Late in the 1800’s when work became scarce and transportation limited, workers made their way by the best means they could.
“Dad pushed a wheelbarrow in which were stacked all our belongings. A few pieces of iron which would be used as a shelter, maybe some hessian, a spade, a lantern, a few kitchen things and very little else. Mum and the children walked behind, Mum usually with babe in arms”.
As a tribute to these pioneers, in 2004 the road from Mareeba to Chillagoe was named ‘The Wheelbarrow Way’. The original road to Chillagoe began at Herberton. Locals claim a ‘T’ model Ford blazed a shorter route close to the railway track between Dimbulah and Petford in 1949.
The 137km Wheelbarrow Way follows a privately built railway line constructed to carry ore from the Chillagoe Smelter to Mareeba. Today this journey takes the traveller through rich farmlands and wooded Savannah. All but 20kms close to Chillagoe is sealed and travellers should be on the lookout for livestock, wild life and the odd road train.
Odometer readings are distances between points of interest and rounded to the nearest kilometre. R = Right hand side/L = Left hand side.
Mareeba (aboriginal meaning the meeting of waters) evolved from a busy coach-change to busy railway town. It has since become the administration and supply centre for the Shire.
(+1km/R) Eastern Grey Kangaroos can often be seen on the golf course and the Mareeba cemetery is typically Italian with its many crypts. (+1km/R) The Rodeo ground is the home to the famous Mareeba Rodeo and Christmas in July for the Grey Nomads. The landscape immediately changes to picturesque rich farmlands with specialised and unique farm machinery. Solitary Kookaburras perch on the powerlines starring below for a tasty snack in the form of rodents or retiles. This region was once a major rice and tobacco growing area, now dominated by Sugarcane plantations with their spectacular sprinkler assemblies and neatly manicured Mango orchards. Many other crops include coffee, citrus, paw paw, lychee, avocado, pineapple and a variety of vegetables. Often this produce is for sale on the side of the road. Many tobacco drying sheds with unique H shaped chimney tops are still standing, now used for storage.
(+8km) Spectacular flat expanses of granite greet you as you pass through Granite Gorge, the home of the Mareeba Rock Wallaby. (+2km) Away to the left and at the base of a distant range is the Arriga Sugar Mill. (+13kmL) As the Walsh River is crossed, on the left, the Savannahlander Rail Bridge can be seen. This was constructed in 1899 from steel obtained when the Brisbane Victoria Bridge was rebuilt. (+7kmL) Mitchilba was created as a workers camp when the Tinaroo irrigation scheme was under construction in 1956. It has a General Store with fast food, Post Office, Public Phone and fuel.
(+11km) Dimbulah is well facilitated with all the usual services including a restored railway station/Information Centre and a park with picnic facilities and clean public toilets. Dimbulah was a significant tobacco growing area, later growing Tea Tree for the oil.
Just beyond Dimbulah is Eureka Creek - a great picnic location with no facilities. From here the landscape immediately changes with awesome panoramic views of Wooded Savannah created from years of fires lit by the aboriginals. Termite mounds abound with sightings of Wedge Tailed Eagles as they eat the road kill. This is cattle country with the average station being about 2,000+sq kms. (+31km/R) There is a historical marker at Emu Creek where the Kennedy expedition camped in 1848. The next settlement on the Wheelbarrow Way is (+2km) Petford (public phone only), and is the junction of the road from Herberton.
#1 Petford was originally named Wadetown and was a watering hole for the miners that worked the area. Take extra care here as there are often horses near the road and unlike cattle, they are very unpredictable. On the western side of Petford you may spot a Bustard or Plains Turkey. A little further is the Cycad covered (+4km) Lapper Range. At the (+2km) top are the remains of the 100+ year old Lappa Pub.
#2 Lapper was the site of a soak (spring) where camels watered on their journeys from the advancing railhead to the Chillagoe area in 1900 and later a junction where trams that serviced mines to the South joined the Chillagoe line. Now this tram track is a captivating 4WD/dry-weather route to Mt Garnet with some interesting stonework and stunning panoramic views
(+9km/R) A historical marker showing the Kooboora cemetery, the last remains of the very significant now abandoned Kooboora tin workings.
(+8km) The Bismark Pass gives a view of what lies ahead. The local calls this Top Cat Pass because of some interesting graffiti on a large rock on the right as you enter the cutting.
(+7km) Almaden lies in the middle of a granite belt with graceful boulderous granite hills scatted about. Almaden was established as a railway workers town in 1907. Now nicknamed ‘Cow Town’ and known for the oasis like beer garden and home made pies at the Railway Hotel.
From here there are sections of well-formed unsealed road. On the unsealed sections, if you see a road train approaching, pull over to the side of the road and wait until the dust settles before proceeding. (+3km/L) The turn off the Mt Garnet/ Mt Surprise is unsealed and often closed during the wet season.
#3 A large green tree frog can be seen on the right of the road. (+5km/L) The first of the Marble quarries is a great example of the industry. There are about forty of these pits, all producing different colours and crystal size. Blocks surround the pits to prevent cattle wandering in for a drink and getting stranded in the mud. (+6km) A cattle grid is the property boundary of Chillagoe Station. In front, red volcanic skarn signals the beginning of the heat zones that converted the Chillagoe limestone bluffs to marble, simultaneously depositing rich surface loads of copper and lead. The marble bluffs that follow are dark grey from algae and support unique vegetation protected from bushfires for many thousands of years.
The road after Chillagoe leads to the Gulf with some branch roads to various Cattle stations. A couple of hours down this track is the luxurious Voyages cattle station resort of Wrotham Park. www.wrothampark.com.au
(+17km) A cattle grid acts as a town fence to keep cattle out and like opening a book, Chillagoe appears with a chimney of the now abandoned smelter on the horizon. The Chillagoe area is one of richest mineral deposits in the world. ‘Chillagoe Cabins’ is located first on the right.
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