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Charters Towers, QLD

Famous and historically important gold mining town.

Charters Towers is arguably the most beautiful inland city in Queensland. It may not have the range of domestic architecture that makes Ipswich so distinctive but in terms of public architecture it is unrivalled. Like Kalgoorlie, Cue and Coolgardie in Western Australia it is a city built from the huge profits of goldmining and, as such, the city fathers (a quixotic band of nouveau riche miners) were determined to flaunt their wealth. Today the city is beautifully preserved and the best of the buildings are concentrated on Mosman Street and Gill Street.

Location

Charters Towers is located 1,351 km north-west of Brisbane via Rockhampton and Emerald, 1474 km from Brisbane via Townsville and 310 m above sea-level.

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Origin of Name

No one is certain about the origin of the town's name. One popular explanation is that the gold prospector Hugh Mosman, who is credited with first finding gold in the district, saw three hills and named them Charters Tors after W.S.E.M. Charters,  the mining warden at Ravenswood. The town never became Charters Tors because, as early as December, 1871 the local paper, the Ravenswood Miner, was referring to the settlement as Charters Towers.

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Things to See and Do

Discovering Stunning Historical Treasures!
There is a brochure, available at the Visitor Information Centre, titled Discovering Stunning Historical Treasures! which squeezes into a short walk in the city centre the best ten buildings. It will leave the visitor amazed at the richness of the city's architectural heritage.

1. Visitor Information Centre - 74 Mosman Street
This building was once the premises of the Queensland National Bank. It was designed by architect F.D.G. Stanley and built in 1880 for £2,350. It was purchased by the Union Bank and completely restored in 1996 and 2003 so that it now houses the Visitor Information Centre and the "Ghosts of Gold" Heritage Trail Orientation Room.

2. Stock Exchange Arcade - 76 Mosman Street
The centre of the gold mining town's financial district was at the intersection of Mosman and Gill Streets. Built in 1887-8 as a shopping arcade for local businessman Alexander Malcolm, 'The Royal Arcade' became the Charters Towers Stock Exchange from 1889 to 1916. It was an impressive building, designed by Sydney architect Mark Cooper Day, it featured a glass roof and a large tiled floor space. It was illuminated by gas lights at night. The Stock Exchange was connected to the outside world via telegraph (at the time it was six days a week and there were only three calls a day), it was established to raise capital for the area's deep reef mines. At its peak members of the Stock Exchange had a private review of the stocks at 10.00 am and noon. The public were allowed to buy and sell stock at 8.00 pm every evening at an event known as "The Calling of the Cards". To give an idea of just how rich the area was exchange sales rose from £11,987 in June, 1891 to £83,438 by August that year and by October they had reached £217,204. The exchange closed in 1916 as gold returns, and the population, declined. By the 1950s it was being rented out to old age pensioners and by 1971 it had been purchased by the Charters Towers City Council. Today it is used by local shops and the Assay Mining Museum and is administered by the National Trust. The "Calling of the Card" audio presentation has become part of the Gold Heritage Trail. Ask at the Ghosts of Gold Gift Shop for a viewing.

3. World Theatre, 82-90 Mosman Street
Originally the Australian Bank of Commerce, the bank was built by the Australian Joint Stock Bank in 1891. The bank had a very short moment of glory. It collapsed the following year. It was restored in 1996 as The World Theatre and is now used as a combination of civic theatre, cinema and public art gallery. Guided tours are available of this complex which blends the heritage architecture of the original building with state of the art theatre technology .
These buildings were characterised by the prevailing, and rather ostentatious, architecture of the time which was a combination of Classical Revival (with lots of columns) and Victorian Italianate ornamentation. The theatre was the scene of the town's infamous "Mosman Street Tragedy" in 1901 which has been described as "At a board of directors meeting of the Charters Towers Pyrite Company. Mr Brown demanded to see the minutes of a previous meeting at which his weekly salary had been cut. The Chairman Mr Graham Haygarth refused, and within minutes was killed by Brown.
While the story of this murder still haunts The Towers, few people know the back story which led to the incident which has become known as "the tragedy on Mosman Street.
"The crime was the culmination Brown's decade long obsession with his own greatness. Brown convinced shareholders of the company to plough their profits from the operation into his new gold mining process which required expensive infrastructure and capitol. It was a folly which ultimately led to his undoing and the death of Graham Haygarth." Check http://www.jacksim.com.au/blog/tag/true-crime-stories for more details.

4. City Murals, 101-105 Mosman Street
There are a number of murals around the town - the Civic Club, Centenary Park, Westpac Bank, McDonalds - but the most accessible, and most impressive, is in the car park opposite the World Theatre in Mosman Street. Painted by Mark Sutherland in 2010 it is a Lowry-like depiction of the town in its heyday.

5. City Hall, 70 Mosman Street
The City Hall, which was built in 1891 at the height of the town's wealth, was originally the Queensland National Bank. Today the foyer houses a World War II photographic exhibition which is open from Monday to Friday from 8.30 am - 4.00 pm.

6. Zara Clark Museum, 36 Mosman Street
The Zara Clark Museum, a National Trust-owned and run centre, was once a general merchant's shop. Now it is a repository for photographs, equipment and memorabilia from the local area. Of particular interest is the "flying fox" which was once used to transfer cash from counters to the accounts department in the Pollard's building in Gill Street. It was still operational as late as the 1980s. Money received from transactions was placed into small containers which were then propelled up wires to the cash clerk who was located on a mezzanine floor above the counters. He calculated the change and sent it whizzing back down to the counters. This extraordinary device was a common feature of large country stores until the 1950s.

7. Post Office, 17 Gill Street
The most striking building in Gill Street is the Post Office (1892), with its huge clock tower (1898). The clock was added to the building in 1898 after being imported from England.

8. The Miner's Cottage, 26 Deane Street
Located in Deane Street (which runs off Gill Street) this historic miners cottage is now a museum where visitors can see what life was like in a miner's cottage at the beginning of the twentieth century.

9. Police Station, 49-55 Gill Street
A careful replica of the original police station which was built in 1910 and largely destroyed by fire in 1988. It is an interesting example of an early 20th century police barracks. Check https://environment.ehp.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=600401 for more details.

Other Buildings
Bank of New South Wales (1889)
At 36 Gill Street is the former Bank of New South Wales (1889) which is a near perfect example of the Classical Revival style of architecture which was fashionable at the time. The Queensland Heritage Register describes the building: "The rendered brick building with timber framed floors and large hipped roof clad in corrugated metal sheeting has an elaborate, classically detailed two-storey masonry arcade fronting Gill Street. Behind, timber verandahs on the east and west sides of the first floor shelter the core of the building and provide access lanes at ground level to the rear of the site. The building comprises the former bank on the ground floor approached from Gill Street; the former residence on the first floor accessed from the eastern lane, and an attached single-storey service wing at the rear with access from Powell Lane to the south. The former Bank of New South Wales retains a large proportion of its early fabric and displays a high standard of craftsmanship and detail. The principal interior spaces are spacious and highly decorative, contrasting with the simplicity and practicality of the service spaces. Notable features include the generous ceiling heights, substantial and handsomely detailed cedar joinery, ventilated plaster cornices and ceiling roses and hand-pressed brick walls and barrel-vaulted ceiling in the strong room." For more detail, check out https://environment.ehp.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=602804.

Boer War Memorial Rotunda
Lissner Park, which is three blocks north of Gill Street, is notable for its elegant Boer War Memorial Rotunda. It was built in 1910 to commemorate the town's war dead and its unusual ventilators and delicate, almost Victorian, styling make it a building of exceptional beauty. The park is an ideal place for a picnic and there are a range of sculptures by Hugh Anderson on display.

Ay-Ot Lookout (1896)
Located to the west of the town centre, at 63 Hodginson Street, the unusually named Ay-Ot Lookout (1896) was designed by the architect William White - a remarkable wooden Victorian residence with some particularly striking latticework and mouldings. It was built for Herbert Foxlee, a local merchant, who named it after his childhood home, Ay Ot Farm in Hertfordshire. The Queensland Heritage Register explains: "The two storey house is constructed of timber with an exposed stud frame which has been used to decorative effect and has a complex gabled roof clad in corrugated iron. The wide verandahs on both levels have ornate cast iron balustrading and timber handrails. The supporting posts are timber with timber capitals and brackets. There is a deep valancing between the floors. The front of the house has a bay in the verandah at both levels next to the main entrance. This is marked by a square porch which extends beyond the verandah and rises through the upper storey, so that it resembles a tower. The front door, surmounted by a large semicircular fanlight, opens into an entrance foyer; a large area with a chequerboard black and white Italian marble floor, a turned timber staircase and panelled ceiling.
"The workmanship in the house is of high quality and the internal joinery is cedar. The ground floor rooms have high ceilings and there are fireplaces to the drawing and dining rooms. The kitchens have been remodelled and modernised. The house has a small cellar. To the rear of the house there is an attached single storey structure with a chimney which was probably a kitchen. annexe." For more details check out https://environment.ehp.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=600404.

Court House (1887)
The Court House in Hodgkinson Street, designed by A B Brady, was opened in February, 1887. It had taken ten months to build at a cost of £4565. The Warden's Court was completed in 1890.

St Columba's Bell Tower (1887)
Located at 134 Gill Streets, St Columba's Bell Tower (1897-1898)is unique. In keeping with the mining heritage of the town, it has been designed to look like a mine poppet head. The Heritage Register of Queensland records: "The Bell Tower is constructed of heavy dressed and painted timbers and consists of four structural members forming legs which are strengthened by cross-bracing. It has a steeply pitched pagoda roof topped by a cross. Small acroteria decorate the corners of the roof, which is clad with corrugated iron. The tower is hung with a Burns & Oats bell. There is a bellringer's platform finished with cross braced balustrading, however, there is no stair to permit access and the legs of the tower are now exposed. The tower is visible from some streets away and is a local landmark." Check out https://environment.ehp.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=600399 for more details.

Thornburgh House (1889-1890)
Located at 57-59 King Street, Thornburgh House has been a school since 1919. Prior to that it was the home of Edward Harris Thornburgh Plant, a politician who had started as a hugely successful local mining magnate. "Plant was amongst the first on the newly discovered Charters Towers field and erected the Venus Mill in 1873. In addition to his successes in Charters Towers and Ravenswood, he also had interests in the Hodgkinson and Palmer fields and in copper, tin and wolfram production in other northern mining areas." The building is described in the Queensland Heritage Register as "It is a two storey building of rendered masonry with a roof clad in corrugated iron and deep verandahs to three sides. The verandahs are supported by timber posts, linked by cast iron friezes and cast iron panels in a simple geometric design topped by timber handrails. Between the two storeys are valances of timber lattice within broad timber frames. The ground floor is reached by two sets of concrete steps, that to the main entrance leading into the hall. On the ground floor there are two large rooms with deep bay windows accessed from this hallway and from the verandahs. These were the former dining and drawing rooms and have high plaster ceilings, ornate cornices and imported carved mantelpieces. The main staircase leading from the entrance hall is graceful in form with cast metal balustrades supporting a sinuously curved timber handrail which is constructed of cedar, as is the majority of joinery in the house. French doors lead from almost all rooms onto the wide verandahs and most rooms have fireplaces. There is a second, simple staircase towards the rear of the house which originally linked the former children's school room to bedrooms at the rear of the upper floor." Check out https://environment.ehp.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=600405# for more information.

Bicentennial Mosman and Jupiter Statues in Centenary Park
Now hidden behind mature trees (the park was planted in 1988) the Bicentennial Mosman and Jupiter statues recalls the discovery of gold in the town. The story is that the prospector, Hugh Mosman, and his party, which included George Clarke and James Fraser, made their way to the hills around what is now Charters Towers. A young Aboriginal boy whom they called Jupiter, who was accompanying the group, lent down to drink from the local creek. He was looking for horses which had bolted in a thunderstorm. He saw gold-bearing quartz gleaming in the creek bed and took it to his employer who rode to Ravenswood to register the claim. Not surprisingly this resulted in an immediate goldrush as prospectors and miners from Ravenswood headed for the new find. Mosman was rewarded by the government. He subsequently adopted Jupiter and educated him. This story, which may be greatly romanticised, is recalled in the tableau which are located in Centenary Park at the corner of Hackett Terrace and Dalrymple Road.

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Other Attractions in the Area

Venus Gold Battery
Proudly proclaiming itself "Australia's oldest remaining Gold battery", the Venus Gold Battery is located 4 km from the centre of Charters Towers on the corner of Millchester Road and Jardine Street. The battery is recognised as one of Australia's most important historical-industrial sites. It was one of the first permanent batteries on the Charters Towers goldfields, being established in July 1872 by Edmond Harris Thornburgh and Thomas Jackson. At the time it was a public mill. It became  a state battery from 1919 until its closure in 1973. It is the largest surviving battery relic in Australia and the oldest surviving battery in Queensland. Although it has not been operational since 1973, guided daily tours offer an insight into the scale of activity on the goldfields in the early days. Since June 2003 the Venus Gold Battery has become part of the Ghosts of Gold Heritage Trail.
The Venus Gold Battery Tours can be booked either from Venus Gold Battery, tel: (07) 4787 4773 or the Visitor Centre, tel: (07) 4761 5533. From November to May teh tours are held at 10.00 am on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. During the winter months - June to October - they are held at 10.00 am seven days of the week and at 11.45 on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday and 2.30 pm on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. For more information check out http://www.historytoursaustralia.com.au/venus-gold-battery.

Lookouts
There are two outstanding lookouts which offer excellent views over the town and the surrounding area.
Towers Hill and the Lookout
The most impressive is Towers Hill Lookout (continue up Mosman Street and follow the signs), which rises about 125 metres above the plain. Towers Hill has a special place in the history of Charters Towers. It was at the base of the hill that gold was first discovered in January, 1872. Today the hill is rich in history and attractions. If you look carefully you will see the footings of Clarke's mine and battery, the Rainbow Mill, the ruins of the Pyrites Works, more than 30 ammunition storage dumps from World War II and remnants of the telegraph lines from the 1950s.
The gold mining between 1872 and 1924 saw over 30 tunnels and shafts sunk into the hill. There are interpretative displays (if you walk up the hill you will pass a number of storyboards and an amphitheatre where a film, Ghosts After Dark, about the history of Charters Towers screens at night-time. (Bookings are essential - they can be made at the Charters Towers Visitor Information Centre). There is also a pleasant walk around the hill where it is possible to see rock wallabies and the very dominating blue water tank which holds 8 million litres of water which is reticulated to the city below.

Rotary Lookout
Another local lookout is the Rotary Lookout, known as Buckland's Hill, is off Fraser Street which, in turn, is off Stubley Street. It offers panoramic views of the city. Buckland's Hill is named after Sir Thomas Buckland (1849-1947) Charters Towers first gold assayer and a man who subsequently became a gold mill owner, manager, pastoralist and philanthropist.

Columbia Poppet Head
Located on New Queen Road on the eastern outskirts of Charters Towers, the "Columbia Poppet Head and mine shaft is a vertical excavation that was used to access underground mining facilities which were 545 m below the surface. Above the shaft's entrance stands an open timber structure known as a poppet head or head frame. The poppet head was an essential part of the mining process and stood up to 20 metres over the top of the mine shaft. The two large winding wheels that crown the head frame had 1 1/4 inch thick steel ropes which were connected to the winding drum and lowered into the shaft. Each wire was rope was wound up and down by steam powered engines. The ropes were used to raise trucks filled with quartz to the landing brace where the ore was dumped into hoppers or ore bins, then allowed to gravitate into drays. The drays then conveyed the ore to the crushing mill for treatment. Mullock or rock waste from the mine was tipped by means of a raised walkway in the other direction of the landing brace." The Columbia mine was one of the last worked on the goldfield and in 2002 the shaft was capped.

101 Facts about Charters Towers and Dalrymple Region
An interesting and quirky publication about the city is the Lions Club of Charters Towers's Pocket Encylopaedia of 101 Facts about Charters Towers and Dalrymple Region which includes such gems as the town once had 92 pubs (this may, in fact, be inaccurate as other sources claim as many as 104 pubs at the peak of the mining boom) and the deepest shaft dug during the gold mining era reached 926.6 m below the surface. It is free and available at the Visitor Centre.

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History

* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the area was home to the Gugu-Badhun Aboriginal people.

* Ludwig Leichhardt camped in the area in 1845.

* In 1861 Edward Cunningham took up Burdekin Downs Station - first pastoral holding north of the Bowen River.

* Gold was discovered on 24 December, 1871 by Hugh Mosman, George Clarke, James Fraser and Jupiter Mosman.

* Charters Towers was declared a municipality on 21 June, 1871.

* The Charters Towers post office was opened in 1872.

* The Charters Towers Miner was first published in 1872. The Bank of New South Wales opened a branch that same year.

* The Venus Mill started operating in 1872. By the end of the year there were four crushing mills in the district.

* In 1874 the town got its first church - St Phillips Church of England.

* By 1875 Frank Stubley had become the first millionaire miner in Charters Towers.

* In 1878 the Day Dawn Gold Mining Company Ltd was floated with shares of ten shillings. Within a year it had paid a dividend of seven shillings and six pence. The Victory Company was so successful that it virtually repaid its original share price within three months.

* By 1879 a low level bridge had been built across the Burdekin River.

* In 1880 the town's first brick building, the Manchester Unity Hall, was opened.

* By 1881 Charters Towers was the second largest town in Queensland. It was nicknamed 'The World'.

* The railway arrived from Townsville in 1882. The Sisters of Mercy open a school in the town.

* In 1884 'Breaker' Morant married Daisy May O'Dwyer (later Daisy Bates) in Charters Towers. He abandoned his wife shortly afterwards when a number of his cheques were dishonoured.

* By 1885 the average annual earnings of local miners had reached £336/12/6 - the highest on any reefing field in Australia.

* A miner's union was established in 1886.

* The Stock Exchange building was constructed in 1887-1888.

* Gas street lighting was installed in 1888.

* A brewery was established in 1891. It operated until 1938.

* The present Post Office was in 1892. St Mary's school was opened that year.

* In 1893, Andrew Dawson (who went on to become the first Labour premier in the world in 1899 when he became Queensland premier) was elected as the local member. It was during this exuberant and dynamic period that a number of solid Victorian buildings were constructed to reflect the town's more permanent wealth.

* By 1897 the editor of the North Queensland Mining Register could write in his Mining History of Charters Towers: "All in 25 years. The well-wooded and comparatively flat basin surrounding the small ridges below the Gap, through which the Pioneers came, has long since been denuded of its trees. Streets of fine shops and residences have sprung up, cold air stores, telephones, electric light, gaslight, electric fans and other adjuncts of up-to-date civilisation are employed, and 20,000 souls now sleep nightly with a radius of four miles of the spot where the prospectors pitched their first camp a little over 25 years ago. The three workers of that time have increased to 4,000 with nearly three quarters of a million pounds worth of machinery to aid in the hunt for gold."

* Electric light was installed in 1897.

* One of Australia's few regional stock exchanges was established at Charters Towers in 1890 to raise capital for the area's deep reef mines.

* By 1900 the town had 92 hotels.

* Charters Towers was proclaimed a city in 1909.

* The town started to decline in 1912 when the production of gold dropped from a high  of 319,572 ounces in 1899 to a mere 96,046.

* The state high school opened in 1912.

* The population dropped from 30,000 in 1899 to 16,000 in 1915.

* The stock exchange closed in 1916.

* During World War II a total of 15,000 US servicemen was stationed in the city.

* Jupiter Mosman died in 1945.

* In 1989 Charters Towers became the subject of one of the songs on John Williamson's hugely successful Warragul album. The Cattleman's Rest Motel and the local Caltex dealer come in for special praise in the song which is evocative of the town and the area.

* In 2002 the Columbia mine, one of the last in the area, was capped.

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Visitor Information

Charters Towers Visitor Information Centre, 74 Mosman St, tel: (07) 4761 5533.

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Useful Websites

There is a useful and detailed local website. Check out http://www.visitcharterstowers.com.au.

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  • The historic Ambulance building built in 1903. Charters Towers QATB was the second established outside of Brisbane. The building is now the oldest Ambulance building in Qld. It now a Museum holding a historic display of Ambulance memorabilia dating back to 1900.

    John Stibbs