Undated postcard or Queenstown (Tasmaniana Library, SLT)

Queenstown, situated in the rugged west coast hills, was born when Cornelius Lynch found gold in the area in 1881. Many diggers arrived, though the trip from the harbour at Strahan up the King River was extremely difficult, and the land journey worse through almost impenetrable bush. However, the area was soon pegged out, and a shanty town, Penghana, grew up in the Queen River valley. It was burnt out in 1896 and the settlement, renamed Queenstown, moved further down the Queen River.

The Mount Lyell Gold Mining Company was formed in 1889 and a mill started crushing ore at the Iron Blow. After several ups and downs the Mount Lyell Mining and Railway Company was established in 1893, mainly producing copper. Robert Sticht arrived as mine manager, the Abt Railway linked the town to Strahan (1897), and Queenstown boomed. By 1901 it was Tasmania's third-largest town, with 5051 people, fourteen hotels, banks, schools and shops. It soon gained electric street lighting, provided by the Company's Lake Margaret power scheme. Tree-felling, sulphur and fire denuded the surrounding hills of trees, giving Queenstown its 'moonscape', but the mines brought prosperity and, as well, more militant workers than elsewhere in Tasmania, strong unions, and a close-knit community. Zeehan was linked to Burnie by rail in 1900, but Queenstown remained remote, without direct transport connections with the rest of Tasmania.

The population rose and fell in succeeding years, as mining's fortunes varied and large machinery gradually displaced manual workers, but Queenstown continued to be a major town. A road linking it to Hobart, the Lyell Highway, was finally opened in 1932. From the 1970s the workforce declined, even more so in the 1990s when the Mount Lyell Company sold the mine, but tourism developed, with visitors drawn to the unearthly landscape. The Miners' Siding sculptures by Stephen Walker, and even more the re-opening of the Abt Railway in 2003, further encouraged tourism. In 2004 Queenstown had to a considerable degree recovered from its depression of previous decades.

Further reading: Let's talk about Queenstown, [1980], TL; C Whitham, Western Tasmania, Queenstown, 1924.

Alison Alexander