Secreted away in the bush or dusty outback lie dozens of abandoned towns. Once bustling with activity, these forgotten places are like time capsules, offering modern-day visitors a chance to glimpse into the Australia of the past.
If you had visited busy Pillinger in 1898, you would hardly have believed the fate that was to befall the Tasmanian municipality just five years later. East Pillinger grew quickly as an industry town, established by James Crotty for the North Mount Lyell mining company, but the region thrived for just five years – from 1898 to 1903.
Pillinger’s industrial past, coupled with its picturesque natural features and its relative isolation, makes this ghost town a fascinating heritage destination. Ruins and relics of its brief heyday remain, in various states of deterioration. Three brick kilns, three boiler engines and part of a wooden train carriage, as well as its decaying rail line, remain where they were when workers downed tools more than 100 years ago.
Arltunga, Northern Territory
Resting on the cracked dirt of Australia’s coarse centre is what remains of the town of Arltunga. While it was once a haven of hope for many fortune seekers in the gold rush, harsh conditions in the region saw Arltunga become a ghost town. Preserved by the area’s dry heat, the town still gives a resounding impression of life as it was in the late 19th century.
Located around 1600 kilometres from both Darwin and Adelaide, and 110 kilometres east of Alice Springs, Arltunga was the first European settlement in Central Australia. The town was named after the Arrernte Indigenous Australians, who had been living in the area for at least 20,000 years before South Australian explorer David Lindsay reported that he had found rubies there in 1887. Later that year, explorers discovered gold in a dry creek bed, and the town that would be Arltunga sprung to life. At its peak, Arltunga was home to around 300 residents. Indigenous Australians, miners, foremen, engine drivers, cooks, blacksmiths, carpenters, housekeepers and many others made the town a hub of activity.
Like many of Australia’s forgotten towns, Ravenswood was once a thriving goldmining town. Settled by pastoralist Europeans in the 1860s, the town was named after Lord Ravenswood, from Sir Walter Scott’s novel The Bride of Lammermoor. In 1869, gold was found on the private Ravenswood pastoral run, sparking a rush that developed a town on Elphinstone Creek.
A five-head battery for quartz crushing was installed in 1870, a Bank of New South Wales was opened, the Ravenswood Miner newspaper was launched, and permanent buildings replaced the miners’ tents within the year. A school and courthouse followed, along with several grand commercial buildings. It is these that now constitute the Ravenswood heritage site.
At the height of its mining boom, the town had more than 50 pubs, a general store, and several small businesses to support more than 5000 residents. Ravenswood was prosperous for more than a decade, but the declining quality of ore and increasing labour costs during World War I saw the town collapse in 1917.
To read more about Australia’s forgotten towns, check out the Spring 2022 edition of Caravanning Australia.