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 region.

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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About Chillagoe

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.

Brief history

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.

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