Former mining town brings dead to life in unusual tourism push

Former mining town brings dead to life in unusual tourism push

A former tin mining town in far north Queensland is bringing the dead back to life in an unusual tourism push.

Residents of Herberton are telling the stories of the town’s prominent historical figures by hosting regular ‘ghost nights’ at the cemetery.

And people just can’t get enough.

It might be small but Herberton is using its historic stories and architecture to draw tourists in and is home to four museums.

The ghost story events have been gaining popularity in the town since they began more than a decade ago.

Now up to 400 people converge on the town — which has fewer than 1,000 residents — twice a year for the unusual event.

Many of the ‘ghosts’ featuring in the stories have been Australian trail blazers.

One such character is Bill ‘Girlie’ Smith, who died in 1975, aged 88.

“Researchers believe she was Australia’s first female jockey, who secretly masqueraded as a man to follow her passion for racing,” researcher Ivan Searston said.

“Her true identity was not discovered until she lay dying in hospital and experts say staff kept her secret until after her death.”

Death of mining sparks tourism boom

Most of those who attend the ghost nights are not from Herberton, with people even coming as far afield as Townsville to hear the town’s stories.

“It’s important for us to bring people into the town,” Mr Searston said.

“Since 1985, the tin mining economy [has] collapsed, therefore the [local] economy went back into doldrums.

“Since then, to give town purpose and revitalise it, we’ve paid a lot of attention to historic and heritage opportunities we have.

“We have to make Herberton a destination as a town as well as for its history.”

Mr Searston said the town currently gets about 40,000 visitors each year, but they want more.

“We want to lift [the numbers] higher and the ghost stories are one way of doing that,” he said.

‘Audience became hooked’

Mr Searston said moves were underway to publish a second volume of a diary-style book, bringing the town’s legends, like Bill ‘Girlie’ Smith, back to life.

He is editing Ghosts of a Mining Town.

The books and subsequent tourism push began when he and his wife started researching the lives of the town’s legends to satisfy public curiosity.

“Originally the stories were just good yarns, remembrances of people and family stories, but we found after a couple of presentations the audience became very hooked on real life stories,” he said.

“The stories are as authentic and detailed as we can make them and that’s what has struck a chord with people.”