An isolated, historic mining township to the west of the Atherton
tableland, Chillagoe is one of the favoured haunts of mining buffs
tracing the heady days of the 1870's to the 1920's mining boom. The
town is a stunning mix of outback landscape, mining heritage,
aboriginal art sites and fantastic limestone caves.
Where is it?: Chillagoe is 141 km west of Mareeba; 205 km west of Cairns; 352 metres above sea level.
Things to see and do
The heritage listed Chillagoe smelters, the cemetery and the many
old mines are a major attraction, particularly for history buffs. The
Chillagoe Smelter operated in the early 1900s. Chillagoe Smelter
operated until 1943 and in its 40 odd year lifetime treated 1.25
million tons of ore, yielded 60 000 tons of copper, 50 000 tons of
lead, 181 tons of silver and 5 tons of gold.
By 1943, other smelters were built closer to the then major ore
producing areas such as Mount Isa. Easy access to these areas
outweighed the economic usefulness of the state run Chillagoe Smelter.
In 1950, the buildings and equipment were auctioned. Today the site is
managed by Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service.
Just out of town is the Chillagoe-Mungana Caves National Park
containing limestone caves. There are between 600 and 1,000 caves in
the Chillagoe-Mungana area. The caves, the spectacular karst landscape
and the mining and smelting history are the main tourist attractions to
The caves to look out for are Royal Arch, Donna, Bauhinia and Pompeii
Caves, Chillagoe Pinnacles; Balancing Rock; The Archways (an open
daylight cave system with maidenhair ferns growing in the passageways).
From the caves there's a walking track to the nearby Balancing Rock
formation and some Aboriginal rock art.
Marble mining was once an immense industry in Chillagoe and it is
possible to view the open marble pits as you drive past them.
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It has been stated by leading geologist Professor Ian Plimer that
the Chillagoe region has the most diverse geology in the world. Once a
thriving mining town for a range of minerals, the population now hovers
around 200. Some of the families have lived here since the smelter days
and others are here to enjoy the quiet sounds of the country and the
outback hospitality. Mining still haunts the town with a lime works
being established in 1970 and marble mining in 1982. Even now, there
are still regular discoveries of fresh ore bodies.
Chillagoe was first settled as a pastoral property by William
Athurton. In 1887 two men working for mining baron John Moffat found
copper and silver deposits on Chillagoe Station. Soon after Moffat
began mining in the area. The Chillagoe smelter was opened in 1901 and
at its peak over 1000 men were employed extracting gold, silver, copper
and lead from ores extracted from the surrounding area. The mine closed
down in 1943, having produced over 9.778 tonnes of gold, 184.36 tonnes
of silver, 60,963 tonnes of copper and 5,080 tonnes of lead during its
period of operation.
Chillagoe is reportedly named by pastoralist William Atherton (son of
John Atherton) for his a pastoral run. The name is said to be taken
from a sea shanty line "Hikey, pikey, psyche, crikey, chillagoe......"
from the musical comedy, Sinbad the Sailor.