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Cue, WA

Historic gold mining town known as the "Queen of the Murchison"

Known as the 'Queen of the Murchison', Cue was once the centre of the Murchison Goldfields with a population of more than 10,000. Today Cue is almost a ghost town. It has a small population and many of the impressive buildings, constructed during the goldrush period, are not empty or in ruins. They are a reminder that the miners who arrived in the town in the early 1890s, and made their fortunes on the rich gold reefs which surrounded the town, were determined to show to build a solid town of substance and importance. The appeal of the time lies in its remnants. It is a reminder that all mining towns are only exist as long as the prices are good and the minerals are plentiful.

Location

Cue is located 659 km north-east of Perth via the Great Northern Highway.

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Origin of Name

In 1893 Cue was officially named after a prospector, Tom Cue, who travelled to Nannine and registered a gold claim. Ironically Cue was not the first European to find gold in the district. The first prospector was probably Michael John Fitzgerald who with a friend Edward Heffernan found 260 oz of gold near what is now the main street of Cue. They told Tom Cue about their discovery and Cue travelled to Nannine and registered their claim.

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Things to See and Do

Historic Buildings
Cue is a wonderland of impressive, historic buildings. Like so many gold mining towns it believed it was going to last forever and consequently built solid buildings designed to last for centuries. The most impressive buildings - most notably The Gentleman's Club, The Old Gaol, the Government Buildings and the Masonic Lodge - are easy to access (most are on the main street) and offer a unique view into a time when this near-ghost town was once a thriving mining centre. Looking at the town now it is hard to imagine that in 1901 May Vivienne, in her Travels in Western Australia, wrote of the town: "At last I saw the lights of Cue. Electric lights in the streets, horses and carts, the shrill whistle of the railway engine, boys calling out the evening papers ... all told me that I had emerged from the 'back blocks' and was once more nearing the metropolis."

Masonic Hall
The Masonic Hall is located in Dowley Street (one block west of the main street). Built after a design by E. Owen Hughes the plaque outside details the history: "Built in 1899 of timber and galvanised iron with a pressed tin interior this unusual building is said to be the largest corrugated iron structure in the southern hemisphere. The lodge itself was consecrated on 21 April 1897 and brethren often travelled from as far away as Big Bell to attend the monthly meetings. The lodge was closed in 1979." It is now owned by the National Trust and is, reputedly, the largest free standing, two storey, corrugated iron structure in the country.

Band Rotunda
The band rotunda is located prominently in the main street. The plaque on the rotunda records that: "This rare octagonal bandstand was built in 1904 and dedicated to the pioneers of the Murchison region. It was a popular meeting place in the early years of settlement and the town's band played here on Saturday nights. The drinking fountain was added in 1934." It was originally built to cover the town's first well which was believed to have been responsible for an outbreak of typhoid.

Cue Shire Office
At the northern end of the main street are the Shire Offices which were originally a Gentleman's Club called The Murchison Chambers. This stone building was financed by the London and Western Australian Investment Company and had 18 offices and two shops. In January 1901 the upper floor became home to the Murchison Club used by Cue's leading business, mining, pastoral and professional men. It later became known as the Gentleman's Club. In the 1980s the local shire received funds to restore the building and it has been the Shire Offices ever since.

Government Buildings
Located on Cue's main street are the Government Buildings which were built between 1895-1897 to house the Warden's Court, Post Office and Police Station. They were constructed from locally quarried limestone slabs and additions were made in 1897 and 1898. The Post Office, Police Station and Court House are still used today.
The clock on the Post Office was given to the town by Sir John Forrest. A source of aggravation for Post Office employees it has to be wound every 24 hours - a task which involves climbing a ladder and pulling the counterweight back into the tower.

Old Gaol
The Cue Caravan Park now houses the Old Gaol which was built to a design provided by the WA Architectural Department in 1896. It was not designed as a permanent gaol but rather as a place to hold prisoners who were being transported to the larger centres on the coast. It ceased to be used in 1914 although it still was operating as a lock up until the 1930s.

Ruins of Cue Hospital
To the south west of the town (follow the signs on the road into town) are the ruins of the old hospital. Cue's first hospital was a canvas and bough shed set up north of the town in July 1892 after an outbreak of typhoid fever which some think emanated from a well where the rotunda now stands. In 1895 a new hospital, made of local stone, was built on the site of the ruins. It was characterised by spacious wards and wide shady verandas. Out the back is a chimney which is the ruins of the hospital's crematorium. The hospital closed in 1942. Now only ruins are left.

Municipal Chambers
Located in Robinson Street, the Municipal Chambers building was officially opened in 1896. The first council meeting was held with everyone standing up. There were no chairs. Today it is home to the local Resource Centre and Visitor Information Centre.

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Other Attractions in the Area

Day Dawn
Located 5 km to the south of the town is the historic settlement of Day Dawn. It is now just a few ruins reminding the visitor that once this was a huge settlement of over 3,000 people. There is a photograph upstairs in the Shire council offices of Day Dawn in 1906 which shows it as a thriving settlement. It is an insight into the way mining towns thrive and disappear. Today all that is left is the Great Fingal Mine Office, a magnificent building which the Murchison Advocate described as "an object lesson for the Murchison in mason work. The rooms are lofty, windows numerous, and the whole structure is surrounded by a wide and massive verandah." Sadly it has suffered damage and is now not accessible.

Aboriginal Art - Walga Rock
Located 48 km west of Cue, Walga Rock has one of the finest exhibits of Aboriginal art in Western Australia. Of particular interest is the white, square-rigged sailing ship with two masts and square portholes. This strange depiction of a white ship is over 300 km from the sea. No accurate date can be placed on the painting although it was almost certainly executed before 1900. 

Wilgie Mia Aboriginal Ochre Mine
Located approximately 60 km north of Cue on the Wilgie-Mia Road are the vast red ochre deposits of Wilgie Mia. They are the largest and deepest underground Aboriginal ochre mine and have all the features found in traditional Aboriginal mines: large open-cut pits, excavated caverns and underground galleries that follow ochre seams. What is remarkable about the area is there are three colours of ochre found and each relates to a different part of the marlu - the red ochre is his blood, the yellow ochre is his liver, and the green ochre his gall.
According to local Aboriginal lore in the Dreamtime the "spirit being" Mondong speared a giant kangaroo which leapt over the Weld Range and landed at Wilgie Mia. In its death throes the giant kangaroo dug a cave into which its blood spilt. The blood became the red ochre and the bile from the animal's liver became the yellow and green ochre. It is estimated that the site has been mined for at least the last 1000 years and over 40,000 tonnes of ochre have been removed and bartered all over Western Australia. Not surprisingly Widgie Mia is regarded as one of the most important Aboriginal sites in Western Australia but it is not open or available to the general public. Check with the Cue Shire Council if you wish to visit. For more information check out http://www.environment.gov.au/heritage/places/national/wilgie-mia.

Lake Nallan Nature Reserve
Located 20 km north of Cue, Lake Nallan is one of those desert lakes which dries up through lack of rain and is a wonderland of birdlife and rich wildflower displays when the rains have fallen. Check and see if there has been rain. It is worth visiting when it has water.

Big Bell Town
Located 40 km from Cue on the Big Bell Road is the ghost town of Big Bell which once was a vibrant mining town with a hospital, a picture theatre and a classy hotel. The way to experience the ghost town is to mooch around the ruins and read the very informative interpretative signage.

How to See WA Wildflowers - A Guide
When planning a trip there are a number of very simple rules.
(1) Start by downloading Your Holiday Guide to Western Australia’s Wildflowers at http://www.westernaustralia.com/en/things_to_do/forest_and_flowers/pages/wawildflowers.aspx#/. It is a comprehensive guide to the wildflowers. There are over 12,000 species and 60% of them are found nowhere else on the planet.
(2) There is a tendency to say "But I won't know what I'm looking at" but that is rubbish. There are a number of great books and the best, by far, is the answer to "Wildflowers for Dummies" titled "Colour Guide to Spring Wildflowers of Western Australia". It is privately published by Wajon Publishing Company, written by Eddie Wajon, and comes in three volumes – 1. Kalbarri and the Goldfields, 2. Perth and the Southwest and 3. Esperance and the Wheatbelt. They can all be purchased online from Kings Park & Botanic Garden in Perth. Check out https://www.aspectsofkingspark.com.au
The publication's design masterstroke is that the flowers are listed according to their colours and all the pages are colour coded. Thus Mr and Mrs Wildflower Illiterate, when gazing at a Spiny Synaphea, only need to open at the "yellow flowers" section and flick through until they find the colour photo which matches the reality. The company can be contacted directly on (08) 9310 2936. 
(3) No one should ever underestimate the power of local knowledge and assistance. The Western Australian wheatbelt, probably because of the declining prices for both wool and wheat and the increased levels of salinity, has decided that the spring wildflowers are a good for the local economy and worthy of patronage. When innocently asking where I might see a wreath flower (they are a flower which naturally forms itself in a circle like a wreath – particularly appealing to those with a morbid interest in death) at the local coffee shop in Morowa I was told that there were some in the area but the person who knew was at the information office. 
At the information office I was advised, and this is verbatim, to "drive down the main street until you see the road that crosses over the railway line, drive across the line and past the Police Station and Fire Station (or is it the SES), turn right at the next road, continue up past the sheds for a couple of hundred yards [metres haven't arrived here yet] and you'll see some beside the road". Absorbing the instructions I headed off and three minutes later, having noticed a sign reading "Wreath Flowers" on a fence, I found the plant. 
Morowa also publish a leaflet titled "Morowa Wildflower Drives" which, if you were thorough, could keep you in the area for a couple of days.
At the next town, Mingenew (which, for lovers of Australian Big Things now boasts the Big Wheat Stalk – known locally as "Big Ears") the information centre provides both a map and a list of locations with details like "20 km on the Pingelly road on the left hand side there are some excellent wreath flowers". And at Watheroo there's a wonderful local mud map with wryly enthusiastic comments like "Heaps of banksia, grevillea, snake bush etc along the road" and, getting quite technical "Rare and Endangered. E. Rhodantha (rose mallee) Only large patch in the world".
(4) There is a logical route which can be honed or expanded according to the amount of time you want to spend. 
The best starting place, if you want to get a good foretaste of what you are about to experience in the wild, is to visit Kings Park & Botanic Garden in the heart of Perth. Apart from offering sensational views over the Swan River and the Perth CBD the gardens boast a 17 hectare area which has more than 1700 native species of wildflowers. This is, not surprisingly, rather pristine and not very wild but it does allow you to develop a working knowledge of devils pins, kangaroo paws, desert peas, everlastings, starflowers, grevilleas, firebush, a range of orchids and hundreds of other natives. 
You really don't need to be a flora expert. All you need are your eyes and a sense of wonder because the Western Australian wildflowers in spring really are as remarkable and significant as a unique part of Australia as Uluru, the Great Ocean Road or Cradle Mountain. 

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History

* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the area was home to the Watjarri Aboriginal people.

* Gold was discovered at Cue in 1892.

* Within days 400 miners had poured into the area.

* The town of Cue was gazetted in 1893.

* In 1894 Premier John Forrest visited the town and promised to build a telegraph line, a railway and permanent government buildings. The telegraph was completed that year. 

* By 1895 the town of Day Dawn, south of Cue, had been established. The Great Fingall Mine opened near the town.

* By 1896 Day Dawn, boasted three newspapers - The Murchison Miner, The Murchison Times and The Murchison Advocate.

* The first train arrived in 1897.

* By 1900 a hospital had been built. At that time three newspapers were published in the town. At this time the town had a population of around 10,000.

* In 1913 the Cue Battery Dam broke after serious flooding.

* In 1918 the Great Fingall Mine at Day Dawn closed.

* By 1933 there were less than 500 people living in and around the town.

* In 2006 the town was classified by the National Trust.

* Today there are still dozens of smaller mines in the area. The road from Mount Magnet to Cue is littered with small gold mines. A rough hand painted sign at the side of the road and a pile of tailings in the distance indicates that another small mining operation is trying its luck with the area's seemingly inexhaustible supplies of reef gold. 

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Visitor Information

Cue Tourist Centre, 33 Robinson Street, tel: (08) 9963 1198.

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Useful Websites

There is a useful local shire website. Check out http://www.cue.wa.gov.au.

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