European settlement of the Tamar Valley began soon after the river was charted by Bass and Flinders in 1798. Launceston and Georgetown were established early in the nineteenth century, but the rest of the valley remained as scattered hamlets until the discovery of gold at Beaconsfield and the establishment of apple orchards along the valley in the late nineteenth century.
According to a late resident of Hillwood, Bertram Brown, in 1909 Hillwood only had about ten homes housing about 20 people, but it was transformed in the early 20th century by the mass planting of orchards. In his words, “About 1913 onwards the Hillwood area began to develop rather fast. Land was cleared with tree pullers and explosives and apple and pear trees were planted mainly by Launceston business and professional people, houses were built for employees, and in some instances shacks for weekend owners.” A school was built in Hillwood in 1916, a shop in about 1916, and a church in 1930.
From this time until the apple industry began to decline in the 1970s, apple orchards were the centre of Hillwood life. At one stage there were 25 orchards in Hillwood.
Apples were packed into boxes in apple sheds and then taken down to the Hillwood Jetty, which stood not far to the north of where the Hillwood pontoon and coffee shop are today. The apples were taken by boat to Beauty Point and then loaded onto ships. Prior to a hall being built in Hillwood in the 1920s, the apple-packing sheds were sometimes used for socials and dances.
As well as a collection point for apples, the Hillwood Jetty was an important part of all commerce in Hillwood. It was used at times for moving timber harvested by wood-cutters, slate from Bangor, and explosives. The shed on the jetty was eventually sold and moved along Leam Road where it was used as a cold store and then converted to a house. The jetty was lost to a fire.
Today Hillwood is thought to have more than 350 residents. There is only one commercial orchard – Miller’s Orchard on Hillwood Road – and there is no school or church. Some of the old buildings – apple sheds, school house and church – can still be seen, converted to new uses.
The Millar family of Hillwood in the 1930s. The picture shows hardwood packing crates for apples and an apple shed in background. Apples were transported to Hillwood Jetty by horse and cart, taken by boat to Beauty Point and then exported by ship.