Australia is home to over 2,500 towns from bustling Byron Bay to the serene Launceston, each town has its own unique personality and flair.
Unfortunately, not all of them are as busy as they once were and from mining towns to abandoned settlements, here, we discover the top 10 ghost towns of Australia.
What is a ghost town?
While Australia doesn’t have an abandoned city like the famous Ordos Kangbashi in China ,Australia is actually home to more ghost towns than you think, and you'll see a common theme in this list.
Most of the abandoned towns in Australia are from the mining era, when a settler found gold (or another valuable mineral) and with the prospect and dreams of more set up camp in the middle of the outback.
Unfortunately, when the gold dried up, Australia's harsh conditions made it very difficult to live comfortably in these areas so with no water or food the settlers were forced to abandon the town and move elsewhere.
If you want to follow in the path of the TV Show Schitt’s Creek and buy an old town of your own, keep an eye out here for abandoned towns for sale in Australia.
How does a town qualify to be classed as abandoned?
Interestingly, a town can still be populated to qualify as an abandoned town, but it does mean that there are significantly fewer people than in previous years.
Buildings and infrastructure (such as roads, and anything from a sheep station to a police station) are often still in place but are mostly unused and falling into a state of disrepair.
Around the world, tourists flock to abandoned towns, especially if the architecture tells the story of a bygone era.
However, because the definition is relatively loose, it's not known exactly how many abandoned towns we have in Australia, but here are ten of the tourists favourites.
10. Farina, South Australia
Situated on the edge of the desert, Farina, formerly The Gums or Government Gums was settled in 1878 by group of farmers who thought the area would be good for growing wheat and barley.
Growing to a population of over 600 in the 1800s Farina has two hotels, five blacksmiths, a school and a brothel.
However, with little to no rain the crops failed and although there were silver and copper mines in the area the town didn’t survive. The 2006 census reported a population of 55.
9. Joadja, New South Wales
Located at the bottom of a deep valley in the Southern Highlands, Joadja was once a thriving mining town established by the Australian Kerosene Oil and Mineral Co.
At its peak, the town was home to 1,200 people (mainly Scottish shale miners) between 1870 to 1911 before earning the nickname ‘the valley of no return’.
The town has gained a reputation for being haunted over the years, with several ghosts rumoured to reside in Joadja, one of which is said to be one of the ancient tram workers. The story goes that the tram worker was crushed to death on the job one day, and it’s believed he watches over the valley to keep his friends and family safe.
Today, little is left of Joadja aside from the ruins of the school, mines, the cemetery and a few houses. If you’re keen to know more, the Joadja Creek Heritage Tours will take you exploring through this heritage-listed site.
8. Pillinger, Tasmania
In 1902, Pillinger was a bustling town of over 1,000 people with 80 houses, over 25 businesses, three hotels and a library and pool.
Most families left in 1920 but the last family left Pillinger in 1943 and never looked back. While some of the infrastructure remains, the town has become an overgrown jungle and today is only accessible by a four-hour return walk or a small-group cruise known as The Pillinger Explorer that will take you on tour.
7. Shay Gap, Western Australia
A thriving iron ore mining town in 1973, Shay Gap, located 188km east of Port Hedland in Westen Australia was officially closed just 20 years later in 1993.
It was named after the hills in the area, sadly as with many of the other ghost towns on this list after the gold rush Shay Gap was deserted with little more left than a railway line and some “ancient ruins.”
6. Arltunga, Northern Territory
The first official town in central Australia, Arltunga sadly doesn’t exist today.
In the 1880s it was home to 300 residents, but like most of the small settlements in Central Australia, the lack of rain and heat drove everyone away in less than 50 years. Today, most of the buildings, even the old gaol still stands, and you can tour the Arltunga Historical Reserve throughout the year.
5. Silverton, New South Wales
Aptly named, Silverton was known for its silver and silver-lead-zinc ore in the 1890s with a population of over 3,000. Although less than 50 people call it home today, Silverton is one of the most familiar names on this list.
Appearing in more than 140 films and commercials including Mad Max 2, The Adventures of Priscilla Queen Of The Desert and Dirty Deeds Silverton you might recognise this old town.
4. Cook, South Australia
Named after Joseph Cook, the sixth Prime Minister of Australia, the town was once home to one of the largest bush hospitals.
Today, Cook is a railway town for the Indian Pacific passenger train and home to four full-time residents, which puts it firmly on the ghost town list.
Cook operates in two time zones (WA and SA) so that drivers don’t need to worry about changing their watches.
It is visited regularly by the Indian Pacific passenger train otherwise you can get there by car it is100km down a dirt road from the Eyre Highway.
3. Kathleen, West Australia
Kathleen, also known as the Kathleen Valley was once a thriving gold town that was “overflowing with gold” in 1897 but as soon as that dried up so did it’s population. It is located between Leinster and Wiluna along the Goldfields Highway in Western Australia but today, all that is left of Kathleen is eight graves.
2. Kuridala, Queensland
The only ghost town in Queensland to make the list, Kuridala lies at the northern foothills of the Selwyn Range. In its hay day Kuridala was home to 1,500 people but when copper prices collapsed in 1920 so did Kuridala with most of the population moving to Mt Isa.
The Kuridala Township site was heritage listed in 2009 and is home to one of the largest cemeteries in Queensland providing a wealth of knowledge to historians.
1. Walhalla, Victoria
Walhalla takes out the number one spot as one of the most significant falls from boomtown to ghost town.
Following the discovery of Cohen's Reef in 1862 (a three-kilometre vein of gold running through Walhalla) the town became home to 4,000 gold mining residents and was regarded as one of the wealthiest towns in Australia.
Today, the town is home to just 20 people and is somewhat frozen in time, which is why it is a popular tourist destination.
You can pan for gold, visit the museum, relax at the quaint coffee shop or take a ride on the Walhalla Goldfields Railway. Walhalla did get with the times in July 2019, when it got mobile phone coverage – making it one of the more connected ghost towns in Australia.