Queenstown, a town rich in mining history, is located on the west coast of Tasmania, a two hour drive from Burnie via the Ridgley Highway (B18) or four hours via the Lyell Highway (A10) from Hobart. Lying in the Queen River Valley on the western slopes of Mount Owen, Queenstown has a population today of around 2300.
With a history long tied to the mining industry, this mountainous region was first explored in 1862. A few years later alluvial gold was discovered at Mt Lyell, bringing about the formation of the Mt Lyell Gold Mining Company in 1881. Throughout the ensuing years mining at Queenstown has been largely based around copper, the mineral for which today Queenstown is famed for.
In the 1900s, Queenstown was the centre of the Mount Lyell mining district and had numerous smelting works, brick-works, and sawmills, with a population of 5051 in 1900. The most productive orebodies (or mines) in this region over the years included the Iron Blow (1883-1929), North Lyell (1896-1972), Royal Tharsis (1902-91), Lyell Comstock (1913-59), Crown Lyell (1931-85), Cape Horn (1969-87), with the West Lyell Open Cut giving more than 58 million tonnes of ore from 1934 to 1978.
Prince Lyell underground mine, which commenced operations in 1969 is where current production is maintained from. Deposits here consist of mainly copper, but gold and silver is also mined. The Mt Lyell copper-gold mines are mineralogically most important, for these are a locality for the rare copper-iron-tin sulphide mawsonite, named after Sir Douglas Mawson, the Antarctic explorer and geologist. However, many other rare minerals are also recorded as being found in these mines, including betechtinite, florenceite, woodhousite, stannoidite, hessite, jalpaite, magnesiofoitite, zunyite and stromeyerite. At least 85 different minerals have been reported from the mines here in Queenstown.
Tasmanian Tourism: Attractions in Queenstown
Today though, Queenstown is not only a mining town, tourism is coming alive here in a town where one can travel back through time in the history of mining on our West Coast. Queenstown is the home of the Mt Lyell Mining & Railway Company and also the West Coast Wilderness Railway. There are several wilderness walks in the area as well as great trout fishing in several surrounding lakes, including the beautiful Lake Burbury.
The Galley Museum has displays and information on Queenstown and surrounding areas. The collections include local memorabilia, literature, the Eric Thomas photographic collection and a minerals collection. Housed in the original Imperial Hotel built in 1897, the building operated as one of Queenstown’s leading pubs for twenty years, was also used as a hospital for a time, and as a Single Mens Quarters for the Mt Lyell Mine.
Formerly known as the ABT Wilderness Railway, the West Coast Wilderness Railway is a 35 kilometre Rack and Pinion Railway running from Queenstown to Strahan. The railway uses the fully restored 100 year old steam loco’s that ran on the original rail line that was built for the Mt Lyell Mining & Railway Company. This journey takes one through magical thick Tasmanian rainforests, past awesome river gorges and across high trestle bridges stopping at dinky stations along the way.
Queenstown Heritage Tours – Mt Lyell Underground
This mine tour offers a unique opportunity to visit a working underground mine in complete safety. Traveling approximately 9 kilometres down the ‘main decline’, one will then have the experience of seeing and standing on ground that is not only untouched by the sun, but older than the dinosaurs. You will see the loaders and Sandvik 60 tonne dump trucks which haul approximately 10,000 tonnes of rock containing copper ore, gold and silver to the primary crusher every day. This tour also includes a visit to the Shaft & Hoisting Operations, Main De-Watering Pump Station and the Main Headframe that brings the underground to the above ground. Minimum age is 14 years, and visitors must be able to wear provided safety equipment.
Where mining in Queenstown began in 1883, the Iron Blow was worked as a gold mine for ten years before the discovery of vast deposits of copper. The Iron Blow lookout offers wonderful views of the open cut mine, the surrounding mountains, to Gormanston and down the Linda Valley.
A 20 minute drive out of Queenstown, take in the sights or fish for trout. Lake Burbury was formed on the King River in the early 1990s as part of Tasmania’s Hydro Electricity Scheme. It has been well stocked with trout and is now one of Tasmania’s fishing paradises. Lake Burbury is also a photographer’s paradise, with magical mountain landscapes and many of Tasmania’s unique species of both flora and fauna.
Miners Siding consists of three main parts:
(1) Ten Decades of Man and Mining
Depicted in the bronze sculptures are 21 facets of the evolution of the Mt Lyell Mines and surrounding areas. Sculptor Stephen Walker has portrayed significant and traditional events in the 100-year history of the Lyell District
(2) Miners Sunday
Shows an early miner and his family on the day of rest. This section forms the centre piece of the display, and is made of Huon Pine and Brass.
(3) Jumbo Drill Display
Features a bronze statue of a miner, operating the drill.
Queenstown Football Oval
A trip to Queenstown would not be complete without a visit to Queenstown’s gravel football ground which has been described by some as “The Most Infamous Football Field in Australia”. Now heritage listed, this football ground has struck fear into visiting football sides for over one hundred years.
Spion Kopf Lookout
Named by soldiers returning from the Boer War, The Spion Kopf Lookout was a Lions Club Project. The walk to the lookout is quite steep and may not be suitable for the elderly or people with a disability. A concrete path complete with handrail leads you to the top where a viewing platform is straddled by the legs of a poppet head made from materials from an old mine. Other features to view include a cast cannon, an underground loco with dump truck, a pneumatic bogger and the remains of the Crotty smelter rescued from the rising waters of Lake Burbury.
Mining Moonscapes, Lunar Landscapes
Queenstown is first and foremost a mining town, the surrounding hills quite barren, but one must stop on a mountain roadside to take in the view. Here, one stands on the mountainside looking across at a ‘moonscape’, a landscape devoid of much flora, a landscape we are led to believe was completely ravished by mining. But the reality is, although these mountains were once lightly wooded (lightly being the key word)… these mountains never contained enough soil to sustain thick forests. These mountains are made of conglomerate rock, in hues of pinks, oranges and greys. To stand here and view the mountains at sunrise or sunset is magic, the unique light and colours bring on a richness, a time when a ‘lunar’ landscape comes to life before your eyes.
All photos strictly ©Carol Haberle, H&H Photography.
You can follow Carol on Facebook at Haberle Photo Cards
Carol writes feature articles for this website about all things Tasmanian.
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