Gayle is an accountant. Shh – don’t tell. She thinks she’s a writer.
Published November 15th 2015
History Comes Alive in Charters Towers
Charters Towers Weekend Getaway Townsville is Queensland's second largest city and although it has much to offer you can't beat Charters Towers for a quick weekend getaway to the country. Just an hour and a half south-west of Townsville on the Flinders Highway this friendly, heritage rich town has plenty to see and do.
Gold was discovered in the area in 1871 and before long Charters Towers was home to 11 crushing mills, its own stock exchange, the first regional stock exchange in Australia, and in true Aussie tradition, 65 hotels. It's a little smaller today, boasting a population of just over 8,000. We easily fill the couple of days of our visit and are struck by the friendliness of the Charters Towers folk.
At eleven we meet at the Visitor Information Centre. Our guide Erica takes us from one heritage building to another, there is no shortage of them in Charters Towers. Erica outlines the town's gold mining history as well as that of the buildings themselves. We enter City Hall to view a WWII photographic display across an entire wall. The Americans were stationed here between 1942 and 1944.
In Stock Exchange Arcade, a superbly restored, glass ceilinged arcade of shops, we are treated to a simulation of its history as the Charters Towers Stock Exchange. Behind the arcade we visit the Assay Room and Mining Museum.
We drop into the World Theatre, originally the Australian Bank of Commerce built in 1891. In 1996 the building was extended and converted to a 660 seat theatre. The back of the original heritage building is preserved and can be viewed from inside.
One shop has full length curved glass display windows which were transported from England in the late 1800's. We are amazed they survived the journey. The town's Target Country store is in a heritage building which originally housed Stan Pollard & Coy. The entrance to the store sits behind some impressive leadlight display windows.
We move on to other buildings, view the Arthur Titley Centre Mural and in the main street admire the stained glass decorations atop the shops. We cross Deanes Road where what used to be Deanes Creek was bridged with a road and the water channeled either side into deep heritage listed drains. There is no water in them today but Erica assures us she has seen the drains full. We pass a wooden hotel that over 100 years ago was moved in its entirety on rails from the street behind to its current position in the main street.
The police station and historic barracks were gutted by fire in 1988 but following a petition from a quarter of the town's population were rebuilt using the original plans and State Funds. Also gutted by fire in 1995 was the Excelsior Hotel. The proprietor had insufficient funds to rebuild and the Council has taken over the building, restored the historic façade and it is now the town's library and home to its archives.
At only $10 (2015) each this one and a quarter hour tour is a bargain but there's more. We are given a discount voucher to a local eatery and have a sandwich and coffee for lunch for only $8 (2015) each. Walk safe, don't forget to wear comfortable shoes, a hat, sunscreen lotion and bring a bottle of drinking water.
Where: Departs from the Visitor Information Centre, 74 Mosman Street, Charters Towers. When: Check for times, (our tour commenced at 11am) Bookings via the website or at the Charters Towers Visitor Information Centre. Website:www.charterstowershistoricaltours.com.au/Home/ Telephone: Charters Towers Historical Tours: 0477 516 344 Charters Towers Visitor Information Centre 07 4761 5533 (9am – 5pm) Cost: $10 per adult
Miner's Cottage Museum
After lunch we call by The Miners' Cottage Museum, a restored worker's cottage, just for a quick look but there is too much to be passed by in a hurry. Here we meet Alan, the owner of the Miners' Cottage and a man with boundless enthusiasm for what he has here. The museum is designed to showcase Charters Towers' Mining heyday but Alan has also collected curios.
First he shows us a domed contraption that moves like a vice but has a pointer that hovers over a measurement scale. We try but fail to guess its purpose. It is a hat stretcher. The hat is placed upon the dome and it is wound out until the pointer hovers over the wearer's hat size.
Next he brings out a metal contraption that fits in his hand and has a handle that turns like a desk mounted pencil sharpener. But it is not pencils this sharpens but razor blades. Alan has a collection of antique razor blade sharpeners. A concave piece of ceramic where the blade is rubbed from side to side looks more like a spoon rest than a sharpener. A Bakelite sharpener made in Japan where the blade is enclosed within and the contraption slid back and forward on a piece of cord which turns the cleaners within looks more like a child's toy.
Then Alan produces an ornate pair of scissors with a metal box mounted on the blades. As the scissors are opened and closed one side of the box is pressed to its base. This is a candle snuffer for candle chandeliers. The burning wicks are cut by the scissors and encased in the box. The point of the scissors is used to tease out fresh wick to next light the candle.
Alan also has a mystery item. What appears to be some sort of press but is yet to be identified. Google searches have revealed nothing but Alan thinks he has found the manufacturing company and is awaiting a reply to his email.
Alan teaches me how to pan for gold in a round corrugated drum of water with dirt he digs from a nearby creek. He shows how to hold the pan and how to move it to remove the unwanted dirt and stone. When we near the end a fine black sand sits in the pan's grooves. This Alan explains is actually iron and he demonstrates with a magnet. Who would have thought, iron filings from a creek bed. We eventually trap two specks of gold.
We talk about the rock samples in the museum as I am developing a keen interest in rocks. We buy some samples. I am happy that a rock I noticed at Towers Hill is now identified as spotted dog granite.
Where: 26 Deane Street, Charters Towers When: Saturday 10am to 2pm Website:www.theminerscottage.com.au/ Telephone: 0414 967 369 Cost: (2015) Entry: Check at the museum, Gold Panning: $5, Self-serve tea and coffee is free on the front verandah.
Assay Room and Mining Museum
We return to the Assay Mining Museum for a better look at the exhibits. There is a display of minerals to entice not only the rock hound but anyone interested in the beautiful and curious. Assaying equipment used in the late 1800's and early 1900's to analyse the quality of gold is well labelled.
There are dioramas of a mining operation and of a battery stamper, where the rock was crushed to extract the gold. The dioramas are meticulous in their detail and I can only imagine someone has spent hundreds of hours on their preparation.
Amongst the displays are bellows, wash cradles, miners' helmets, bullion moulds, cupels, a scorifier press, smelting crucibles, and mining share certificates. The restored Assay Room that houses the museum is not large but the displays and many and well chosen.
Where: At the back of the Stock Exchange Arcade, 76 Mosman St, Charters Towers When: Check with the Visitor Information Centre Website:www.charterstowers.qld.gov.au/visitor-information-centre Telephone: Charters Towers Visitor Information Centre 07 4761 5533 (9am – 5pm) Cost: Free
Zara Clark Museum and Charles Wallis Military Display
Day two and we're off to the Zara Clark Museum. We didn't expect to stay long, it's just another general museum but then we meet Jeffrey. The museum is maintained by elderly volunteers and 75 year old Jeffrey is one of them. Jeffrey has a passion for the stuff here and he's a tinkerer, he takes these antique things home and gets them working again. Before we know it we are on the impromptu Jeffery museum tour and what a treat!
There is an old barber's chair in a corner behind a fire engine and Jeffery points out an award plaque resting on the seat. Mounted on the wooden base are a pair of human ears. They're not real, OK. When the barber retired the town's folk awarded him 'the last ears he ever cut off', all in jest of course.
In the kitchen and household section Jeffrey points out a small but heavy iron which I can fit in the palm of my hand. It is a portable self-heating iron fueled by methylated spirits, apparently for the bachelor or holiday maker. He shows us a bench-top fan and he lifts the top to reveal a kerosene burner. A round Rota fridge has lazy-susan shelves, an old toaster where the bread sits inside a holder is flipped with a lever to toast the other side.
There is a collection of primitive manual poker machines, left behind by US troops who were stationed in Charters Towers in WWII. Jeffrey has got all these working again and demonstrates with some tokens which I think are washers. Likewise, with a fortune telling machine. He gives me a token and I flip the lever. A number appears and we check a legend to find a large family awaits me. Hmmm, I don't think so. We play roulette on a wheel where mini motor bike riders go around as if on a race course.
The museum has a war section and we are surprised to see German war medals here as well as those of the allies. "You won't have seen one of these before," Jeffrey beckons us and points out a German SS Uniform. In all Jeffrey gives around two hours of his time and we leave having seen things we would neither have noticed nor understood without him.
Where: 36 Mosman Street, Charters Towers When: 7 days a week, 10am to 2pm. Website:www.charterstowers.qld.gov.au/visitor-information-centre Telephone: Charters Towers Visitor Information Centre 07 4761 5533 (9am – 5pm), Museum 07 3223 6666. Cost: (2015) Adults $5, Children $2, Locals and National Trust Members – Free.
Towers Hill Lookout and Ampitheatre
Next it's off to Towers Hill where mining once took place and where for many years there was a pyrites works. In WWII bombs were stored in tunnels under the hill and over 30 bunkers were constructed. Some of the underground space continues to be used today as a seismograph station.
Tower Hill rises 420 metres above sea level and is a steep drive. The panoramic views atop, which extend way beyond the town are the reward. The lookout is also an ampitheatre. Charters Towers screens its nightly 'Ghosts After Dark' movie presentations here. Bookings for the movie are via the Visitor Information Centre.
We meet a man at the top, who walks up the hill each and every day for exercise. What an energetic chap! A couple of ladies pass by and disappear on one of the walking tracks. Ruins of the pyrites works remain, as do the footings of a mine and battery and a of mill.
I hear some raucous birds and we are treated to the sight of Red-Tailed Black Parrots in flight. Eagles and kestrel are common here too, along with kangaroos and wallabies.
From the lookout the town's two water reservoirs are easily viewed. Water is pumped to these tanks from the Burdekin River. The first of these, set in the ground, has been in service since 1890 and has a capacity of 1.8 million gallons, just over 8 million litres. The blue tank also holds 8 million litres.
On the way down the hill we stop at one of the WWII bunkers. A sign warns us of dangerous mine shafts and possible unexploded munitions in the area. Next to the bunker another sign warns of the presence of NBN cables below. The old and the new, side by side.
Where: The base of the hill is at the top end of Mosman St, Charters Towers When: Anytime. Bookings for 'Ghosts After Dark' must be made before 5pm on the day. Website:www.charterstowers.qld.gov.au/visitor-information-centre Telephone: Charters Towers Visitor Information Centre 07 4761 5533 (9am – 5pm) Cost: The Lookout is free. The 'Ghosts After Dark' movie is (2015) Adult $10, Concession $9, Child $6 and Family $22.
Miners Cottage comment. I am not sure how you linked all your articles. Well done, its a great series. The Miners Cottage looks like an interesting place to explore. I think I would have spent a long time in there too. I love curios and antiques and I can spend hours in an antique or retro warehouse, looking around and exploring.
Beautiful photos Gayle and I love the lace iron work in your first photo. Charters Towers sounds like it is definitely going to be on my itinerary. I would like to go on this tour. I think you would have learned a lot from the tour that you wouldn't normally know about or see if you just popped in to Charters Towers.
You had me at hello. I love heritage and history. Your first photo is lovely. I like old buildings, and constantly take photos of them as they just fascinate me. When I eventually get to Queensland I will head for Charters Towers. Once I have some time up my sleeve I will come over to your Weekend Notes page to plan my itinerary.
Gayle I want to go to Charters Towers now. I love history and historical buildings and museums. I am itchy to travel and your series on Charters Towers makes me want to leave right now. Great articles.
It seems like you had a great time in Charters Towers and I know that each one of my comments is appearing below. I think that each of your pages deserves a separate comment. Great series and wonderful photos. It sounds like the volunteer in the Zara Clark Museum was very passionate about the Museum.