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Saturday June 9, 2012

Jeepers creepers

A sleepy hollow called Ravenswood? And it’s haunted? This goldmining town in Queensland is a magnet for visitors with a taste for the unusual.

I’M a big fan of gothic horror, so the mere mention of a ghost town within driving distance from Townsville where I was visiting in Queensland instantly grabbed my attention.

Having rented a car for five days, my friend and I were going through tourism brochures when the words “haunted” and “ghosts” piqued our interest.

Ravenswood. Even the name sounded ominous. So, we decided to satisfy our curiosity and hoped that this sleepy hollow was as chilling as the leaflets promised.

The crypt: A view of the Imperial Hotel in Ravenswood. Some of the rooms here are rather eerie.

Rated by the Australian Geographic as among the six best ghost towns in Australia, Ravenswood is a mining hamlet located 130km southwest of Townsville. The late 1800s was a booming era for the town, with 48 hotels and shanties quenching the thirst of early gold miners.

Today, only two hotels – the Imperial Hotel and the Railway Hotel – remain as magnificent reminders of the town’s prosperous beginnings. Both hotels are, however, believed to be haunted. Stories over the years have passed on and have attracted psychics and other people who believe there is a presence there.

Many encountered similar sightings of a young lady in period dress at the Imperial Hotel. And in the 1940s, a Father Deveraux and his altar boy heard footsteps in the cathedral at night. However, they weren’t ordinary footsteps but a stomp, followed by a scrape – the sound a man with a crippled leg might make. They heard the sound but nothing was ever seen.

Records show that the last resident priest at Ravenswood, who died under mysterious circumstances, had been severely crippled.

As we eagerly took off from Townsville along the scenic Flinders Highway, landscapes of forest and farmland spreading across the valleys and ridges unfolded before us. It was a gorgeous autumn day, and I rolled down my window to take in the fresh air.

Miner David Green standing in Ravenswood town centre. Behind him is the Imperial Hotel.

However, the scenery following the left turn towards Ravenswood was a stark contrast. There was barely any vehicle or house in sight. We spotted a dead snake on the road. An omen or an unfortunate accident, who can tell?

It was a 40km detour from the main road, and I was wondering if it was worth the effort and time, after all. Behind the wheel, I uttered aloud the names of each creek we passed in order to keep my head from nodding off to sleep. My friend was already stretched out sleeping.

After what seemed like a lifetime, I finally spotted a quaint building. Its sign said we had reached the Railway Hotel, Ravenswood. Rolling into town, I felt like I had landed in a Hollywood western movie setting. There were no more than 10 buildings in sight, and the single road which ran through the town centre was almost bare of vehicles and people.

I half-expected to be confronted by menacing bandits ala High Noon, or perhaps serial slasher Jason from the movie Friday The 13th had just finished off half the town? Although neither bandits nor Jason appeared, the town was certainly not lacking in character.

Tucked away amongst lonely hills and frozen in time, this old gold mining settlement is a hidden gem. It is a living tribute to the history and heritage of western Queensland.

Antique displays outside Thorp’s Building at the town centre of Ravenswood

The beautifully restored hotels and public buildings gave us a glimpse of what Ravenswood was once like.

The Court House Museum, the restored School House, Thorp’s Building and Butler’s Cottage are just some of the treasures this tiny town holds.

The opulent Imperial Hotel even has a set of swinging saloon doors. From the tables and chairs in the dining room and the beds upstairs, to the stained glass and beer taps in the bar, almost everything you see in the hotel is original.

It being a hot day, we found cool respite sitting on a bar stool chilling with a can of Coke. Eagerly, I asked the young girl behind the counter if she had any ghostly encounter to share. She said she was new in town but we were welcome to check out the rooms upstairs.

Never ones to turn down a good offer, we went upstairs to explore the bedrooms. Going from room to room, I did find some to be rather creepy, but did not have time to let my imagination run wild as we were heading to Charters Towers next.

Outside the hotel, we chatted with another friendly local, David Green, who told us that once a guest staying the night in one of the hotel’s corner rooms had a strange encounter. When she left the room, she had switched off the light, but when she went downstairs the light was mysteriously turned back on, he said.

One of the bedrooms in the Imperial Hotel.

“The ghost could have been a victim of one the many drunken brawls here during the town’s heyday.

“You know, Ravenswood was once teeming with 10,000 people, mostly gold prospectors. However, our population today is about 90. Many buildings have been demolished after the mining activities dwindled.

“In some years, only six students studied in our whole school,” said the jolly 42-year-old miner.

Exploring the town further, we walked into Thorp’s Building, which housed a treasure trove of curios and antiques, including a rocking horse, golliwogs, pottery and old newspaper articles.

Next, we climbed to the top of the local hill lookout and viewed the amazing open-cut gold mine. The views were priceless – the perfect way to conclude our trip here. And it dawned on me that although there was little to see or do in Ravenswood, that was the whole point.

You come here to experience the solitude and beauty of country life. Hop on a stool at the bar and chat over a beer. Friendly miners are always glad to welcome a fresh face.

If I do drop by Ravenswood again, a night at one of the two hotels will definitely be on my agenda.

For more information on Charters Towers, log in to its visitor information centre at charterstowers.qld.gov.au.

Related Story:
Charters Towers

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