Ghost Towns in Australia are mostly found in the outback. Think old South Australian railway towns like Farina and Beltana, or a cattle station killed by drought such as Kanyaka Station.
Driving to the Terowie turn off in South Australia's dry mid north, I had to navigate through a crowd of road crews busily re-sealing the main highway. The Terowie Roadhouse was quiet, but the friendly folk were happy to sell me petrol cheaper than I could buy it in Adelaide. Things went downhill quickly from there.
It soon became clear I'd stumbled across one of the newest South Australian ghost towns.
Once Terowie Coffee Palace, Near the Terowie Hotel
After turning down the road to the town centre, I parked where it met the Terowie main street to look at an old building on the corner. Weeds sprouted randomly through the footpath and the building was run down but seemed solid enough. I was later to learn that this was once the Terowie Coffee Palace built some time before 1910.
As I wandered the main street in the late afternoon sun I realised that the only sound was my footsteps. No traffic passed. There was not a person in sight. An eerie calm pervaded the dusty buildings lining the main street.
Tubs of geraniums flourished outside the Terowie Hotel but there was no laughter, chinking of glasses, or smell of a beer soaked carpet. It was closed.
The driveway of Nourse's Lubritorium was empty. Modern Car Service was not doing any better, and the ES&A Bank building looked much as it did when the bank merged with ANZ Bank 45 years ago.
Returning to my car I hear a loud thud and a rattling noise behind me. On turning I saw a young boy scoot down Terowie Main Street, gazing curiously at me as he disappeared around a corner. No words were spoken.
As I slowly cruised to the edge of town voices came from around a corner. After doing a u-turn two men could be seen sitting on a verandah, waving at me in a scarily friendly gesture. I quickly returned to the town centre. After visiting other abandoned places in South Australia, Terowie was giving me a creepier feeling than most.
The Terowie Hotel was probably the first building in town, established in 1874. Terowie rapidly became a busy place with around 700 residents when the railway arrived in 1880. A broad gauge railway ran to Adelaide and a narrow gauge track led to Petersburg (later known as Peterborough), Quorn and Broken Hill.
As Broken Hill prospered with increased mining, Terowie railway station became a massive hub for trans-shipping goods. At one time its goods yards, workshops and storage facilities stretched for more than 3 kilometres. Because all goods had to be trans-shipped from broad to narrow gauge trains and back, there was always work available and the Terowie population peaked at over 2,000.
During the Second World War a large military camp was established near Terowie railway station to expedite transport of men and materials to the north. There were ammunition factories in Adelaide's north west and an explosives factory in Salisbury all producing vital materials for the war effort which were transported by rail through Terowie.
While changing trains in Terowie on 20 March 1942, U.S. General Douglas MacArthur made his famous speech regarding the Battle of the Philippines in which he said: "I came out of Bataan and I shall return". He subsequently repeated the line "I shall return" in a number of other speeches, in a number of other places. The event is commemorated by a plaque on the now abandoned Terowie railway station platform.
By 1970 the line to Peterborough had become broad gauge and the trans-shipping role of Terowie railway station vanished. With a massive reduction in employment opportunities Terowie began its inexorable journey to become just another of the many Australian ghost towns. The population dwindled to just 150 by the late 1970's and the Terowie railway station was closed and tracks removed in the 1990's.
Terowie had joined the ranks of abandoned places in South Australia.
The residents fought back valiantly. A heritage trail was created, interpretive signs installed at the site of the derelict railway station, the old Country Womens Association rooms became the Terowie tourist information office, and a Terowie 4WD Park allowed gery nomads and other visitors to stay free of charge. The children's playground and Terowie Arid Lands Botanic Garden are other attractions to tempt travellers to pause their journey.
The town's population stabilised at around 200, and a few businesses remained to service visitors seeking South Australian ghost towns. The old Terowie Hospital became a bed and breakfast, The Terowie town website proudly shows the photos of the 50th Christmas pageant in 2012.
But in its 140th year, the town Terowie seems to have passed away. It seems that the roadhouse and motel are the only businesses left in Terowie to keep the name alive. Perhaps the Terowie 4WD Park can attract enough passing travellers to stay and revive the town. Perhaps not.
Ghost Town Terowie is not, it may be not in it's former glory, but there are few places in Australia (especially those who don't have government funding as some towns in other states do) that still have that lovely feeling of raw history - so many places have had so many new buildings mixed with the old so they loose that majesty, the viewfinder into the past, that Terowie has.
Couldn't tell you the number of tourists that have gone out of their way to comment on the loveliness of the free camp/caravan site that is the old railway station, the friendliness and professionslity of the local postmistress and general store owner (Leanne, of Murray's Corner Store), the kindness and promptness of the sweet family running the Terowie Roadhouse.
So quiet, yes. But there's something to be said for the open views of rolling hills, the unparalleled veiw of the stars and milky way, the step away from the continual fast pace of a city.
Come to Terowie, and take a walk, it feels, back in time. And if you lament the loss of what was at all, or simply would like to help, contact the Terowie Citizens'Association (or for quick contact, Leanne at Murray's Corner store as she is one of those that constantly helps - is a continued member of the commitee) - help the TCA maintain the buildings, the museums, it's special and unique past
Great story Dave. Ironically I was in Manila last week, and I did a tour, and the guide talked about MacArthur and made the comment that "when MacArthur reached Terowie in Australia he said the words ....". Perhaps the tour guide may inspire a bunch on new tourists to descend upon Terowie in the near future ?
I am a Terowie resident born and bred, and I'm the owner of Murray's corner store, and the manager of the post office which is located in the main street here in Terowie SA. The post office is open 5days a week, and the general store 5 and half days.
The town may seem like a ghost town from time to time, but I can assure you that it does get quite busy as well.
we rely on not only the locals to keep businesses open but tourist as well...
It was great reading your article Dave. My grandparents moved to Terowie when I was 10 years old so your photos are all familiar sights from my childhood. As the population was so small and everyone knew everyone my young uncle, brother and I were allowed to spend our days roaming the whole town exploring & having adventures. It did seem like a ghost town most of the time, and yes a little creepy at times but amazingly there always seemed to be someone out and about to catch us if we were up to mischief.
We would like to visit the town again as we did in the past but sadly the whole town was closed , we wanted to see the museum etc maybe talk to locals about haunted locations as we are a paranormal group , My question is if we come back who do we talk to regarding the museum please ?
That charming little Tourist Info centre was the CWA meeting rooms. As in most towns, located in a corner of the park opposite the pub so that wife and children had a refuge until dad had boozed the day away.
by firstname.lastname@example.org (score: 2|548) 459 days ago
My Husband and I visited this town between 1983 and 1991 can't remember what year. His grandparents had married there, he was a train driver in those days. A local last showed us thru marriage records in a very old building i think the bank, and the grandparents names were in there. Wow an another building she showed us thru, what a building, basement with jam packed with old furniture , I think the store just have sold everything at one time. We were in our element as We just love antiques and old buildings. We were amazed at how people seemed to just up and walk out of there homes for good. We looked around at the old homes and even went inside a few. Beds left unmade coats still on hooks but no one living there. This was aparently an old sort of hospital mental assylum. Really eerie. We were told at that time we could pick up a home for around $10,000.00 what a bargain but no employment. I live in NZ now but will definately visit again on my regular visits to Adelaide .
by email@example.com (score: 2|548) 774 days ago
We found it creepy when we stayed 2013, eerie quietness except for the hag who came screaming that she was going to bash us up as we walked past her shop front causing her dogs to bark. Then there was the garage with a worker fixing a lawnmower. My partner said it was like Psycho meets The Mechanic. Eerie but fascinating, and loved how well preserved some of the buildings were. Quite beautiful.
by firstname.lastname@example.org (score: 2|548) 984 days ago
Did the ghost of the boy and the two elderly men scare you Dave ? ( August 2016 ) if you want to visit the museums in Terowie go to the Visitor Info. Centre and they will open museums for you , at the moment the info centre is open Monday to Friday 1pm to 4 pm. I'm not from Terowie but another and myself go there to volunteer our services and help the small group of dedicated townspeople maintain and open up buildings .
I have to say I feel sad now after reading this. It is a great article, your photos are wonderful. The building in the most part look still to be in reasonable condition. Poor Terowie, but alas it is the same with lots of former railway towns :-(
Gooday Dave. Went through Terowie last November on way to Broken Hill. Looks as if it is going the same way, some advertised tourist venues not open. We were told that many people have been laid off. When I was a Teen knew lots of kids from the BHP Holiday Camp at Fort Largs as they came to Semaphore beach & side shows. (My old home town).. Roger Turner..