|What I’d heard about the small town of Chillagoe sounded intriguing so I thought it was worth a 300 km side-trip. It certainly was, even though I didn’t go to its main attraction which is the Chillagoe-Mungana Caves National Park. I’ve seen plenty of limestone caves & so I concentrated on the other sights which were more unusual.
Again, the road has been upgraded so in the 140 km from Mareeba, there’s only about 12 km of gravel road left so the town is much more accessible than it’s been in the past.
Coming into Chillagoe, you drive past several marble quarries. Apparently the quality of the marble is very high & I was told they’re even exporting it to Italy. There are no tours of the quarries but I could get a good view of one of the open cuts from the road.
Apart from the caves, Chillagoe’s main reason for its existence was the huge smelting works which were built here in the early 1900s. The country is rich in all kinds of minerals including copper, silver, lead, zinc & gold so small mines & smelters sprang up all over the area.
The grand vision was to have one big smelter to handle all the ore from the small mines & construct a private railway from Chillagoe to Mareeba which was already connected to the port of Cairns. The Chillagoe smelter was opened in 1901 & employed over 1,000 workers at the height of its production but was always burdened by the cost of transporting the coke for power & the ore over huge distances so in its years of operation from 1901 to 1943 (when Mount Isa took over), it never turned a profit.
The ruins are most spectacular though. The 3 surviving chimneys are unique & symbolise the important cultural heritage of the site.
My next stop, just a short distance from town, was an amazing balancing rock. I think the photos speak for themselves. I was there by myself with nobody within miles & the only sounds were the distinctive calls of a flock of Black Cockatoos. Just around the corner from the balancing rock was a section of Aboriginal rock art & I couldn’t help thinking that this most unusual geological area must have been very sacred to them. You could almost feel the ghosts.
I’d also heard about an old bloke here who has an interesting collection of old Fords. I drove past but knew that if I went in, I’d be there for a long time & I still had a 2 hour drive back to camp so I’ll leave that for another time.