Tag Archives: mine

Cornish Mining – Part 1

From Dorset we travelled to the most south west corner of Britain. You might know or have been to Land’s End, but there were far more interesting things to learn about this corner of the world.

Levant Tin Mine

Cornwall might be famous for its seaside and its cream teas, but its original claim to fame is its natural resources. Cornwall is a place rich in metals – tin and copper in particular – and even as far back as the Bronze Age (more than 2000BC), everyone in civilised Europe knew of it. In the Bronze Age, Tin from the Cornish was traded as far east as the Minoans in Crete, who consequently built their empire from it. The Cornish locals must have gotten very wealthy.

Back in those days, the tin and copper deposits were very close to the surface, and could be dug out from shallow pits, but as time went on, the miners had to dig deeper and deeper into the ground to get their bootie. By the time the Industrial Revolution came about, mining in the area was done on an epic scale.

Levant Tin Mine

This is the remains of the Levant Mine from the Victorian Age, near the village of Pendeen. It closed in the 1890’s and is now part of a World Heritage Site. Back in its heyday it employed around 170 people. You can see the remnants of buildings and stacks at the top of the cliff.

Levant Tin Mine

At the bottom of the cliff you can see the old pumphouse, which pumped the seawater out of the mine, since it was so close to the water line. The whole countryside is riddled with shafts, and shafts were dug as far out as a mile out under the sea. The shafts are still there, and one shouldn’t go underground unless you are with someone who knows them well since you can easily get lost. In recent years there have been incidents where people have died in shafts as they couldn’t find a way out.

Levant Tin Mine

The old mine is now on crown land, and the famous South West Coast Walk winds its way through it, so everyone can see what mining was all about.

Century Mine

From the top of Lookout Hill, I could see the slag heaps of Century Mine on the horizon.

Century Mine from Lookout Hill

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.

Century Mine from Lookout Hill

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.

Mining in the bad old days

On the way back to Adels Grove, we stopped by an abandoned mine called Lilydale. Back in the turn of the 20th Century, Lilydale was a silver, lead and zinc mine that supported hundreds of miners. The only problem (and it was a big one) was lack of water. The nearest creek or river was at least 10km away, and as a consequence many miners died of thirst, and the mine was eventually abandoned.

Lilydale Mine

All that was left were the trenches where they dug, the small mounds of slag, and the odd scrap of metal.

Lilydale Mine

As with many ventures in the Outback, this was one that nature won.

Lilydale Mine

Mount Isa

We’re off on an entirely new adventure – to north west Queensland! A month ago, I tagged along with hubby on a field trip to the area, primarily to visit Riversleigh fossil site. But more on Riversleigh later – we have to get there first!

The gateway to the region is Mount Isa. Now, in NSW, most mines/smelters, particularly in large towns, are usually some ways out of it. I’m thinking of Port Kembla in relation to Wollongong, or the BHP complex in Newcastle. Mount Isa however, is a place where the mine and the smelter are smack bang in town.

We had a bird’s eye view of the open cut copper/lead/zinc mine on our approach to the airport. Now, this was our approach from the airport into town.

Mount Isa

Mount Isa

Mount Isa

The copper smelter (the biggest smoke stack) was particularly big, but so was everything in the complex.

Mount Isa itself is a big outback town – almost 19,0000 – with good facilities. I was also impressed that it was relatively clean and orderly. I guess having the mine as an employer helped. It dominated everything, even the skyline at night.

Mount Isa

Into the Mine – Part 3

In the mine, you could see cross-sections of the limestone. How the minerals and water crystalised and formed calcite.

Phosphate Mine

But what was this phosphate they were digging out? The phosphate in this particular mine was formed from decomposed bat guano. That’s right, it’s very, very old bat poo from the Pleistocene (around 1 million years ago). You can see it here as the white bits.

Phosphate Mine

And here seaping into the rock crevices.

Phosphate Mine

Into the Mine – Part 2

We walked into the phosphate mine, and were transported to another world.

Phosphate Mine

The mine was only operational during the first World War. Australia needed phosphate for both agriculture and to make explosives. However, the story goes the operators only started it to get government funding, as the mine had very little phosphate at all. When the war was over, they closed and backfilled the mine.

In the mine there are a few remnants of what it must have been like to work it in the bad old days. You could see that the mine was dug out by hand, from the pick marks on the walls.

Phosphate Mine

The rails for the trolleys were still in place…

Phosphate Mine

Phosphate Mine

… As well as an old shovel.

Phosphate Mine

All of this was buried until the mine was dug out and revamped in 1996 for the tourists.