10 of Australia's spookiest ghost towns

Abandoned towns. Remote locations. Not much to see. What's not to love?!
Farina, South Australia © Hal Jacob
By Oliver Pelling

Ghost towns: they’re just like regular towns, only spookier. Instead of regular shops, they have ghost shops. Instead of regular bus stops, they have ghost bus stops. Instead of gas stations, they have ghost gas stations. You get the point.

If you’re reading this, I’m assuming you have an interest in ghost towns and might be keen to go out and see some for yourself. So you’ll be glad to know that Australia has no shortage of places in which ghosts may or may not hang out.

Some are major tourist hot spots; others are little more than a few piles of rubble in the middle of nowhere; some aren't even that – Australia has ghost towns to cater to all tastes. Visit at your peril (actual ghost sightings not guaranteed).

1. Cassilis, Victoria

Cassilis, Victoria © fir0002, Wikimedia

Named after a Scottish district and castle, Cassilis was a ‘thriving mining centre’ (thanks Wikipedia) during the gold boom of the late 1800s. At one point it was home to more than 500 people. Now, thanks to the gold depleting and the mines closing, it’s home to nobody. Which is why I included it in this article about ghost towns.

2. Farina, South Australia

Farina, South Australia © Hal Jacob

Literally miles from Cassilis, South Australia’s Farina is another town in which nobody lives (making it perfect fodder for this article on ghost towns). Settled on the edge of the desert in 1878 by farmers, Farina was, at it’s peak, home to some 600 people (take that, Cassilis!) and was on the old alignment of the Ghan railway line. Drought, dust storms, the closure of mines and the realignment of the railway led to Farina’s abandonment.

3. Joadja, New South Wales

Situated in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales, Joadja’s boom time was between around 1870-1911, when the local mine was in full swing. And – get this – it’s rumoured that the spirits of two murdered miners haunt the town to this day (a fact that ultimately led to Joadja’s inclusion in this comprehensive article about ghost towns.)

4. Pillinger, Tasmania

Pillinger, Tasmania © Joanne Powell, Wikimedia

The abandoned port of Pillinger that was founded as a base for a mining company to ship ore from the Mount Lyell mine along the North Mount Lyell Railway. The remains of the railway track can still be seen – despite the forest’s best efforts to completely engulf the town. Pillinger’s last residents are said to have left around 70 years ago – giving the place legitimate ghost town status.

5. Gunbar, New South Wales

Gunbar, New South Wales © Wikicommons

Back up to New South Wales, and let’s take a (metaphorical) look at the old town of Gunbar. Phrases that could be used to describe Gunbar include (but are not limited to): “once thriving”, “not busy” and “relatively quiet.” Technically, with 97 inhabitants, Gunbar isn’t deserted, but lots of other websites have featured it on their lists of Australian ghost towns and I didn't want to rock the boat. 

6. Walhalla, Victoria

Walhalla, Victoria © W.H. Lee, Wikimedia

The gold mining town of Walhalla was founded in 1862 and, in its prime, was home to some 4000 residents. They built a railway line through the town in 1910, hoping to bring in more visitors, but the visitors didn’t come. Now with less than 20 residents, Walhalla is ironically more popular than ever, bringing in big numbers of tourists every year. The underground machinery chambers are a particular point of interest. Get there. Or not. Your call, really.

7. Cook, South Australia

Cook, South Australia © Johndarrington, Wikimedia

“If you’re crook, come to Cook,” so read the sign above Cook’s old bush hospital. Established in 1917 along the Trans-Australian Railway, the town is now home to four full-time residents. Passengers of the Indian Pacific passenger train still alight at Cook for a wander around. If you’re not planning on taking the train, you can reach Cook by a 100km dirt road off the Erye Highway. Godspeed.

8. Broad Arrow, Western Australia

The name ‘Broad Arrow’ sounds like a real ghost town. You can imagine it being the location of a horror film called “The Mystery of the Ghost Town Called Broad Arrow”, or something. Classic ghost town story, this one: they discovered gold here, the punters – 15,000 of them - rushed in, the gold ran out, the punters left. The Broad Arrow Tavern is worth a visit if you’re in the area (‘the area’ being about 38km from Kalgoorlie).

9. Silverton, New South Wales

Silverton, New South Wales © Connolyb, Wikimedia

After arriving on the scene off the back of the discovery of silver deposits, and later silver-lead-zinc ore, Silverton’s population peaked at around 3000 in the 1890s. Now, less than 50 people call it home. But it’s found fame in its desertion: thanks to the good-looking old colonial buildings and desert landscapes, more than 140 films and commercials have been filmed in Silverton including Razorback; Mad Max 2; The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and Dirty Deeds.

10. Arltunga, Northern Territory

Arltunga, Northern Territory © Wikimedia

Another abandoned gold rush town (have you detected a theme?) Arltunga can be found 110 clicks east of Alice Springs. Miners arrived in droves after gold was discovered in 1887, but by 1933 the population resided at a lowly head count of just 25. Thanks to the dry climate and the use of stone in the construction of the town, it’s a well-preserved slice of Australian history. Spooky!

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