In 1897, the Editor of the Northern Mining Register proclaimed: “Streets of fine shops and residences have sprung up, cold air stores, telephones, electric light, gaslight, electric fans and other adjuncts of an up-to-date civilisation are employed, and 20,000 souls now sleep nightly within a radius of 4 miles of the spot where the prospectors pitched their first camp a little over 25 years ago.” This was Charters Towers, the city affectionately known as ‘The World’ where anything your heart desired was there so there was no need to go anywhere else.
This was where my ancestors came to make their fortunes- the Olsens from Norway, the Glovers from London the Mottersheads from Lancashire. They were miners and engineers, hoteliers and merchants, midwives and cyaniders, all with the hope of making a better life for themselves and their families.
I had the privilege of chatting for quite a few hours with the archivist from the Charters Towers library, Michael Brumby, a blogger and an author of books on local history, his enthusiasm and patience are considerable. I discovered all sorts of amazing bits of information. For instance, after WW1 when gold was harder to mine and prices had not improved, many houses simply up stumps and headed to Townsville. Yes, they were packed up, put on wagons or the rail and sent to the coast. At the time there was no plumbing or electricals to consider and as the kitchen was often an add-on to avoid housefires, it was simply left behind. So, the timber and iron sheeting were loaded up and rebuilt on site in Townsville.
Joining us on our odyssey were friends whom we realised we had known for more than half a century! That is ridiculous!!! We can’t be that old!!!! Yep…we are!!! And we can still enjoy a night on the town at the World Theatre with performers Rena Lysiuk, Marcus Corowa and Jonathan making Puccini, Verdi- (old stars that only needed one name) and Slim Dusty and Dolly Parton seem like the most likely compatriots inspiring and lifting us up where we belong!
Charlie’s Trousers has so much to offer. We decided to investigate the Venus Gold Battery which we were told was diagonally opposite the old Millchester Hotel. This was where my Great Grandfather Olsen, the owner, died in 1896. So much history!!!!
Next stop- Ravenswood. Nev and Cath free camped at the showgrounds with clean amenities, hot and cold running water and power. Most free camp sites do not come with power!!
After the discovery of gold in 1868 through to the 1900s, the township flourished and grew to nearly 5000 residents among whom were my Grandfather, Jim Tully and his mum Martha. The town boasted 48 hotels. This is a strange little place made up of heritage listed buildings and persons- well if they’re not they should be. Characters that novels are soaked with and here they are living just eighty kilometres from the modern world.
Characters such as: Lord Terrance who is a publican, a collector and an entrepreneur happily accommodated us a visit to his Whisky cellar, Sonia and the locals provided a musical treat at the pub on Mother’s Day afternoon, a delightful father and daughter team happily shared hours of star gazing in their impressive home-made observatory complete with very expensive telescope and Jacqueline who accommodated us in her Airbnb in the Thorps building circa 1903. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get to the museum because the volunteer running it, decided to take the day off and go to Townsville and do her shopping. One has to do what one has to do!!
Ravenswood is about to change. It will become one of the largest open-cut gold mines in Australia. Already the school has been moved and I imagine in ten years this little town will look very different with new buildings and new people..maybe.. however there is something special about it, something about the people living there- the resilience, the tenacity and the imagination of the residents will keep on keeping on.