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Queenstown – Another fascinating story of achievement

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The river at Queenstown

Today we drove to Queenstown without holding any expectations being that we had heard little about the town prior to our visit.

Map of Queenstown
What we found was a 100-year-old mining town owing its past and current existence to nothing else but the phenomenally successful Lyall Mine that has continued to extract copper, silver and gold for 100 years and still going strong. Queenstown is unashamed of the massive impact it has had on the surrounding environment over 100 years. In many places it appears as a moonscape in others it abounds in natural beauty, but it is always fascinating. Typical of a mining town the predominant commercial establishments are pubs and while most are no longer operating as pubs they all remain intact and are mostly in good condition.

The first thing you notice on an initial drive-through of the town is the miner’s cottages. Hundreds of them, (in varying conditions of repair), but the favoured building material is corrugated iron. Apparently, this material was cheap, easy to transport and easy to make weatherproof, especially against the notoriously harsh and cold conditions that prevail in Queenstown.

We were told by a lifelong resident of the town, an ex-miner, that the ramshackle state of a great many of the cottages is a recent times phenomenon. Most residents used to own their cottages but now a lot has been purchased by “Mainlanders” and rented to “Seagulls” – fly in fly out workers. Take note David – you’re a “Seagull”. This has resulted in a disregard for the care of these quaint cottages and many are in a sad state.

Almost every sq metre of the town is about mining. The history of the original mine manager and CEO, Robert Carl Sticht is fascinating and tells yet another story of what one man can achieve when he thinks outside the box. I find the stories of these pioneers not only fascinating and absorbing but inspirational. I feel the need for this type of thinking, motivation and individualism is greater now than ever before but is a rare commodity. The corporate think tank, the “decision by committee”, mentality of today and the government intervention in almost every area of our private lives would have appalled these tough pioneers and prevented the meteoric rise in inventions and enterprises that this wonderful country was built on. It’s easy to “live” in the minds of these pioneers when you witness their formidable achievements.

The town is orangey red with the effects of the acids and the copper that has leached from the mining operations for 100 years. The river running through the town is orange and all the rocks are orange yet ducks and other wildlife inhabit the orange water seemingly content. The hills to the north of the town are orange as well and when you touch the orange rock you find it’s all orange clay. Apparently, these hills used to be green with the prolific growth of trees but a combination of mining operations and bush fires have caused the trees to disappear.
This has resulted in the thin layer of topsoil that existed being blown away leaving only this orange clay. Almost nothing grows here. There is a rehabilitation process taking place but it seems that this is a task much more gigantic than the construction of and operation of the mine. Miles and miles of mountainous terrain would need rehabilitation.

About 8 km out of town brings you to Iron Blow. This is the site of the first Mt Lyall mine and where Queenstown was born. A sky walk takes you out and suspends you over the long disused mine and the view is captivating. In this deep hole, hundreds of feet below you are surrounded by the orange rock seen all over the area. The bottom is filled with water which is a brilliant aqua colour that is so striking that it gives the impression of being unnatural. We suspected the colour was a result of the chemicals leached from the surrounding rocks over many decades.

Using the binoculars you can see the original mine shafts and the rails of the tracks that were used to haul the ore out of the mines and up the almost vertical sides of the hole to be transported to the smelter. You can lose yourself in your imagination here as you journey back 100 years and try to imagine the scene as it was then and the challenges that faced these people every day.

Just down the road from Iron Blow is the town of Gormanston. It was a town built by the Mount Lyall Mining Company for its employees but as the rail link for the mined ceased and the mining operations changed this town is now a ghost town with just a few residents. The town displays evidence of the once bustling community it was in the wide tree-lined Main Street and the many roads now overgrown with most of the buildings gone. As scarred as the landscape around Queenstown is the town is fascinating. To be honest we were more fascinated with Queenstown than with the tourist centre of Strahan.

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