The Wonnarua people are the traditional land owners of the Maitland area and their lands extend throughout the Hunter Valley. A dreamtime story from the Wonnarua explains how the hills and rivers in the Hunter Valley were created by a spirit called Baiame. Neighbouring nations to Wonnarua include Geawegal, Worimi, Awabakal, Gamilaroi, Wiradjuri, Darkinjung and Birpai. These nations would travel through the area and were often invited to participate in local ceremonies.
The European settlement of Maitland began with farmers in the early 1800s. The majority of Maitland, including its main avenue, High Street, grew without apparent planning giving the city its great charm. The original bullock track became fixed as the line of High Street with its meandering curves which are still evident today. At almost every turn within Maitland you come across an architectural delight with a myriad of historic buildings giving the city its unique character. Landmark buildings erected over 170 years ago stand alongside fine modern buildings, a harmonious mix of new and old. The area has long been an industrious area and since the 1820s Central Maitland has been home to industry, trade and commerce.
Its riverside location, stores and warehouses gave the settlers many a task to undertake within the frontier town. Maitland was home to a wide range of businesses, including flourmills, breweries, soap and candle making and salt stores. Iron workers, blacksmiths and saddlers also thrived at this time. During the 1850s a series of riverside merchants traded, most notably David Cohen & Co and Owen & Beckett, experiencing great success. Interspersed within the retail area of Central Maitland were a selection of services and outlets such as tailors, hairdressers, wig makers, confectioners, photographers and dressmakers who added to the sense of vitality and diversity within the area.
Maitland’s proximity to the Hunter River has resulted in a succession of floods since European settlement. Over 200 floods have occurred on the Hunter River since settlement, 13 have had a direct effect on the city. The 1832 flood was severe with water reaching about 8.84m and killing seven people. The 1834 flood water reached the same height. In 1857 the Hunter River rose again to record heights, reaching 9.2m. Flooding continued for the next 30 years with the floods of the 1890s being the most disastrous. Much of the riverbank collapsed and many people were left without homes or personal possessions. In more recent times the major floods have included the 1955 flood which was the first Australian natural disaster to be broadcast by the media on an international scale and where waters reached 12.5m and caused catastrophic damage. The 2007 flood where flood waters reached 10.7m and the 2015 flood involved severe flash flooding and caused extended power outages to over 200,000 homes. For more information on the 1949 and 1955 floods, there is a free App which features 38 historic photos and narrated stories of flood survivors. A map and directions are also provided. To download the app, search for ‘Flood Walk’ on the Apple App Store or Google Play.