Far north Queensland is a special place, not just for stunning waterfalls, amazing rainforest pockets or the unique flora and fauna that’s found nowhere else in the world, but the history that dates back to the 1800s.
Right from the get-go, I knew my trip through the Herberton area would cover some unbelievable history and hidden gems across an area I’ve never really explored. Starting at Herberton, 90 mins southwest of Cairns, I was immediately drawn to the Herberton Historical village. https://www.historicvillageherberton.com.au
Now this place has to be seen to believed where they have 16 acres to explore with historical buildings, working machinery, antique cars and trucks, a huge array of mining gear plus the main street where buildings are period correct with live demos. My advice, be prepared to spend the whole day here, it's just that good !
The village began life in 1973 but closed in 2003 due to rising costs, it was a few years later when a couple drove past and after a few enquiries bought the failing village. By 2009 the village re-opened with restoration starting on the 30 buildings on site and since then they have added another 20 period-style buildings.
Some of the sheds and huts date back to 1880 near the old tin mine that is on the property and also the original mine head over the shaft, with a stamper and boilers nearby.
Wandering around the property there are over 150,000 exhibits in and out of the buildings, from toys, chemist potions, machines, garages, all the different shop paraphernalia, tractors and the huge working sawmill that was transported from the bush to on-site.
The centrepiece is Elderslie House which has been meticulously restored after being moved on-site where it was built in Herberton, overlooking a huge tin mine operation. Originally built by Queensland miner and entrepreneur Mr John Newell in 1881 for his wife, it stood on the top of a hill in the heart of town and back then Herberton was regarded as the centre of the Atherton Tablelands.
Herberton was known as the village in the hills when Tin was found in 1880 by John Newell and Willie Jack. A few years they opened up a merchant store in town, and realising what they had they opened another 12 stores on the tablelands and the coastline.
Up town, the Herberton mining museum has been built where the first payable tin was found in Herberton, you can walk mining trails and see the old mine shafts ( namely the Gully Shaft, Eastern Shaft and No. 3 Shaft ), walk around old machinery and see the old camps. Inside the building, they have a massive collection of mining memorabilia and minerals.
Even the main street of Herberton is like a step back in time with 100-year-old buildings with verandahs built right to the street's edge, then there’s the spy museum with rare cameras there are 60 buildings that can be visited on a self-guided tour around town.
It was hard leaving Herberton but the push was on to head further west towards Irvinebank just 26 km away where this fascinating historic tin mining town remains largely untouched.
It’s a quiet town and the go-to place was straight to Loudoun House which is now the local museum. Loudoun House was built by John Moffat when he discovered Tin back in 1882 in this harsh and rough landscape.
He built the house to overlook his mining operations which included a smelter, a mill and a dozen stampers all within earshot of his house. Moffat was a religious man and was well respected within the area to the point when he realised that the mine was no longer viable he refunded 20,000 pounds back to investors all in good faith.
Today Loudoun house is pretty well packed with mining info, photos and town memorabilia and from the verandah, you can see the massive tailings dam from the original Tin mine.
An interesting fact that in 2010 the dam was drained and over 20 million dollars of tin was recovered according to the museum’s curator that was lost in the old timers processing methods.
Irvinebank has other handsome buildings built at the turn of the century that include the National bank, School of Arts and the Treatment works ( originally the Loudoun Mill ) all heritage listed and preserved very well.
To the north of town, the Vulcan mine and mill are well worth the explore. The mine was once regarded as the deepest tin mine in Australia and known as the most successful at one time during its 40-year lifespan.
The massive mine head can still be found, and by following the track up the hill I found the massive deep shafts and could see the tunnels heading off the main shaft.
Irvinebank also had a small gauge tramway built in 1907 that carried passengers and tin ingots north towards Chillagoe. At the time the Queensland rail built 3 foot 6 lines but the Irvinebank lines were only a 2-foot gauge due to being privately owned.
Leaving Irvinebank along Petford Road the next stop was the old township site of Montalbion, where vast amounts of silver were found in 1885 as well as copper and gold.
A small town grew over time but eventually, the primitive lifestyle and remoteness ended the town and mine. All that remains these days is a dam used for the town's water supply and a sign.
At Emuford, a further 30km west, legendary explorer and prospector James Mulligan was searching in a local creek for food and stumbled across an Emu’s nest with 4 eggs in it named the creek.
Tin was found here in 1881 but it wasn’t until 1911 that a commercial operation was built and closed in 1985. The town's site is situated beside Emu Creek but there's nothing left bar concrete slabs and a few crumbling bricks.
On the western side of the creek, the main mine site with sheds and stamper is still intact and is regarded as Queensland's most intact example of a historical tin mine battery site. The landscape out here is harsh yet beautiful where the Petford road follows the Atherton Ranges until Petford.
Just a locality now, Petford was an important siding on the original rail line from Chillagoe to Cairns that was built in 1900, but now with just a little siding shack, there's nothing left of the original town.
This track from Herberton to Petford was the original Cobb & Co route between 1888 and 1904. A connection to the outside life the announcement of the coach's arrival would generate great interest for the town folk when the driver would sound his bugle. This was mail service number 201, which carried nearly anything to everything and covered all the small communities along the way covering nearly 270km once a week.
I found this trip from Herberton to Petford one of the most amazing history trails I have covered anywhere in QLD, so if you have a few days up your sleeve while exploring far north QLD, I highly recommend the Herberton to Petford drive.
The Herberton history trail starts at Herberton, 100km southwest of Cairns in far North Queensland and ends at Petford a further 70km west. This area is rich in both mining and pioneer history dating way back to the mid-1800s.
WHAT TO SEE AND DO
There's plenty to see and do from self-guided mine tours, spending a day at the Herberton Historical village and the mining museum, discovering the old Tin mining operations at Irvinebank, and exploring the dirt trails through to Petford.
The main office at the Herberton Historical Village has a lot of local info regarding the town and what to see. Up the road at the Herberton Mining museum ( located on Jack Road or by phoning (07) 4096 3474 ), they are the local information centre and can also point you in the right direction regarding any inquiries. At Irvinebank, Loudoun House in O'Callaghan Street is the local museum where you’ll find all the relevant information from the past to the present with a huge array of memorabilia from the local mining and historical days gone by.