Saturday, September 10, 2011

The mining town of Mt Isa

We had a leisurely start from our overnight stop at Fountain Springs rest area as we only had 60 kms to travel to Mt ISA. Peter has already uploaded a photo of me still sound asleep in bed around 8 am. Neither of us had been disturbed overnight by any traffic noise including the road trains that rumble along the highway. There were about twenty cars in overnight and the large group from a van sleeping in swags on the grass area.

We had thought we would pull out by around 10 am and by this stage most of the overnight campers had moved on and more travelers were stopping off for a break. Peter had showered and I was just thinking about it when we heard a vehicle pull up by the caravan beeping their horn. It was a couple we had met and played a game of Five Crowns with at Lawn Hill National Park - Iris and Ken Porter. They were travelling on to Cloncurry and had noticed us parked in the rest area. It was lovely to see them again and we sat chatting over coffee for the next couple of hours.

The landscape as we travelled to Mt ISA was very different to the outback landscape we have become used too. There were no farm animals and there were large red rocky outcrops which were quite spectacular. On arrival in Mt ISA our first planned visit was to an auto electrician to get the fuse that we had blown replaced and the new battery set up checked if necessary. The internet revealed that there were four auto electricians in town and we visited three before anyone had the capacity to even have a look at our problem. Fortunately one guy was helpful and he recommended we just replace the fuse and see if he problem eventuates again. So $5 later we had a new fuse and up until now we have had no further problems. Next task was to choose a caravan park. Iris and Ken had stayed at Copper City Caravan Park and said it was okay so that was enough of a recommendation for us, and that is where we are staying. The caravan park has a large area set aside as workforce accommodation for the mine which is quite separate to the tourist accommodation. This must be a good source of ongoing income for the park.

As usual we paid a visit to the Information Centre to get a run down on what to see and do in the area. There is a new 12 million dollar complex in Mt ISA which includes a mock up mine, mine museum, fossil museum and outback gardens. We made a booking to go on a mine underground tour on Saturday morning and also paid for entrance to the museums and the outback park. While there we looked through the mine museum which was very interesting and went back later to see the fossil museum.

On Friday morning we went to the 10 am tour of the School of the Air. Obviously this was not a very popular tour on Friday morning as we were the only guests. We were shown through part of the school which has 24 full time teachers and 17 ancillary staff with a student population of 220 from a catchment area of approximately 1000 kms. The tour was nowhere near as comprehensive as the tour we attended at Longreach - we weren't sure if this was because there were only two of us or if this was normal. From here we went to the underground hospital. We had originally seen a short televised segment on this hospital when Grant Denyer of Television 7 paid a visit. The hospital is adjacent to the Mt ISA public hospital and was built in 1942 when there was concern that Mt ISA might be bombed following the attacks on Darwin. Mt ISA was seen as a target and easily recognized because of the large chimney at the mine. The hospital was built by mainly volunteer labour from the mine. It was never officially used as a hospital but was fully set up. By 1963 the underground hospital had fallen into disrepair and was the target of vandalism and access was eventually closed off. In 2001 it was decided that the hospital had historic value and it was reopened and brought back to it's original condition using photos from 1942 as a guide. All I can say is that I am glad that I wasn't admitted to that hospital. The scary thing for both of us is that we recognized many of the medical apparatus and tools! We had hoped to pay a visit to the Flying Doctor Service while here but for some reason unknown to us they no longer have a visitors centre. It appears that they may be in a rebuilding program so that may be the reason. We will hopefully have this opportunity when in Alice Springs.

We have been quite impressed with the size of the shopping centre in Mt ISA - it is certainy the biggest since we left Cairns. We understand the population of Mt ISA is around 25,000. Having caught up with supermarket shopping in Cloncurry we will certainly be shopping again before we leave Mt ISA and head further into the outback and stocking up with fresh fruit and vegetables.


We had our puncture repaired and we were surprised that we didn't need a new tyre - I guess we have to have puncture number three next!

Saturday morning saw us up bright and early as we were booked on the 9 am underground mine tour. We met at the Information Centre where we were all provided with disposable orange overalls, gumboots, hard hats, belts, battery packs and head lights. There were fourteen on our tour and the tour was about three hours. Unfortunately we were not able to take the camera so we don't have any photos but we did buy the tour photo taken as we entered the man lift to go underground. The tour is at a mock mine which has been built as part of the "Outback at ISA" centre as for health and safety reasons it is not possible to take groups of visitors into the actual mine. The mock mine is apparently an exact replica of a working copper mine. We rode the man cart train to the crib which is the tea room. Here each person had to take a name tag and place this on a hook to show that we were in mine. We then went down various underground tunnels and a variety of machinery and tasks were shown to us. The tour was very informative and interactive and we were given the opportunity to try various tools and tasks. Those working in the mines before the advent of modern day machinery certainly worked hard - our friend Jimmy Mountford who worked in the NZ West Coast coal mines came to mind. Peter would have loved to have had the opportunity to drive some of the large machinery. We were told that the current mine has 2200 employees working twelve hour shifts. During the day and night they prepare for two blasts at 8 am and 8 pm - tonight we could hear the blast from the caravan and we understand it can be heard all over Mt ISA. It was a great tour and we consider that it was the best value for money tour we have taken on this trip.

It has been much cooler the last two days - so much so that I have worn jeans and often a sweatshirt. The temperature has dropped from the early 30's down to 25 degrees and we have really noticed it. We have not had any rain since we were in Cooktown on the 5th August. Fortunately the day time temperatures are set to rise again over the next few days.

Tonight we drove up to the lookout to take some photos of the area - unfortunately we couldn't take a photo of the mine and chimney because of the sun so will need to go back tomorrow. We did take the opportunity to drive up the mine road to the staff car park to see the open cut mine. We weren't sure we were supposed to do this but we weren't asked to move on or anything. We have been a little surprised about the amount of work available - there are 3-4 agencies in town with numerous vacancies at the mine then nearly every shop has job vacancies noted on signs or blackboards. There is a large Centelink in town but really there should be no unemployment benefits paid! The only work done by us today was Peter thought the car needed cleaning again so he put some energy into that.

Tomorrow we plan on moving on westwards and will very soon cross the border into the Northern Territory, a first time visit for both of us.
Mount Isa School of the Air
Mt Isa School of the Air
 Inside the Mt Isa school of the air
 Mt Isa scouts of the air display
 Mt Isa school of the air displays
  School of the air field services
  Outback kids
Outback classroom display
Underground Hospital Mt Isa
Underground hospital
 Underground hospital museum
 Remember these signs
Detail of underground hospital history
Peter in one of the three underground
hospital corridors
 Inside the underground hospital
No babies were actually born here
but they were ready
The stores supply cupboard
 Photo of hospital from 1942
 Beds ready and waiting in
underground hospital
The emergency access or exit way
Ready and waiting to nurse!
Ready for any emergency
Emergency equipment
Chloroform masks and Peter remembers them,
goes to show that they haven't been out of use
for to long.
 Truck at Mt Isa mine

Transport Mt Isa Mine
We saw one of these in use Mt Isa Mine
  Tale of the people of Mt Isa
 Oh dear, no beer
 Truck in Outback at Isa museum
 Are we there yet

Outback at Isa museum
 In the Outback at Isa museum
The history of Mt Isa
 Talking to Cam - Outback at Isa museum
 Historical photos Mt Isa museum
 Museum display at Mt Isa
 Historic mine train that still works
Outback at Isa museum
The mine chimney dominates Mt Isa
 Mt Isa from the lookout
 Museum display
 Another museum display
 Outdoor display at Museum
 Hard hats and gear ready for the tourists
 Gumboots for tourists in all sizes
Hard hat and belt
 Hard Times mock mine
Mock mine old machinery
View of actual Mt Isa mine
 Open cut mine at Mt Isa
Open cut view
Mine views
Within the open cut mine
 Mine view again
The mine was working

 Mt Isa from lookout
Coles and Kmart from lookout
How far to Auckland as the crow flies
 Another view from the lookout
Looking to the east
 Even McDonalds in town now
 KFC also
  Detail of tent city
  Mt Isa Tent house detail
Mt Isa tent house
The Outback Park at Mt Isa
Car wash day again - photo from inside the car,
isn't that just typical sitting on her bum again
whilst I do all of the work - this retired lark
has really caught on with Gill!!
Camera time -  and no just in case you are wondering
the one on the right is not a real miner, only the big strong
one is strong enough to be and he's on the left!!
 I got close up.......
Mount Isa mine as we left Town 11 Sept on a fantastic day
Mt Isa Mine As we left town
 A view of the Hard Times Mine from the Town Lookout
the Hard Times Mine was named this after the Dog
of the discoverer of Mt Isa  - John Campbell Miles
 Mmm leavng Mt Isa now which way
again Mt Isa mine
 The Rodeo Stadium in the Isa
Town water
All kitted up again and no particular place to be in a hurry

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