Tablelands Through Time

This is not a homeschooling post, but if you are a local to the Atherton Tablelands, Queensland, Australia, or you ever visit - here's an educational history tour of this area!  And if you live elsewhere, maybe this article, originally published in What's On Tablelands magazine in April 2022, will give you some ideas for exploring the history of your local area?

The natural and geological history of the Atherton Tablelands and surrounding areas is fascinating! It includes giant trees and ancient forests, craters and crater lakes, lava tubes, gems, and gorges. Between four million and 10,000 years ago, a series of volcanic eruptions occurred over the Atherton Tablelands. Learn more about local volcanic history from the interactive displays at Malanda Falls Visitor Centre, where you can also explore the adjacent rainforest walking trails. Mt Hypipamee Crater, Bromfield Swamp, Lake Eacham, Lake Barrine, and Hallorans Hill, as well as the Seven Sisters and Lake Euramoo, all form part of a trail with interpretive signs explaining local geological wonders. Some of these places feature waterfalls and abundant wildlife. Further afield, Chillagoe Caves, Innot Hot Springs, Undara Experience, and Cobbold Gorge offer unique insight into ancient coral seas, lava tubes, and thermal pools.

For lovers of gems and other treasures from the earth, Crystal Caves in the Main Street of Atherton, Rainforest Gems Gallery at Tolga, Herberton Mining Museum, The Gem Gallery in Yungaburra, and the various jewellers and galleries in Kuranda township are not to be missed. There is a Gem Fest each year hosted by the Atherton Tableland Mineral & Lapidary Club.

Remnants of Mabi Forest can be found at Hallorans Hill Conservation Park in the heart of Atherton, and the Tolga Scrub. The Curtain Fig and Cathedral Fig are about 500 years old, and the twin Kauri pines at Lake Barrine are around 1000 years old. These trees are all a short distance from the town of Yungaburra. Maps of walks and lookouts are available at Visitor Information Centres.

The Atherton Tablelands region includes the traditional lands of many First Nations people who maintain connection to their culture today, despite a long period of forced removal from their lands and other disruptions following European occupation less than 150 years ago. Local Aboriginal people have stories which describe volcanic eruptions and changes in vegetation and sea-level, and have owned and cared for this land for tens of thousands of years. There are several language groups across this region. To find out more about local First Nations cultures visit:

- Nganyaji Interpretive Centre in Ravenshoe, the only indigenous museum in our region.
- Displays at Malanda Falls Visitor Centre including the mosaic outside titled Original Inhabitants and featuring places and animals of significance with Yamani, the Rainbow Serpent.
- Kuranda Markets for art, dance, and native foods; and Rainforestation, five minutes down the road for art, dance, a tour, and culture shared by Pamagirri people.
- Mareeba Heritage Centre’s Indigenous exhibit.
- Historic Village Herberton has a display which includes photographs and objects depicting the culture and history of the Jirrbal People.
- Aboriginal rock art as protected within National Parks. Please be mindful of any culturally sensitive areas, and observe rules and customs.

Mining and timber cutting were industries undertaken in the late 1800s across the Tablelands. The history of these can be studied at the Herberton Mining Museum, Historic Village Herberton, Mareeba Heritage Centre, and Ravenshoe Information Centre. As well as these indoor displays, Yungaburra, Herberton, and Malanda depict these settlement stories via self-guided walks - Visitor Information Centres can provide maps and brochures. Loudon House and several other historic buildings in Irvinebank, west of Herberton, exist as if time stood still in the historic mining town. Hou Wang Chinese Temple and Museum on Herberton Road in Atherton, built in 1903, is the last surviving building of Atherton’s Chinatown, which once stood amongst market gardens and homes. There is a museum here with photographs and artefacts found on site. Many of our local roads and railways emerged from this period, including the iconic Kuranda Scenic Railway which is still in operation today.

Cleared land revealing rich volcanic soil enabled widespread farming including beef, maize, dairy, pork, coffee, peanuts and potatoes. Visit Herberton Historic Village, Eacham Historical Museum in Millaa Millaa, Mareeba Heritage Centre’s tobacco display, Malanda Dairy Centre’s display, Tableland Heritage Centre, and Coffee World in Mareeba to find out more about agricultural history and the pioneers who built Tablelands townships.

Military history is abundant across the Atherton Tablelands. More than 100,000 troops were based in 160 sites around the Atherton Tablelands from 1942. The Atherton Tablelands was a large military base including camps at Tinaroo, Kairi, Wongabel, Herberton, Wondecla, Ravenshoe, Mt Garnet, Atherton, and Tolga. Places to see and find out more include:
- The War Cemetry in Atherton.
- Rocky Creek where there was a huge field hospital where 60,000 patients were treated, arriving by road, rail and air. The recently restored igloo there was used for entertainment gatherings for troops.
- Tolga Railway and Military Museum, which saw up to 34 trains arrive daily at its station during WWII.
- Rainforestation near Kuranda, where you can tour the rainforest and lake in a WWII army duck.
- Both runways of the Mareeba Airfield, which were built in 1942.
- The Barron Valley Hotel in Atherton, which was a WWII Officer’s Club.
- Historic Village Herberton, which houses trench art and memorabilia left behind in troop camps, as well as uniforms, weaponry, and other interesting displays.
- Stone chimneys still standing across the region – remnants of military training camps and visible from roadsides, especially in the Ravenshoe area.

Dine In History

Gallery Coffee Shoppe and the Royal Hotel - two of many delightful choices in Herberton
Lake Barrine Teahouse – built over 90 years ago and overlooking the picturesque lake
Malanda Hotel – check out the photo display in the dining room, and the impressive ballroom staircase in the biggest timber pub in Australia
Mount Molloy National Hotel – built in 1900 – one of the oldest still standing
Peeramon and Yungaburra Pubs - with many original features and even more stories
Ravenshoe Hotel (1927) and Ravenshoe’s Club Hotel (1912) - both reminiscent of yesteryear
Skybury Café on the oldest coffee farm in the region
Station Café Atherton – carriages, station building, and platform dining (see the model trains for $1 too)
The Falls Teahouse or Mungalli Creek Café at Millaa Millaa both offering an abundance of country charm


Some Pioneer & Historical Cemeteries

Almaden Cemetery, Burke Developmental Rd
Atherton Pioneer Cemetery (Thomas Park), 118 Hastie Rd
Atherton Pioneer Cemetery, Transfer Station Rd, Carrington
Atherton War Cemetery & Old Cemetery, 222 Rockley Rd
Chillagoe Cemetery, Cemetery Rd
Herberton Cemetery, 77 Syme Rd
Irvinebank Cemetery, Cemetery Rd
Kuranda Cemetery, Cemetery Access Rd
Mareeba Old Cemetery, Costin St
Millaa Millaa Cemetery, 141 Theresa Creek Rd
Montalbion Pioneer Cemetery, Off Herberton-Petford Rd
Mount Carbine, Cemetery Rd
Mount Garnet Cemetery, Cemetery Rd
Mount Molloy Cemetery, Bakers Rd
Mount Mulligan, Wason St
Mount Surprise Memorial, Gulf Development Rd
Nymbool Cemetery, Nymbool Rd, Mt Garnet
Ravenshoe Cemetery, 31-311 Cemetery Rd
Rose Lane Cemetery, Rose St, Herberton
Stannary Hills Cemetery, Stannary Hills Rd
Thornborough Cemetery, Thornbourough Rd
Tolga Historical Cemetery, Banchio Rd
Tumoulin Pioneer Cemetery, Racecourse Rd
Watsonville Pioneer Cemetery, Off Herberton-Petford Rd
Wolfram Camp Cemetery, Wolfram Camp Rd
Yungaburra Cemetery, 115 Mulgrave Rd


Atherton Tablelands Rail Trails - Tracks and paths remaining from the original Cairns to Herberton Railway line and all the branches off that line, built to stimulate agriculture and settlement in the early 1900s.

Herberton’s Tinlander and Peckett Steam train rides, museum, and tour of station, trains, carriages and yards are all worth checking out!

Kuranda Scenic Railway was built in 1891 and you can ride in authentic timber carriages. The Kuranda Station with its tropical gardens is worth visiting.

Mareeba Heritage Centre has a beautiful old train carriage to explore as well as a unique Rail Ambulance!

Ravenshoe Rail Co’s steam train is not in operation, but visit the Railyards at Ravenshoe near the train-themed playground. Tumoulin Station (1911) is the highest in Queensland and site of a popular monthly market.

Railway Carriages are a popular accommodation option at Undara Experience.

Savannahlander Train tours are the ultimate railway adventure to explore the natural beauty and history of the Far North.

The Station Café in Atherton has a model train display as well as original buildings, platform and carriages to dine in!

The Tolga Museum is located at the Tolga Railway Station which houses railway history of the area. It was a bustling location during WWII.


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