Off the Tourist Trail #6 – Irvinebank, Queensland
As an antidote to the Atherton Tableland mist and drizzle, Irvinebank was working just fine. A few kilometres beyond Herberton, we’d crossed the range to clear skies, warmth, and a spectacular setting – another universe far, far away from yet another day of dampness. Just what Dr Pilchard ordered! Sadly, no bakery but the monster plate of chips accompanying the pub’s lunchtime fishburgers sure made up for it.
But that’s not what kept us there all day. This semi-ghost town was once so historically significant its influence was felt around Australia – if not the world!
Giving new meaning to ‘oral historian’, the Loudon House Museum volunteer gave vast historic knowledge ’til it hurt! Having a low museum tolerance threshhold, I had planned to wander aimlessly, viewing an exhibit here, taking a photo there, pausing to read more about exhibits that caught my eye. Nothing doing. There were stories to be told, and by golly, we were going to hear them!!
Sparing nothing, the volunteer regaled us with historic snippets and fascinating anecdotes not just about Irvinebank, but also John Moffat, controller of up to 25% of Australia’s base metal trade in the late 1800’s, Irvinebanks founder – and its favourite son in whose home we now stood. The two are inextricably intertwined, a phrase more commonly encountered in Mills & Boon than serious historical facts.
Owing more to Christopher Robin than the Book of Common Prayer, Irvinebank youngsters routinely asked for God’s blessing on John Moffat in their evening prayers. And well they might, given that most of the area’s population of 6000 relied on his wellbeing for their livelihood.
After establishing an extensive business empire, this reclusive mining entrpreneur married late in life – which MAY explain the master bedroom’s romantic outlook over the mine workings. But I’m betting his wife was unruffled by the continual noise and bustle of work that kept the mine, treatment works and tramway going a few metres from her bedroom window. Previously employed as John Moffat’s housekeeper, she must already have become accustomed to these inconveniences!
But John Moffat’s – and hence Irvinebank’s – contributions to Australia’s fortunes weren’t just financial. Previous mine workers included Bill McCormack – former Queensland premier; and ‘Red’ (YESSSS!) Ted Theodore – former Queensland premier, Federal Treasurer and Deputy Prime Minister. And with John Moffatt’s business success – despite his reputation for honesty and integrity – this town was a player in the Australian business scene. BUT … a range of factors contributed to the decline of John Moffat’s empire – and left the town with the buildings he had contributed.
Tragically, there is no record to definitively state whether the Irvinebank locals preferred the Gladys Moncrieff performance to a live X-ray demonstration at the School of Arts Hall – both are listed on bills of entertainment. And, as regular readers already know, I’m well versed in the destructive habits of Sulphur-crested Cockatoo – while I can’t readily imagine a chain of events allowing them access to valuable books, they nonetheless have virtually destroyed a number of them, now on display at the museum!
Tales of Irvinebank’s most famous Swedenborgian are set against the backdrop of the town itself. But despite heritage listing and the remarkable preservation of many key buildings and features, it’s the anecdotes that brought the town to life. Did I say the volunteer gave til it hurt? Yeah, but it was ‘good’ hurt!
Inexplicably, the free camp area on the town common – complete with toilets and hot showers – was empty during our July 2010 visit. With so much to offer already, the fishing’s good too, if the pix at the pub are anything to go by. And as a further inducement, there’s an annual John Moffat festival – in 2011, it features the ‘Hillbillygoats’!
Now if that’s not a drawcard, I don’t know what is!