Maitland (map) is a city in the Lower Hunter region approximately 200km by road north of Sydney. Maitland city is sometimes called the largest inland city in New South Wales, though Wagga Wagga also claims this title due to Maitland being only 25km from the coast and a satellite of the Newcastle Metropolitan Area. It has a population circa 60,000 spread over an area of 396km˛. Several prominent Australian theatre and film artists were born in Maitland including Ruth Cracknell, John Bell, Nick Enright and David Berthold.
Founded in 1820, vessels with a shallow draft could navigate the Hunter River to West Maitland. Nearby Morpeth served as the head of navigation for larger ships and goods were transhipped upriver to West Maitland on barges and smaller vessels. Maitland was therefore the point at which goods were unloaded for, and distributed to, the hinterland. Large warehouses were built facing onto the main High Street and backing onto the Hunter River (some of which still exist). For almost 20 years until the gold rushes in Victoria, Maitland was the second largest town in Australia. The arrival of the railway from Newcastle coupled with the increasing silting of the river and larger ships spelt the end of the traditional river traffic.
Originally there were three separate municipalities. West Maitland was a privately founded town which grew due to its proximity to the river and which today is the commercial centre of the city. East Maitland was established by the colonial government; while Morpeth was another private town founded by Lieutenant Close, a Peninsular War veteran. The present city was proclaimed in 1945 with the amalgamation of the three local government areas. The city's boundaries have further increased by incorporating parts of other local government areas since then; most notable was Kearsley Shire, which from 1946 to 1949 was the only local government area in Australia's history to have a Communist majority of councillors.
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