The Aussie historical hot spots that should be on your bucketlist

Vintage tram public transport in Melbourne Australia

Road trip fanatics and history buffs rejoice!

To celebrate the release of Peter Spearritt’s new book on historical hot spots around Australia, Where History Happened, we’ve compiled the ultimate Aussie history bucket list for you, made up of extracts from the must-read guide.


Broken Hill

Broken Hill Post Office and Royal Exchange Hotel, Australia. Twilight.

Broken Hill sits in a desert-like landscape. Its rich industrial history can be seen in a remarkable number of structures, from the remnants of its vast mines to the banks and hotels of a once very wealthy city.

It is best viewed from the recently built Miners Memorial, atop an artificial hill made of mine tailings. From here, you see the grand layout of the town, with its wide streets and scores of heritage-listed buildings.

Mine workers here won a 35-hour week in 1920, the first workers in Australia to do so. But the mines were dangerous places, with many deaths. Broken Hill is also home to one of the oldest mosques in Australia and the Palace Hotel, known to cinema-goers around the world from the scene where three Sydney drag queens win the respect of the locals in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.

Byron Bay

Touristic guidance directional signs on pole in Byron Bay, NSW, Australia

Byron Bay has a surprising history. In just 60 years it has gone from being a dirty, industrial town to one of the nation’s most popular beach destinations.

The stench from the piggery, the abattoir and the whaling station—with whale carcasses cut up just off the main street—has been replaced with throngs of Australian and international holiday-makers. The township has lost much of its intimacy to modern tourism, but the camping grounds retain a modest charm, and the surf beaches remain unspoilt.

Looking north towards Brunswick Heads from the famous lighthouse, you can’t see a structure over three stories. When you look at the Gold Coast from Point Danger, on the New South Wales–Queensland border, just 70 kilometres north, you are confronted with a coastline dominated by scores of high-rise apartments.


Aerial View Australia Port

Darwin is the only Australian city ever to be destroyed twice in its history. Rained with more bombs than Pearl Harbor in 1942, hundreds died, mainly on naval ships in the harbour.

Three decades later, nature rents its fury, destroying thousands of homes that had been built to house a growing population. Darwin, the capital of the Northern Territory, has become a flamboyant and quirky place, known for its casual outlook and croc stories that challenge even the most gullible.

The night markets of Darwin are testament to the cosmopolitan mix of the population, offering food from around the globe, and both international and local Indigenous arts and crafts. As it is always hot and humid, both locals and visitors are often found sitting on the beach watching the sun set over the Arafura Sea.

Great Barrier Reef

Aerial view of the Heart reef

Stretching more than 2,300 kilometres along the Queensland coast and comprising almost 3,000 individual reefs, the Great Barrier Reef has been listed as a World Heritage Site for nearly 40 years.

The current reefs are over 6,000 years old and are home to a diverse array of marine animals and plants, from 1,600 types of fish to molluscs, sharks, corals and 500 species of worm. The Great Barrier Reef is a refuge for turtles to lay their eggs, including six of the world’s seven marine turtle species.

In 2014, then US president Barack Obama expressed concern about the health of the reef, saying he wanted his daughters’ children to be able to visit. Threats to this world wonder—from climate change and tourism to a massive expansion of Queensland’s export coal ports—remain a matter of international concern.


Chimney at Burra Mine South Australia

Burra and its copper mines were central to the progress of a struggling South Australia in the mid-nineteenth century. As mining in Cornwall declined, its copper miners looked to Britain’s imperial colonies for new prospects, but copper is quickly mined out. Burra’s miners headed for the goldfields of the eastern states.

A rich array of heritage structures, the location for the making of the film Breaker Morant and an internationally recognised heritage conservation agreement (the Burra Charter) make Burra well worth a visit.

Melbourne’s Trams

Vintage tram in Melbourne.

Today, Melbourne’s trams are a long way from the picturesque cable cars of the 1880s, but they are still an inherent part of Melbourne life, for both the tourist and the commuter.

Interstate drivers marvel as the ability of locals to make a compulsory hook turn in the city’s centre, so that the trams are not held up. In the days of 6 o’clock closing, schoolgirls were told to be on the tram well before then because, after that, the trams would fill with inebriates falling out of the pubs and onto their transport home.

After a long battle with trade unions, Melbourne got rid of all its tram conductors by 1998. Today, the system is easy to use and free in the immediate city area, while a myki card lets you explore the world’s most extensive tramway system at a reasonable cost.


Exploring Albany region in Australia

Albany, the first permanent European settlement in Western Australia, began life as an outpost for the New South Wales government in 1826, fearing continuing French interest in the west.

In the nineteenth century, its deep sea port made it the first and last stop for large steamers going to and from Britain, as well as for whalers. The smell of boiling blubber pervaded the town. Remarkably, the whaling station survived until 1978, the last to close in the English-speaking world.

King George Sound, on whose shores Albany is located, was the last glimpse of home for departing soldiers heading off to conflict and an unknown fate in 1914.

The National Anzac Centre, high above Albany, provides a spectacular view of the Sound and pays tribute to troops shipped off to the Great War from there.

Extracted from Where History Happened: The Hidden Past of Australia’s Towns and Places (NLA Publishing $39.99) by Peter Spearritt, now available at all good book stores and online at

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