There is a history of many small outback towns west of Cairns where the only signs of their existence are a cemetery, mango trees and water races which were the remains of Chinese gardens created to supply much needed fruit and vegetables to the mining communities. Minerals were rich but often the viability of extracting them was doubtful but with the history of previous lucrative finds in Australia being a driving force.
Then I lived in one such town (Chillagoe) that had survived the late 1800’s mineral boom west of Cairns, the name Hann had often been mentioned in conversation with one local politician stating that there was a proposal to create an inland highway from Cooktown to Melbourne called the Hann Highway that would be 400kms shorter than the current route.
Palmer River Gold Rush
William Hann was born into a pastoralist family from England and when his father died in the great Burdekin flood of 1864, William and his brother Frank, struggled with hostile Aboriginals, spear grass, dingoes and falling wool prices until in 1870 surrendered their sheep and ran cattle instead. In 1872 William was given charge of a well-organized official party to explore the interior of the Cape York Peninsula for country suitable for pastoral use. The country was difficult and dense scrub prevented him from reaching his goal on the Endeavour River where Cook had repaired his sailing ship in 1770 just prior to claiming the east coast of Australia in the name of Britain. The party located some fair pastoral country and discovered and named the Tate, Daintree and Palmer Rivers. On the latter he reported traces of gold but felt it was not of commercial quality. This was enough to arouse the curiosity of James Mulligan who organised a prospecting party that eventually led to a dramatic gold rush. As with any pastoralist, it was in their interests to have mineral finds on or near their lease and the new fields soon provided Hann with a market for his cattle and he prospered. A daring horseman and a first-class bushman, Hann was notable among the first generation of North Queenslanders. He died suddenly at the age of 52 while swimming near Townsville in 1889, survived by his wife and two daughters (a son had died in infancy).