Chillagoe and Mt Garnet

Jack & Newell’s stores at Mt Garnet and Chillagoe date back to the early minerals rush of the
late 1800s.

Once tin was discovered at Herberton in 1880, thousands of miners made their way to the
region, looking for other payable mineral deposits.
Silver, copper and zinc were found at Mt Garnet and copper, lead, silver, mica and some gold were all claimed at Chillagoe Station.

By the turn of the century, both Mt Garnet and Chillagoe were thriving townships, aided by rail lines financed by John Moffat – William Jack and John Newell’s old friend from Stanthorpe.

The mining boom proved short lived – especially for Mt Garnet. John Moffat’s copper and silver mining company collapsed in 1901. Chillagoe fared a little better. Its mines and smelters made it through until the 1940s, largely because of State ownership, but they never once returned a profit.

The more nimble Jack & Newell survived the boom and bust cycles of the mining industry in both towns by focusing their business on the region’s pastoral properties.

Right through to the 70s, the poor state of the Far North’s road network meant that station owners or workers rarely came to town to shop. Instead, they ordered bulk supplies of food and equipment through Jack & Newell.

Jack & Newell’s Mt Garnet store was sold in the early 70s to the MacDonald brothers, who still run a general store from the Jack & Newell building.

Their Chillagoe store was closed in the early 80s, after the firms assets were sold to Primac. It was the last Jack & Newell store to close.

The mining days

When William Jack and John Newell met John Moffat on the Stanthorpe tin mining fields in the
early 1870s, it was a fortuitous connection for all three men.

In 1880, Jack and Newell brought Moffat into their Great Northern Tin Mine at Herberton, which proved to be the beginning of a mining empire.

Moffat went on to own and operate a network of mines, batteries and smelters at Herberton, Irvinebank, Mt Garnet and Chillagoe (and a few smaller places in between). He also financed
the construction of private rail lines to service his operations at both Mt Garnet, Mt Molloy and Chillagoe.

With all this mining and building activity, one would expect to find Jack & Newell stores in John Moffat’s towns, servicing John Moffat’s mines and workforce.

What is surprising is the scale of the materials Jack & Newell sourced and supplied for their good friend’s business enterprises.

Dave Headrick worked at Jack & Newell in Cairns around the turn of the century, and later wrote …

"While I was managing Jack & Newell, we brought in all the railway material to build the line right to Mungana. We handled all the material to build the Chillagoe Smelters and the OK smelters. And we also handled all their slabs of copper. We handled all the material to build the line from Lappa to Mt Garnet At that time Mt Garnet had three or 4 hotels and a couple of banks. Later we handled all the material to build the line to Stannary Hills for John Darling and later again all the material for the line from Biboohra to Mt Molloy, and for the smelters there".
- Cairns Historical Society Bulletin #26, Feb 1961

Station Orders

As the mining industry came and went (and came again) throughout the 20th Century in the
Far North, Jack & Newell developed a firm clientele of cattle station owners and workers.

As Jack & Newell understood, beyond the fertile volcanic soils of the Tablelands, the only permanent business in the Far North was beef cattle production. Cattle stations stretched from the edges of the Atherton Tablelands to the Qld border and up to the tip of Cape York.

The poor quality of the Far North’s road network meant stations were reluctant to risk their
trucks on regular trips to town, while the wet season made even the best roads impassable for months at a time.

Stations relied on bulk supplies from Jack & Newell, delivered by a mixture of rail and specialist carters.

Cassie Todd's husband Bobby worked for Jack & Newell at Chillagoe from 1953, before taking over the management of the store in the mid 1960's, and she says that most of their customers were station people.

“All the stations from Chillagoe to Dunbar got groceries, whatever, and drapery, from Jack and Newell’s in Chillagoe … the people that ordered had to pay carters so much to bring their stuff out to the stations … you name it they had it. Anything that they had to have to keep them alive, all that they have to eat….you always had big orders in September because in September they had to have their orders out there by the 1st of October, otherwise they wouldn’t get them because the rains would come by then and the roads would be impassable. The wet weather order, which is what we use to call it, was always a very, very big order. They ordered everything from horseshoes, to horseshoe nails, to salt, sugar all by the bag, and tin fruit, all by the cases and things like that. In case…everything in tin stuff was by the case. So, that was their orders.”

Cassie provided this original wet season order from Highbury Station, which at the time was an outstation of Wrotham Park Station, just outside Chillagoe.

Look at an order from Highbury Station

Aboriginal Customers

Throughout the Far North, Aboriginal people were a part of Jack & Newell’s customer base.

Around Herberton, Aboriginal people were some of many locals who mined tin in small quantities and sold it through the local Jack & Newell store. Across the regions, Aboriginal men also worked as timber cutters and in the saw mills; picking tobacco; on the railways; on the tin mining dredges around Mt Garnet; and most particularly, in the cattle industry.

Kevin Marsh managed Jack & Newell’s Mt Garnet store from 1965. Kevin remembers

“There was a fair few Aboriginals working in the area, a fair few working on the stations and a fair few working on the tin dredges too at that time, because one tin dredge used to employ about 80 men and another one employed about 50 men.”

Lyn Dyer worked at Jack & Newell’s Mareeba store from 1963

“We also had a lot of Aboriginals that used to come in and they would … I can remember Mr. Hood would cash their cheques and then he’d hold some money for them … it was mainly people on the stations that use to do that because they’d come to town and say they’d have a bit of a party, so then they’d have their money and they’d just blow the whole lot … so he used to keep a hold of it for a while and they’d come and get dribs and drabs until there was none left … he was very honest. We use to record it all, you know, and he’d come and say how much has Dick Dumdruff got? and how much'd be left, you know. We recorded it all … it really was a good company like that, because you know, because when you’re in a small town you have to help one another”.

In Queensland, as in much of Australia, right through until the 1960s many Aboriginal people did not have direct access to their own wages. Government policy dictated that Aboriginal workers on cattle stations and Aboriginal missions received only a proportion of their wages directly.

The rest of their money was paid into a Queensland Government controlled ‘Trust Account’ and Aboriginal workers had to ask permission to access their funds, even for money to shop at Jack & Newell.

In the Far North, it was local police who acted as agents for the Department of Native – and later – Aboriginal Affairs, as Kevin and Fay Marsh from Jack & Newell’s Mt Garnet store remember …

CLICK to Listen to Kevin and Fay Marsh - or simply read the comments below

"Well the Aboriginal would go to the police station and they’d write them out I don’t know what kind of form .. the policeman used to bring it down, like jodhpurs and riding boots and all that sort of stuff and it was booked to the Protector of Aboriginal and Islander Affairs or something. The police controlled the accounts through the Department of Aboriginal and Islander affairs or something. And tobacco, they used to put that on it too.”

Cassie Todd from Jack & Newell at Chillagoe also remembers …

“It was fairly big then, Chillagoe, and we had a lot of the Aboriginals, they shopped at the Jack and Newell's store and they had their payday every.…well a pension, a part of them, because they had their payday every fortnight, they always shopped at Jack and Newell's. Then when they came in from their stations, well, years ago, they use to have to go to the police station get their drapery order and their grocery order and then they’d come down from the police station and get their orders and the shop used to be crowded then, when they first came in from the stations, to get their food and their drapery.”

Watch out for the cattle!
When Cassie Todd and her husband Bob arrived at Chillagoe in the early 1950s, they discovered
a town infested by rubber vine and where the cattle had the run of the place.

“You only had to go up one step to go into Jack and Newell’s in Chillagoe. You step into it. The drapery side on one side and the other side was groceries. When you finished work in the day time at night, before you went home from work you had to put rails up, around the shop, otherwise you’d have a big mess to clean up from the cattle, because they’d camp in there if they could get in there. As it was they camped all along the road here, at night time, so therefore that’s why the barriers were up there and that was to stop them from breaking your windows as well as having to clean up a big mess the next morning … then when the new Jack and Newell’s got built, well the cattle weren’t as bad then, when the new one went up, but they had to put iron screens on the windows, because some cattle could wander in there and would kick and break all the windows …”

Despite this seemingly forlorn description, Jack & Newell’s Chillagoe operation was one of their most profitable stores, mainly on the back of its service to the region's substantial pastoral operations.

Maybe Chillagoe’s roaming cattle felt they had right to relax under Jack & Newell’s generous awnings!

The arrival of the bitumen

In the 1950s, Chillagoe and Mt Garnet were still isolated operations, without electricity and
dependant on the rail for supplies and mail.

Cassie Todd’s trip from Herberton to Mareeba in 1953 took ten hours, and sounds like travel
from another world.

CLICK to Listen to Cassie Todd - or simply read the text below

“Well we left Herberton at half past eight on a rail motor, which went to Mareeba and then you had to get off that rail motor at Mareeba and get onto a train that went up to Chillagoe. Then when it got going well it went as far as Dimbulah, it stayed at Dimbulah and filled up with water then you went as far as another place – just a siding – but that’s where you had to fill up with water again and then we went on to Petford and you had to fill up with water again at Petford then you went on to Almaden and you had to fill up with water again at Almaden … all the times you had to stop to fill up was why it took so long … nearly half past six that was the time they got in .. it was a big trip.”

With the advent of sealed roads, the retail landscape changed dramatically in the Far North.

What used to take a day's travel could now be completed safely in an hour or two. People in small towns or on stations were no longer dependant on the nearest store for weekly shopping or monthly orders.

Improved transport also opened the Far North to larger retail chains that offered cheaper prices, longer trading hours and a greater variety of stock.

These changes sounded the death knell for many small town retailers, as Dorrie Day at Herberton recalled …

“It could have been a speech night, and Willie Wallis got on stage and said ‘well you people in business in Herberton might want to get on hands and knees and hope you never get the bitumen to Atherton, because that will be the end of you .. and it was.”

Kevin and Fay Marsh were managing Jack and Newell at Mt Garnet in 1970, when they decided to get out of the business.

“Coles and Woollies were getting bigger and bigger and more and more of them. It hadn’t hit then but you could see it coming. I’d hate to have a little shop now. In those days they were only doing the same as we were 5 ½ days a week, but now they’re 7 days a week.”

At Chillagoe, Cassie Todd also witnessed the impact of sealed roads.

CLICK to Listen to Cassie Todd - or simply read the text below

“A lot of the stations never went further than Chillagoe to get their supplies because to go on further their lorries wouldn’t last long, to go on to Mareeba. But now .. that’s why Jack & Newell sort of went backwards. Once the bitumen roads came into it, because people would take their own lorries, station people would take their own lorries and go down to Mareeba and get their stuff, which they’re mostly doing now. They just bypass the general store now.”

More information about Chillagoe and Mount Garnet


  • If you are in the area, a visit to the Chillagoe Heritage Museum is a good starting point.
  • Also check out the Chillagoe Hub for more information on tours and accommodation.

Mount Garnet