The Retirees are diverted to Cairns – the Tableland

Fresh from our adventure to Port Douglas we decided to go west to the Tablelands in the hills behind Cairns. The route takes us up through Kuranda so on the way we visited the Barron river Falls. We have not had any significant rain and the dam on the river is not releasing much water so the falls weren’t that spectacular. What was spectacular was the walkway making the journey easy and accessible. The artwork along the way is novel and in keeping with the surrounds which is beautiful but humid and hot.

The next town is Mareeba where we found the local tourism centre to be a real surprise packet. Set in parkland along with other community buildings, there is a museum on indigenous life, a collection of historic items and coffee shop to entertain visitors as well as the helpful local volunteers giving advice on points of interest on the Tableland. I had noted there were some “ghost towns” west of Herberton and we enquired about the roads and whether our little Skoda might survive the journey. In usual Australian understatement “the roads were sealed all the way except for a little bit at the end after Watsonville”. So we had a cuppa and a scone, viewed the museum, the historic railway ambulance and the buildings before availing ourselves of the amenities as we expected there would be nothing but nature to provide for us from hereon in.

Along the way a little surprise greeted us. Windmills; the modern version for power generation.

Of course the road was sealed until Watsonville but there it turned to dirt for the remainder of the trip to Irvinebank. If Watsonville is a ghost town then they are very untidy ghosts. After Watsonville there is another ghost town Bakerville and it literally was not there, gone, kerput, nothing there but the old town sign. After bumping along a fairly well used dirt road we made it to Irvinebank. What a fascinating place this is. Irvinebank, is now a rural village but formerly it was a mining and tin-smelting town, and it is 80 km south-west of Cairns.

In 1880 the Great Northern tin discovery was made at Herberton, 25 km east of Irvinebank. Two years later three prospectors, James Gibb, Andrew Thompson and James McDonald, found promising tin lodes in the catchment of the Gibbs and McDonald Creeks, in the vicinity of the future Irvinebank. The Glen Smelting Company in Herberton, managed by John Moffat, acquired several of the tin shows in Gibbs Creek in 1883.

In 1883-84 Glen Smelting opened a battery and smelters at Gibbs Creek, renaming it Irvinebank. John Moffat was born in a small village on the Irvine River in Ayrshire, Scotland, and he built Loudoun House (his residence) and the Loudoun Mill, both named in memory of Loudoun Parish, Ayrshire. A fairly complete little town emerged in a couple of years: Tait’s Hotel, a general store, a draper, a butcher, a baker, a primary school (1886), a school of arts and Catholic and Methodist churches. Moffat’s house overlooked a large timber-walled weir across Gibbs Creek. Moffat gained a benevolent ascendency over the Irvinebank community by willingly taking privately mined ore for his Loudoun mill, encouraging efficient and uninterrupted production by promptly paying his suppliers.

Moffat also owned the Stannery Hills mine, 15 km north of Irvinebank, and acquired a controlling interest in the immensely rich Vulcan mine discovered in 1888 at Irvinebank. In 1902 a tramway was built from Stannery Hills to the Mareeba-Chillagoe railway line, and in 1907 the tramway was extended to Irvinebank. The extension was costly, and put a strain on Moffat’s finances, coinciding with a fall in metal prices. The Irvinebank mining industry underwent retrenchments after Moffat’s retirement in 1912. In 1919 the battery, smelter and tramway were sold to the Queensland Government as a State enterprise.

At the peak of Irvinebank’s prosperity it had two brass bands, a busy social centre in the school of arts/public hall (1901), a large primary school and a well fitted out hospital. Ivinebank was the administrative centre of Walsh Shire from about 1902 until the shire was absorbed by Mareeba Shire in 1932. The local doctor had an astronomical observatory and a skating rink under his house. His death from influenza in 1919 symbolised the coming of decline of Irvinebank throughout the next two decades. The tramline was closed in 1936 and the lines pulled up for reuse in 1941.

Much of the township and industrial areas are heritage-listed, although privately owned. In 2004 an owner removed artefacts and architectural fittings, but police action secured their return.

Irvinebank has a tavern/motel, a primary school and the Loudoun House museum. The former State treatment works, former Queensland National Bank building and the Vulcan tin mine, 1.5 km west of Irvinebank, are on the Australian heritage register. The School of Arts and Loudoun House are on the Queensland heritage register. The annual John Moffat festival was revived in 2005, coinciding with the opening of the John Moffat gardens on Gibbs Creek.

The whole town is a museum. When we finally arrived we parked beside Ibis Creek. The town amenities block is between the creek the School of Arts and the caravan park and it was a credit to the towns people. Kookaburras sat in the trees over the creek and greeted us. to our left and up the hill a bit there is a weatherboard highset School of Arts building along with the shrine in memory of John Moffat in front of the School of Arts. Going further up the hill is the Queensland National Bank building. Built from brick it is the only surviving brick building in town. The bank closed on 30th April 1923. On the top of the hill is the old Tramway Station and a short section of the tramway line. The Station is a corrugated iron building which housed the loco and carriages to cart the smeltered tin to market. We visited Loudoun House museum.The house is the former residence of John Moffat and now houses a phenomenal collection of memorabilia of the mining history and life in Irvinebank. It includes a “shrine” to fallen soldiers and would occuppy any avid historian for hours. The house is the oldest high-set timber and corrugated iron house in far north Queensland.

The last photo above shows the main house and the servants quarters which now house the caretaker.

In the downstairs areas the items on display are too numerous to describe so I will just give you a selection of my pictures.

I then moved upstairs into the living areas of the home. Again a museum of social history unfolds.

As I said there is a “shrine ” to the servicemen and women of WW1 and in particular a memorial to Harry Dalzeil VC. If you read nothing else read about Harry below.

Henry Dalziel (1893-1965), soldier, locomotive fireman and farmer, was born on 18 February 1893 at Irvinebank, Queensland, son of James Dalziel, miner, and his wife Eliza Maggie, née McMillan, both of whom were native-born. He was educated at Irvinebank and became a fireman on the Cairns-Atherton railway.

Dalziel enlisted as a private in the Australian Imperial Force on 16 January 1915 (all the A.I.F. (Australian Imperial Force) were volunteers) and embarked with reinforcements for the 15th Battalion. Joining his unit at Gallipoli in July, he served in the battle of Sari Bair in August and was eventually evacuated with his battalion to Egypt. On 31 May 1916 he sailed for France, going into the line at Bois Grenier and from July serving on the Somme, at Pozières and Mouquet Farm. In 1917 Dalziel saw action at Gueudecourt, Lagnicourt, Bullecourt and Messines before being wounded by shrapnel at Polygon Wood on 16 October. He resumed duty on 7 June 1918, first as a driver and then as a gunner.

For valour during the battle of Hamel on 4 July Dalziel won the thousandth Victoria Cross awarded. When his battalion’s advance met with strong resistance from a heavily armed enemy garrison at Pear Trench, Dalziel as second member of a Lewis-gun team helped his partner to silence machine-gun fire. When fire opened up from another post he dashed forward and, with his revolver, killed or captured the crew and gun, thus allowing the advance to proceed. During this action the tip of his trigger-finger was shot away; he was ordered to the rear, but instead continued to serve his gun in the final storming of Pear Trench. Although again ordered back to the aid-post he began taking ammunition up to the front line, continuing to do so until he was shot in the head. Dalziel’s wound was so severe that his skull was smashed and the brain exposed. He received extensive medical treatment in England before returning to Australia in January 1919. Dalziel died of a stroke on 24 July 1965 at the Repatriation General Hospital, Greenslopes, Brisbane, and was cremated with military honours.

His commander was the Australian, Lieutenant General John Monash. Monash led the Australians at Hamel in what was called THE AUSTRALIANS’ FINEST VICTORY. Monash was given full charge of this completely Australian Force of 7,500 men. Some Americans who had recently arrived in France took part in the battle. The Battle of Hamel was the Turning Point of WW1, where two V.C.s were awarded. The other to Thomas (Jack) Axford.

Continuing the visit to the museum you see that it had been a school and a day surgery as well;

We continued our tour around the town. The log wall dam was remarkable and that night the TE news carried a story about how that wall had some maintenance the week before we visited.

I was very surprised to find Irvinebank and history of Queensland unknown to me. Far from being a ghost town this is a living memory, remarkable in its history and great that it survives to feature the life and times of the community. As we drove home we continued to remark on thigs we had discovered.