Sunday, September 11, 2011

Some history about Mount Isa

The Town Mt Isa 1930

Mt Isa Today
John Campbell Miles discovered payable lead ore in the region that became Mount Isa in February 1923.

 In February 1923 prospector John Campbell Miles discovered lead ore while travelling through the region now known as Mount Isa. The ore he discovered was assayed in Cloncurry and found to contain a high percentage of lead.

Convinced of the importance of his discovery, John Campbell Miles quickly pegged out a lease he named Mount Isa (after Mount Ida, a West Australian gold field). As word spread of his discovery, prospectors moved into the region, pegging out 118 leases by the end of 1923. 
As leases were pegged out individual miner’s camps were established to the west of the Leichhardt River. In November 1923 a very simple general store, built with Hessian and iron, was established among the camps.

John Campbell Miles discovered payable
lead ore in the region that became
Mount Isa in February 1923.
On 19 January 1924 Mount Isa Mines Ltd was established. Australia’s most distant mine from sea port or coal field. The owners of the Mount Isa lease acquired of the surrounding mining leases by the end of 1925.

With the establishment of Mount Isa Mines Ltd a town and amenities were needed to attract men to work at the mine. To meet the immediate demand, the company built simple structures around the mining camp from iron and Hessian brought in from Camooweal.

In March 1924 a Progress Association was established to represent the interest of residents. A government surveyor visited the region in May 1924 and surveyed the town of Mount Isa to the east of the Leichhardt River. The first properties in the new town were sold in September 1924 and structures from the old mining town of Kuridala – including accommodation, a court house, a school building, a hospital and a pub – were moved into
the town. The State Government and Cloncurry Council made little initial investment in infrastructure for the new town and the mining company acted as a surrogate local authority.

After the establishment of basic community infrastructure, the mine developed mining
infrastructure including the Lawlor Shaft and Winding Plant, Urquhart Shaft and Headframe, Mount Isa Mine Power Station, and Mount Isa Mine Experimental Dam.

While being so isolated from larger Queensland communities, there was great camaraderie and loyalty in Mount Isa. In sickness or death or celebration it was a community, their entertainment was simple, but the whole town was always welcome. The town also held the record for the consumption of more beer than any other similar town in the commonwealth.

On 2 August 1927 Dr Geordie Simpson accompanied a QANTAS rescue flight to transport
an injured Mount Isa miner to the hospital in Cloncurry. The successful flight, and the praise of the thankful miner, was a clear demonstration of outback Queensland’s need for a flying doctor service and played an important role in the establishment of the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) in 1928.

In the early years Mount Isa Mines Ltd faced hardship in developing the mine and transporting ore to port in Townsville. Before the construction of a rail line, ore was transported 135km to Cloncurry on camel back and cart. The first train pulled into Mount Isa in April 1929 and offered the town, and the mine, hope by providing an efficient method of transport for workers and ore. The line was officially opened by the Honourable John Mullan MP, Attorney General for Queensland on April 6th. This rail line went on to become the State’s most profitable and provided the state government with the capital to revitalise other rail lines throughout Queensland.

In May 1931 milling and smelter operations commenced in Mount Isa and the company enjoyed its first operating profit in 1937, 13 years after its establishment.

In a region with a harsh climate and reputation for industrial unrest, the welfare of employees was always an essential investment. The region weathered the great depression of the 1930s, providing consistent work for 1,000 men while a quarter of the male population in major cities was faced with unemployment. By the late 1940s men working in the mines could earn three times the average wage of people in Brisbane or Melbourne.

In 1943 the mine halted lead mining and started mining for copper to meet the government’s World War Two needs. This switch was reversed in 1946, but both lead and copper began production in parallel 1953.

By 1955 Mount Isa Mines Ltd had become the largest mining company in Australia. It had
weathered technical and financial difficulties, and industrial unrest, to become Australia’s
largest single creator of export income.

A sustained population boom after World War Two increased demand for infrastructure and essential services. To provide water for the growing community, Mount Isa Mines Ltd completed the construction of Lake Moondarra in 1958. With a total capacity of 107,000ML and constructed 16km downstream from town on the Leichhardt River, it was the largest water scheme in Australia to be financed by private enterprise.

In September 1964 the Australian Worker’s Union and lobbyist Pat Mackie led an almost
eight-month industrial dispute against the mine after a disagreement on how the wealth of
the very productive field should be shared. As a result of this dispute the mine temporarily
closed the copper smelter and the Queensland Government declared a state of emergency in the region. The dispute was settled in April 1965.

In 1963 Mount Isa became its own shire and the town was declared a city in 1968. Since its acquisition of Mount Isa Mines Ltd in June 2003, Xstrata has invested more than
$570 million in operational development.

Mount Isa Mines Ltd has mined and processed minerals continuously since establishment,
initially only lead but as the mine was developed silver, zinc and copper as well.

Today Xstrata Mount Isa Mines directly employs approximately 3,900 staff and approximately 1,000 contractors. This makes up more than 20% of the total population of the city of Mount Isa. Residents not employed directly by the mine are largely employed by business providing goods and services for the mine.

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