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Just as the river had made the land around Maitland attractive to the Baiame Aboriginal people, Maitland's location on the Hunter River allowed it to quickly grow into a bustling town. Its position as a gateway city between the coastal port of Newcastle and the New England hinterland beyond also made it very attractive. Becoming a major trade hub for northern New South Wales, a significant proportion of industry in Maitland had always centred around river transportation. Along with several successful riverside merchants, a robust manufacturing industry had a strong hold in Maitland, with diverse industry such as a candle and soap factory, flour mill and a brewery.
However, as much as the river had contributed to rich successes of the city, it was also the source of a devastating flood in 1955. Having experienced 13 major floods since settlement, this flood was reported as the worst flood in Australian history at the time with the river swelling 12.5 meters and in many areas reached past the rooftop of houses, claiming the lives of 14 Maitland residents. The recent floods of 2007 in the Hunter region had the river banks overflow once more causing damage which although not as considerable as the 1955 flood, was comparable to the damage which had been inflicted on the town 50 years previous.
Today Maitland is one of the prettiest heritage towns in New South Wales. Although no longer relying on the river as a significant part of the town's industry, the town remains a service centre for the Hunter Valley hinterland beyond it with the retail and manufacturing industries remaining as significant economic drivers for the town.