Once, Queenstown was the largest settlement on Tasmania’s western coast, and it was certainly one of, if not the, richest mining town in the world. The area was first explored in 1862, but in the 1880’s alluvial gold was discovered on nearby Mount Lyell, and the Mount Lyell Gold Mining Company was formed. In the 1890’s vast deposits of copper were also discovered, and so began a gradual shift to the mining of copper in the area, which is still mined there today. The consequential mining and blasting, especially open-cut mining, and ‘caving’ due to the underground mines, has left the area around Queenstown deeply scarred, like a cratered moon-scape, or a scene from an old science-fiction film, with steeply terraced shelves or ‘benching’ of the yellow rock faces. In the 1900’s Queenstown was the centre of the Mount Lyell mining district, and there were a large number of different mining companies operating in the area. There were also smelting works, brick-works and sawmills, which were needed to cut and process the wood as local hill and mountainsides were stripped of timber to fire the huge copper smelters. De-forestation and heavy rainfall, combined with the pollution created by the smelters, caused the shallow topsoil on the surrounding mountain-sides to be severely eroded, starkly exposing the rock, which adds to the look of extreme desolation.
We drove through Queenstown, along narrow roads that clung precariously to the cliff-like mountainsides, with almost vertical rock-faces above and below us.In places the rock-faces were yellow like English mustard, sometimes white as chalk, streaked and striated, with tumbled and flaked rock debris scattered along the edge of the road. Higher up the mountains peaks were tinged with pink and grey in the soft evening light.
A few days later on a rainy morning, we drove back through Queenstown, and stopped at a viewing point overlooking the town huddled below, in an almost lunar landscape. In the rain, it had a forlorn appearance, as if the once beautiful mountains had been desecrated and sacrificed on the altar of greed. In places low scrubby vegetation has begun to re-establish itself, probably where there is water trickling down small creeks and gullies; but it will take a very very long time before the area can recover any vestiges of its true natural beauty.