HERBERTON TO IRVINEBANK
American historians claim that by the late 1890's, the American frontier had closed. The wild, wild west was wild no more, and all that was to be won had been won. But on the other side of the world, here in the highlands of North Queensland, a new frontier was just being born. Hopeful souls made their way to Herberton and Irvinebank from around the world, for the promise of a new life.
HERBERTONThe drive from Herberton to Irvinebank need only take around thirty minutes, but it is steeped with century old pioneering history. At one stage, Herberton was the richest tin mining field in Australia, home to as many as 20 pubs, two local newspapers and a brewery. But tin mining ceased in Herberton in 1978. The story of this part of the Cairns Highlands, as the Atherton Tablelands are often referred to, is remiscent of so many other North Queensland mining towns, but not only history buffs will be drawn to linger along the way. Herberton today is a quaint town set among jacarandas and towering eucalypts, and with views to both sides of the Great Dividing Range, this 'Village in the Hills' is a 'must see'.
Herberton is the oldest town on the Tablelands, and the Royal Hotel is proud to be one of the two oldest licensed hotels in Queensland, dating back to 1880. A number of original buildings from the frontier mining town of the 1880's and 1890's still stand to this day, including the shops at the Heritage Corner, which was previously the Jack and Newell building, the School of Arts building, Police Station, Courthouse building and the churches.
Modern day Herberton is the location of Queensland's only tropical vineyard. Being 1,000 metres above sea level, the Herberton area enjoys are mild climate with winter temperatures of about 14 degrees Celsius and summer temperatures averaging 29 degrees Celsius. Other crops - notably potatoes and maize- form the basis of the local industry. Herberton is particularly pretty around October, when the jacarandas that line the town's streets are in full purple bloom.
Just a short drive southeast of Herberton is the Mount Hypipamee National Park which includes scenic Dinner Falls and Mount Hypipamee Crater, 82 metres deep, and 61 metres across. The sheer walled crater - or 'diatreme' - is a volcanic pipe formed by the eruption of gases from an ancient volcano. It is believed that the violent explosion blasted through the thick layers of solid granite, and certainly bushwalkers can find huge chunks of solid rock, some weighing as much as a couple of tonnes, scattered in the surrounding rainforest. This National Park is well worth the visit, with the high altitude rainforest a home for many species of possum and birds.
PLEASE NOTE: The road between Herberton and Irvinebank is only sealed for about the first 16 kilometres. After that, the surface is still suitable for conventional vehicles, but can be rough and corrugated. Be aware that rental cars will generally not be covered by insurance off sealed roads. It might pay to double check with your rental company.
Some 30 kilometres west of Herberton, past the tiny hamlet of WATSONVILLE, is Irvinebank, originally founded as a tin settlement in the hills behind the main mine at Herberton. Driving into Irvinebank, population 100, it can be difficult to imagine that this was once the fervent heart of a mighty mining empire. But this a town filled with character and outback folklore.
Irvinebank began to grow steadily after tin was discovered in 1882. In 1883, a Scottish born entrepreneur named JOHN MOFFAT purchased the original mining claims, and named the town Irvinebank to remind him of his birth place of Newmilns, on the river Irvine, in Scotland. By the following year, Moffat had established a battery and smelter which was to become the largest smelter in Australia for a number of years. In 1889, the so-called 'Vulcan lode' was discovered, and it grew to be Australia's deepest and richest tin mine. The population reached a peak of 3,000 in 1907, the year that the local tramway was extended to Irvinebank. The Vulcan lode went on to yeild over 10,000 tonnes of tin concentrate during its 40 year working life, and was responsible for defining Australia's future in MORE WAYS than anyone at the time could have realized.
Irvinebank has been described as a 'living museum', and, in fact, it can feel very much like time has stood still as you stroll by the Heritage listed buildings, and cast a gaze over the old tin mill and railway station. A number of the historic buildings are open to the public, notably the Old Police Station, built in 1886, and the 1884 Loudoun House, the oldest high set timber and corrugated iron house in North Queensland. Loudoun House was John Moffat's home, and is now operated as a museum, a journey into the town's vibrant past.
Irvinebank is also famous for being of the only known locality of two rare, and significant plant species, an orange-red flowering grevillea, and the world's only purple flowering wattle. If you don't catch a glimpse of these unique flora while you're in Irvinebank, they are most accessible in the Jumna Creek area, by taking the Stannary Hills turnoff just east of town