The Rush for Gold
We have quite a long drive today as we have decided to make the 83 miles diversion inland to Charters Towers, an old gold mining town on the Flinders Highway. We set off at 10 a.m. and head west from Townsville. We are all very alarmed to see the number of dead kangaroos at the side of the highway. These have obviously been knocked down, probably causing a great deal of damage to the vehicle as well as themselves.
We drive past Townsville’s race track which maybe explains the number of horses we pass on our journey. Many of these horses look to be thoroughbred rather than farm stock.
Once we’ve driven up from the coast the landscape becomes flatter and large farms line the side of the road. Although there are cattle in the fields the land is dry and brush like. As we pass through wooded areas it is very sad to see how much of this woodland has been destroyed by the recent bush fires.
The temperature rises steadily from 30C and by the time we reach Charters Towers it has reached 35C and there isn’t a cloud in the sky. The town is on a plateau with the evidence of mining in the hills around. It was founded in the 1870’s when gold was discovered at Towers Hill in 1871 by 12-year-old Aboriginal, Jupiter Mosman. The gold boom years lasted until the new century and were so good that the town had its own stock exchange.
We call at the tourist information office to pick up a map of the landmarks in the town. Many of the buildings date back to the late 19th century and as we wander around the street we come across some interesting places.
The old stock exchange was housed in the arcade which is glass roofed and lined with shops and a café. This is where speculators made and lost thousands of dollars when trading on gold. Many investors were duped into putting money into mines which never produced anything. It must have been a buzzing place in its heyday.
Unfortunately, the hot sunny weather of the Summer months means that many of the places are closed including the museum and the miner’s cottage, which we had particularly wanted to see. The outside of this cottage alone demonstrates the hardships faced by the miners and their families searching for their fortunes.
Strolling the main street, we come across a number of murals. These are all local artists pieces and reflect life in the district around Carters Towers. The largest of these murals covers the gable end of a building and is a representation of the whole town centre.
We return to the car and drive up towards Towers Hill. Halfway up the hill we come across World War II bunkers dotted around the hill. These were ammunition stores and are therefore placed at different angles so that if one of them exploded there would not be a chain reaction. We watch films in two of the bunkers and listen to the stories of the US and Australian airmen stationed in Charters Towers during the Coral Sea battle of WWII.
Leaving this historical site we continue up the hill passing fenced off disused old mine shafts. At the top of the hill is a lookout where we are able to see over the surrounding country side for miles and miles. We follow the interactive story boards which paint a vivid picture of the days of the gold rush.
While Mark goes to collect the car, Marcus and I follow a track to one side of the lookout. This takes us to the ruins of the Pyrites works that used to be used in the extraction of the gold. The chimney and other buildings have now fallen down but the view of the town below is stunning. The temperature is now 38C and we are glad to get back to the air-conditioned car.
Less than 15 minutes out of the town Mark realises we need petrol. There isn’t much in the way of civilisation until we hit Ayr so we don’t know whether to turn back or not. My phone tells us there should be a petrol station in 15km so we continue and hope for the best. My phone was right, thank goodness for modern technology, it’s good for some things.
We have to retrace this mornings journey along Flinders Highway but turn onto the Woodstock Giru Road and follow this until we hit the Bruce highway and turn south. This is a long journey through very remote country. Mountains and forest cover the landscape, much of the forest burnt and scorched by recent bush fire. Once past Ayr the land flattens out again and we see a group of kangaroos in a field next to the road, later a solitary roo watches from the side of the road as we drive by.
Before we reach Airlie, we stop at a McDonald for coffee (Mark is feeling sleepy and has double espresso) but cannot resist a burger as we haven’t eaten for hours. Not the healthiest of choices, but I cannot remember the last time I had a Mac burger.
It is getting dark and we are all pretty desperate to reach our destination. As we pass Bowen, a small coastal town set on a hill just north of Airlie we catch sight of flames. We drive towards and then past the flames, a whole field is ablaze. We’re just relieved to get past it and be on our way, but it must be terrible for the people who live here.