This latest exploration of our popular Ghost Towns and Abandoned Cities series, into Oceania, focusses on Australia and New Zealand. Like the America’s Old West, most ghost towns in this part of the world grew from humble mining camps to bustling communities with extensive modern infrastructures. And like their American counterparts, when the natural resources had been depleted, or the bottom fell out of the gold market, ghost towns were born.
(Public domain image: source here)
Named after a castle in Ayrshire, Scotland, Cassilis boomed when the region struck gold in 1885 but declined by World War One when most available gold had been mined. At its peak it boasted one of the largest reef mines around – King Cassilis (above). The town, in Gippsland, Victoria, was serviced by two hotels, a coffee palace, two banks and two post offices, as well as an exceptional private school that attained the highest number of scholarships in the state for several years.
Victoria’s first hydroelectric power station at Victoria Falls provided power and light to the mines. But the mines closed once the gold was depleted and the boom times ended. Only 34 inhabitants remained by 1933 and the bushfires of 1939 destroyed part of the town. By like other ghost towns, Cassilis and its mines have risen again as tourist attractions within the 3,600-hectare Cassilis Historical Area.
(Public domain image published 1898. Author unknown)
Distant and exposed, and reached by a single road across a causeway at low tide, Cossack is a historic ghost town 1,480 km north of Perth in Western Australia. Originally called Tien Tsin Harbour, the town was renamed after the ship – HMS Cossack – that transported the state’s Governor, Frederick Weld, in December 1871. As the first port in the North West, Cossack was critical to the region’s growing pastoral industry.
(Public domain image by Jsimpson1100)
Cossack was the birthplace of Western Australia’s pearling industry, and home to the colony’s pearling fleet until the 1880s. Boats dived for pearl shells off the coast using Aboriginal labour, including women and children. The industry attracted a large Asian population including 989 Malays by 1895. It even spawned a Chinatown area before a cyclone and pearl depletion forced the industry to move to Broome.
Cossack was abandoned in the 1950s and became a ghost town. Little remains today barring the cemetery with separate European and Japanese plots, and the old police house and gaol that now serves a more benign role as backpacker accomodation (above).
More of a “living ghost town” than a spooky abandonment, Ravenswood is a small mining town in Queensland with a population of 191. Two gold mines were still in use as of 2008, one underground near Mount Wright and a large open-cast. But Ravenswood, in Queensland, is certainly a ghost town compared to the thriving community it was back in the nineteenth century. Tourism is now as important as mining to the local economy, helped in part due to the historic buildings, like the Imperial Hotel, that remain today.
Set near the beautiful Wolgan Valley in New South Wales, Newnes is an abandoned oil shale mining settlement built by the Commonwealth Oil Corporation during the late nineteenth century. Two mines were established on north side of the Wolgan River. Workers even aimed to tunnel under a mountain to link up with other facilities in the Capertee Valley where conditions were better, but mining difficulties and low quality shale rendered the tunnel an elusive dream. 1906 saw the construction of retorts, distillation areas, oil storage tanks, workshops and a power station, the substantial remains of which still exist today.
Macetown, New Zealand
Sailor William Fox struck gold in the Arrow River in 1862, and by the end of the year over 1,500 miners were camped in a small canvas town eager to make their fortunes. Among them were brothers John, Charles and Harry Mace after whom the town got its name. In 1863 the population was around 300, but declined after the alluvial gold had been depleted. Quartz mining attracted people back and the population climbed to a peak of 206 in 1896. But Macetown had become a ghost town by the early twentieth century and little remains today. The old schoolmaster’s house and the bakehouse have been restored and are now popular tourist attractions.
During the 1950s, Wittenoom was the biggest town in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. But that ended when the town was abandoned in 1966 following health concerns due to asbestos mining. A ghost town today, Wittenoom’s eight remaining residents receive no government services. In June 2007 its townsite status was removed, and its name deleted from maps and road signs. Roads to contaminated areas have been closed, bringing a whole new meaning to the term “ghost town”, with Wittenoom’s residents and their town essentially wiped from existence.