From the cane fields of the Burdekin Shire to the vibrant, historical town of Charters Towers. The last leg of my North QLD visit has been entertaining, fun and hugely interesting. At Ayr I was treated to a close-up of a cane field burning courtesy of John Scott of the Burdekin Library and the delightful Kerrie and Louie. The roar of the fire as the green leaves were burnt off before harvesting was spectacular, not particularly hot and was over quite quickly with only small areas of a field burnt at a time. The sweet smell of the cane being crushed as you pass a mill is actually very pleasant and combined with the numerous small trains hauling bins of harvested cane across the shire you know you are somewhere special. Cane is an irrigated crop and it is the mighty Burdekin river which feeds this rich shire.

The Burdekin district is built on a coastal aquifer, a huge underground lake of water running just 10 meters below the land’s surface-hence the local terminology for the region; liquid gold. The aquifer is said to be one of the largest in Australia, holding 20 million megalitres of water, that is about 44 times the amount of water in Sydney Harbour!

Southwest of Ayr is the vibrant and historic town of Charters Towers. It was here that gold was discovered in 1871 and by 1901 ‘The World’ as it was known then (due to the huge influx of people from all over the world who rushed here to seek their fortune) had a population of 22,000 residents. Charters Towers boasted its own brewery and in 1891 you could try a pint in one of the 65 licensed hotels.  Cheers to that.

Magnificent buildings line the streets and although some have been converted into retail outlets they retain their original fittings, from pressed metal ceilings to polished timber staircases. Thank you to Excelsior Library manager Joan for the guided tour around town, I was fortunate to get a rare glimpse of many fine interiors-even the library is inside a restored pub, love it.

The Dalrymple Shire boasted agriculture as one of its biggest exports, alongside mining (gold, silver and base metals) however the cattle trade here has suffered a major setback following the live export ban. Diversification in the form of tourism on cattle properties has proved popular.

Tonight I’m back in Townsville – off to the beach …