Located 1459 km northwest of Brisbane and 89 km east of Charters Towers, Ravenswood was once a thriving gold mining town. Today it is almost a ghost town with a population of around 100 who service the surrounding area and cater for the growing tourism.
It is hard to imagine that this town once boasted over 50 pubs (of course many of them were nothing more than tents for selling booze) or that it once had a population of over 4000.
The area was settled in the 1860s by pastoralists who had pushed north looking for new lands. Along the Elphinstone and Connolly Creeks two properties were established. At the point where the Elphinstone met the Burdekin the Merri Merriwa station was established and further upstream was Ravenswood station which was almost certainly named after a town in Scotland which had been popularised by the well known nineteenth century novelist Sir Walter Scott in his novel The Bride of Lammermoor.
Gold was discovered in the area in 1868. A year later about 140 prospectors and fossickers had been attracted to the new fields. When three men, Jessop, Buchanan and Crane, found good alluvial gold near the present site of Ravenswood the news led to a gold rush.
After the initial flurry of fossicking the prospectors were confronted with the task of extracting the gold from lodes. This process involved blasting and crushing and quite complex chemical processing. In 1870 the Government built a crushing mill at Burnt Point and the results from the first batch of crushed ore were so good that they prompted a further rush on the area and the establishment of five more crushing works. The success of the mine was short lived. By 1872 it had become extremely difficult to extract the ore and many of the miners had moved on to Charters Towers. Some persistent miners stayed on extracting about 300 kg of gold each year from the area.
The continuing operation, plus the discovery of silver, led to the construction of a railway from Cunningham to Ravenswood.
By the early 1890s the mines were once again nearly idle. A mine manager, Archibald Lawrence Wilson, took up an option and managed to interest English investors in the field. So successful was Wilson in finding backers for the mines that it was during the period 1900-1912 that the town prospered and Wilson became known as 'the uncrowned king of Ravenswood'. During this period the population of the Ravenswood area reached about 5000 and there was about 12 500 kg of gold extracted. The mines finally ground to a halt in 1917 and since then the town has slowly declined. Today it is a true ghost town with a tiny population and a large number of interesting buildings.
Things to see
How to see the town
The town is now classified by the National Trust. There is an excellent brochure - Gold'n Ravenswood - produced by the Queensland Department of Mines and the Dalrymple Shire Council, which provides a map and brief descriptions of all the interesting buildings in Ravenswood. The local Heritage Cottage also offers tours of the town.
Located in Macrossan St, the museum features displays relating to the town's history, people and mining history. It is open every day except Tuesday from 10.00 a.m. to 3.00 p.m., tel: (07) 4770 2047.
The highlight of the town is the superb Imperial Hotel, a flamboyant Edwardian building (1902) with multicoloured brickwork, superb balconies and a delightful Edwardian interior. It is said that at one time there was a miner set himself up next door to the pub and proceeded to blast his way into the ground with the hotel shaking on its foundations every time he detonated another explosion.
Other buildings sighted as being of particular interest are the front stairway of Brownes Hotel which is just over the road from Thorps Building in Macrossan Street.
At the Charters Towers end of the main street there are the ruins of the Mabel Mill which once boasted 30 stamper heads. To the south of the town there are no fewer than six chimney stacks. In Raven Street there are the ruins (no more than the front stairs) of A. L. Wilson's house and behind the Imperial Hotel is St Patrick's Church which has been converted from a Catholic Church into an interdenominational community church to serve the town's small population. The Railway Hotel (1902) has recently been restored and the School (1870s) is still in use.
By any measure Ravenswood is a fascinating town. It is a ghost town to keep the average visitor busy for hours and hours. The mullock heaps, the old shafts, the chimneys, and the old buildings make it an informative journey into the past.
White Blow Environmental Park
About 5 km from town, along the road to Ayr, is an environmental park, which offers fine views of the Leichhardt Range. For more information check out: http://www.derm.qld.gov.au/parks/white-blow/index.html