Queenstown has always been one of those places we passed through on our way to somewhere else. The first time was on holiday in 1998, the barren terrain and torrential deluge didn’t entice us to linger. The largest town on Tasmania’s west coast has changed considerably since then. The early 1900s saw mass logging as the mining town boomed and the expansion of the copper mines left an eerie, lunar landscape bereft of vegetation. The main street is reminiscent of a wild west movie set with Mount Owen towering above re-forested hillsides.
We made our way to Spion Kopf Lookout for a different perspective of the town. Tasmania was one of the first British colonies to send volunteers when the second Boer War broke out in 1899. The British suffered a humiliating defeat on a hill in Natal called Spion Kopf, meaning ‘Spy Hill’, and on returning home, the British survivors named stands at their local football grounds ‘the Kop’ to commemorate the fallen. I don’t know if Queenstown had a football ground, but this hill was named for the same reason. There is a poppet head made from materials from the old mine
as well as a restored cannon, one of two cast at the Queenstown smelters in 1898.
The second cannon was transported to Victoria in 1910 where it was used to fire the royal salute on the coronation of King George V. It was used again in 1918 to celebrate the end of World War I but, unfortunately, it was overloaded with powder and exploded when it was fired.
From our perch, we had a fabulous view of the rather impressive Penghana, built in 1898 for Mr. Robert Sticht, the General Manager of the Mount Lyell Mining & Railway Company. The home certainly reflects the power of a man in his position and the wealth in the town at the time. Robert Sticht died in 1922 and ten more general managers and their families lived at Penghana until 1995 when the title was transferred to the National Trust. The house is now run as a unique bed & breakfast, I think we need to find an excuse to stay at Penghana.
The hills surrounding the town still have some regenerating to do and the isolation is evident from this outlook.
We returned to ground level for lunch at the Empire Hotel, a beautiful, heritage listed building dating back to 1901.
The lobby is dominated by a stunning hand-carved Tasmanian Blackwood staircase. The raw timber was shipped to England, carved and shipped back to Queenstown.
The tasteful furnishings echoed the era
and the traditional dining room had a cosy ambience
with a beautifully restored ceiling rose.
The menu was extensive but who can go past fish ‘n’ chips on a Friday?
Fortified, we were ready to tackle the ’99 bends’, the infamous road between Queenstown and Gormanston that makes us appreciate the innovation of power steering. As the road straightened, we turned off to Iron Blow Lookout, an extended viewing platform over the former open-cut mine.
Miners flocked to the area when gold was discovered in 1883 but they found the plentiful copper deposits more profitable. The colours were striking on this sunny day.
The view across the Linda Valley to Lake Burbury was spectacular,
while the denuded landscape remains as a legacy from the past.
The nearby settlements of Gormanston and Linda were built for workers of the Iron Blow but both are now ghost towns. The only evidence of former lives in Linda is the haunting remnants of the Royal Hotel. The original structure burnt down in January 1910 and T Kelly rebuilt using concrete to avert any future disasters. The hotel finally closed in the 1950s and the shell still stands despite more recent flames.
We left the west coast behind as we crossed the bridge over Lake Burbury, uplifted by the afternoon sun glistening on the pristine water.