Rio Tinto Aluminium's Bell Bay smelter is located on the Tamar River near George Town in Northern Tasmania. It was the first built in the Southern Hemisphere, commencing production in 1955 as a joint venture between the Commonwealth and Tasmanian Governments, primarily to overcome difficulties importing this essential metal during wartime. Bell Bay was chosen as the location because of the availability of hydro electric power and deep water facilities.
Initital plans for the development of the smelter began in the mid 1940s and from early in the 1950s much activity was centred on the region. The arrival of the aluminium industry to Bell Bay had a considerable impact on the township of George Town, about five kilometres away.
George Town is Australia’s oldest town. It was settled on 11 November 1804 and was Australia’s third permanent settlement after Sydney and Hobart. Although George Town had enjoyed periods of prosperity, by the time the Australian Aluminium Production Commission chose Bell Bay as the site for its works, the population of this coastal town was just 300. The 1950s saw an influx of families, and the associated development in housing and essential services as well as recreational and community facilities. Many of those who immigrated to Tasmania to work during the construction and commissioning stages stayed on when the plant began production. Today, some of their children and grandchildren are employed by Rio Tinto Aluminium!
The aluminium smelter has played a key role in the development of Bell Bay as a major industrial centre and a number of other large industries have since been established, including a ferro manganese smelter, a medium density fibreboard plant and an aluminium paste and powder plant. Thousands of jobs have been created and business opportunities developed.
The wealth generated from the Bell Bay smelter provides a strong economic base for the region, which takes in the Tamar Valley and includes Launceston, about 40 minutes drive from the smelter. Launceston is Tasmania's second largest city and is located 200km north of Hobart. Launceston is surrounded by hills, and sits at the junction of the Tamar River and the North and South Esk Rivers.
Population: George Town 6,270; Greater Launceston Area: 99,000.
Climate: In summer (December to February) average maximum temperature is 24° C. Winter (June to August), maximum average is 13° C.