Cue is a small town in the Mid West region of Western Australia, located 650 km north-east of Perth. At the 2006 census, Cue had a population of 328. It is also known as the Queen of the Murchison. Cue is administered through the Cue Shire Council, which has its chambers in the historic Gentlemans Club building. The current president is Stephen Manning. The Cue Parliament is held twice yearly in May and November.
It was the 1890’s and Western Australiaa was in the midst of the States greatest gold rush. Prospectors from all over Australia were heading west to seek their fortune. As the story goes, Michael John Fitzgerald, was the first to discover gold in the area, thanks to Governor, a local Aboriginal. Governor showed Fitzgerald a nugget he had found in his travels and when queried by Fitzgerald, Governor explained the nugget was no good, there were bigger ones over there (pointing in the direction of Cue).
It wasn’t long before Fitzgerald and his mate, Edward Heffernan, began prospecting in the area. Within a week they had found about 260oz of gold in what is now the main street of Cue. Tom Cue , a fellow friend of Fitzgerald, heard of the men’s stroke of luck and went to Nannine to register a claim on their behalf. As fate would have it, the town was eventually named after Tom and so too the honour of being the first to discover gold in the area.
Things Are Looking Up in Cue
Today the small mining town boasts some of the most grandiose buildings to be seen anywhere in rural Western Australia. Wide streets, galvanised iron and quarried stone buildings are all part of the charm of this once thriving mining town. The town at its peak supported over 2,000 people and boasted 11 pubs and 13 hotels. Many of the buildings of yesteryear are still standing and offer, anyone passing through, a fascinating glimpse into the State’s gold mining era.
The town has taken great effort and pride in maintaining the many heritage listed buildings, with many lovingly restored. As a result the people of Cue were awarded with the 2004 Heritage Award for Western Australia. There are so many fascinating buildings in Cue, but none so quirky, as the Corrugated iron Masonic Lodge.
The ruins of the Big Bell town are located about 27kms west of Cue on the Big Bell mine road. The town was established in 1936 as a result of the opening of the Big Bell Mine.
Today, left in virtual ruins, the area has an eerie silence. Occasionally you see a rabbit hopping through a doorway of a ruin , a hawk circling from above or a big mining truck roaring past, but that is all. Any reminder of the town’s existence will soon be gone. The Big Bell Hotel is the only reminder (if not disappearing reminder ) of the town’s once opulent past. Wandering through the shell of the Hotel you can still see evidence of its majestic past.
Big Bell or should I say the gold of Big Bell was discovered in 1904, but it took another 32 years before a mine was finally established in the area by Big Bell Ltd.
The town flourished with over 400 employees. Unfortunately , like many businesses, the outbreak of World War II lead to the mine’s closure for “war Purposes”. Men joined the armed forces, machinery was removed for war purposes and as a result the town’s population plummeted to 15. In Australia, all focus was on the war effort, as men were needed for production of munitions and food. Like many small towns throughout Australia the effect of the war was devastating.
In 1945, following the end of the war, the mine was back in business. By 1951 there was over a 1000 people living in town, ‘business as usual’.
Unfortunately decline in profitability saw the mine finally close its doors in 1955. The town virtually died following the closure and people owning property couldn’t give it away. Many of the buildings were removed to Cue, Mt Magnet and Meekathara.
By around 1900 Cue was the centre of the Murchison goldfields and boasted a population of about 10,000. As World War I drew men from the goldfields into the Australian Army the townsite of Day Dawn was abandoned.
After the war many of the mines did not reopen and this started the decline of Cue as a major population centre. After the Great Depression and the fall in the price of gold, by 1933 the population of Cue had dropped to fewer than 500.
The current population is around 300; the major employer is the Crosslands iron ore mine west of Cue. The Shire of Cue has ten employees and most other residents are self-employed as prospectors or in supplying the tourist and sheep-grazing industries.
Cue was recently heritage listed as a town of significant historical value. The main street has changed little since it was first built. There are several buildings within the townsite that are icons in their own right.
Cue has a semi-arid climate with hot summers and mild to cool winters.
The area is prone to the occasional inundation, in 1925 several buildings in the town collapsed following heavy rain and flood waters. The town received 259 points 2.59 inches (66 mm) of rain over the course of two days.
Cue’s Heritage Trail is a must. The trail retraces the early development of the district and its role in the gold-mining era, including many charming buildings constructed at the turn of the century. Be sure to also visit the ruins of the abandoned towns of Big Bell and Day Dawn and the site of the old tent hospital at Milly Soak.
Aboriginal Art – Walga Rock
A huge granite monolith known as Walga Rock is situated 48 kilometres west of Cue and is a site of deep cultural and spiritual significance. The rock offers spectacular views of the area, unusual rock formations and a time preserved gallery of Aboriginal Art. The most unusual of these depicts a sailing ship in white ochre with masts, rigging and portholes. Why there should be a painting of a white ship over 300 kilometres inland from the sea remains a mystery.
Cue Historical Photograph Collection
On display at the Cue Shire this fascinating and extremely popular collection of historical photographs from the late 1800s and early 1900s paints a picture of yesterday’s Cue. Gain an understanding of how life was for the pioneers, the challenges they faced and the characters who lived in this time.
Along the Sandstone Road (about 4km from Cue) you’ll find a cluster of lonely graves from the late 1800s. It is believed that some 50 bodies were moved in 1897 from their original graves in the Cue township to make way for the railway station.
Just north of the Cue township, the lookout provides sweeping views of the townsite and surrounding landscape.
Nallan Lake is a nature reserve and other than in times of drought when it may dry up, is a haven for a huge array of plant and birdlife including black swans. During periods of heavy winter rains Lake Nallan transforms into a favoured picnic spot. The surrounds will become covered with carpets of colourful everlastings and other flowers. You’ll find the lake about 20km north of the Cue townsite.
Milly Soak is 16 kilometres north of Cue and was a popular picnic spot in Cue’s early history. It also became the source of the town’s water for a number of years following the pollution of the town water supply due to poor sanitary practices. During the early 1900’s typhoid swept through the goldfields killing large numbers of people especially Aboriginal people who were less resistant to the imported diseases.
A tent hospital was set up near Milly Soak and the three lonely nearby graves are a testament to the many deaths that occurred as a result of the typhoid epidemic. Access to the site has been upgraded and visitors are asked to ensure gates are left as they are found.
Built in the main street between 1895 and 1897 from locally quarried limestone, the buildings were, and remain, among the most impressive in the region. The Post Office, Courthouse and Police Station are still being used for their original purpose.
Cue Shire Office
Built in 1895 and once the London and Western Australian Investment Company offices and then the Gentlemen’s Club, the Cue Shire Council secured funds in the 1980s to restore this magnificent building. The Shire has been located there ever since.
Old Municipal Chambers
The Old Municipal Chambers building in Robinson Street was officially opened in September 1896. The Council conducted its first meeting in this building without furniture after moving from the Warden’s Court tent.
This somewhat spooky building on Dowley Street has laid the foundation for many a ghost story. The Lodge was built in 1899 of timber and galvanised iron, with pressed iron interior. Corrugated iron was used extensively in goldfield areas during this time because it was easily transported by camels.
There are very few buildings of this type remaining in Australia although they are quite common in parts of the United States of America. Murchison Lodge 22 was consecrated on 21 April 1897.
They held regular meetings in the building from 1899 to 1979, when they were cancelled due to insufficient numbers. Now owned by the National Trust of Australia, it is said to be the biggest, free standing, double story corrugated iron structure in the southern hemisphere – that’s a claim to fame!
What started as a canvas and bough shed in July 1892 was rebuilt from local stone in 1895. Today several walls from this building remain, as does the ruins of the chimney from the hospital’s crematorium. The hospital was closed in 1942.
The Cue Caravan Park houses the old goal built in 1896. It was a temporary home to prisoners being transported from outback lock ups in the north until its official closed in 1914. It was however, still used as a lock up until the 1930s.
Railway Platform and Station
While the railway line was closed in 1978, the original railway station remains today. The railway platform is now used for Cue’s residents as a spectator platform for sporting occasions and celebrations such as Australia Day.
This collection of tiny and unique huts was moved to Cue in 1958 from the Big Bell townsite. At Big Bell they had been used as the nurses’ quarters. Today they are being gradually restored for use as backpacker’s accommodation as part of the Cue Caravan Park.
Entering Cue’s main street you will immediately be drawn to the charming central rotunda. The rotunda marks the site of Cue’s first sunk well around which the town was originally formed. An octagonal bandstand was built around the well in 1904, dedicated to the pioneers of the Murchison region. It was always a popular meeting place in Cue’s early years with bands playing on Saturday nights.
Day Dawn Townsite
Day Dawn, just a few kilometres south-west of Cue, was home to over 3,000 people in the early 1900s. Its rapid growth and prosperity was mainly due to the Great Fingall gold mine which extended to a depth of 700 metres. Today, virtually all that remains of Day Dawn is the impressive Great Fingall Mine Office. With a visit to this mighty building you can imagine the activity and importance it once had.
The Great Fingal Mine Office is now over a hundred years old and with the harsh seasons of the outback the building has recieved some serious damage. The Shire of Cue has erected a fence around the building to restrict access. So while you welcome to take a look please do not go into the building.