 1846 location on Trumpeter Street.

The Depression hit the industrial workers of Battery Point hard and by 1950 the suburb had fallen into total disrepair. Thankfully though, a residents' coalition kept developers' wrecking balls at bay.

Today the Point is one of Hobart's most sought-after addresses, especially the riverside homes of Marine Parade. But walk the streets on a cold night as the ships' horns blow low across the bay – and if the fog sits just right over the BMWs you can almost imagine yourself back in the days of the colony.