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22 January, 2021

Mackay’s history no walk in the park

The Leichhardt Tree is the ideal starting point, either online or on foot, when visiting Mackay’s new heritage trail.

Leichardt tree
The Leichhardt Tree is the ideal starting point, either online or on foot, when visiting Mackay’s new heritage trail.

The emotion rises and falls in Starrett Vea Vea’s voice as he provides an account of the early history of Mackay for the self-guided heritage trail launched recently by the Mackay Regional Mayor Greg Williamson.

More than 900 people took the tour online in the first week and many more took in parts of the walking trail too over the holiday break.

But it’s an account of the city’s history that pulls no punches.

The Leichhardt Tree, on River Street, between Brisbane and Carlyle Street, is the obvious kick-off point for the tour, but as Starrett point out, the tree has great but ominous significance to the history of Mackay, especially it’s part in the history of Blackbirding.

He relates, in several personal accounts, that between 1860 and 1904, 62,500 people from the South Sea Islands were either forced or tricked into coming to Mackay to work in the sugar and cotton plantations and although most were paid, it was under the branches of the Leichhardt Tree that they were auctioned off to the plantation owners.

The tour follows its way past the WH Paxton Warehouse which played its role in developing the area’s early shipping trade, the old police station where a mass murderer allegedly killed one of his victims in the cells, and the old Town Hall in Sydney Street, which was one of the few buildings in town to survive the destructive cyclone of 1918, which claimed 30 lives and 1000 buildings.

You’d have thought they’d had enough tragedy by the end of the war! Chair of the council’s Character and Heritage Advisory Committee, Cr Fran Mann, commended a visit to the trail, either online or in person, to the community at the recent council meeting.

“There’s been over 900 online visits to the trail (in the first week) which shows just how popular it is … you can go for a walk on foot or do it from your armchair at home if that is what you chose to do,” Cr Mann said.

She said the Pioneer Valley Driving Trail would be available after a soft launch in December 2020 and planned to be launched officially during Heritage Week in May 2021.

Heritage trails for Sarina and Eungella would also be investigated in 2021.

At the launch of the city trail in December, Mayor Williamson said the initiative was an “adventure into the past, in the footsteps of our locals”.

He said the trail combined modern-day technology with the charm of the city’s rich historical and cultural past to create an immersive, interactive experience.

“Mackay’s City Centre has a fascinating history and much of our heritage has been preserved through the buildings in the CBD," Cr Williamson said.

“There are many interesting stories from yesteryear attached to these buildings and sites.” Needless to say, it's a must for locals and visitors alike and is bound to spark even more exploration by the enquiring mind.

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