The land was originally inhabited by the Melukerdee band of the Palawa people. These are Aboriginal Tasmanians, the traditional & continuing custodians of the land. One Aboriginal Tasmanian of note to reside near Cygnet was Fanny Cochrane Smith who lived in Nichols Rivulet from 1889, was recognised by the Tasmanian government as the last Tasmanian Aboriginal and died in Port Cygnet in 1905.Her songs were recorded on the Edison wax phonograph cylinder and are among the earliest musical recordings and are the only recordings of Tasmanian Aboriginal song and speech.
The bay on which Cygnet sits was named Port des Cygnes (Port of Swans) by French navigator Bruni D’Entrecasteaux in 1793, because he observed a large number of black swans in the area. The swans are still in abundance and can be seen along with various protected species at the Port Cygnet Wildlife Sanctuary which is a protected wetlands area.
The first European settler in the district was William Nichols in 1834 who arrived 30 years after state capital Hobart was settled. Nichols received a grant for three hundred and twenty acres of land on the north side of Port Cygnet in 1829. After the land had been cleared and accommodation built, Nichols moved his family to this property. At the time the property was only accessible by a walking track from Browns River or up the river by boat.
His grandson, John Wilson, established a shipbuilding business at what was now known as Port Cygnet. The Wilson boat building business continues today. An orchard was planted in 1836 in Petcheys Bay. Until the end of the 1850s, timber was the main source of income as land was cleared. Timber was exported from the area for firewood, house building and fence palings.
In 1840 the township of Port Cygnet was surveyed. Land was advertised for sale to the public in 1848. The Post Office opened on 1 January 1854. By the turn of the century, fruit exports were increasing and shipments to London had already begun. Interstate supplies were increasing also. The fruit season saw most of the town’s population working in or about the orchards, while the millers provided the case materials. The town was known as Port Cygnet until 1895, Lovett until 1915 and then Cygnet.
The lowest recorded temperature was 3.9 degrees Celsius in 2013 and the highest recorded temperature was 40.9 degrees Celsius also in 2013.
The Town Today
There are two pubs, three bottle shops, one RSL club, two independent grocery stores, six cafe/restaurants, two petrol stations, a Bendigo Bank, three ATMs, a hardware store, two doctor’s clinics, a pharmacy, a bookshop, newsagent, two hairdressing salons, two butchers, five take away food shops, an organic grocer, a health food shop, a massage and natural therapies studio, a sports centre, laundromat, Catholic and Anglican churches, a campground, a park, a wildlife reserve and wetlands, children’s playground, skate park, scout hall and is well serviced for other clothing, home wares and special interest stores including a local cider makers bar and cellar door. There are also several art and pottery studios, three art galleries, a print workshop with an old printing press, a library linked to the collection of the State Library of Tasmania, two schools, a children’s toy library and a museum. The historic Cygnet Town Hall runs a calendar of events and activities including movie screenings, yoga, Tai Chi, life drawing classes, dance, Zumba, concerts and special events including performances by the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra and The Black Sorrows. The Cygnet Market takes place on the first and third Sunday of every month and presents fresh local produce, arts, crafts and vintage wares. About a mile south of the town centre is Port Cygnet (home of the Port Cygnet Sailing Club), a safe anchorage for pleasure craft with easy road and walking access to Cygnet also offering sailing classes, annual regattas and day sails.
Architectural features of note include the restored historic Cygnet Old Bank (built in 1909 now a licensed cafe, bed and breakfast clothing/home wares shop and alpaca weaving studio), Cygnet Town Hall (1914), Red Velvet Lounge building (formerly the old general store built 1912), the Cygnet Hotel a grand hotel built in 1910, St Mark’s Anglican church (1875), St James Catholic church (1940), Stanleys Art Gallery housed in Cygnet’s first general store built in 1905 and the old Cygnet Post Office (circa 1882) now Trove antiques and collectables.
Cygnet is something of a local mecca for artists, musicians, craftspeople and creative types and the home of the widely popular annual Cygnet Folk Festival, Cygnet Folk Festival  which occurs annually on the second weekend in January and attracts musicians and music lovers from mainland Australia and the world. Festival musicians are billeted with locals and the program includes dance, workshops, arts/craft market, food stalls and poetry. The biennial Le Weekend French culture festival takes place in February and celebrates French discovery and influence in the region. The program includes concerts, food and art/craft market, the Tour de Cygnet cycling event, vintage car display, film screenings, cabaret, petanque, sailing and Montmarte inspired street artists. Reflecting the mix of agricultural and creative local residents, other events in Cygnet include Handmade in Cygnet an annual artist open studio trail held on the Easter weekend, the Cygnet Flickerfest film festival, annual art exhibitions , dances and numerous other social gatherings.
The region is a Gourmet’s paradise with apple & cherry orchards, strawberry, salmon, trout, pig, sheep, chicken, cattle & saffron farming, honey producers, wineries & boutique cider and gin makers producing from this fertile region. Increasing numbers of people and families, colloquially known as ‘tree and seachangers’ are moving to Tasmania and calling the Huon Valley home. Cygnet along with other towns within the Huon Valley have seen an increase in property sales to foreign and interstate buyers. Australia’s perhaps best known Tree Changer, Celebrity Chef, writer & star of the SBS TV series Gourmet Farmer (filmed in Glaziers Bay & Cygnet) Matthew Evans has made the area famous for food lovers with his local Fat Pig Farm feasts, cookery school and recipe books.
Many retirees are moving to Cygnet and the Huon Valley, attracted to the sea or tree change lifestyle, incredible scenery, the thriving gourmet produce industry making it a Foodies’ paradise, affordable property prices and cost of living, a vibrant arts and cultural scene and friendly people.
Cygnet is in the Huon Valley Council municipality.
According to the 2016 census of Population, there were 1,556 people in Cygnet.
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people made up 18.3% of the population.
- 76.7% of people were born in Australia. The next most common country of birth was England at 7.0%.
- 88.3% of people spoke only English at home.
- The most common responses for religion were No Religion 40.4%, Catholic 26.7% and Anglican 13.1%.
- Australian Bureau of Statistics (27 June 2017). “Cygnet (L) (Urban Centre/Locality)”. 2016 Census QuickStats. Retrieved 22 January 2018.
- Clark, J., “Smith, Fanny Cochrane (1834–1905)”, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, retrieved 2018-12-14
- Premier Postal History, Post Office List, retrieved 11 April 2008
- “Daily Maximum Temperature – 094220 – Bureau of Meteorology”. www.bom.gov.au. Retrieved 2018-12-14.