The mountain … the history and the people

The circus comes to Mt Mulligan circa 1930-1940

The mountain has seen many changes over its 400,000 million year old history.

A sacred monolith, known for centuries by the custodians, the local Djungan people, as Ngarrabullgan, it’s one of two Dreamtime rock formations in far north Queensland – pushed up as the gigantic Rainbow Serpent passed by.

Implacable to human intrusion, this immense, sandstone monolith rising from the Hodgkinson plateau in the outback west of Cairns.

It stretches 18 klms long by 6.5 klms wide – making it almost 10 times the size of Uluru. Ngarrabullgan is formidable, beautiful and memorable.

Never-before-seen slide images from the top of Ngarrabullgan and below – taken in the early 1950s by a miner and keen photographer, Mr Collins; and given to my uncle, Patrick O’Neill, Mt Mulligan’s station-master.

The monolith’s origins were the coral seabeds 400 million years ago, and its multi-million year old history evident in the layers of its strata. Cave paintings on the mountain’s top prove the continual 37,000 year existence of the first indigenous inhabitants.

When the Irish explorer (and prospector), Venture Mulligan first sighted the mountain in the late 1800s, he said it was ‘a mountain once seen, never to be forgotten‘. Then he found traces of gold, and that was it for the millions of years of peaceful existence between the mountain and humans. And Ngarrabullgan watched on those who sought to exploit its scant reserves of gold failed – then they found a lode of coal.

The coal miners and their families came to Mt Mulligan, living in its shadow and tunneling two miles beneath it. Until one Monday morning in September 1921, exactly one hundred years ago, the mountain upended human lives with catastrophic shrug.

A quarter of the tiny mining town’s citizens died in an instant when the coal dust ignited and exploded – 75 miners; two of them only boys – affecting almost every family in town.

Only the graveyard remains today of Mt Mulligan’s town – except for a few house stumps, and the old hospital, now a homestead. The mine’s chimney is still in situ, as well as the Mining Union’s memorial that lists the names of all those killed in the explosion.

Another change has come to Ngarrabullgan these days – a luxury Eco-lodge built down by the weir, the most pretty part of the area. Sadly, out of my price range, it is tastefully done. They knocked out the stumps of the school house and many other dwellings to build the lodges.

But at least the management insists the mountain, Ngarrabullgan is still shown respect – nobody is allowed to climb to the top. So, there is hope humans will no longer negatively impact upon Ngarrabullgan.

This Sunday, 19th September, 2021 at 9.30 am, people will gather for the 100 year Memorial Service at Mt Mulligan. I can’t be at the site sadly, but I will see it via Facebook Live Stream.

All images on this page are protected under copyright.


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