From the top of Lookout Hill, I could see the slag heaps of Century Mine on the horizon.
The mine is one of the biggest open-cut mines in Australia (perhaps the biggest), meaning it is a very, very big hole in the ground. They mine zinc and lead ore here, and it’s been going for 20 years.
Because it is an isolated place, and prone to flooding in the Wet, they had to build a lot of very clever infrastructure. They crush the ore and then dilute it with water. Then they pump it through 300km of pipes to Karumba in the Gulf of Carpentaria, where they ‘dewater’ the ore, put it on barges, and haul it 50km out to sea and on to the big export ships.
Hubby and a few of his colleagues got to go on a short visit, and he said the scale of everything, from the ‘tonka trucks’ to the big hole, was impressive. This is one of those operations where workers are flown in and out via their private airport, and where everything is self-contained.
The thing that got me about a mining operation like this is how efficient it was compared to, say, public transport in Sydney. I guess people in this country can make the effort to be efficient when there’s big money about. Public infrastructure however, makes no money, and so we’re left in the dark ages.
This mine is actually wrapping up operations pretty soon. But I doubt mining will disappear completely from the Lawn Hill area – there are plenty of other minerals about.