For some reason I was itching to go to Charters Towers, and I was so worried that it wasn’t going to happen. (I’m a champion at worrying. I could take out the North Queensland titles. I don’t think I’d make State Champion though, cos that one would definitely go to my mum). Charters is a hot dry little town 150km inland from Townsville, ie somewhere we were never going to go in summer. Since this coming summer is slated to be our very last here (that’s the plan anyway), it was looking as though I was going to miss out. I have quite a strong feeling that once we leave North Queensland, wherever we go to (Singapore? Perth? London? Melbourne?) it’s going to be a long time before we’re back here. And even if we do come back to North Queensland, it will be to go diving on the reef, or to some resort island, or, or, I don’t know, but it wouldn’t be to Charters.
If we didn’t go soon, it would be never. I could tell.
Luckily my parents were visiting cos Mum could understand the pain of my worry, and she suggested that we all go to Charters together. The plan was that Hayden and I would accompany Mum and Dad on the first stage of their journey back to Brisbane. We’d turn around after a lunch in Charters, and they would go on to an un-namable camping spot in the deserted middle of Queensland like they like to do.
We got a perfect day for driving west: it was bright and clear and warm, and I had not imagined that the drive to Charters would be so beautiful - in an open country, blue sky and bush and that's all kind of way. I am definitely developing a taste for the dusty innards of Australia.
When we arrived in Charters, I was glad we had saved it up for last. It was the perfect setting for us to use our making-our-own-fun-while-visiting-a-country town skills that we have been developing for the past year and a bit. Last winter's efforts at self-entertainment in small country towns was mainly focussed on the sugar cane harvest. That culminated in our visit to the Museum in Proserpine where we learnt all about the cane production process from a film made in 1982. We watched that film from deckchairs in a little section of the museum which recreated the atmosphere of the historic Proserpine Picture Theatre, and we left with a thorough understanding of what happens to the cane crop from start to finish.
We were ready to learn about something else.
The topic of our visit to Charters Towers was the gold rush of the 1880s. Charters itself is extremely dry and still and has hardly changed at all since those days so it was exceptionally easy to imagine all of the goings on from that time, which we learnt about during a visit to the National Trust Information Centre and the National Trust Museum.
Many of the old buildings, built in the most prosperous time in the town's history, are there still and largely unchanged (compared to what happens on the tropical coast, where any really old building will likely have been flattened by a cyclone or encircled with moss and tropical foliage like Angkor Wat). In those days, Charters Towers was nicknamed The World and it was the bustling metropolis and Townsville was its sleepy port.
My favourite feature of Charters Towers was the view from up on a hill just outside the town. You could see how the land surrounding was dotted with mine shafts (now all boringly blocked up with concrete) and little walking trails meandering between the plots made it so easy to imagine the hand-dug operation.
Upon striking it lucky, the miners could walk less than a k into town to the Stock Market. The assayer out the back would value the gold and mould it into bullion. Then the miner could pop over to the stock market in the next room, and sell it all for stocks. There town was full of sheisters looking to take advantage of the newly rich.
Now the stock market building is a tea shop, which served us a really-not-too-bad cappucino.
I love this gentle kind of historical tourism. As we drove away I really felt like I'd been in another land and another time. Getting back to Townsville, it seemed so confoundingly modern and busy. And breezy.