Aussie Icons #4 – ‘The Saint’, Castle Hill, Townsville QLD

Last Updated on March 3, 2017 by Red Nomad OZ

Castle Hill from the Magnetic Island Ferry
Castle Hill from the Magnetic Island Ferry

Those nostalgic for the ‘good old days’ would do well to consider the enduring legacy of Townsville’s ‘The Saint’, a 1962 student prank that continues to generate controversy.

A tragic reminder (!) of the lawlessness and anarchy characterising 1960’s society degeneration (!) from the wholesome family values of the 1950’s, the James Cook University students responsible have left North Queensland’s largest city with an unlikely icon!

And what better place to make your mark with graffiti than Castle Hill – the pink granite monolith (at 286m just short of ‘mountain’ height) that dominates Townsville’s skyline?

"The Saint", Townsville, Queensland
“The Saint”, Castle Hill, Townsville, Queensland

Castle Hill, no stranger to the plunder and pillage that characterised European settlement, was a well known firewood and timber-rustling spot before its 1888 gazettal as a recreation reserve – an early and uncharacteristic attempt to save it from complete denudation! And while reserve size continues to diminish, Castle Hill’s distinctive skyscape, 360° views, challenging climbs, scenic public toilet and historical features are enough to grant it ‘icon’ status in its own right.

But it’s the 1962 addition of ‘The Saint’ to Castle Hill’s northern face that cements its place in Townsville’s cultural landscape.

Castle Hill from the Townsville Botanic Gardens
Castle Hill from the Townsville Botanic Gardens

However, The Saint Castle Hill Townsville AND its spectacular backdrop have more in common than shared space.

Castle Hill is a World War 2 survivor – after the US troops stationed in Townsville who famously offered to blow it up and build a causeway to nearby Magnetic Island with the rock were knocked back. And ‘The Saint’ was reprieved after the local council reversed its 2002 decision to remove it. But only after a poll indicated 54% of the population considered it an icon!

Leaving 46% who don’t …

Castle Hill from Cape Pallarenda, Townsville, Queensland
Castle Hill from Cape Pallarenda, Townsville, Queensland

So the controversy continues – graffiti vs art; eyesore vs landmark; student prank vs sacred site desecration; vandalism vs Aussie larrikinism (is that a word?!) – but ‘The Saint’ is now (arguably) photographed just as much as its scenic backdrop!!

Maybe tourists are the deciding factor??

During a visit to Townsville in the 1990’s, the debate raged on talkback radio. Should ‘The Saint’ be removed? Did it defile the natural beauty of Castle Hill?? Had it transcended its dubious origin to become a local landmark???

Lower Lookout and WW2 Installation, Castle Hill
Lower Lookout and WW2 Installation, Castle Hill

Then a caller rang through. ‘Mate, after more than 30 years up there in all sorts of weather there’s only one question to be asked,’ the caller stated.

‘What’s that?’ the announcer asked.

‘What kind of paint did they use?’

And that, my friends, puts it all into perspective!!

In July 2011, Castle Hill still sports ‘The Saint’, and it’s still the subject of discussion, photographs and debate.

But in early 2012, its 50th anniversary MAY mean historical respectability – AND lay any controversy to rest!  We shall see …

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  1. @Jen – I get a bad case of vertigo just thinking about it!! Maybe that’s another reason to leave it – the logistics are mind boggling!!

  2. after so many years, it’s be a travesty to remove it! 🙂 that is pretty awesome…can’t believe that anyone would be able to logistically do it! 🙂

  3. @Frankie G – Cool! I believe the other guy came from Pentland – and they’ve never divulged who actually did the artwork!! Thanx for the info about the paint – I wonder if the cement would work on housepaint?!?!

  4. Hi Red, when I first moved to Mackay way back in the late 80’s I met one of the 6 guys who were involved in painting the Saint. Of course when I met him he was in his 40’s.Five of them came from Mackay and they were Uni students. None were rock climbers. The paint came from Walpamur and on the suggestion of a local, some cement was added to the paint so it would not drip or run.

  5. @Sallie – Hope this history lesson was also fun!! And yes, that exact same dilemma means mixed messages – if you leave graffiti for long enough it becomes ‘heritage’; if it’s modern it’s just plain old vandalism!!

  6. LOved the history (this blogging stuff is such a painless lovely way to learn!). We were in one of our National Parks this past summer where the visitor center pointed you to a place where the pioneers had left their names and dates on trees when they passed through the area. And at the same time where there are signs warning the public not to deface the trees or sturctures. I would NEVER ever carve on a tree, but I just thought it was funny that one carving was history and another could getyou thrown in jail. Anyway, the graffiti-art controversy kind of reminded me of that.

  7. @Friko – thanx for following! Dare I say you won’t regret it … and just wait! A FAAAABULOUS scenic loo more like what you expected coming soon!!
    @Barb & Dell – Welcome and thanx! I’d leave it too … it’s too late now, as it’s part of the landscape!

  8. Your photos are gorgeous. I guess I would leave the Saint. It is part of history now.
    Thanks for stopping by our blog and the nice comment.

  9. I went and did. I’m impressed.

    But, do you mean to tell me you don’t have a single hole-in-the-ground, open-air and freeview facility?

  10. @Friko – Fresh & cheeky? Then my work is done! And have I got a treat for you! Just select the ‘Scenic Public Toilet’ tag for a whole different take on Aussie travel!!
    @Ms. Becky – Same to you! I guess I won’t be around to see if it makes 100, but the paint’s still going strong despite some deadly weather!
    @LV – Welcome back! And keep coming by, the virtual tour gets better!
    @Ebie – Maybe the ‘artists’ thought that’d help their cause if they got caught!
    @Betty – Thanx! So great to see you back on air!!
    @PDP – Thanx to you too! I’d miss it if it was removed – but I’ve never been to Townsville when it WASN’T there!!

  11. @Mark – Stick around, plenty more laughs to come!! You must’ve been looking the other way when in Townsville as a kid – you’re WAAAY to young to have been there BEFORE the Saint!!!
    @Stewart M – Well, you’ll just have to return to see it for yourself, won’t you?!?! Shouldn’t be too much hardship given Magnetic Island’s magnificence!!
    @My Journey – Dangerous though it is, I suspect the exuberance of youth and liberal quantities of alchohol overcame the prank’s perils!
    @Tricia – Agreed! It’s WAAAAY too late now … don’t know about the paint, but the image is from ‘The Saint’ books by Leslie Charteris, made into the well known TV series!
    @Karen – I suspect it’ll be preserved for future generations, although whether as rock art or an example of degeneracy, I’m not sure!!

  12. @Aleah – time seems to add respectability!! ‘Historic’ sites with people’s names carved into or signed on rock are protected, yet if someone did that today, they’d be charged!!
    @Kath – wouldn’t look so great on the Matterhorn though, would it?!?!
    @Joan Elizabeth – thank god it wasn’t done more recently or we’d have ended up with Bob the Builder or the Twitter logo!
    @Alessandra – my pleasure!

  13. Excellent post Red, great fun. I say leave The Saint alone, after over 40 year he deserves his place and if the name of the paint used is ever found out…what an advert!!

  14. LOL!wondering what kind of paint they use?
    thaks for another delightful post. 🙂

    the photos are really fantastic.

    nicely done:)

  15. Thank you for this wonderful presentation from your great part of the world. Probably the only way I will enjoy it again.

  16. it’s amazing that after 50 years it’s still there. that is long-lasting paint. and controversy! these photos are gorgeous, showing the surrounding area. happy day to you!

  17. Hi Nomad,
    thanks very much for visiting Friko’s World.
    there’s something so fresh and cheeky about this post, I find the whole idea a delight.

    Most impressed with the ‘scenic public toilet’ mention; could I see a photo?

    I shall be back in no time.

  18. Beautiful photos! I think graffiti has it’s place in the world, much of it is “art”. But I think it’s canvas should be man made. I wonder if in a thousand years it will be considered rock art?

  19. WoW! Now, that’s a puzzler, esp after 50 yrs… If it was going to be removed, it should have been done back then when it was 1st painted on, then it wouldn’t be an issue, now… but if the locals prefer it to stay, then who are tourists to say it shouldn’t??? How’d the name come about, tho? And seriously, what kind of paint DID they use? LoL!

    Great shots & I’d love to take a walk thru the Botanical Gardens =)

  20. I see graffiti in places that make me wonder how they got there to do it. The kids that do it in dangerous spots, have got to be one brick shy of a full load.

    Your pictures are beautiful as always.

  21. Hi there – I was on Magnetic Island a while ago – wish I had known about The Saint, would have kept an eye open as we passed through T’ville!

    I have to say it does make me smile – much better than a “big tomato” or whatever!

    Cheers Stewart M – Melbourne

    PS: as you say, just because a bird is common, there’s no reason not to like it!

  22. Oh this is so much good fun. Thanks for such a great laugh. I went Tville as a kid but dont remember ‘the saint’, yes a true icon.

  23. I remember the saint being very big when I was kid, didn’t know it had been painted on a mountain though … must have caused a lot of annoyance when it was done … it was tne orm to complain about uni students in those days. Yet another quirky Australian fact from you which I do so enjoy.

  24. I love it! …. and I really do wonder what kind of paint they used – the company could make an absolute fortune 🙂

  25. You gotta admire the painter; had to go all the way up there just to make his mark. I can’t decide though if the graffiti is good or bad. In some cases, I think people like these should be shot LOL

  26. @Andrew – alas no, we drove up! And I guess that in WW2, the army just MAY have had some more important things to do than blow up a rock!
    @Lilly – haha!! If it was painted over, it’d be interesting to see how long before it was ‘restored’!!
    @Magsx2 – me too!! Apparently Leslie Charteris actually gave his seal of approval, so it’s kind of legitimate now!!
    @Windsmoke – see above! And do you know that for sure about the paint?? The Saint would sure make a great advertising campaign for whichever brand it was!!
    @Alessandra – yep, and SO Australian!! Will be over shortly …
    @Michelle – it was a pretty dangerous stunt – those sheer rock faces aren’t for those afraid of heights!!

  27. @FruitCake – Wouldn’t we all like to know … maybe the 50th anniversary will reveal all!
    @Beach Bum – hahaha! You mean that Californian ‘icon’ the rest of the world defines you by?? After 100 years or so it all becomes ‘historical’ or ‘heritage’ or ‘art’!!
    @J&L – oh yes, it could have been MUCH worse!! I actually like it, so I don’t think I could bring the necessary detachment to the judgement table!
    @Manzanita – yes, it becomes a vicious cycle, doesn’t it?! The Saint has actually disappeared – for an April Fools Day joke – and it’s also gone pink for Breast Cancer Awareness! Maybe its good works mean it should stay?!?!
    @SFlaGuy – Rumour has it that on the 50th anniversary all will be revealed!
    @Towanda – who indeed? Isn’t graffiti just art that someone doesn’t like?? Just like weeds are just plants that someone doesn’t like??!!

  28. Oh wow, that must have been hard work for those vandalizers to get it all the way up there!

  29. Bonza photos. I’ve been a fan of the TV show The Saint starring Roger Moore since the 60’s. Which paint? “Trust British Paints Sure Can” as Rolf Harris would say :-).

  30. Hi,
    Great photo’s. You have to love what the caller ask about the paint, it is actually a very good question, wouldn’t we all love to have paint that lasts that long. LOL.

    I for one am glad the icon is still there, it is a landmark.

  31. Aah, Graffiti – the true artists of society – most graffiti round these parts I’m sure is a part of great artists at play, cause, golly, some of the art is really quite good – then – there are the ones who should never have a can of spray paint or a brush, sooooo paint – paint over…..paint – paint over and repeat unless you really like the reflection of the graffiti artist.

  32. Art or vandalism? I just want to know if you climbed Castle Hill? Lol at blowing it up and using the rocks for a causeway. I’m surprised it didn’t happen.

  33. If they don’t like it, paint it gray or pink to blend in with the rock. I guess kids always will make graffiti. When I was growing up, I can remember kids would climb up the water tower and leave graffiti. The city would paint over it, more graffiti….. repeat and repeat. This reminds me, I bought oil stain for my porch and today’s the day and I’m not in the mood for graffiti. (or art work ) 🙂

  34. Hello Red:
    Surely this is going to need an auspicious jury to resolve the fate of ‘The Saint’……perhaps as the widely travelled, open -minded, always on the lookout for the good, bad and ugly Australian that you are you should volunteer for the job and put ‘The Saint’ out of his misery. In our view, the graffiti could be worse……MUCH worse…..!!!!

  35. LOL!!!!

    I have always felt most human marks on the planet are graffiti, its just circumstances that make them monuments and part of history.

    I’d leave it, I’m sure a hundred years from now people will call it an important piece of the local heritage. Like that damn eyesore called the Hollywood sign out in California.

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