(First published 2002, reprinted and revised 2004, Lothian books; reprinted 2006, Hachette Livre)
246 pages, 85 colour photos, 80 black and white photos, limp cover
Foreword by Professor Geoffrey Blainey, AC
Australia’s burst of material progress has been swift and recent that at first sight a ghost town seems to be out of place. But in every region travellers using even the main roads come across the remains of these dead or fast-asleep towns. Some ghost towns, once they come into view, are distinctive because their larger buildings still stand, grand but empty. Several of these abandoned banks, post offices and town halls would attract the eye even if they stood, amongst the architecture of the centuries, in the bustling main street of a European provincial town.
There are hundreds of ghost mining towns, stretching all the way from the Northern Territory to the west of Tasmania. In the wheat county are silent crossroads where once stood school, blacksmith’s shop, general store, baker, bank, sports ground, and perhaps three churches and the Railway and Wheatsheaf hotels, nearly all of which have long since disappeared. In the forests are the hidden remains of timber-milling townships, all grown over. Here and there, from the Snowy Mountains to the tropics, are the remains of big construction camps that were towns in themselves – until the big dam or long railway bridge was completed.
Many of these inland towns, when young and vigorous, had called for their own port. There must be close to 100 ghost ports around the long Australian coast – pearling, whaling, mining, wheat and convict ports that once flourished but now are tiny or not even on the map. At several of them a post or two of the long piers still stand, either in the water or in the encroaching sand or mud. There are even dead river ports far inland, but no steamship whistle has been heard at their tumble-down wharves within living memory. Most of these towns have vanished for two reasons: their natural resources dwindled, and new machines and gadgets arrived to replace human hands and feet and the hooves of horses.
Barry McGowan had the bold idea of writing a comprehensive book on ghost towns. He set out to see as many as possible; he investigated their history and caught their flavour. He is especially interesting on the mining towns, a field of history that he knows so well. His book, indirectly, is almost a history of remote and rural Australia—its triumphs and failures and its persistent spirit of ‘give-it-a- go’
McGowan's passion for ancient places of Australia, domestic archaeology and the relics of history made this something else. The pictures are superb, but the stories and the writing are better. (Wayne Gregson, Bendigo Advertiser)
Australian Ghost Towns is a lively, historical journey through more than 90 deserted or near-deserted towns around the country ... With a story teller's flair, McGowan peoples these towns with characters and events from their more prosperous pasts. (The Age)
McGowan gives his readers a rare insight into aspects of Australian History not easily accessible elsewhere except in occasional local writings and personal interviews. (Ralph Elliott, Canberra Times)
Fascinating reading and photographs of past times and peoples, (John Young, Sunday Times)
With classic history and current colour photographs, this book is a worthy addition to the shelves (Stephen Scourfield, West Australian Weekend Extra)
© Barry McGowan