Australia has one of the worlds diverse landscapes and within that we have some of the most amazing towns in the world. From what I have learnt travelling is that you don’t have to travel far to experience the diversity. Now I was always under the assumption that to find these outback towns, was that the first step was to travel to the outback, well that’s not so true.
Travelling inland from Townsville in north QLD, is Charters Towers, and boy has it got some stories to tell. Only 1 1/2 hours across to the tropics this outback city was once the second largest city in Queensland, not with population but in square miles covering a staggering 68,000 sq km.
Like most places gold was found nearby and in 1872 a boom bought people from far and wide bringing prosperity and activity. During the boom there was a staggering 27,000 people in the area making it the largest settlement outside of Brisbane, and with this Charters Towers had one of the few stock exchanges in regional Australia. It was said at the time that if anything was desired it could be found at the Towers, and there was no need to travel elsewhere.
The whole town was built on wealth from huge profit from gold mining and today its regarded as one of the most beautiful cities in in land QLD. The stunning old buildings have been restored and are being re-used for other purposes blending new and old architecture together. No one really knows where the towns name came from but reports say that a newspaper mis-spelt Charters Tor's to Towers and the name stuck.
The grandeur of the 1880’s buildings are still highlighted within the area, even the old stock exchange has been stunningly restored complete with the curved glass roof. While on buildings Charters had a reported 92 pubs in its boom time.
Today some are still open yet others are private residences. Heritage listed by the National Trust, the buildings are scattered around the city where cast iron panels still shine in the sun, ornate verandas wrap around the old Queenslanders, chimneys are blackened with years of soot and stunning mature trees grow beside the old sheds.
It was an aboriginal boy, Jupiter, who back in 1872 led some horses to a creek at the base of Tower Hill and saw the gold in the water. After registering the claim, the rush was on and the area was mined for many years. Tower Hill was alive with miners who virtually pulled the gold ridden quartz hill apart with over 30 deep mines around the hill.
Today the old ruins of several mines can still be seen, Clarke’s mine, the Rainbow Mill and the Pyrite Works brick ruins are still there. Just quietly, Tower Hill is the place to go for stunning sunset & sunrise views with viewing decks and walking tracks around the hill with views into the hazy distance on any day.
For the tourist on the outskirts of Charters, checkout the Columbian Poppet Mine Head. This mine structure complete with mine shaft trolley’s, a mile of steel cable and other relics is from the Columbian mine where it was used to access the active mine shaft 550m below the surface.
It stood 20 metres over the mine shaft lifting and lowering carts and workers deep underground. Its pretty amazing to see just how the old timers worked and their gear. The mine was capped off in 2002 and was one of the last Woking gold mines in the area. Back in the day the deepest was reported to be 926 metres deep, and today gold exploration is still being explored in the area where they have sunk a test shaft to nearly 2000 m deep underground.
Roll around to 1942 and WW11 it was decided to build several air force runways at Charters Towers to support nearby Townsville being the closest inland centre that could provide strategic support. Its hard to imagine that thousands of US and Aussie service men and women were housed in Charters ready to give support to the north some 1800 km away.
Back at tower hill there are dozens of WW11 concrete bunkers all strategically place and staggered across the hill in case of a raid, and some of the bunkers housed munitions. Today a self guided walking tour leads you to some of the 29 bunkers where you can walk in to and see tv reenactments and other displays. A tip here, download the free Towers Hill in WW11 app and point your phone at the signs at the interactive bunkers to give you a real life experience.
Charters Towers was the largest staging post for the troops in the region. Apparently when the bombers took off from the airstrip, they were so heavy that part of Tower Hill had to be knocked off so they could clear it. Houses were commissioned by the war effort to house the troops and local residents moved away and a bush school was built 20km just in case there was an attack on the city.
The town also houses the only gun firing range for a plane in QLD. It's where a plane was suspended on a tripod and a bore range was setup across the gully some 350 metres away, the planes sites were set and shots fired to the target. Its nothing like I have ever seen or heard, but can be found just a few miles out of town towards the towns weir.
During the warmer months when storms brew and the heat belts down, a trip out to the pier is a great way to cool off and relax beside the Burdekin River. It's the locals go to place to enjoy fishing, skiing and picnicking plus the perfect spot for a cooling swim, safe for all ages.
At the northern end of the public area is a plaque dedicated to explorer Leichhardt when he camped nearby on April 11, 1845 which was camp number 117 on his way to the cape.
Theres just so much history around the stunning city of Charters Towers with magnificent buildings, there’s an array of museums to explore, unreliable WW11 structures, the Venus mine tour which is the largest surviving battery relic in Australia, then there’s the natural wonders surrounding the area.
Diving the streets of Charters is like viewing a living montage of Australian heritage, no wonder it claims to be Australia's most authentic country town.