Mining for towns, or trouble
Mining Towns: Making a Living, Making a Life
By Erik Eklund UNSW Press, 298pp, $49.99 By Paul Cleary Black Inc, 224pp, $24.99
THESE fine books are must-reads for anyone interested in the history of mining in Australia and the present resources boom. As the nation and our various governments struggle with the effects of the mining bonanza — on workers, families and communities — it is useful to consider how past generations coped. Hence Erik Eklund’s history, which focuses on six Australian towns established during past minerals booms.
In the late 19th century Broken Hill in NSW, Mount Morgan in Queensland and Queenstown in Tasmania emerged. The company-dominated Mount Isa in Queensland was founded in the 1920s while the coastal community of Port Pirie in South Australia and the company-designed Kambalda in Western Australia came into their own in the 1960s.
It is Eklund’s task to explain how, in these six distinctly local communities, in a relatively brief period, organisational and civic structures were established in the face of harsh conditions in isolated locations.
The most fascinating places dealt with in Mining Towns are Mount Morgan and Mount Isa. In 1882 the Mount Morgan goldmine, 39km southwest of Rockhampton, began production. A syndicate of six that included the three Morgan brothers and Rockhamptonbased investors, including local solicitor William Knox D’Arcy, oversaw operations.
While the mine soon established links to Sydney and Melbourne, its Rockhampton capital base was a distinguishing feature of the first 20 years of existence. Although in its early years the mine was primarily worked for its gold, Mount Morgan was soon celebrated as the richest gold and copper mine in Queensland. It pre-dated Broken Hill and, within a few years, Mount Morgan financiers invested in Broken Hill, while Broken Hill wealth was invested in Mount Morgan shares. Almost 1000km from the coast, and with a difficult semi-arid desert environment to manage, Mount Isa is one of the largest mining towns in Australia, a testament to the extent and richness of the silver, lead and zinc-bearing ore and the substantial copper deposits that lie beneath it.
As Eklund explains, large numbers of Mount Morgan workers moved to Mount Isa in 1929. Their mine had closed and Mount Isa was starting up, with work available at the mine, on the smelters and the railway line.
With the expansion of the mine in the 1950s, Mount Isa became one of the most productive and mechanised mines in the country while the town (now a provincial city) boasted a strong and settled local community. These days, in comparison with Mount Morgan, whose population is 11 per cent Aboriginal, 15 per cent of Mount Isa’s population is indigenous, many of whom are descendants of the proud Kalkadoon warriors who in the 1880s had fought fiercely against the white invaders.
As the 21st-century mining boom proceeds, temporary camps and fly-in, fly-out workers are increasingly part of our isolated regional
William Knox D’Arcy, second right, and other