From the long drive in from Townsville, you begin to realise that this place is going to be very different to what might have been expected. The earth is red and dry and the sun burns my skin through the car window even though it is winter. The landscape around you says one thing: this is North Queensland.
As soon as you drive past the Welcome to Ravenswood sign on the road into this tiny town, it feels as though you have been transported back in time. This is a town that is not concerned with the hustle of everyday life but enjoys the little things, the quiet, and the strong sense of community. The people are excited about sharing their history and their stories with anyone who is willing to stay a little while to listen.
We stayed in one of the two pubs. The two dominating buildings that line the main road through town. The Imperial Hotel is everything you would expect from a country pub. The doors are always open so you can pull up a stool at the bar and have a chat with the locals over a cold beer. XXXX Gold is all there is on tap, but that’s ok, it’s hot enough that anything cold will do.
Before we are even in the door we are greeted by the two resident border collies. They are at home at the pub and freely walk around the bar quite content to rest on the cool timber floors when the sun gets too hot outside. They are just the beginning of what makes this place unlike any other.
This is not a story of a normal holiday – but it is a great story!
The first thing we do is walk up to the bar to greet the man who owns the pub and to check into our room that will be home for the next 3 nights. He is swamped and asks if we wouldn’t mind fixing him up the following day. He tells us our room numbers and goes to walk away. Before he can my mum casually questions – “do we have a key?” He stops, pauses and looks at us, “We don’t usually worry about keys here, but I can get you one if you want”. “Yes please” we all respond trying to wipe the look of concern off our faces. I glance at my husband knowing the thousands of dollars worth of electronics we have combined in our bags.
As we walk up the stairs to our room it is exactly as I remembered it. Nothing has changed in the 9 years since we were last here. The town prides itself on is history and does everything it can to ensure that things never change. Our bed looks like it was an original from the 1800s and we can’t help but laugh. We laugh because even though we got a key, the door leading to the communal balcony doesn’t lock.
The bathroom is down the end of the open air corridor. It’s a communal bathroom, no gender discrimination here. For most of our stay we share the space with the owners. We get to know them over our stay. They are interested in the stories, of how we came to be here and of the past.
We meet our neighbours in the hall. They are English and just passing through on a trip around Australia. We talk about our rooms and they share in our thoughts as though we have been transported back in time to when the pub was first built. They begin telling us the stories they have heard since arriving. Ghost stories mostly. Of the little girl in period dress who is often seen playing in the hallways, and of the couple who stay contained to room 12B who were murdered by the husband who caught them having an affair.
The history of this town is my history as well. Many stories are told, of my great uncle and my great grandmother, both who lie in an unmarked grave on the edge of town. I have never really been interested in family history, but something about this town sparks my intrigue and makes me want to know more. We sit around, going through piles of old articles and recipes left behind. You learn a lot about people and about the time by searching through these things. It was a time that seems so far removed from the one we live in now.
My uncle takes us for a walk. We are going up to the lookout on top of the hill to see views across town and down into the open cut mine that closed not long after we were here last, although there are now plans to reopen it in the next few months. Our walk begins not along the road but through the bush, the rocks, and the wallabies. I flash back to following my uncle around on the farm growing up. He would never take us the easiest way, always opting for a direct route. The view is fantastic. The giant mine that opens up in front of us is filled with water left behind from some much needed rain. This will need to be pumped out before they can open it again.
The size of the mine is beginning to threaten the town. The blast zone now contains houses which have been bought out and the historic school building may need to be moved. The town doesn’t see the mine as a threat though, they see it as bringing in new life.
The miners and the tourists keep this little town alive. The passion of the locals though makes me think that even without them, they would find away to keep on going.
I can understand why people travel through this area. It gives you a taste for outback Queensland, of the dusty roads and the horizons that never end. We spent some time exploring a bit of the local area. My favourite being somewhere that stayed strong in my memory from 9 years before – the giant quartz called White Blow.
It is the little things that give this place it’s character. The buildings tell stories of a thriving town in years past. But even though the buildings are important, it is the people that give this town most of its character.
Maybe one day you will find yourself passing through this little town. Or maybe you will find a place that captures a similar feeling, of Australia, past and present combined. Either way, I hope you enjoyed my story of a little mining town in North Queensland called Ravenswood.