If you follow the ghost trail in Charters Towers, you’ll discover secrets of the heady days of Queensland’s gold rush. Charters Towers is a town built on gold and while it may not be such a well-known spot there are plenty of things to do in Charters Towers.
History of Charters Towers
It all started one stormy evening in 1871, when Hugh Mosman (a Sydney boy from Mosman Bay) and his horse boy Jupiter were searching for their frightened horses. The horses had bolted during a ferocious lightning and thunder storm.
Luckily for them, the search led them to discover rich gold deposits. The area was named Charters Towers, after the Gold Commissioner, W. Charters and the conical shaped hills located close to the spot.
Fortune seekers swelled the population of Charters Towers to 27,000, transforming this outback town into Queensland’s largest city outside of Brisbane.
Buildings were erected in a hurry and the economy boomed. The small city had the only operating Stock Exchange outside of a capital city.
The residents proudly nicknamed their fast-growing city “The World” and in its heyday, fortune hunters who flocked to Charters Towers believed that everything they might ever need could be found there.
The legacy of gold can still be seen today in the form of the town’s beautifully preserved civic buildings.
Thanks to funding from the Queensland Heritage Trails Network project, a few of the main historical sites are kitted up with high-tech production facilities like plasma television sets, holograms, short films and audio presentations, all of which help bring the gold rush to life.
Things to do in Charters Towers
The town’s visitors centre occupies a beautifully restored heritage building. The centre is the start of the Ghosts of Gold Heritage Trail, which includes renovated buildings within the heart of town.
Charters Towers town centre is called One Square Mile. You visit the old Stock Exchange, Towers Hill gold site and the Venus Gold Battery historic gold milling site.
As we walk through the centre of town, I feel like I am walking through a movie set. All that’s missing is pubs with swinging saloon doors filled with rowdy miners and horses tied up along the street.
Of course, back then shop-keepers fussed over ladies in frilly dresses who flitted from store to store searching for the latest fashions from Sydney or London.
Charters Towers Stock Exchange
At the visitor’s centre, we become acquainted with the town through a short orientation film narrated by a friendly ghost.
This ghostly theme is carried through to the Stock Exchange Arcade where we listen to the Calling of the Card audio presentation.
The Charters Towers Stock Exchange was connected to the world via telegraph. There were three calls a day five days a week. This stock exchange had an influence on the world’s financial markets.
Today, this significant monument with its high archways and polished tiles is listed as a heritage property by the Queensland National Trust.
On Sunday mornings, the market at Centenary Park was packed with families. Children waited for their turn on the horse and buggy, the dads in their Akubra hats lounged around on park benches while the mums shopped for dolls, sweet treats and kitchen utensils.
At the Venus Battery gold milling site, the largest surviving battery relic in Australia, we’re shown holograms and told amusing anecdotes that paint vivid pictures of the characters involved in the gold rush.
A public mill in its heyday, Venus Battery provided ore-crushing facilities for small miners long after many other mills had closed down.
One Square Mile
In One Square Mile, Charters Towers’ historic buildings are lovingly preserved. The World Theatre, originally the Australian Bank of Commerce, is a 660-seat performing arts theatre with two cinemas, a restaurant, gift shop and public art gallery. The 1872 Northern Miner building is home to Queensland’s second oldest newspaper.
Besides heritage buildings, the town has several museums that document its history, such as the Zara Clark Museum, the Miner’s Cottage and the Historic Ambulance Centre, with its collection of old vehicles as well as uniforms and log books recording the cases treated by ambulance officers during the past 100 years.
As dusk is descends, we wind our way to the top of Towers Hill. We arrive just in time to break out the champagne and gaze at a fiery vermillion sunset sinking into the horizon.
In the dark, the lights of Charters Towers sparkle like small nuggets of gold in the distance.
Towers Hill, which was once heavily mined, now provides sweeping views of the area as well as walking trails and interpretive displays.
As I gaze at the view, I shiver and peer over my shoulder wondering if it’s just my imagination or if there really are ghosts at Charters Towers.
Watch this video of Brisbane City Hall
Tickets for all sites on the Ghosts of Gold Heritage Trail are available at the Charters Towers Visitor Centre, 74 Mosman Street, Charters Towers, call (+617) 4752 0314.