Regional capital TOWNSVILLE sprawls around a broad spit of land between the isolated hump of Castle Hill and swampy Ross Creek. Industrial in make-up, the town has a rough edge and an air of racial tension. While most travellers skip town altogether and head straight out to the beaches of laidback Magnetic Island, just offshore, the city does have its moments: there’s a visible maritime history; long sea views from the Strand promenade; and the muggy, salty evening air and old pile houses on the surrounding hills, which mark out Townsville as the coast’s first real tropical city.

Townsville was founded in 1864 by John Melton Black and Robert Towns, entrepreneurs who felt that a settlement was needed for northern stockmen who couldn’t reach Bowen when the Burdekin River was in flood. Despite an inferior harbour, the town soon outstripped Bowen in terms of both size and prosperity, its growth accelerated by gold finds inland at Ravenswood and Charters Towers. Today, it’s the gateway to the far north and transit point for routes west to Mount Isa and the Northern Territory; it’s also an important military centre, seat of a university and home to substantial Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal communities.

The city itself is quite easy to navigate. The centre is roughly triangular and hemmed in by Cleveland Bay to the north, Ross Creek to the south and Castle Hill to the west. Following the north bank of Ross Creek, Flinders Street is the main drag, sectioned into a downtown pedestrian mall before running its last 500m as Flinders Street East.

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