Geraldine Mate
Luke Keogh

Our demand for resources has changed the land. Places such as hard rock mines were literally carved from the landscape and the forests of Queensland made way for timber mills, sugar cane fields and railway lines. In the Queensland cultural landscape, whole towns have been born in the search for resources. Ours, it could be said, is a culture of exploitation.

With the early rumblings of the town at Herberton we see the exploitation of the land: people establishing their place, using and polluting rivers and stamping the music of industry into the landscape. Glenville Pike writing in the 1950s described it as follows:

Steadily the first tents and bark huts were replaced by wood and iron buildings ... the Wild Rivers once clear waters running discoloured and shallow from the cradles of hundreds of miners, and from the battery’s sludge, the throb of pounding stampers echoing around the age-old hills—hills rudely awakened from their eons of slumber.

Like Herberton, the start of the Gympie gold rush saw new townships emerge. Charles Allen found at Gympie Creek ‘two large and populous townships’. But to Allen, before the townships it was ‘the kangaroo and other wild animals’ that fed relatively undisturbed in the solitude of the Queensland bush. Now, as the gold rush took off, people made their place in the spot where resources were found.

This creation of place is culture at work in the landscape. But there are many ways of seeing the landscape. For resource driven communities in particular, people from differing cultural backgrounds came together at the point of exploitation; depending on their experience, people like the residents and visitors to Mount Shamrock saw their landscape in different ways.

On the resources trail

People take and use things from the landscape but people also move to different places in the process of exploitation. Today, we move to a different city or town to get better employment or to advance our skills. But for nineteenth century resource workers in the Burnett district moving for work involved far more than just packing personal possessions. In 1894, hotelier J.W. Brown moved from Cania to Monal to follow the gold – the family moved not only their belongings and business, but the Cosmopolitan Hotel itself! Around the same time, E.W. Tappenden relocated from Eidsvold to Monal, moving a stamper battery to the new goldfield. These stories from the Burnett district illustrate just what it meant for people to move.

A major reason for moving was to leave declining mining towns for newly discovered mines elsewhere. Within the space of a decade miners moved from mining gold at Monal, to copper at Mount Cannindah, then back to gold at Dooboon and turned again to copper mining at Glassford Creek. Along with the movement of people, social institutions also relocated. J.T.W. Brown, on the board of the Cania Provisional School, instituted a new school when he moved to Monal. Despite this apparently mobile existence, people formed strong attachments to the Upper Burnett district, and were willing to try new occupations and different types of mining to remain there. J.G. Murray for example mined with his brother A. Murray at Cania in the 1880s, moved to Monal where he established a butcher’s shop in 1891, and later returned to Cania as a miner. At times, however, the countryside defeated even the most courageous – it was impractical to relocate the Police station from Norton to Monal as it would have to traverse ‘ten miles of the roughest country in all of Australia’.  In some more remote areas the challenge was moving the resource itself.

The track to market

At times the physical features of the landscape challenge the culture of exploitation. In 1875, on the Wild River in the Cairns hinterland, James Venture Mulligan described the early signs of a valuable resource: ‘There may be any quantity of it here, but what use is it at present …the nearest settlements on the Palmer are all of 250 miles from here.’ From this deposit of tin came the township of Herberton. But how could the resource be transported to market on the coast?

In 1880 it took ten days to get machinery and building materials to Herberton from Port Douglas taking the Bump Road route. Alternatively, there was Robson’s Track from Cairns up the steep range to Herberton – a shorter route, but much more difficult, one report even telling of a family hiring a Chinese man to carry their children up the track. A railway was needed.

In 1884, to the disgust of Port Douglas and Geraldton (now Innisfail), the Barron Gorge rail route (Cairns to Herberton) was chosen. The railway would not reach Herberton until 1910, but the main achievement was constructing the section from Cairns to the Summit at Myola – still considered an engineering feat today. It took fifteen tunnels, ninety-three curves and many bridges to make the ascent. The coming of the rail line, cutting through the rainforest to the tin mines of Herberton, added to the polluted rivers and stampers ringing in the mountain air, leaving imprints from a culture of exploitation.

People and exploitation

A cultural landscape is as much about movement as it is about modification. But we must ask ourselves why do we move? Often it is for exploitation; to take and use things from a landscape. Moving for exploitation creates landscapes – holes are dug, rails are put in, ground is cleared, all creating a landscape with meaning. In understanding this we can begin to see how people are embedded in the process of exploitation.

References and Further reading (Note)

Glenville Pike, In the path of the pioneers: the history and progress of the Herberton Shire, Herberton Shire Council, c1950

References and Further reading (Note)

W.R. Johnston, The call of the land, Brisbane, Jacaranda Press, 1982