Gold finds at the Palmer and Hodgkinson rivers brought thousands of miners to Far North Queensland. As the rushes subsided, prospectors searched for new sources. In the ancient granite hills along Wild River, they hit pay dirt — not gold, but tin. Now all that remains of those gold mining boomtowns are house stumps and flagstones, but Herberton, founded on tin, is still going strong. It is the oldest town on the Atherton Tablelands.
In 1880, John Newell, William Jack and two colleagues bought 60 acres (24 hectares) of freehold land to the east of Wild River. Their Great Northern Mine extracted both alluvial and lode tin, kicking off a tin rush in the process. At the height of the boom, 160 mines were working in the area.
No longer a functional mine, Great Northern is listed on the Queensland Heritage Register for its historic role in opening up the Tablelands to mining and propelling the local economy. Today the property hosts a museum and visitors’ centre and is crossed by walking tracks that pass between mine shafts and rusting machinery that mark Great Northern’s 70-year existence.
The mine lies in woodland of Lemon-scented Gum (Corymbia citriodora), Range Bloodwood (C. abergia) and Lockyer’s Box (Eucalyptus lockyeri). When the gum trees are in bloom and Fern-leaved Grevillea (Grevillea pteridifolia) puts out its vivid orange sprays, the place buzzes with bees and butterflies and birds. At this time of year, as the Wet Season enters its last hurrah, only a few bunches of mistletoe are still flowering. Mock Orange or Prickly Pine (Bursaria incana) is producing buds, but has yet to create its magic.
On a recent visit, the woodland was full of the songs of Grey Butcherbirds and the not quite as musical calls of Sulphur-crested Cockatoos. A gang of Noisy Miners tried to guard mistletoes, but a trio of White-throated Honeyeaters managed to slip past them. Spotted Pardalotes, Rufous Whistlers and Scarlet Honeyeaters foraged among the gum leaves. Other birds flew through in waves, too small and too fast to identify.
The Gully Shaft lies close to the start of the tracks and leads down to the gully where alluvial tin was first found. It was the first of sixteen shafts sunk over the mine’s life. Flooding caused it to be abandoned. Without repair, the walls collapsed. Now birds, frogs and dragonflies make use of the deep pool of water. On hot days, this is a good place to sit in the dappled shade of gum trees and watch the wildlife reclaim the landscape.
Where: Jack Street, Herberton, Queensland
What to Bring: Hat, sunscreen, insect repellent, and water.
Note: The tracks are gravel and uneven in places.