Hidden amongst Australia’s beautiful coastline, forests and cities are places where stories are forgotten, relics sleep in long grass and the atmosphere is palpably different. Here’s just seven of these unusual places to visit in Australia, all of which are worth at least half a day of your time.
1. Pillinger – western Tasmania
A ghost town located in the Kelly Basin in Tasmania’s Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park, Pillinger is dripping with atmosphere. Following an old train line built between 1880 and 1900 and the chocolate-coloured Bird River, the Pillinger trail weaves across lush forest and slippery bridges before depositing you in a land that time has forgotten.
Here you’ll find the remains of two villages, East and West Pillinger, which contain two large boilers, a rotting wharf, a train carriage and the remains of a bakery. Seemingly pickled in vivid green forest, the ruins of Pillinger – a town whose last resident left in 1943 – are an explorer’s delight.
2. Beenleigh Historical Village & Museum – Beenleigh, QLD
Located roughly 25 minutes south east of Brisbane in Beenleigh, the Beenleigh Historical Village and Museum is an entire village that’s been recreated and dedicated to the region’s history from the 1860s onwards.
However, it wasn’t so much the history that I found fascinating, but the way it was presented. For here you’ll find a number of eerie mannequins – some headless, some androgynous and some which look like emo vampires. There’s also a church containing a cardboard pastor which looks like Michael Caine, a skeleton painted to a wall and cameras that kept telling me I was being watched.
I was also the only visitor there. Creepy and intriguing.
3. Cockatoo Island – Sydney Harbour
Cockatoo Island is a fascinating place, as despite lying in the midst of one of the world’s swankiest harbours, it wasn’t open to the public until 2007. In 1839, the island was established as a penal settlement for some of the most nefarious convicts before it became a girl’s school, a ship building hub, air-raid shelter, X-ray laboratory and finally a naval dockyard.
Cockatoo Island is littered with passageways, pipes and a mishmash of relics that have been deposited here over the course of its secret life. Today it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site that hosts events such as world motocross championships and comedy festivals. You can even camp here in the summer.
You can’t get more eclectic than this place. Highly atmospheric, highly recommended.
4. Ukerebagh Island – northern NSW
Situated at the mouth of the Tweed River in northern NSW, Ukerebagh Island was an Aboriginal reserve from the 1920s to the 1960s. Today, locals walk to the place during low tide, to fish or pass on indigenous culture. It’s also a favoured spot for lone drinkers and it holds a special place in Australian history, as the country’s first Aboriginal politician, Neville Bonner, was born here under a palm tree in 1922.
Interestingly, he joined the Liberal Party in 1967, the same year the Australian referendum was passed, allowing Aborigines to vote and the Commonwealth to create indigenous laws. There’s also a sacred bora site on the reserve opposite. Both the island and the reserve lie metres from a busy road, yet they remain littered and are visited by relatively few.
5. Gormanston – western Tasmania
A small town built for the Iron Blow open cut copper mine at the end of the 19th-century, Gormanston was once home to 11 pubs. It also served as a relief centre for the North Mount Lyell disaster, one of Australia’s greatest mining disasters. Today the place is all but a ghost town, as Gormanston’s population (as of 2013) is six.
Crumbled buildings are scattered throughout town, which make for an intriguing adventure, while Mount Owen looms over the now ghostly, ashen streets. Gormanston is one of the most interesting places to visit in Australia and is a must if you’re in Tasmania.
6. Dalmorton – Grafton country, NSW
Dalmorton is another former mining town turned ghost town that’s marvellously atmospheric. Situated on Old Glen Innes Road by the savage looking Boyd River, Dalmorton hugs a dusty strip beneath silent, forested hills. The town was allegedly once home to 5,000 folk and 13 pubs. Although the couple of times I was there, with the town all to myself, I could barely imagine it.
There’s an old butcher’s store – with hooks still intact – and a police lockup still in town. About five kilometres further on lies a tunnel that was hand-hewn through 20 metres of solid rock, which was a frequent route for horse and carts a hundred years past.
7. Penguin Island, Western Australia
An alluring place that lies off the coast of Rockingham in Western Australia, Penguin Island is surrounded by the Indian Ocean, where seals, penguins and dolphins frolic. The island is also home to the Little Penguin – the world’s smallest penguin. I’ve walked to Penguin Island during low tide, but I don’t recommend it, as several people have drowned. Instead, you can take the boat and then walk around this small island in 30 minutes.
Penguin island is also home to a wonderful story: In 1914, a man by the name of Seaforth McKenzie became the first person to live there. Described as a “bearded man with gallant manners and a twinkle in his eye”, he fashioned a ‘grand ballroom’ and a ‘library’ out of the island’s caves. A lover of literature, McKenzie often invited visitors into his cave for poetry readings, which were apparently loved by all.
McKenzie returned to his family in New Zealand after an absence of 45 years (12 spent on Penguin Island), using amnesia as an excuse. Today, all that’s left of his stay are a few nails in the caves and a well, known as McKenzie’s Well.
Do you know of any more unusual places to visit in Australia?