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Queenstown Tasmania : A feature packed town at the end of urbanisation.

*We acknowledge the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the true custodians of the land on which we live and work*

During the summer of 1881 Con Lynch and Tom Currie led foraging parties inland from Macquarie Harbour to explore beyond the first King River gorge and the tributing Queen River. The motivation was to find new exploitable stands of valuable Huon Pine and prospect for Gold. They found a huge tract of ancient temperate rainforest with the densest proliferation of ancient Huon Pines and astonishingly King Billy pines growing together. They also panned traces of Gold in the Queen River. The government had recently made the incredible reward sum of 5000 pounds payable to the discoverer of a minable Goldfield in an effort to stop the population drain to the Victorian rush. A huge sum of money at the time, more than enough incentive to get hardy prospectors exploring the Western Wilderness.

None were hardier than Thomas Currie who prospected up the deep eastern gorge of a Queen River tributary noting a large spectacular waterfall on his right. He continued onto a ridge between Mt Owen and Mt Lyell and after recovering from near exhaustion he headed back down the Queen river valley without knowing he had camped and rested a few hundred yards from the Iron Blow.

Horsetail falls
 Horsetail Falls - pre devastation 

One of Lynches party then found a cricket ball sized chunk of Quartz stone heavy with nuggety Gold in a tributary to the lower Queen River. A Gold bearing quartzite ore body was identified and pegged, Lynch set off to file the claim and the King River Gold Mining Company was floated soon after.

A minor rush ensued and at least a dozen more claims were soon pegged. This first settlement at 'Lynches show' was established about a mile north of what would later become Lynchford.

Within a year a 15 mile cartway was established from the former colonial site of Farm Cove on Macquarie harbour to Lynches which enabled tools, equipment and crushing machinery to be laboriously bullocked inland to the by then several established Piners and Miners shows. This first cartway into the Queen River valley would become known as the Lynch/Currie route.

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The King River Gold Mine water powered 10 head stamp battery could be heard throughout the Queen River valley as it crushed quartzite ore. Several other shows would soon begin crushing ores with water powered stamps.

King River Gold stamp crusher
 King River Gold water powered stamp crusher : circa 1884 
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 Princess Gold : circa 1888 

Early 1883, brothers Bill and Mick McDonough (also known as the Cooney Boys) with Steve Karlson would form the trio that began mining Gold on the eastern flank of the ridge between Mt Lyell and Mt Owen. There, around a dark ironstone outcrop that looked as if it had been blown up from inside the ground and hence named the Iron Blow, they pegged a claim and formed the Mt Lyell mining company.

Others would soon buy in. Dixon, a famed packer who reputedly could carry half his weight from the Harbour to Lyell in a day! And James Crotty, who believed that more Gold would occur at depth. Mr FO Henry accepted shares in lieu as payment for supplying equipment. The nearby encampments at the bottom of the ridge line quickly became a township simply called Lyell, the Miners town. (Would be re-named Gormanston in 1893 to honor newly appointed Governor, Lord Viscount Gormanston, Jenico Preston)

1893, Anthony Edward Bowes Kelly, after speculating around the Zeehan silver boom would visit The Blow and realise it to be a significant Copper deposit. Without divulging vital information to the incumbent stakeholders (most notably Mr James Crotty) he proceeded to amass shares and when a majority holding was attained, transformed this early effort into the Copper mining Mt Lyell Mining & Railway Company.

Early Mt Lyell Mining Iron Blow

Queenstown would become the major town of several that made up the Lyell district.

The new 1893 Mt Lyell Mining & Railway Company board led by Bowes Kelly would have to make three major innovations to find success.

Firstly, a cost effective smelting method to realise the metallic riches of the ores was imperative. No local coal deposits were to be found and the surrounding forests were being rapidly depleted for construction material and energy. Kelly learned of an American metallurgist, Robert Carl Sticht, the son of German immigrants, who had been trialling a process of creating and maintaining brimstone fire with sulfurous elements of ores as the primary fuel source. Kelly with fellow directors William Knox and William Orr approached Sticht and had an ore sample from the Iron Blow mine sent to him. Upon analysis, Sticht immediately realised that this ore was ideally suited to the process and may even achieve pure pyritic smelting. Robert and Marion Sticht, only 6 months married, relocated to the end of the world so that Robert could fulfill a life ambition.

Sticht was appointed chief metallurgist then successfully engineered and developed the process of generating the enormous amount of thermal energy required utilising the abundant sulfurous elements of the ores as the combustible fuel source.

The first Pyritic smelter towers over the shanty town of Penghana

The initial shanty town called Penghana that had taken shape adjacent to that first smelter plant was almost destroyed by fire during 1897.

The idea of moving the town centre further down the Queen River valley to where the Railway station for passengers and post had already been established was being acted upon when Penghana burned.

The success of the Iron Blow mine and smelter produced sheets of pure copper just as the worldwide growth of electrification drove massive demand. The company would have to be innovative again to engineer a railway over seemingly impossible terrain to the lower reaches of the King River where deep enough water could enable the construction of port structures for shipping. This early port facility would be known as Teepookana.

Engineer Fred Cutten designs an innovative rail corridor with amazing cuttings and bridges that would still require the then cutting edge technology of the Roman Abt rack and pinion system. Melbourne based company Garnsworthy and Smith are awarded the contract of constructing the section from Teepookana to Dubbil Barril which included the 'Quarter Mile Bridge' over the King River. But the mostly Victorian workforce are ill prepared for the harsh wet wilderness conditions and the company becomes dissatisfied. Edward Driffield is appointed to rectify the constraining issues. Driffield employs an additional 400 labourers and expertly organises them into small well organised groups working from pre-determined camps along the surveyed route. An impressive feat of engineering is accomplished, made all the more impressive being achieved with picks, shovels, barrows and inspired human might.

Queenstown station

Built around the success of the Smelter and Railway, Queenstown quickly grew to boast a population exceeding 5000. Robert Sticht was appointed the General Manager of the company and a stately mansion was built for the family of Robert and Marion. This mansion, built on a hill with a befitting grand outlook is ironically named Penghana House from the ramshackle shanty village beside the initial smelter.

Penghana House 1898

By the turn of last century the company prospered with the Smelter able to almost fuel itself and the Railway working hard moving all the product to port. Fortunately there were large deposits of good quality silica and limestone for fluxing and clay for brickworks all in the same vicinity and very close to the smelter. Unfortunately the local forests had been consumed and still no coal had been found for the general energy demands. The Mount Lyell Mining & Railway Company would again innovate. Taking cues from the series of aforementioned waterwheels already working down along the Queen River valley and the smaller early hydroelectric installations of Duck Reach, Waratah and Morinna, the company turned its focus to utilising Hydro power electricity generation on a new level. Abundant consistent rainfall provided constant water dynamic and this combined with the topography prompted the engineers of Lyell, notably one Mr Huntley Clarke, to survey local waterways for energy potential. Several options were discussed and considered. During 1906 a hugely ambitious idea to dam the King River and create a large artificial lake (Lake Dorothy) with the calculated potential of producing 160000 shaft horsepower was one of these. (The 1992 commissioned King River scheme formed Lake Burbury and generates approximately 200000 shaft horsepower with a single massive turbine at the John Butters powerstation).

A more readily achievable and affordable option was to collect the outflow of Lake Margaret, a natural lake situated at a high elevation being the source of the Yolande River, with a simple weir and pipe it to a hilltop valve site to a penstock was chosen. Preliminary construction started around 1910, a pilot plant generated energy from 1912 and the the first real Hydroelectric scheme, complete with its own small township, was fully commissioned during 1914.

Alternators and controls. Lake Margaret power house 1918

Combined with the nearby earlier townships of Gormanston, Linda, Lynchford, Comstock, and later the Lake Margaret village, the Lyell district population peaked at just over 10000 and would maintain around 7000 people until 1970. The 1963 closure of the Railway as the company switched to automotive and the 1969 closure of the smelter as world trade exchanges demanded concentrated ore rather than the final commodity saw the workforce shed 1000 employees. When mining went large scale underground from 1972 the implementation of mechanisation combined with the outsourcing of some supplies and services further eroded the employee numbers. 12 hr shift rostered work regimes were applied from 1989 and the winding up of the community nurturing Mt Lyell Mining & Railway Company saw the population diminish to 3200 by the mid 1990's. Queenstown's resident population continued to decline after 1995 when principal contractors were invited to tender for the Mt Lyell mining operation. The workforce quickly became transient and the remaining residential economic focus began to shift away from mining. Queenstown's resident population diminished to just 1700.

By 2010 after a decade of stagnancy, despite the Mt Lyell mine producing record tonnages, Queenstown was noticeably evolving. Even acknowledgement and recognition of the game changing NO DAMS controversy of the early 1980's became a topic that could be discussed with little fear of confrontation. A noticeable artistic presence spurned a regular heritage and arts festival. The major financial and banking institutions had closed so a local group of forward thinking people formed a board structure and opened a locally owned financial and banking franchise. The regrowth of the forests started accelerating and became easily noticeable. Change had already occurred.

The Mt Lyell mine ceased production in 2014 and Queenstown has since become recognised as a spectacular wild place of artistic expression, a place of nature based tourism and adventure activities and yet still retains an interestingly unique spirited heritage of pioneer mining on the wild frontier. 

Queenstown and Strahan remain on the wild frontier of Tasmania's Wilderness World Heritage Area (TWWHA). Recognised globally as a place of unspoilt ancient temperate wilderness, TWWHA is of infinitely greater universal value than any exploitable natural resource.

Mt Owen pink summer sunset
 Cutten street Queenstown 

Queenstown is the centre of services for Western Tasmania.

  • District Hospital: At the top end of Orr street has 3 emergency rooms, several acute wards, aged care, Xray, pathology and most other health care services one would expect at a regional hospital. GP consultation, emergency medivac services and general patient transfer services.

  • PharmacyQueenstown Medical Union comprehensive pharmacy. Professionally staffed and led by a resident pharmacist. Orr street.

  • Chiropractor and remedial massage: At the Queenstown Medical union building on Cutten street.

  • Australia Post: The post office is in the centre of Orr street and stocks a range of clothing, stationary, media devices, gifts and souvenir items.

  • Service Tasmania: Where government services can be accessed and engaged. Located under the same roof as local government (council). Main entrance is on Driffield street. The Robert Sticht memorial library is here.

  • Banking and Finance: Queenstown has face to face banking services supported by Bendigo Bank. Orr street.

  • Hair salon: Belladonna provides the full range of haircare services. Includes a barber shop style service. Cutten street.

  • Queenstown Market Place: supplies tools, utensils, hardware lines, gardening supplies, electrical goods, gifts and local souvenirs and more. As the name suggests. Most things can be found here. Orr street.

  • Supermarkets: Queenstown has two IGA supermarkets. Both in Orr street, are very well stocked and have friendly local staff.

  • Second Hand store: St Vincents second hand opportunity shop (Vinnies) Cutten street.

  • The Barnstore on McNamara street Queenstown has a collection of eclectic items for sale and trade. Find market trade booths where locally created items and souvenirs can be purchased. Great souvenirs can be purchased from The Empire Art Box on the corner of Orr and Driffield streets, the Huon Pine Emporium, Didley squat and the Missing Tiger bookshop all on Orr street.

  • Art galleries: Queenstown has a robust and varied art scene with galleries and installations across town. Call into the Soggy Brolley art and design studio on Orr street or contacting the team at Presswest on Bowes street is a great place to get started. Find QWest across Driffield street from the Railway station and Frontier studio at Hunters Hotel.

  • Swimming Pool: Queenstown has a public swimming pool operated by local council with change and shower facilities available. Located along the Esplanade.

  • Gym: The well equipped gym is operated by the local council and can be accessed by contacting the local council office on Sticht street. Phone 64 714 700

 

  • Schools and childcare: Queenstown has a public school from prep to year 10 located in South Queenstown on Conlan street and a private (St Josephs) primary school located on Orr street. There is an early learning childcare facility on Selby street.​

  • 7XS local radio: Tune into 92.1FM 

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