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Ilfracombe, QLD

Small town once the centre of huge sheep grazing stations

Today Ilfracombe is a tiny settlement on the vast flat plains of western Queensland with a single hotel, a cafe, a few houses and a remarkable "Great Machinery Mile" museum which stretches the length of the town. It is hard to imagine that there was a heyday, back in the 1890s, when the town had three hotels each with its own dance hall, a soft drink maker, a coach builder, two general stores, a billiard saloon, a dressmaker, three commission agents, a couple of butchers, a baker and a saddler. The huge properties which once characterised the area have been broken up into smaller units. Despite the changes Ilfracombe still survives as a service centre to the surrounding sheep and cattle stations although, with Longreach only 27 km away, its importance as a rural centre has waned. 

Location

Ilfracombe is located 1,149 km north west of Brisbane via Roma, Blackall and Barcaldine. It is 27 km east of Longreach, on the Matilda Highway, and 214 m above sea level. 

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Origin of Name

The small settlement was originally known as Wellshot after the huge property which dominated the area. When the railway arrived in 1891 it was decided to rename the settlement Ilfracombe, after the town in Devon, England.

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Things to See and Do

Ilfracombe Machinery and Heritage Museum
The Museum, sometimes referred to as The Great Machinery Mile, is situated on the northern side of the main road. It provides a timeline of the events which shaped the area around Ilfracombe with its displays including an old police lock-up used between 1901 and 1974, a meat house, the old manual post office exchange, a machinery shed with steam engines, tractors (including a Ruston Proctor Tractor), wool balers, pumps, graders, trucks, drays, buggies, a 100-million year-old petrified palm, unusual natural limestone rocks with a remarkably rounded form and other interesting memorabilia. There is the Steam Devil a huge excavator driven by three horse powered steam engines, which runs along one railway line. Made in 1880 and sold in 1882, it is the only remaining. There's also a 12 tonne Stuart Tank that has been converted into a dozer, the first series grader made by Caterpillar in 1935, an early 1900 Lacre Light Truck and a 1914 Republic Truck. One of the old wagons on display was drawn by up to 30 horses and capable of carting 100 bales of wool (weighing 15 to 20 tons) to coastal ports including Bowen or Rockhampton. A trek which could take three months. There is also 'Oakhampton', a cottage which was once part of the 'Lyndon' estate. It is a typical station hand's married quarters and was common on large stations before World War II. For a range of photos of the machinery check out http://www.ilfracombe.com.au/Ilfracombe-Machinery-Mile.html

Wellshot Hotel
There was a time when Ilfracombe had three hotels. Today the only hotel left is Wellshop which dates from 1890. The facade is largely unaltered but the accommodation at the rear was rebuilt in 1956. The hotel has memorabilia which dates from the time when the town was the centre of huge sheep stations.

Wellshot Centre
Located in McMaster Drive (the main street) the Wellshot Centre is the town's Visitor Information Centre as well as having displays including a 20 minute film “A Rush for Grass” which recounts the challenges faced by early pioneers and their fortitude in adapting to a harsh and fickle climate.

Langenbaker House
Located in Mitchell Street, Langenbaker House is an early example of an Ilfracombe residence, dating from 1892. It is made of timber and corrugated iron and was occupied by the original family until 1991. The veranda features latticework made from hoop iron which was once used to tie wool packs. The house retains original furnishings and is in original condition. The story of the historic house is that Harry Langenbaker was one of the first teamsters to move his house to Ilfracombe. The Langenbakers settled in Ilfracombe and raised 11 children. In 1921, a tragic accident occurred, leaving one of the children, Les, blind. The house and contents were kept unchanged to allow Les to find his way around the house. The Langerbaker family remained in the house until it was purchased by the Ilfracombe Shire Council.

Hilton's Corner and Bottle Museum
Over the years Hilton and Ike Jackson have collected over 30,000 bottles as well as buttons, scissors, stones, toothpaste, camp ovens, rabbit traps and a stack of other rarities fill the shed, yard and fenceline. It is a fascinating and unusual private museum.

Ilfracombe Spa
Located on Main Street as part of the swimming pool complex, the Ilfracombe Artesian Spa is open from 3.30 pm - 6.30 pm. The warm, healing waters come from the Great Artesian Basin which was first drilled around Ilfracombe back in 1897. For more information check at the office which is open from 8.45 am - 4.45 pm tel: (07) 4658 2233. Check http://www.ilfracombe.com.au/The-Artesian-Spa.html for more details.

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Other Attractions in the Area

Beaconsfield Station
Located 19 km north of Ilfracombe, Beaconsfield Station has the ruins of a revolutionary sheep wash which is listed in the Queensland Heritage Register. As it explains: "The remains of the sheep wash are on the bank of an intermittently dry creek; the dam that retained the water there was washed away in a flood. The visible remains of the sheep washing process comprise a circle of timber stumps, which supported the turning loop of the twin rails from the wash to the shearing shed and which encircled the draining yard. Miscellaneous machinery survives including a 61cm centrifugal pump made by Robinson Bros & Co. (patent 1882) of Melbourne, jets under which the sheep were washed, and the end of the pump with a column to a head of pressure.
It is important to the development of sheep grazing in the area that the property devised a sheep wash which consisted of a trench which was filled with water from a dam built across Brutus Creek. The sheep were washed in this trench by a combination of steam and scrubbing. The washed sheep were then transported towards the shearing shed by means of trolleys which were driven by steam power. The trolleys travelled along rails. Although it is nothing but ruins now it is an important reminder that in the 1890s this isolated area of Australia was at the forefront of wool technology. For more detailed information check out https://environment.ehp.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=600547. If you want to see the ruins contact the Wellshot Centre. 

The Twelve Mile
Located 20 km south of Ilfracombe on the Ilfracombe-Isisford Road (it is on the left just past Stockyard Creek), the Twelve Mile is a rare example of 19th century bush craftsmanship being bent to the unique needs of a harsh environment. It is a reservoir created by choosing and laying thousands of flagstones so that, in an area prone to savage droughts, a leak-proof reservoir is developed. It was built by hand around 1890 and subsequently used as a watering stop for sheep and cattle, a Cobb & Co change station, and it became so important that the Royal Mail Hotel was built to service the drovers and coach drivers. The hotel operated between 1893 and 1916.
There is a very detailed description of the Twelve Mile at http://www.ilfracombe.com.au/The-Twelve-Mile.html which notes "The workers adapted the techniques to dry stone walling which is the use of stones without mortar. This was a system commonly used in Britain to create fences, buildings and water works, surprisingly which still stand erect and solid to this day in most areas.
"The Chinese tradesmen, previously miners before moving to Western Queensland, may have worked on stone construction projects like this one and may have also contributed special skills and techniques.
"The 12 Mile is a splendid example of stone pitching and was constructed to create an erosion proof facing to an embankment, which served as a bye-wash that would retain water to a certain level, causing it to run into, and fill the adjacent dam. Excess water was allowed to flow over the bye-wash, thus relieving pressures that might have washed the dam away.
"Bush builders took great pride in the art of stone pitching as the work required careful planning. Stones had to be gathered, perhaps from far distant locations, and then sorted for the selection process before being strategically placed throughout the construction.
"It is likely that the stone pitching visible at the twelve mile was constructed in 1892 - back in the days when things were constructed to last for many many years. In any event, the stones have remained in place for well over a century - a proud tribute to the skills of the builders."

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History

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

* In 1846 the explorer Thomas Mitchell travelled through the district.

* Edmund Kennedy explored the district in 1847.

* In 1856 Augustus Gregory, looking for Ludwig Leichhardt, passed through the area.

* In 1862 William Landsborough passed through the area.

* Land was taken up in the district in 1863.

* In 1872 Alexander Buchanan acquired 1 million acres which became Wellshot Station.

* A local school was opened in 1883. That year saw Queensland National Bank open a branch in the town.

* In 1885 a timber Court House was built.

* In 1886 a record 43,000 sheep (the largest mob of sheep ever moved as a single flock) were moved through the area by a droving team of 27 horsemen. 

* In 1890 Patrick Finn dismantled his hotel in Barcaldine, transported it to Ilfracombe and renamed it the Wellshot Hotel.

* In 1891 the railway reached the town which was renamed Ilfracombe. It had been Wellshot but the railways thought this would cause confusion with the property.

* In 1891 the Artesian Hotel was opened to cater for customers from the railway. That year saw the opening of the local Post Office.

* By 1892 Wellshot Station (60 km south of town) was the largest sheep station in the world. It was running 460,000 sheep. 

* In 1893 a bore was drilled to a depth of one kilometre to provide water for Wellshot.

* The local wool scouring works opened in 1899.

* Between 1900-1901 a drought decimated the area with Wellshot Station losing an estimated 220,000 sheep.

* In 1901 a fire destroyed many of the town's buildings including the Artesian Hotel.

* The Ilfracombe Shire Council was proclaimed in 1903.

* In 1910 Ilfracombe became part of the first motorised postal service in Australia, from Ilfracombe to Isisford.

* 1910 saw the opening of the Bank of New South Wales.

* In 1919 twenty seven 5,000 acre blocks in the area were offered for sale.

* A sub-artesian bore was sunk to provide the town with water in 1925.

* A weir across the Barcoo River was constructed in 1934.

* In 1948 Wellshot Station was broken up for closer settlement. That year saw the town's swimming pool constructed.

* The town got reticulated water in 1953.

* In 2008 the town's most famous resident, Quentin Bryce, became Governor General of Australia.

* In 2007 the shire was amalgamated with Isisford and Longreach.

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Visitor Information

Wellshot Centre, McMaster Drive, tel: (07) 4658 3551.

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Accommodation

Wellshot Hotel, 20 Main Street, tel: (07) 4658 2106.

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Eating

Wellshot Hotel, 20 Main Street, tel: (07) 4658 2106

Ilfracombe General Store, Main Street, tel: (07) 4658 2265

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Useful Websites

 There is a useful local website. Check out http://www.ilfracombe.com.au.

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