Queenstown is a town in the West Coast region of the island of Tasmania, Australia. It is in a valley on the western slopes of Mount Owen on the West Coast Range. Queenstown has a population of less than 2,000.
Queenstown’s history is basically tied to the mining industry. This mountainous area was first explored in 1862. It was long after that when alluvial gold was discovered at Mount Lyell, prompting the formation of the Mount Lyell Gold Mining Company in 1881. In 1892, the mine began searching for copper. The final name of the Mount Lyell company was the Mount Lyell Mining and Railway Company.
While there is still mining in the area the prosperity of the town has declined from its peak but there was another brief reprieve in activities when several hydro dam schemes were built nearby in the 1980s.
West Coast Wilderness Railway
The west of Tasmania and especially the Queenstown area was mineral rich. First gold was discovered but later it was found to contain rich deposits of copper. Until 1932 there were no roads linking Queenstown to Hobart (or anywhere else really). Building the railway was the only way to get copper from the mine at Queenstown to the markets. In fact to the sea at the port of Strahan on the Macquarie harbour on the west coast. Until 1932, when a Hobart road link was completed, it was the only access through to Queenstown.
When a guy called Anthony Edwin Bowes Kelly discovered what was thought to be the richest copper mine in the world at the Mount Lyell Mine, he realised he needed a route to transport his riches to the growing market places. Bowes Kelly lived by moto; We find a way, or make it. Well: He made it. The railway was built in just a few years despite having to cross dense rainforest and incredibly steep climbs and descents. The line operated from 1892 but was officially opened in 1897.
The steep inclines were overcome by building a rack and pinion railway – using the recent Swiss invention by a Dr. Roman Abt. He made the design based on the cogs of a clock and involved a third central rail of solid bars with vertical teeth that engaged with small cogwheels on the underside of the locomotive engine. The system enabled trains to haul loads up steep hillsides, and (just as importantly) created a braking effect on the downhill side. The steepest gradient on the rack section was 1 in 12 (8.33%).
It is a real testament to how well it was built that all these years later it still functions despite the ever encroaching rainforest and unbelievably steep drops right at trackside. After so many years of weathering by rain and landslides. It’s another example of “they just don’t make them like that any more”.
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