Keeping the best for last

Our last Melba Back Blocks tour town in Queensland was Charters Towers, about 190kms south-west of Townsville.

If anyone is looking at a way of making money out of heritage tourism should visit CT, a former gold mining town which when the gold ran out so did the people. But now, those who remain have such a deep sense of heritage it pervades all levels and cater for all interests. There are tours, Ghosts of Gold audio, self-drive and/or guided tours run by those who have worked in the industry.

No one going to the Visitor Information Centre escapes without a selection of brochures and maps in a carry bag and suggestions as to what you should include during your stay.

I had arranged to catch up with Michael Brumby Community Historian at the Charters Towers Archives Group which is based at the Charters Towers Library later in the week so we wandered around on our own.

A parade down Gill Street, Charters Towers from Mosman street. c
A parade down Gill Street, Charters Towers from Mosman street. c 1910. (Courtesy Charters Towers Archives)

One of our first stops was at the Zara Clark Museum which is operated by a group of very dedicated volunteers. It is one of the few places I have seen the overhead cash and change system from a local shop set up and working – pull the cord and the canister with the money goes to the other end of the room. Kids found it fascinating.

However, it was when I walked around the corner to have a look in a case that my heart all but stopped – propped up against the back of the cabinet was another Melba 1909 program but tucked into the front of the frame were three tickets for the concert – all joined together and of course with consecutive seat numbers. These are the first tickets I have found in my trip in either New South Wales or Queensland. Both came from the same person and will be scanned and sent to me.

I contacted the president of the group and while she and her sister were very proud of the objects I don’t think they realized how rare they are and perhaps should be scanned and put safely away.

Are they the only Melba 1909 concert tickets in Queensland? Who knows.

Interestingly, the tickets should have been handed in to the usher so did the people attend the concert or not? Lots of questions but few answers.

I also told them about the Illuminated Address presented to Melba by the Charters Towers Australian Natives Association. This is the only address I have found in NSW and QLD. When presented with it Melba said she would always treasure it. And she did. Pamela, Lady Vestey donated it to the then Museum of Lillydale and a few years ago, the Yarra Ranges Regional Museum secured funding from the National Library for its restoration and conservation.

I met with Michael at the archive who was bowled over at the rarity of the programs and tickets and wanted to learn more about Melba and the Illuminated Address. I gave him the various links from the YRRM to look at and contact details.

It seems Charters Towers is working on a display to be staged at the Museum of Tropical Queensland at Townsville. Let’s hope they decide to feature Melba and perhaps secure a loan of the Illuminated Address which would make a very special exhibition and again ensure Melba’s contribution lives on.

The local media the Northern Miner which has operated in the town since 1972, learned of my visit and I did an interview with the editor Trudie Brown, who unashamedly revels in the town’s history. She told me the local families know the value of their forebears’ memorabilia and who knows we may just turn up more Melba information and possible images from her tour. Fingers crossed.

The weir across the Burdekin River near Charters Towers. 2016
The weir across the Burdekin River near Charters Towers. 2016

On a different note. The finals of the QLD and NSW rodeo circuit was in town so we went along and were amazed at the skill of the cowboys and cowgirls and how they and their horses worked together in the various events. There was lots of thrills and spills and the large crowd cheered, particularly for the local cowboys and cowgirls.

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nellie melba museum

A journalist and historian, for many years I have studied Dame Nellie Melba and written articles, books, and given talks about her. I established the first website int he world dedicated to Melba and still maintain it today as a virtual museum.

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