Mining town tourism in Australia: 10 destinations worth visiting


Australia's mining towns demonstrate the vicissitudes of early European settlement. Some became rich and thrived as regional centres, others shrivelled, but all are reminders of the dreams that built Australia. Broken Hill is a success story, still mining and now a tourist and arts centre. Nearby Silverton is a haunting failure whose colonial buildings and striking outback location make it a favourite of moviemakers and eccentric personalities. See


Provincial Hotel in Ballarat

The Provincial Hotel in Ballarat, one of several historic buildings from the city's gold rush heyday. Photo: Visit Victoria

The discovery of gold in Victoria in 1851 sparked the rapid development of the fledgling state. Ballarat boasted 500 hotels and 56 churches in its gold-rush heyday, and remains dotted with fine 19th-century buildings loaded with ironwork, Italianate flourishes and opulent plasterwork. Nearby Sovereign Hill open-air museum recreates an 1850s township and has costumed staff demonstrating old occupations. The surrounding Goldfields region is dense in gold-rush towns. See


Desert Cave Hotel, Coober Pedy.

The Desert Cave Hotel, Coober Pedy. Photo: Adam Bruzzone/Tourism SA

Australia's most infamous mining town sees many of its surprisingly multicultural residents burrow underground not just in the search of opals, but in retreat from brain-frying temperatures and a terrain that looks like Mars. Underground hotels, pubs, churches and galleries are a highlight, but so is the parched golf course, frequented at night by golfers with glow-in-the-dark balls. Several small museums are dedicated to mining. See


This northwest Queensland town digs up more silver, copper, lead and zinc than anywhere else on Earth. Get underground in orange overalls at Hard Times Mine and try a blast of the air-drill, learn about the evolution of mining at The Isa Experience, and visit abandoned Mary Kathleen uranium mine and township. A national park and artificial lakes make Mt Isa's surrounds rather pleasant. See


Few Aussie towns better conjure up gold-rush atmosphere than Gulgong in the NSW Central West, which went from boom to bust in the 1870s and remains almost unaltered. It has some 150 listed buildings: not just a town hall, post office and hotel, but simple cottages and shopfronts too. The excellent Pioneer Museum is a treasure-trove of improbable junk and recreated interiors, including a bushranger-era pub. See


Top to bottom of the biggest australian gold mine - super pit in Kalgoorlie, Western AUstralia, on a sunny summer day.
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The Super Pit. Photo: Getty Images

Amid a landscape of salt lakes and red earth, Kalgoorlie erupts with impressive civic buildings flamboyant with lacy balconies and whimsical towers. The Museum of the Goldfields has historical mining displays and gold nuggets and bars, while the Super Pit showcases the vast scale of current open-cut mining. Follow the Golden Quest Discovery Trail north and you'll find ghost towns and present-day mining centres. See



The oldest town in the Flinders Ranges is now a tourist centre for those visiting Mount Remarkable National Park, but it started with mining and is full of attractive heritage buildings, including the post office, school, licensed hotels and a flour mill (and later brewery). The police station and courthouse complex has a small museum on the town's history. Melrose is surrounded by excellent mountain-biking trails. See


Alluvial gold brought prospectors 110 kilometres east of Alice Springs in 1887, but by the early 20th century everyone had gone. The result is a startlingly well-preserved early European settlement in stone that includes a police station, government buildings, mining works and the mournful White Range Cemetery, lonely on a hillside. The visitor centre is informative about the harsh mining life in such an isolated environment. See


Iron Ore Mine Site Port Hedland Western Australia Pilbara Iron Ore Mine Site Port Hedland Western Australia

Photo: Getty Images

Giant iron-ore trains, gas plants, gargantuan machines and port facilities mark this Pilbara port, sitting amid piles of salt, as a powerhouse of the Australian economy. Massive ships sail into the harbour almost at arm's length from passers-by in the street. Tour the Fortescue port site and Dampier Salt shipping area at Nelson Point for an eye-popping look at the scale of modern industry. See


Supplied PR image for Traveller. Traveller 10 mining towns by Brian Johnston tra22-online-mining
Heritage mining machinery, Cobar (Destination NSW)

Heritage mining machinery at Cobar. Photo: Destination NSW

Grand colonial buildings along Barton and Linsley streets in this outback town are a reminder – along with a schoolhouse, cottages and churches – of a 1870s gold rush, highlighted at the Heritage Museum and Miners' Heritage Park. Today mineral wealth rolls in again. From Fort Bourke you can look into the open-cast New Cobar Gold Mine, where trucks seemingly small as beetles lumber through clouds of pink dust. See

The writer travelled as a guest of state tourism offices and at his own expense.