We said farewell to Strahan the following day heading towards Queenstown in the rough and rugged mountains of the West Coast. Queenstown’s history has long been tied to the mining industry. First explored in 1862, alluvial gold was discovered at Mount Lyell in 1880 but when the gold petered out in 1892, an Irish miner by the name of Crotty began searching for copper. In the 1900s, Queenstown was the centre of the Mount Lyell mining district and had numerous smelting works, brick-works, and sawmills. The town in its heyday had the world’s biggest copper mine and had a collection of hotels, churches and schools that have all significantly reduced since the reduction of mining.
Owing to a combination of tree removal for use in the smelters and the smelter fumes (for about 40 years), and the heavy annual rainfall (about 3 metres per year), the erosion of the shallow horizon topsoil back to the harder rock profile contributed to the stark state of the mountains for many decades. There was a brief boom in prosperity in the 1980s, with the building of several nearby dams by the Hydro. The Darwin and Crotty dams that comprise Lake Burbury were built during this period. But hydro power had been introduced to the area much earlier at Lake Margaret.
After driving along some of the most twisting roads in Tasmania, we finally arrived in Queenstown greeted by the Galley Museum (formerly the Imperial Hotel) in view of the Queenstown Railway which would be the highlight of our stay in Queenstown. After locating our caravan park, we returned to the Galley Museum and for the grand sum of $5 each we were able to look through the relics of the mining industry and community that grew up in that rugged and remote place. It is a tremendous community resource displaying photos and memorabilia of the town from foundation through the turbulent and prosperous years of the gold rush and the copper boom into the more mellow years of tourism. Each of the rooms of the hotel was brim full of the memorabilia, including a room dedicated the Royal Order of the Antediluvian Buffaloes.
As we left the museum we were fare welled by one of its stalwart inhabitants.
We had learnt about the Iron Blow, Mount Lyell Mining company and North Mount Lyell Mining company and some of the rivalry between two Irish miners Crotty and Bowes Kelly and were to learn more about them on our railway adventure tomorrow.
On the way to the Iron blow we passed a waterfall but the walk way was out of action due to a rock fall and travelling back down we got a good idea of the size and scope of Queenstown. Returning to the township we stopped at the Skopa which is a hill overlooking part of the town and it is decorated with a canon left over from a re – enactment of a Boer war battle.
Kerry had booked a tour of the Lake Margaret Hydro Power Station and due to the time of the year we found ourselves the only persons on the tour. In 1911 the Mount Lyell Mining and Railway Company decided to make more extensive use of electricity in its smelting operations. It selected Lake Margaret, a small lake high up on Mount Sedgwick, to the north-west of the town, as its catchment area. The water was originally conveyed from the dam via a 2.2 kilometres (1.4 mi) wood stave pipeline. The Australian Woodpipe Company was consulted and employed to construct the wooden pipeline. The Mount Lyell Mining & Railway Company determined that not only was a wooden pipeline cheaper to construct, but it was also more efficient and durable than iron or steel. The local native Tasmanian timber King Billy Pine was studied but it was decided not to be suitable. The wood stave pipeline was subsequently constructed from Oregon Pine (Douglas Fir), which was imported from Canada. The timber was shipped to the west coast town of Strahan and was transported to the Lake Margaret precinct via the ABT Railway (more about this tomorrow). This pipeline rapidly deteriorated and in 1938 was replaced by a King Billy Pine wood stave pipeline, with the timber sourced locally. This pipeline was still in service until the 30 June 2006 closure of the Lake Margaret Power Scheme.
In June 2008 a decision was made to return the Lake Margaret Power Station back to operational capacity. Lake Margaret system was reopened in 2009. The refurbishment included rebuilding the 2.2 kilometres (1.4 mi) wood stave penstock for the Upper Power Station. The upper power station was reopened on 12 November 2009, and the lower power station on 23 July 2010. We toured the site visiting the former workers’ cottages and their Hall, the Upper power station and the weir with views of the wooden portions of the pipeline. When visiting the workers’ cottages, we saw the description of the vegetables grown by the workers spelt out in stones by those workers who revisited the township on a “Back to Lake Margaret Reunion”.
After the tour we returned to town and our caravan park. We decided we would go to the empire Hotel for dinner. Another of the 14 hotels established during the boom times, it boasts a staircase made out of local blackwood which was sent to England for manufacture and returned to the hotel for installation. The meals were quite reasonable and the poker machines gave up their bounty to Kerry.