Strolling through the streets of Charters Towers and its near endless array of magnificent heritage buildings, it is not difficult to believe that this inland Queensland town was once important enough to be simply known as ‘The World’.
After gold was discovered in 1871, more than 25,000 people flocked to the area, quickly making it the Sunshine State’s second biggest city, and sparking the construction of a mind-boggling 70 hotels. That wealth is still there for all to see in the ornate colonial architecture on display in structures such as the World Theatre, Stock Exchange Arcade, City Hall, the Zara Clark Museum, and the Post Office Clock Tower.
Today, the population is more like 10,000, but that number swells in the tourist season when in-the-know grey nomads and other travellers roll into town. There’s a couple of great caravan parks including the grey nomad-friendly Charters Towers Tourist Park, and there’s more basic camping out of town a bit, including at the stunning Dalrymple National Park some 40 kilometres to the north.
But before exploring the area, most travellers first want to uncover the secrets of this unique town. Despite its history, Charters Towers – which lies 130 kilometres south west of Townsville at the junction of the Flinders Highway and Gregory Highway – has a range of modern facilities to service the needs of grey nomads, including caravan repairs and excellent cafes and shops. The town relies on the Burdekin River for its water supply, and a trip out to the Macrossan Bridge Flood Marker 15 minutes east of town, shows just how powerful the waterway can be.
Walking is the best way to explore town. While many of the most ostentatious historic buildings here are commercial structures there are also some incredible private dwellings, including Ay-Ot Lookout, a wooden residence with stunning latticework. The most visited place in town though is the Venus Gold Battery, which was established in 1872, and didn’t close until 1973. Guided tours of Australia’s largest surviving battery relic offer a fascinating insight into the scale of activity once seen on the goldfields. The stamping machines here once pounded one teaspoon of gold from every tonne of ore.
At 420 metres above sea level, Towers Hill Lookout is a great spot to get an overview of the town, and a trip to Charters Towers Cemetery can also give visitors a different insight into what makes the place what it is. Among others, there are the graves here of Jupiter Mosman, the Aboriginal boy who reputedly first discovered gold in the area, and Queensland’s last bushranger, James Knenniff. If a visit to the cemetery or perhaps a ghost tour, leaves you seeking a little lighter entertainment, a visit the iconic Tors drive-in cinema could be on the cards, or maybe a trip out to Leahton Park, home of the largest herd of purebred Texas Longhorns in Australia, or even a visit to the Dalrymple saleyards one Wednesday to enjoy the excitement of a live cattle auction.
The old timers with pick axes and pans may have gone, but it is not hard to see why the old timers in their vans and motorhomes are now arriving in ever greater numbers.