Burnie CBD and Port from Wilfred Campbell Memorial Reserve
Burnie CBD and Port, from Wilfred Campbell Memorial Reserve

The forerunner to Business Northwest, the Burnie Chamber of Commerce was established at a meeting sponsored by the Launceston Chamber Of Commerce and held in the ‘old’ council chambers in Wilson Street at 8pm on 24th June 1937, chaired by Burnie Warden Roly Hilder.

Initial foundation membership was 85 and then Chairman and Managing Director of The Advocate newspaper Mr Len Harris was elected as foundation chairman. Vice chairmen were well known Stan Joyce and Mac Crisp. The executive committee comprised Sam Bird, Les Hudson, Allan Bewsher and Stan Alford.

This original committee established five sectional committees, each with a chairman and from five to nine members. Namely, Public Affairs and Finance, Retail, Produce, Transport, and Timber and Mining. AW Tanner was treasurer, WD Lean secretary and R Wardlaw auditor.

We might wonder what sort of a town would spawn such a vigorous organisation back in the thirties. Burnie had a population of only 7000 and A.P.P.M. was not much more than a hole in the ground. Of course, in those days there was no Tioxide, no Lactos, no Elphinstones, no Harvey Norman and no expressway. The passenger train left the station in front of the Bay View Hotel at 7am daily for Hobart and you could catch the odd flathead off the rocks across the tracks. Likewise, there was no island breakwater, no foreshore reclamation, no container crane, let alone any containers, no berths 5, 6 and 7 or wood chips.

By 1945, the Chamber had a membership of 115, embracing nine special committees. There are no other records to be found until 1970 other than the minutes of a very active retail section, which met regularly to set shop trading hours and to discuss industrial matters and other matters of common interest.

In 1970, President John Pease urged the introduction of one-way streets to alleviate the town’s growing traffic problems and drew the attention of the police to the problem of school bags cluttering doorways and footpaths. In 1976, he expressed concern about delays in the commencement of the expressway’s construction and in 1986 urged its completion by the end of that year.

It is nearly thirty years since the Chamber expressed support for a mall in Wilson Street, later discussing with Council a plan for its implementation for a trial period. Members of the Burnie Club may need to be reminded that in 1974 the Chamber supported a plan to buy Breckenborough for use as a Community Art and Cultural Centre.

The Chamber’s name was changed in 1994 in conformity with the state body and all other state-wide Chambers to include the word ‘industry’.

One of the Chamber’s more progressive decisions in 1971 was to accept a report endorsing the formation of an Association of North Western Chambers of Commerce to be recommended to other Chambers on the Coast, resulting in its formation in 1973, with Burnie members Lloyd Harris and Ed Cooper as president and secretary respectively.

Although the Association didn’t enjoy enough on-going support, it survived long enough and strongly enough to successfully see the establishment, at its behest, of a single statistical district from Wynyard to Latrobe by the Australian Bureau of Statistics as the basis of a notion for a future “linear” city from Wynyard to Latrobe. That activity was followed by discussions with the then Federal Minister for Regional Development Ray Groom on the establishment of a Regional Authority representative of local government, commerce, industry and the community with the authority to make planning decisions and implement them. Ray Groom’s movement to State politics was largely responsible for the idea not being pursued.

Over the years, the Chamber has been active in consultation with the City Council, the Port Authority and with other business-based groups in seeking optimum conditions for the successful operation of business and industry in the community and to advance the development and growth of the Burnie area.

In August 2019 the Chamber rebranded to become Business Northwest in a move to extend our geographical reach and to appeal to a younger and more diverse range of businesses.

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