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Mackay, QLD

Bustling, modern coastal city known as the Sugar Capital of Australia.

There was a time when a new visitor, arriving from the south via the Bruce Highway and Nebo Road, would have been forgiven for declaring Mackay the "motel capital of the world". It was a city catering for the vast tourist traffic running north and south along the Bruce Highway between Rockhampton and Townsville and the Peak Downs Highway bringing holidaying miners and their families from the Bowen Basin mines to the coast. Mackay is one of Queensland's fastest growing coastal cities with new suburbs spreading rapidly along the coast. It is a city uniquely placed to serve tourism (the beaches and the marina are excellent although the area is known in the summer months for the danger of the deadly stingers in the water); serve as a large and prosperous rural centre with a modern and sophisticated central business; and a hub (particularly with the proximity of Hay Point and Dalrymple Bay) for both the agricultural and mining interests which lie to the west. Mackay itself has important port facilities, a huge range of motels and hotels, good restaurants, excellent boating facilities and a genuinely fascinating hinterland. Mackay is a gracious tropical city. It basks under the tropical sun and its wide streets are characterised by beautifully kept median strips with Royal palm trees and flowering tropical plants.


Mackay is located 954 km north of Brisbane via the Bruce Highway.


Origin of Name

In May, 1860 the explorer Captain John Mackay reached the area after travelling overland from northern New South Wales. The town is named after him.


Things to See and Do

There is a logical way to see the most interesting buildings in Mackay. Here are the directions: As you enter from the south you pass the unusual Visitor Information Centre. Drive north along the Bruce Highway, turn east into Gordon Street and inspect the Holy Trinity Church before driving to East Gordon Street to see the Sewerage World. Then return to the CBD and find a parking place so you can take a 2.8 km walk which starts at 63 Sydney Street.

Start at the Visitor Centre on the Bruce Highway. Beyond the Visitor Centre is the:
Sugar Research Institute
Nothing symbolises the industrial base of Mackay as effectively as the Sugar Research Institute, a large nondescript office block, at 239 Nebo Road, West Mackay. It is opposite the Mackay Regional Botanic Gardens and a short distance from the Visitor Information Centre. Built in 1953 (with additions in 1966) the Queensland Heritage Register notes of the building: "Mackay Sugar Research Institute is significant for its part in the development of Queensland's sugar history as a non-Government sugar industry funded and controlled research centre with the construction in 1953 of the western section of the main Institute Building, the Director's Residence and a Utilities Building and in 1966 the eastern section of the main Institute Building and later in 1973 the construction of the Charles Young Conference Hall.
"The research undertaken at the Sugar Research Institute continued, complemented and surpassed the earlier Sugar Experiment Station. The construction of the Sugar Research Institute provides tangible evidence of the commitment that was given by the sugar industry to sugar research and particularly, the development of the Mackay district as the geographical centre for sugar research and production in Queensland." Check https://environment.ehp.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=602642 for more details.

Continue on the Bruce Highway and turn west at Shakespeare Road
Mackay General Cemetery (1865) - Located on Cemetery Road this burial ground offers a unique insight into the diverse nationalities who cut the sugar cane. The Queensland Heritage Register records that "The cemetery contains South Sea Islander, Japanese, Javanese (Muslim) and Singhalese graves. The Japanese graves date to the early 20th century. South Sea Islander graves in the cemetery include that of Kwailiu Fatana'ona (John Fatnahoona), who was recruited from Malaita in the Solomon Islands to work in the cane fields of the Mackay district and was buried in 1904 aged 40 years. The Muslim graves include a slab design finished with decorative tiles in a manner that is typically Indonesian. There are also Italian and Maltese graves. For some of these ethnic groups, particularly the Japanese and Javanese, graves are the only extant physical evidence of their presence in the Mackay region between the late 19th and early 20th century." Check out https://environment.ehp.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=602766 for more details.

Return to the Bruce Highway and turn east at Gordon Street
Holy Trinity Church (1926)
Located at 39 Gordon Street, this very distinctive Anglican Church (where else do you see a church with "barley sugar" columns?) is the third on the site. The first was built in 1867 and fell down. The second was destroyed by a cyclone in 1918. It is said that the unusual design of the church is similar to the Mission Church of the Order of Saint John which was noted by Canon Reginald Halse in Bombay (now Mumbai), India. Halse consulted with the architect, Lange Leopold Powell. The building suggests the style of a Spanish church with the addition of open verandas to allow cooling breezes. The church was designed in 1923 and completed in 1926. For more detailed information check out https://environment.ehp.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=601111.

Continue along Gordon Street until it becomes East Gordon Street
East Gordon Street Sewerage Works (1936)
Located at 38 East Gordon Street, the Mackay Sewerage Works looks more like a pair of miniature castles than an effluent disposal area. The buildings were designed by AE Harding Frew who also designed the William Jolly Bridge in Brisbane. The quirky aspect of the sewerage works is that the pump house and chlorinator building have castellated parapets. Built in 1936 the real importance is that this is one of the first sewerage works in rural Queensland. Most regional centres didn't establish proper sewerage systems until after World War II. For a much more detailed history check out https://environment.ehp.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=602727.

An Historic Walk in the Mackay CBD
Return towards the city on Gordon Street and turn north on Sydney Street. There is a pleasant 2.8 km walk which starts at the Town Hall and includes ten of the city's most interesting buildings - all of which are detailed below.

Mackay Town Hall (1912)
Located at 63 Sydney Street this handsome building was the Town Hall from 1912 until 1975 when it was replaced by the Mackay Civic Centre. It survived the devastating cyclone of 1918. The Queensland Heritage Register describes it as "The street facade is divided into five bays of semi-circular moulded arches with pilasters between and string courses. At the centre is a square clock tower with balustrade parapet, ball finials and circular windows. Above the entry archway, which projects slightly forward of the others, is "Town Hall 1912" in relief. The parapet of the verandah has a cornice and ball finials, and is at a lower level than the parapet of the main building. The upper level verandah has cast iron balustrading and the lower level masonry. The verandah ceilings are ripple iron." For more detailed information check out https://environment.ehp.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=601107.

At the end of Sydney Street (before it crosses the Pioneer River) is
Mackay Customs House
Located at 31 River Street on the corner of Sydney Street, The Customs House was designed by John Smith Murdoch, the district architect, and completed in 1902. It was built to collect interstate excise on the local rum production. This handsome corner building is described by the Queensland Heritage Register as "it displays the coat of arms in relief on the front parapet, and its central and grandest space is the Long Room, which is a symbolic and traditional element of a Customs House ... The exterior and interior of the building are substantially as they were when constructed. Exterior features include the curved entrance colonnade, "roughcast" stucco panels, gable treatments and tuck pointed brickwork. The interior has decorative metal and boarded ceilings, moulded plaster wall decoration and panels, leadlight door panels, cedar joinery, and clerestory windows to the Long Room." Check out https://environment.ehp.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=600669 for more details.

Drive along River Street (west) until you reach Wood Street
Pioneer Shire Council Building (1935)
These Art Deco offices at 1 Wood Street were built in 1935 to a design by local architect Harold Vivian Marsh Brown. He was responsible for the designs of 13 Art Deco buildings in Mackay. The Queensland Heritage Register observes that it is "a good example of the Art Deco style transplanted to rural Queensland. With its geometric facade stylised decoration, terracotta tiles and prominent lettering it demonstrates the characteristics of this style. " For more information check out https://environment.ehp.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=602603.

Further up Wood Street is
The Masonic Temple (1924)
Located at 57 Wood Street and, like so many Masonic Temples, an impressive and ornate building. In this instance the style is basically Classical Revival which was fashionable when it was built. It cost £6,500 to build. For more information check out https://environment.ehp.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=602731.

Turn into Alfred Street
Mackay Technical College (1912) - Prominently located in Alfred Street and designed by the architect, Thomas Pye, the building has a hipped roof with a gable roof projection, clad with corrugated iron. A ventilator fleche with a domed metal top is located in the centre of the hipped roof. It is a building for tropical conditions with the windows covered with sun hoods. It is listed on the Queensland Heritage Register and a very detailed description is provided at https://environment.ehp.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=602056. It notes that "It is one of many technical colleges constructed throughout Queensland in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as part of an attempt to 'promote mental and moral improvement of the working classes.' The building is significant as the first state high school in Mackay, and is significant in demonstrating the history of education in the city and surrounding area."

World War I Cenotaph (1928-1929) - Located in Jubilee Park in Alfred Street and designed by Townsville architect, Stephen Harvey, it was unveiled in 1929 to commemorate the 159 men from the Mackay district who were killed in World War I. There is a detailed description of its importance and its symbolism at https://environment.ehp.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=600667. 

Then into MacAlister Street;
St Pauls Uniting Church - previously Presbyterian (1898-1918)
Located at 21 MacAlister Street, St Paul's is a "large single-storey timber building". It is a genuinely interesting timber church which, according to the Queensland Heritage Register, "demonstrates uncommon aspects of Queensland's cultural heritage as it is a rare example of an intact 19th century timber church in North Queensland. St Paul's Uniting Church is one of the few public buildings in Mackay which withstood the 1918 cyclone." The Heritage Listing goes on to point out its salient construction features: "A traditional latin cross plan, the church consists of a wide nave, two short transept wings, a chancel that contains the choir loft, a projecting organ bay and private rooms. The western end of the nave faces the street and is the main point of entry. The front facade consists of a high gable wall with a lower attached skillion roof and wall that joins two gabled entry vestibules. The twin vestibules are positioned on the north west and south west corners of the nave. Each has a set of arched timber entry doors approached by a short flight of timber stairs. The building is symmetrical except for an elaborately detailed timber belfry located over the north west entry vestibule. This picturesque element has a steep hip roof with a broken pitch. Two additional gable roofed entry porches are located on the eastern side of the transepts." For more detailed information check out https://environment.ehp.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=600668.

Then travel down Brisbane Street to the corner of Victoria Street:
Mackay Court House (1880s) and Police Station (1930s)
Located on the corner of Victoria Street and Brisbane Street is the Court House complex "the major buildings remain and include the police station, built as a court house in 1886, the current court house, built in 1938, and two brick police residences from 1936-7". The Court House was designed by John James Clark who, at the time, was the Colonial Architect. The Queensland Heritage Register records: "The Court House is a two storey Georgian Revival building constructed of face brick with rendered detail. It has two hipped roof bays flanking a parapeted Tuscan giant order colonnade, with paired cement rendered concrete columns and a wrought iron balustrade. The rear elevation also has a two storey verandah supported on Tuscan order columns with iron balustrading between." For more details check out https://environment.ehp.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=600673.

Around the corner in Victoria Street is the
Commonwealth Bank Building (1880)
Located at 63 Victoria Street (next door to the Court House) is the Commonwealth Bank, designed by Francis Drummond Greville Stanley, which features huge Doric columns on the ground floor with cast-iron columns and balustrades on the first floor. It is the oldest commercial building in Mackay and was constructed in 1880 for the Australian Joint Stock Bank. It is a typical bank of the era. For more details check out https://environment.ehp.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=600671.

Further along Victoria Street is the
Queensland National Bank (1922)
The imposing Queensland National Bank building on the corner of Victoria Street and Wood Street is an interesting mixture of Corinthian columns with ornate corners and plaster arches. It was designed by noted Bundaberg architect, Frederick Herbert Faircloth, at a cost of £15,300. Currently used by a variety of businesses (including a cafe and an engineering firm). For more details check out https://environment.ehp.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=600672.


Other Attractions in the Area

Harbour Beach and Mackay Marina
Mackay is constantly expanding and some of the most attractive new areas, and the city's major play and entertainment areas, lie across the Forgan Smith Bridge at Harbour Beach and the Mackay Marina. It is a mixture of industry and chic tropical living with a vast number of high rise apartment blocks going up in the past decade. It is certainly worth exploring.

Selwyn House, Mackay 
Edged by fields of sugar cane and located at 12 Cowleys Road (it runs off the Peak Downs Highway beyond the Visitor Centre) is Selwyn House which was started in the 1890s and not completed until 1918. It is a classic Queenslander. The Queensland Heritage Register statement about the building points out that "Selwyn House is significant as a focus for local memory regarding the role played by South Sea Islander labour in the establishment of Mackay and the surrounding area as one of Queensland's premier sugar-growing areas. South Sea Islander people have all expressed a high level of interest in the house for its social value. Oral histories maintain that the bell which used to be located on the property was rung to bring people together. [The bell was removed around 1996]." and that "It is significant for its association with Mary Goodwin Robinson who established the Selwyn Mission, and was involved with it until her departure from the Mackay area in 1903. Mary Robinson provided a level of education to indentured South Sea Islander people who worked on the sugar plantations."

Cape Hillsborough National Park
Located 50 km north of Mackay is the Cape Hillsborough National Park. An area of 1070 ha beside the ocean it is a combination of rugged hills, rhyolite boulders from the old volcanic plug known as Pinnacle Rock, and white sandy beaches where, in the early morning, wallabies can be seen. The area is predominantly rainforest which runs down to the edge of the Coral Sea. The chief activities are bushwalking, swimming and sunbathing. The Mackay Region website points out that the visitor can: "Learn about the history of the park and the Yuibera (Yuwi) Aboriginal people who continue their traditional use of the rich natural resources found here. The 1.2 kilometre Yuibera trail illustrates traditional coastal life. Observe more than 150 species of birds and 25 species of tropical butterflies and along the award-winning Diversity boardwalk, see shell middens from Yuibera feasts." There are excellent maps and detailed information at http://wetlandinfo.ehp.qld.gov.au/wetlands/facts-maps/national-park-cape-hillsborough.

Greenmount Historic Homestead
Located on Greenmount Road, Walkerston (18 km west from Mackay via Peak Downs Highway) is Greenmount Historic Homestead, a gracious old house located a couple of kilometres from the highway and situated amidst gardens of tropical splendour - there is a formal front garden, a fernery and arbour - on a hill overlooking the surrounding sugar plantations.
The land was originally owned by Captain John Mackay (after whom the town is named) but he was forced to sell and it passed through a number of hands before Albert Cook purchased it in 1912. Cook built the present home in 1915. It was left to the Pioneer Shire Council by his son, Tom Cook, in 1981. It is currently leased by the Mackay Historical Society and Museum Inc. and houses a staggering 20,000 historical items.
The house offers a rare opportunity to explore the lifestyle of a successful cattle grazier in the late nineteenth century. Each room has been restored and the furniture, even down to the large dining table with the individual place settings, is original. All items in the homestead belonged to the Cook family. It is open Sunday-Friday from 9.30 am to 12.30 pm, tel: (07) 4959 2250. Check out http://www.mackay.qld.gov.au/community/council_facilities2/historical_centres/greenmount_homestead where you can download a Greenmount Homestead Self Guided Tour which provides detailed histories of all the rooms and a lengthy description of the gardens.
The dining room, featured in the photos on this site, is described as "The dominant feature of this room is the English Oak dining suite, which was used at the Cooks’ Balnagowan home at the turn of the last century. It’s believed to have come from England in 1837 when the original family members immigrated to Australia. Also previously in use at Balnagowan was the Australian Bentwood rocking chair. Notice the impressive pair of silver ice buckets - these were won in 1886 at the Narrabri Jockey Club (NSW) by Tom Cook’s imposingly monikered horse, ‘Invader’.
Large oil paintings of Samuel Wellington Cook and his wife Elizabeth (nee Dangar) hang on the eastern and western walls of this room. Samuel and Elizabeth were the founding members of the Cook family in Australia, moving here from Cornwall in 1837. Photographs of subsequent generations of the family are also displayed, including those of John and Elizabeth Cook and their son Thomas (who founded Balnagowan in 1862), Albert Alfred and Vida Althea Cook (who built Greenmount Homestead in 1915), and Tom Albert and Dorothy (nee Drysdale) Cook, who were the last owners of the property. The Silky Oak mantelpiece was relocated from Balnagowan. Along the western wall of the room resides a grandfather clock that is estimated to be 280 years old. It was originally owned by the Drysdale family. The chiffonier (or sideboard) was a wedding present from Albert to his bride Vida in 1908."

Hay Point and Dalrymple Bay Coal Terminal
The rapidly evolving history of coal will make these observations redundant in a few years but, currently, this is a huge operation with "coking coal being received from mines situated 200-250 km southwest of Mackay and railed to the port by the Queensland Rail. The coal is transported in bottom dump wagons of 82 tonne capacity. The trains comprise 120 wagons held by five 100 tonne electric locomotives. The trains pass through 1 of 2 bottom dump stations on arrival.
"The trains can be unloaded in approximately 1.5 hours through one of the two bottom discharge dump stations The locomotive pulls the wagons through and the wagons empty into hopper beneath the dump stations. The unloading rate is approximately 4000 tonnes per hour for each dump station.
"STOCKPILING - The coal is transferred by conveyor belt to stackers on four main yard belts to be stacked on stockpiles either side of the yard belt conveyors. Coal from each of the mines is stockpiled and reclaimed separately, as each coal has different specifications. The total stockpile capacity is 2 million tonnes. The operation has one automated stacker on line 1.5 and three combination stacker reclaimers on line 1,2 and 3.
"RECLAIMING Coal is reclaimed from stockpile by stacker reclaimers feeding onto 3 yard belt conveyors. By transfer to other conveyors the coal is loaded into the holds of the ship by rail mounted shiploaders on each of the berths.
"SHIPLOADING The shiploader on berth no.1 has a lifting boom with a travelling telescope chute and rotation chute. The shiploader has a nominal loading rate of 4,000 tonnes per hour. On berth no.2 the shiploader has rail mounted chutes, an inner shuttle and outer shuttle. The telescopic rotating chutes are mounted on the outer shuttle with a nominal fast rate of 6,000 tonnes per hour."
It is worth visiting because of the sheer size and scale of the operation. In 2016 it was predicted that coal would contribute a staggering $7 billion to the Federal Budget in a single year.



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

* The first European to reach the Mackay area was Captain James Cook who sailed up the eastern coast of Australia in 1770 and named Cape Palmerston.

* In May,1860 first European explorer in the area, Captain John Mackay, reached the Pioneer River. He had travelled from Armidale in northern NSW.

* By 28 May, 1860 Mackay's party had started marking runs after drawing straws for the best lots.

* In 1861 Mackay brought cattle and horses overland from Armidale in New South Wales.

* By 1862 the tiny settlement of Mackay was established on the banks of the Pioneer River.

* In 1865 John Spiller planted the first sugar cane in the area. He had had a plantation in Java. He built his own small sugar mill.

* By 1866 Mackay had been connected to Brisbane and Bowen by telegraph.

* Sugar mills had been built in the district by 1867 and the first sugar was exported that year.

* Mackay became a municipality in 1869

* The town's first primary school was opened in 1871.

* By 1874 there were 16 sugar mills in the district and over 5,000 acres were growing sugar.

* By 1877 Mackay was taking more South Sea island labourers (known as Kanakas) than any other port along the Queensland coast. The Kanakas brought to the area worked as virtual slave labour.

* In 1885 the government opened rail lines for sugar transportation from Mackay to Eton and Mirani.

* The Sydney Street bridge was opened in 1888.

* By 1903 Mackay had a population of 4,000. That year it was officially declared a town.

* The use of Kanakas on the sugar plantations finally stopped in 1906.

* Mackay became a city in 1918. That same year a cyclone, which lasted for three days, destroyed 75% of the city's buildings and killed 30 people.

* The railway from Brisbane and Rockhampton reached the city in 1922.

* In 1923 the railway was extended to Townsville.

* A new power station was opened in 1936.

* By 1939 an artificial deepwater harbour had been built and Mackay had the largest sugar terminal in the Southern Hemisphere.

* In 1944 the district produced 141,000 tons of sugar from seven local mills.

* The Mackay Harbour sugar terminal was opened in 1957.

* By 1962 Mackay had four motels.

* In 1971 a coal terminal was built at Hay Point.

* In 1982 bulk grain silos were built at the harbour.

* In 1983 the Dalrymple Bay coal loader was opened.

* In 1988 the Mackay Entertainment Centre opened.

* Rail access to the city ended in 1993.

* By 2001 the population of Greater Mackay had reached 60,000.

* By 2011 the population had topped 77,000.


Visitor Information

Mackay Visitor Information Centre, 320 Nebo Road, tel: 1300 130 001, Open 9.00 am - 5.00 pm.



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Useful Websites

There is a very comprehensive official website - http://www.mackayregion.com - which provides information about the city and its surrounds.

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