Sorell in Tasmania is 200 years old, now the once-tiny town wants to be a hub in its own right


Sorell is a town with an identity crisis.

Founded in the early 1800s, Sorell was once the “granary of Australia”.

But 200 years on, a lot has changed for the town that sits about 25 kilometres north-east of the Tasmanian capital of Hobart.

With more than 14,400 residents recorded at the last census, Sorell’s population has grown rapidly in recent years.

According to Tasmania’s Department of Treasury and Finance, it’s projected to hit 19,666 by 2042.

The number of homes in the council area is expected grow at about the same rate.

David and Dionne Berry say their children are “happier” and have more energy due to less travelling.(ABC Radio Hobart: Georgie Burgess)

But the people who live in Sorell don’t necessarily spend much time there.

Seventy-three per cent of its residents work outside of the region — mainly in Hobart.

And its youth aren’t far behind.

Three students holding young goats wearing coats
Heidi Sowter, Breanna Tunks, and Lillian Kemp are enjoying animal studies at Sorell School.(ABC Radio Hobart: Georgie Burgess)

The Sorell School was one of Australia’s first schools — built in 1821, it can lay claim to being the oldest continuously operating school in the country.

But almost 60 per cent of parents who live in the Sorell region bypass the school to send their children to Hobart.

The Mayor is just one of the people passionate about making sure Sorell does not become a glorified suburb of Hobart, but a hub in its own right.

“The more jobs, the more opportunity we have in Sorell, the more opportunity we have of keeping that dollar in Sorell,” he says.

Ink and quill inside an old classroom
The Pioneer Village at the Sorell School.(ABC Radio Hobart: Georgie Burgess)

‘Hectic, chaotic, stressful’ commutes

A few years ago, Emma Churchill was another Sorell resident who made the often-arduous commute to Hobart.

She was often forced to rise before dawn and faced heavy traffic to get to her office on time.

“It was hectic, chaotic, stressful, all of that, trying to get everyone into the car on time for the day care drop off and then getting to work,” Ms Churchill says.

“It would be at least two hours a day travelling to and from work that I now have to spend with my family.”

Emma Churchill poses on a beach.
Emma Churchill has time to walk on the beach near her house in the morning now that she works in Sorell.(ABC News: Scott Ross)

Since starting work at the South East Employment Hub in Sorell about a year ago, Ms Churchill’s commute has reduced to about 10 minutes and she has more time to spend with her family.

“I’ve noticed in the kids they’re less emotional of a morning, they’re happier, I’m happier,” she says.

‘Less fatigued and happier’

The Berry family is another that has benefitted from looking local. Their kids used to go to school in Hobart but are now at the Sorell School.

For many children in the region who make the commute, it can often mean a 6:45am dash to the bus and an arrival home at 5:00pm.

Moving schools has cut out almost a day a week of bus travel for the Berry children.

“Our son Hugo decided to try the local school and it’s been a really positive experience, and his sisters both followed him after that,” dad David Berry says.

“They’re able to use that for sporting activities or after school functions.

“They’re less fatigued and they’re happier.

Two students holding large fluffy rabbits
Sorell School animal studies students Chelsea Pepper and Pat Ransley.(ABC Radio Hobart: Georgie Burgess)

There are many reasons why parents in the Sorell and Southern Beaches area choose to drive past the school.

For some it is because they prefer a private school, and there is also the issue of reputation — something new principal Jenny Cowling is keen to see improve.

Ms Cowling said the school, which has about 900 students between kindergarten and grade 12, is changing.

Since starting in the top job this year, she said staff have undergone professional learning and the school had a new set of values.

The State Government has also allocated $25 million to rebuild the ageing school, with the first sod expected to be turned next year.

“We are really growing and improving all the time,” Ms Cowling says.

“I feel really proud to be the principal of the Sorell School.”

A woman wearing a pink jacket smiling at the camera, a door behind her says 'principal'
Jenny Cowling is principal at Australia’s oldest continuously operating school, at Sorell.(ABC Radio Hobart: Georgie Burgess)

Attracting professionals top of priority list

Andrew Hyatt from the South East Regional Development Association works with employers to match them with local workers.

Andrew Hyatt looks at the camera.
Andrew Hyatt says Sorell needs to attract more professional services to the town.(ABC News: Scott Ross)

He believes to reverse the drain of workers and money from Sorell, the region needs to attract more professional services like accountants, engineers and health providers.

“The majority of the people do leave not only for employment but for those services,” he said.

“To have additional services down here in the region would certainly encourage not only providing a service for the community … employment opportunities as well.

Mr Hyatt recently helped Kings Outdoor Living, a construction company, recruit an engineer.

Sam King with Prince Khadka.
Sam King (back right) says employing engineer Prince Khadka (front left) has paid off.(ABC News: Scott Ross)

Business owner Sam King says previously the company had to look outside the area for that service.

“It’s about reducing the timeline it takes to get back to the customer or the client, which can sometimes lose you a job because it seems inactive,” Mr King says.

“We can’t do everything via email … so if there were more people offering those services in Sorell, we’d certainly take advantage of it.”

Mr Hyatt believes the community is up to the task of keeping its residents working, learning and spending locally.

Aerial view of housing estate.
Sorell’s population is predicted to reach almost 20,000 by 2042.(ABC News: Scott Ross)



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