Today was a “catch up” day when we both caught up with all sorts of things, many of which can’t be done while free camping or with limited services. Ann was able to catch up the washing, drying and ironing and I was able to catch up on a number of maintenance tasks required around the caravan. I also made a start at trying to get rid of the accumulated red dust/mud on the van and Ute. In some places the red mud was set like concrete and I was literally trying to chip it off, rather than wash it off. We also were able to catch up on phone calls and emails – and a couple of favourite TV shows.
Free camping has its advantages, but it doesn’t take too long being away from creature comforts like phone, internet and TV to realise just how much we rely on them for daily living.
Weatherwise today was a bit cooler and there was a bit of drizzle and light rain around at various times.
Today we played tourists around Charters Towers. Charters Towers came to fame in 1871 when gold was found here. In time it became the second largest town in Queensland and was affectionately known as “the World”. In its peak it included 11 crushing mills, 65 hotels and one of the first regional Stock Exchanges in Australia. It has many beautiful heritage buildings and work is continuing on the restoration and maintenance of buildings around town.
For instance, the Visitor Information Centre was once the Union Bank, built in 1880, and the building that was The Australian Bank of Commerce Limited building is now not much more than a façade for a new and very impressive theatre and entertainment complex. Other heritage buildings have also been repurposed with the Excelsior Hotel now serving as the city library. Some buildings, like the Post Office and Police Station are still used for their original purpose. The old Bank of New South Wales building now appears to be a private residence.
After walking around the main heritage area of town we wandered along Gill Street which is much more commercial, although all the buildings are heritage with wide verandahs and many with the early owner or purpose displayed. What appeared to be a large old fashioned draper shop is now being used by Target, and they haven’t gone over the top with signage so the visual heritage appeal of the building remains. There are very few vacant shops in the main streets of Charters Towers which is quite different to many country towns we have visited, and the town does have quite a positive “vibe”.
We returned to the caravan for lunch after picking up some supplies at a modern Woolworths supermarket – it was down a historic shopping arcade rather than directly facing the street and looking out of place.
After lunch we ventured up to Towers Hill which is slightly out of town. Towers Hill plays a vital role in the water supply to Charters Towers. Water from the Burdekin River is pumped up to two large tanks, one built in 1890, which store nearly 10 million litres of water which is then reticulated through the city.
Gold was originally found at the base of Towers Hill in 1871 and in the next few years approx. 30 vertical mines, shafts and tunnels were dug by miners in search of gold. Many of the mines are still visible but the government has specific programs to make areas like this safe.
Towers Hill also played a role in WW2 when the RAAF established the “No 3 Replenishing Centre” to store bombs, detonators and ammunition for use by RAAF bases in Townsville. There are around 30 concrete bunkers built on Towers Hill. They were camouflaged and reinforced with mullock from the old mines. Interestingly none of the bunkers’ entrances face each other – this was to ensure that an explosion in one did not set off explosions in others.
Towers Hill is also home to Allied Rock Wallabies, as well as eastern grey kangaroos, common wallaroos and pademelon wallabies. We saw quite a few examples while we were there.
After hours walking around Towers Hill we returned to the caravan where Ann whipped up a delicious dinner and we later relaxed watching TV.
It was decidedly chilly this morning but the sun came out and it turned out to be a beautiful day in the mid 20s with clear blue skies. The weather in this neck of the woods is far preferable to that in Melbourne.
We started our day by heading off into town and having coffee at The Healthy Treat tea rooms. Then we went for a bit of a walk around town before getting back in the Ute and having a leisurely scenic drive around the outskirts of town. We ended up at the Venus Gold Battery which is apparently the largest surviving battery relic in Australia. It was constructed in 1872 and became a State Battery in 1919 to provide ore crushing facilities for small miners. It ceased commercial operations in 1973 after a century of service. Unfortunately we arrived just after a tour departed and decided not to hang around for an hour for the next tour.
After further meandering around Charters Towers we returned to the caravan park to generally tidy up and do all the preparation for our departure tomorrow. I spent more time working on the red mud encasing various parts of the caravan. So we are fully packed, awning is up, outdoor furniture packed away and we have actually hitched up so that we can make an early start in the morning. The caravan park we plan on staying at in Townsville has been recommended by practically everyone we have spoken to, but they don’t take bookings. So we need to get there as early in the morning as possible in order to secure a good site.
M0st people here are gearing up for a big night by the bon-fire watching the Rugby State of Origin game tonight on the big screen but we will have an early night tonight in preparation for an early start tomorrow!