a tame wallaby at Tyrconnell Station

A chimney stands starkly agains the cliffs of outback Mt Mulligan (Ngarrabullgan)
A chimney from the Mt Mulligan smelter stands starkly against the cliffs of Ngarrabullgan on the Hodgkinson Gold Field outback north Queensland.

The Savannahlander train at Lappa Junction
The Savannahlander departs Cairns once a week. In this image it is stopped at Lappa Junction.

Georgetown north Queensland
Georgetown,
one of the historic towns of the Etheridge Gold Field

Georgetown north Queensland
Georgetown,
one of the historic towns of the Etheridge Gold Field

The Hodgkinson Gold Field

North Queensland Outback

Steeped in pioneer history, and the reason for the establishment of Cairns and Port Douglas in the 1870s, the Hodgekinson gold field was once home to 10,000 people and led to much of the development of Cairns and its hinterland.

The gateway to the goldfield is the township of Dimbulah via Mareeba, although access is possible via rough bush track from Mount Carbine during the dry season (May to October).

North of Dimbulah the Hodgkinson Gold field is accessible via an unsealed road which is graded once annually. The road is rocky and hard in places but is passable in a conventional vehicle from about April to November. During the wet season, a 4WD is recommended and at times rivers are in flood making the area inaccessible.

The gold of the Hodgkinson consisted of reef-gold, running in veins of quartz. This meant it required hard rock mining techniques, and ore-crushing mills to be constructed to extract the gold. Town sprung up on the field, the best known being Thornborough and Kingsborough. The town of Cairns was established on the coast to serve the inland communities. Eventually an easier track was found to the coast, which led to the founding of Port Douglas.

Although once thriving, the goldfield is now home to just a handful of people, and the road out of Dimbulah leads into miles of rugged Australian bush. First stop is the Tyrconnell Historic Gold Mine & Bush Retreat 34km from Dimbulah. The Tyrconnell dates back to 1876 and is one of the last remaining relics from the early gold rush days. It boasts a number of original buildings and an operational ten head quartz crushing machine, and the owners live on site in the old office building.

Andrew and Cate offer tours of the mine site and nearby pioneer cemetery, heritage cottage accommodation, camping, meals, gold panning, bush walking, and 2 or 3 day packages with transport from Cairns. Pick up is also available from Dimbulah.

The hilltop mine has a wonderful pioneer ambience and excellent views, and is surrounded by tranquil bush. Bookings are essential. The road to Tyrconnell takes you through the former township of Thornborough. Now little remains of this former goldfield capital, but the road north passes the Thornborough cemetery with its 50 remaining graves.

Continuing further north, magnificient Mount Mulligan comes into view. This sandstone plateau, 27km long with bluffs rising sharply 300m from the surrounding landscape, is named after the Irish explorer credited with discovering the Hodgkinson goldfield. In 1908 coal was discovered under the mountain and by 1920 a bustling township of 300 was established at its base.

The following year, disaster struck when a coal dust explosion killed 75 men underground. The Mount Mulligan cemetery is testament to this sad event. The mine closed in 1957 and the township, 50km north of Dimbulah, is all but gone. Mount Mulligan cattle station now has its homestead in the old town hospital, and the pastoralist Owen Rankine works the station and runs a farmstay.

The former township is mostly crown land and access is available to anyone. The mountain itself is situated on Kondaparinga cattle station, owned by the Kuku Djungan Aboriginal people, and is not accessible to visitors. The area is a perfect escape for visitors, offering miles of unpopulated bush, and unique, hosted experiences.