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Herberton, QLD

Historic mining town nestled into the hills and known as "the village in the hills".

Herberton is an unusual town which is set on a ridge of the rolling hills of the Atherton Tablelands. Historically it was a tin town with both a mine and a smelter nearby. In recent times it has taken its commitment to tourism seriously. The Historic Village has been the main attraction in the town for decades and it has expanded dramatically. The construction of an outstanding Mining Museum and Visitor Information Centre has added to the town's attractions and there is the unique Spy & Camera Museum. The Mining Museum has a number of pleasant walks which evoke the mining past of the town. Today it promotes itself as an antidote to the coast - a "village in the hills".


Herberton is located 1,684 km north of Brisbane, 97 km south-west of Cairns via Gordonvale and Yungaburra and 915 metres above sea level.


Origin of Name

The explorer A.C. Gregory named the local river, the Herbert River, after Sir Robert Herbert, the first premier of Queensland. The town came into existence in 1880 when a party of prospectors led by Willie Jack and John Newell discovered tin in the area. They named the settlement Herberton because it was at the headwaters of the Herbert River.


Things to See and Do

Historic Village Herberton
The town's most significant tourist attraction is the Historic Village and Museum - a remarkable collection of over 60 buildings all of which have been relocated to a site north of the present township. The village is located at 6 Broadway, Herberton and is open from 9.00 am - 5.00 pm from 1 April to 15 October (and the Christmas holidays) and from 9.30 am - 4.00 pm from 16 October - 19 March. Spread across  6.5 ha,
Herberton Historic Village is reputedly the largest collection of Australiana in Queensland. Its buildings include an old school, a coach and livery stable, a miner's hut, a slab hut dating from 1870, a bank, a presbytery, a telephone exchange, a pub (which is a composite of a number of buildings) and many more. If you want to know exactly what buildings are in the complex, then http://www.historicvillageherberton.com.au/village-life/to-see/map provides a map as well as detailed information about each building. Thus the "Farrier's Workshop" has a photo of the farrier with the text: "Gather around and watch closely as Village curator Darryl Cooper brings the very traditional craft of blacksmithing to life at the forge, located at the Farriers Workshop. His skill as a blacksmith is demonstrated and he is more than happy to answer any questions you may have."
Entry to the Historic Village is not cheap but it is privately run and it is possible to spend an entire day exploring the vast array of buildings and historic artefacts which have been stored and collected. For more information check out http://www.historicvillageherberton.com.au or tel: (07) 4096 2002.

Herberton Mining Museum and Visitor Information Centre
The Herberton Mining Museum is located where the first payable tin was found in Herberton on 19 April, 1880. It was a combination of easily worked outcrops and a series of shafts - the Gully Shaft, Eastern Shaft and No. 3 Shaft - and quantities of haulage machinery which is still standing around the shafts. Consequently the Mining Museum offers a journey through the history of mining in the area with a metals room (which tells the story of metals and mining) and a visit to the open air mining equipment in an area that is Heritage listed. 
The museum has been entirely constructed by volunteers with an impressive level of professionalism. It starts with a history of the Aboriginal people before European settlement. There is a fascinating map of Cape York listing the tribal groupings (did you know there were 19 separate tribal groupings just in the area around Cairns?) and an entire display dedicated to “Feather Flowers – Aboriginal dance ornaments from Western Cape York Peninsula”. These are not artificially coloured feathers. The Aboriginal craftspeople use the natural colours of the feathers and craft them into superb flowers of unforgettable beauty. These are not trinkets for tourists but artefacts which have been used for thousands of years for ceremonies and dances. Check out https://www.herbertonvisitorcentre.com.au/mining-museum/ for more detailed information. The Museum is open 7 days a week from 9.00 am - 4.00 pm, tel: (07) 4096 3474. The Visitor Information Centre, which is part of the Museum, has an extensive range of interesting A4 sheets on such things as the Herberton War Memorial, the Herberton Cemetery and a Heritage Walk which lists a total of 60 places of interest around the town.

Great Northern Mine
Located behind the Mining Museum, the Great Northern Mine site is the location where payable quantities of tin ore were located in April 1880. It operated from 1880-1956 and produced over 5,000 tonnes of tin from three main shafts. In 1954 the site was purchased by Frederick Stamp who protected it until his death in 1992. In 1999 the site was acquired by the Herberton Shire Council. The Queensland Heritage Register records that the site "contains a comprehensive range of functions that exemplify historical tin mining in the Herberton district including - alluvial workings, shaft sinking, winding and pumping, maintenance and accommodation. There are four main component areas - alluvial workings, Eastern Shaft, Gully Shaft and a house." The register includes a list of all the historic equipment still on the site and notes the rarity of much of the equipment. "The mine contains the only timber headframe with sheave wheels surviving in North Queensland. The rarity and intactness of the surviving plant surpasses any other mining place recorded in Queensland. The rare plant includes a Harkness compressor (possibly the only Harkness product surviving in Australia), a Horwood compressor (the only known intact item) and a very early and rare 1878 Marshall portable steam engine in good condition. It is rare that two tandem steam air compressors manufactured by two of Victoria's earliest engine builders (A. Harkness, Victoria Foundry, Bendigo and J. Horwood, Bendigo Ironworks) still reside together on an early North Queensland mine. The combination of components - alluvial mining, hard rock mining and residence on a freehold property - is rare." For more detailed information check out https://environment.ehp.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=600542.

Historic Buildings in Herberton
The A4 brochure titled simply A Heritage Walk: A self guiding walk through the historical precinct of Herberton lists a total of 60 places of interest in the town of which the most significant are:

Holy Trinity Anglican Church
Located at 38 Broadway Street, the Holy Trinity church is fine example of a rural timber church. It was built in 1889 to a design by Walter Eyre and WHA Munro, architects from Townsville. The Queensland Heritage Register describes the detail of the building as "a single-storeyed timber building with exposed framing and is set on concrete stumps. The gabled roof is clad with corrugated iron and a small projection at the front shelters a bell hung below the eaves. The building has a large central hall/nave, with a lower T-shaped plan entry at the front, and the front gable walls have chamferboard cladding. A detached vestry, entered through an arched door, is located at the rear corner of the church. In recent years, a toilet has been inserted in the space between this and the sanctuary.
"The church has lancet windows, with a triple lancet assembly in the front wall, ridge ventilators, and decorative timber work to the gable ends.
Internally, the church has king-post trusses with diagonal struts and the roof is lined with timber boarding on the rake. Walls are lined with horizontal boarding, and a shallow pointed arch frames and separates the raised sanctuary from the nave. The church retains its pews and the font, altar and a chair and table in the sanctuary feature richly carved panels." For more details check out https://environment.ehp.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=600538. It was at the church that the Brotherhood of St Barnabus, an order of Bush Brothers, was formed in 1902.

Jack & Newell General Store
It is hard to imagine today that Herberton was the place where a chain of general stores, all owned by William Jack and John Newell, was started. In many instances the Jack & Newell store was the lifeblood of a tiny town and by 1910 there were Jack & Newell stores in Mareeba, Irvinebank, Watsonville, Mount Garnet, Cairns, Port Douglas and a number of other smaller towns. These general stores in Herberton (located in Grace Street) were built in 1882 and 1895. They are simple buildings made from corrugated iron, with twin gable roofs and awnings which reach across the footpath and are supported by timber posts. According to the Queensland Heritage Register they are important because they are an example of "a rare, early 1880s rural general store in north Queensland retaining original pit-sawn cedar chamfers; and the interior offers rare illustration of a highly intact 19th century drapery store with early shelving, counter and seating." For more information check out https://environment.ehp.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=600539.

Herberton School of Arts
Located at 61 Grace Street and built in 1881 the Herberton School of Arts is a rare example of a community working together within months of settlement. An open air public meeting was held on 31 December 1880, £50 was raised and in January a site was chosen for the School of Arts and £18 was paid for the land. The simple, single storey building was completed by October 1881. For more detailed information check out https://environment.ehp.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=600540.

Herberton Uniting Church
Originally the Herberton Presbyterian Church, this simple timber building dates from 1891. The Queensland Heritage Register describes the building as "of single skin timber construction with external framing and bracing creating an interesting external surface. The building has a steeply pitched gabled roof which is clad with sheets of corrugated iron. A simple timber finial is fixed to the apex of the roof on the front face of the building. The church is slightly elevated on concrete stumps." A design which, with its single skilled construction and external frame, is peculiar to Queensland. For more information check out https://environment.ehp.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=601788. Sadly the building burnt down in 2023.

Spy & Camera Museum
Located in Shop 1, 49 Grace Street is an extraordinary collection of rare cameras including Russian KGB police camera, rare press cameras and a rich variety of unusual spy cameras. The museum has been operating since 2000 and has one of the finest collections in the country. There is a useful website - check out http://www.spycameramuseum.com.au - or phone 0447 496 183.


Other Attractions in the Area

Mount Hypipamee National Park
Located 20 km south east of Herberton, just off the Kennedy Highway, is the Mount Hypipamee National Park (previously known as  the Crater National Park) which has as its main attraction an unusual crater formed by a single violent volcanic explosion. The crater is an estimated 95,000 years old. The sheer sides drop 56 metres into a pool covered by green lichens and the pool is 82.3 metres deep. The depth of the drop, the green waters far below and the tropical vegetation clinging to the crater walls make this a unique experience. There is nothing like it anywhere else in Australia. From the crater viewing platform there is a pleasant walk to the Dinner Falls. The walk, a total of 1.1 km, is described as "An easy 400 metre bitumen walking track leads through the rainforest to a viewing platform above the crater. Then continue on the rougher track down the hill to the Barron River where you can swim if you wish. A viewing area for Dinner Falls is further upstream along the river. From the falls is a short climb back up to the Crater walk." Check out http://www.wettropics.gov.au/dinner-falls-circuit.html and http://www.wettropics.gov.au/the-crater.html for details.



* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the district was home to the Jirrbal Aboriginal people.

* In 1864 the river, subsequently known as the Herbert, was chartered by the explorer, George Dalrymple.

* The prospector James Venture Mulligan passed through the area in 1875.

* On 19 April 1880, a party of prospectors led by Willie Jack and John Newell discovered tin in the area. They named the settlement Herberton because it was at the headwaters of the Herbert River.

* In 1882 the two men established a store in Herberton (Jack sold his interest in the mine to John Moffat ) under the banner of 'General Merchants and Forwarding and Shipping Agents' and over the next decade they became the most successful merchants in the area. Eventually there were Jack and Newell stores in Mareeba, Irvinebank, Watsonville, Mount Garnet, Cairns, Port Douglas and a number of other smaller towns.

* A School of Arts, which operated as a school, was built in the town in 1881.

* The Jack and Newell General Store opposite the council offices was built in 1882 and was constructed from pit sawn cedar. Some of the original joinery can still be seen in the building.

* By 1882 Herberton was connected to Port Douglas by coach. That year the Court House was built.

* The Wild River Times was first published in 1883.

* A hospital was opened in the town in 1884.

* The discovery of tin at Herberton was largely responsible for the development of the other towns on the Atherton Tablelands. 

* The constant search for good access routes to the sea meant that a number of roads (all of which focussed on Herberton) were hacked out of the rainforest and towns like Yungaburra and Millaa Millaa came into existence. 

* Towns like Mareeba and Atherton were originally stopover places for the Cobb & Co coaches which plied the route from Port Douglas to Herberton.

* By 1895 the town had a population of 1,500.

* By the early 1900s the town was booming. There was a population of 8,000, two newspapers, 17 pubs and a brewery. 

* By 1910 the railway from Atherton had reached Herberton.

* In 1913 the Herberton Post Office was built.

* In 1919 St Mary's School (an Anglican establishment) was opened.

* The railway station burnt to the ground in December, 1936.

* The Great Northern Mine closed in 1950.

* A privately owned historic village was opened in 1973.

* Harry Skennar opened the Herberton Historic Museum.

* Mining and smelting stopped in 1979.

* The mining museum was opened in 2005.


Visitor Information

Herberton Visitor Information Centre, 1 Jacks Road, tel: (07) 4096 3474.


Useful Websites

There is a useful local website which covers most of the town's attractions. Check out https://www.herbertonvisitorcentre.com.au

Got something to add?

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3 suggestions
  • good, very helpful. 🙂

    Georgia McTaggart
  • Nice that you mention Herberton Uniting Church. Sadly this historic building burnt down in early 2023.

    Darryl Cooper
  • My father Roy England was born in Herberton on 5th April, 1918 to Ernest & Mary England. Ernie owned the newspaper in Herberton. His eldest daughter Mary was apprenticed to the newspaper. Her daughter Merle gifted Mary’s apprenticeship papers to the Village. Last time we visited was about 8 years ago and nothing was on display. Would be interesting to know if these papers still exist.

    Shirley Orrin