Path to the Copper and Tin mines of the Atherton Tablelands
The Wheelbarrow Way is traveled by Perentie Tour on the Two Day Outback Tour. The name refers to the method that workers used to transport their possessions in the late 1800’s. This was not unique to the area but definitely a common practice and in 2004 the road between Mareeba and Chillagoe was named as a tribute to those pioneers. In actual fact, the original road to Chillagoe was via Irvinebank and local legend Tommy Prior claims that a ‘T’ model Ford blazed a shorter route close to the railway track between Dimbulah and Petford in 1949 also claiming that most of the components of the Space Shuttle consist of Ford parts.
The Wheelbarrow Way is 137kms and roughly follows the historic Savannahlander railway track that was built to carry ore and goods between the Chillagoe Smelters and Cairns. Today this road takes the traveler through large crop producing properties and cattle stations. Shortly after its naming in 2004, it was suggested that a Wheelbarrow Race be created as a promotion. Local council agreed and that became the year of the inaugural Great Wheelbarrow Race.
The Way begins at Mareeba (an aboriginal word meaning ‘the meeting of waters’) originally a busy railway town, later becoming the main supply for goods for those who worked the land. In the 50’s a massive irrigation system allowed for more crop growing and farmers experimented with rice only to find that the local birds flocked to the paddy’s and couldn’t be controlled. Sugar cane was then substituted and is still a popular crop in the area although many fruits and vegetables are also grown. The area also lent itself to Tobacco but in the late 90’s, properties were no longer leased for that purpose and farmers had to turn to another crop. Citrus, mango, papaya and tea tree plantations can be seen all the way to Dimbulah where the irrigation system ends. Cattle stations then dominate and the landscape changes dramatically to wooded Savannah saturated with termite mounds with sightings of Wedge-tailed Eagles as they seek road kill.
From here the region is drenched in the mining history that inspired the name ‘Wheelbarrow Way’. An unused historic pub can be inspected at Lappa Junction where a tram track connected mining areas from the south.
32 Kms from Chillagoe and in the middle of a granite belt with graceful boulderous granite hills is the outback town of Almaden where the friendly staff at the Railway Hotel are always eager for a chat and show their oasis like beer garden.
The remaining road to Chillagoe a well maintained, partly unsealed road and as Chillagoe comes nearer, magnificent Marble, and Limestone bluffs mixed with red volcanic skarn protrude on both sides of the road. The skarn (volcanic rock) signals the beginning of the heat zones that converted the Chillagoe limestone bluffs to marble, simultaneously creating rich loads of copper and lead and support unique vegetation that have managed to survive by being protected from the bush fires for many thousands of years.
More information can be found at http://www.wheelbarrowway.com.au/
or have a look at the Perentie Tours home page