Queenstown - the planet's orifice

Apr 23, 2002

The Bottom Line Oh look! It's all nude!

On the Island State of Tasmania there is a place rarely found on this planet.
In complete contrast to what is otherwise an island noted for it’s “World Heritage Listed” bushland, running streams, snow capped mountains and often referred to as Australia’s “little Europe” - we have Queenstown.

Now Queenstown, just inland midway up the West Coast, makes the Outback look subtropical, the Sahara lush and green and the moon a tropical paradise.
Part, and only a small part of the problem is the fact that no matter which of the two ways we approach Queenstown from we have travelled a considerable distance through rainforests, thick bushland and/or rich farming country. The town is in a deep valley so add to that a winding mountainous road and when we come around that fateful bend in the road that reveals this place shock immediately sets in. Drivers stop and check their pulse, some have heart attacks and the super religious think they have gone to Hell.

The view is certainly different. Try to imagine a deep valley obviously with steep hills all around and not a living thing in sight! Not a tree, a bush or blade of grass. We have discovered the planets naked orifice. It immediately crosses our mind "how come they call this Queenstown?", the only place in Australia with that name and it sure doesn't sound Aboriginal to me! Well I can think of many reasons but all would get me in trouble so I will leave that to your imagination.

There is actually no mystery to the valley's nudity but we need to go back to 1888 to explain what happened. In that year gold, silver and copper were discovered and faster than you can say ugg the town appeared out of nothing. It was then and still is now the largest town on the West Coast of this Island with a huge, bustling population of three thousand four hundred. Back in the late 1800's and into the early 1900's it was pretty much the "wild west" but most of the gun toters have been shot and the rest have died for various reasons, the most common being old age. Everything is pretty law abiding know.

When the gold, silver and copper were discovered they naturally built one of those new fangled things called a mine. They even gave it a name and no contrary to popular belief it was not Queensmine. It was and is Mt.Lyell that I think is Aboriginal for "mine in a mountain". The mine has been Queenstown's reason for being all this time but the future doesn't look all that rosy. It very nearly closed in the mid 1990,s but tragedy for the town was averted and the mine is continuing for an unspecified time.

Now back to the nudity that is everywhere - not just on the hills but in the town. Admittedly there are no lawns to mow or bushes to trim and it is exceedingly tidy but maybe some fake grass wouldn't go astray? What actually happened was the hills were rapidly made treeless to fuel the old copper smelters. Once the trees had all gone Mother Nature was angry as hell and washed off all the topsoil just leaving rock that is purple and gold in colour. Bushfires and Sulphur fumes from smelters that closed in 1969 helped Mother Nature kill everything in the area. Strangely enough the colour in the rock can look quite spectacular, especially at sunset.

Over 20,000 kg, or about 45,000 pounds of gold has been mined here since 1888 and I didn't get a measly ounce! Tours of the mine include a visit to the mine face but don't count on coming out with a pocket full of gold! Back in the town is the Gallery Museum with a lot of old historic photographs and memorabilia. Would you believe you can even catch a chairlift ride to see the naked hills!

By Tasmanian standards Queenstown is pretty remote being about four hours drive from the Capital Hobart and a little less to the other city Launceston. However it does have good accommodation enabling tourists to spend most of a day and see the sunset. Currently an attempt is being made to restore the hills with bushes and trees but in the meantime it is a testament to what happens when an area is completely abused.

There are a large number of very historic buildings here and almost all can be visited. Even though the Sulphur Smelting ceased over thirty years ago it will still be a long time before the area is restored to normal.

To transport the precious metal out of Queenstown was quite a task. They used a unique system, at least to the Southern Hemisphere, that is a rack and cog arrangement for climbing and descending steep hills. This "Abt Railway” was recently rebuilt and is a popular tourist attraction.

The "must sees" are the "Gravel Football Oval" that is still in use by those tough enough and the "Slag Dump" and Mine buildings are a great reminder of the seventy years of copper production.

The only thing really wrong with Queenstown is it rains on about three hundred days a year. However that doesn't stop a great experience and one you won't forget in a hurry!

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