Posted by barbara on October 8, 2016
Beds of coral near the outer edge of the Great Barrier Reef
Visitors to Far North Queensland tend to focus their attention on offshore reefs or coastal hugging destinations such as Mossman Gorge, the Daintree River area and Cape Tribulation.
Beach at Cape Tribulation
Fewer tourists, especially those who are time poor, round out their Far North Queensland (FNQ) visit by checking out the hinterland, the fertile agricultural and livestock uplands of the famed Atherton tablelands.
Driving up to the tablelands provides a different perspective on the coast hugging cities, including tropical Cairns and outlying settlements
Tinaroo Dam, apparently named after a local tin discovery (heralded as 'Tin Hurroo'), is today a hub for water sports on the Atherton Tablelands
Tourists and travellers who venture up to the hinterland and call in to towns such as Mareeba and Atherton, may not be aware that before the plateau played host to avocados, sugar cane and Brahman bulls, to name a few agricultural and pastoral pursuits, other lucrative ‘crops’ were highly sought on the rainforest clad tablelands.
Avocados on the Atherton Tablelands
The ancient volcanic nature of the tablelands bestowed enormous mineral wealth on the elevated well-watered hinterland in the form of outcrops of tin, bismuth, gold and copper, and so on.
Getting to the hinterland and transporting raw and processed metals back to the tiny coastal ports was a major undertaking in the early days of exploration and exploitation. Would-be miners had to trek up by foot, carrying everything on their back.
At the time, remote embryonic coastal ports were vying to be known as the best entry portal for the hundreds of miners flocking in from all over Australia and indeed the world.
So it was that Cooktown, Port Douglas, Cairns and Innisfail were positioning themselves to take advantage of the anticipated mining trade that would bring custom and kickbacks to their streets and citizens.
It would be the construction of the inland railways that would truly unlock the tableland's mineral treasures.
The Kuranda Scenic Railway
While the Kuranda Scenic Railway is a popular tourist attraction, a percentage of visitors to the Atherton Tablelands, including self-drivers, will have no idea that the railway line they can view from the Barron Gorge National Park elevated boardwalk and lookouts was built back in the 1880s to get miners and goods up to the mineral riches and processed ores back down to the ports.
At the time it was considered to be an amazing engineering feat, and no wonder given the 15 tunnels and 37 bridges excavated and constructed by manual labour and explosives.
Forging train lines made the difference, relieving miners of having to cart equipment to the mining area on foot up precipitous tracks
Each coastal settlement developed its own route to the plateau, well aware that whichever bustling town developed the shortest route to the resources would immediately become a growth centre, leaving competitors in their wake. So it was that Cooktown, and then Port Douglas rose and fell, flourished and faded, and Cairns did a Bradbury and came through from the rear, courtesy of the boldest of plans to harness not only minerals but the volcanic soils' tall timbers.
Brick and metal ruins at Mount Molloy, a township on one of the inland railways constructed to readily transport goods and people to and from the Atherton Tablelands, are a legacy of a copper mining venture.
Sad to say, it's hard to imagine that many tourists would pull off the tablelands road down to Cairns to view this vandalised historic marker.
Last updated 4 April 2017.