Published in Traveloscopy

August 12, 2020

The chequered history of Ravenswood, Queensland

Thorps Building Ravenswood (Phensri Rutledge)

Booming gold and silver mines, a railway that came and went, a population that rose to 5000 and fell to 100, 50 pubs, and a recent resurgence in mining: Ravenswood has seen it all. Len Rutledge tells the story.

Mining and tourism are now taking this fascinating town to new prosperity despite COVID-19 and the current poor economic conditions. It seems that the future is bright. Ravenswood is certainly worth exploring for its old mining relics, its fascinating buildings, and its outstanding history.

Prior to the arrival of Europeans, the area around Ravenswood had been home to people from the Gugu-Badhum Aboriginal language group. Then pastoralists arrived in the 1860s and gold was discovered in 1868. Prospectors and fossickers arrived to exploit the new fields.

In 1870 the Government built a battery crushing mill and by 1871 there was a bank, a courthouse and a local newspaper. In 1873 a government school opened and by 1876 the district population was around 2,000.

The continuing operation of the gold mines, plus the discovery of silver, led to the construction of a railway to Ravenswood but by the early 1890s, the mines were nearly idle. The town was saved by Archibald Wilson who managed to interest English investors in the field and by 1910 the town had a population of 5000.

The mines finally ground to a halt in 1917 and since then the town has slowly declined until recently. The saviour has been Resolute Mining who has undertaken major work to develop the Ravenswood area into a successful modern mining operation. In April this year, the EMR GEAR Consortium officially took over the Ravenswood gold operation with expansion plans expected to create a further 200 full-time positions.

While this is great for the town, what does it mean for visitors? Resolute Mining contributed substantially to restoration work in the old town and the new owners are likely to continue this. The work has made Ravenswood a fascinating place showcasing its 19th and 20th-century history.

The first attraction on the road in from Townsville (140 kilometres away) is the Miners Cottage from 1868. This needs some further protective works to save it for the future. There is a good information area just beyond here near the old railway station which provides a good introduction to the town.

Railway Hotel

(Phensri Rutledge)
Across the road, this large brick hotel was constructed in 1901. It has three storeys, only two of which can be seen from street level. Accommodation is on the top floor and the bar, kitchens and dining room are at street level. French doors open from the rooms onto the verandas and the building retains its pressed metal ceilings and some of the original furniture and fittings.The Court House and Police StationBuilt in 1882, these are the central elements of the town’s museum which features displays relating to the town’s history, people and mining history. It is open Monday to Friday from 11.00 am — 1.30 pm, Saturday-Sunday, 11.00 am — 2.00 pm

The buildings were removed from the site in 1965 and subsequently returned during the 1980s and have now been renovated. The courthouse building contains early courtroom furniture and fittings including timber gallery seating, witness stand, dock, and Judge’s bench.

Ravenswood Post Office

Now the town’s General Store, this attractive building was built in 1885 by the Queensland Public Works Department. The Post office is a single-storey timber building with an exposed stud frame, set on low stumps. It is surrounded on three sides with verandas supported on timber posts. Fuel and supplies are available here.

Thorps Building (lead pic above)

This impressive, two-storey building, was constructed about 1903 for Sydney Thorp, a mining agent and sharebroker. It housed businesses which supplied miners with everything from household goods to mining machinery and is the only two-storey shop still standing in Ravenswood. It consists of two shops at ground level with professional offices above. Visitors find an eclectic range of souvenirs, historic items, antiques and much more.

The Imperial Hotel

(Phensri Rutledge)

This is a flamboyant Edwardian building (1901) with multicoloured brickwork, superb balconies and a delightful Edwardian interior. The layout is typical of nineteenth century hotels, with the ground floor containing the bars, dining room, a billiard room, kitchen, store rooms and office. I particularly like the elaborately constructed and decorated bar with cedar and glass fittings, and ceramic taps.

Other attractions

Over the road from the Imperial Hotel is the timber Ravenswood School of Arts which was built in 1884. It has been the principal theatre, cinema, and social venue of Ravenswood since it was built.

Ravenswood Community Church (Phensri Rutledge)
Located on a hill is the Ravenswood Community Church, originally St Patrick’s Catholic Church, which was built in 1871. Also worth visiting, is the Sarsfield Pit Lookout which looks across a substantial lake created by open cut mining.
White Blow (Phensri Rutledge)
The White Blow Environmental Park, 4 km from Ravenswood, is where you can see a milky quartz outcrop, which was originally several kilometres below ground level.There is little doubt that Ravenswood has had a fascinating history which can be enjoyed today. It is a place to keep most visitors busy for hours. The mullock heaps, the old shafts, the chimneys, and the old buildings make it an informative journey into the past.

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