Tag Archives: wellington

Into the Mine – Part 5

I don’t think the early colonials knew what they were getting themselves into when they found the first big bones in Wellington Caves. This is a replica of one creature they found.

Phosphate Mine

It’s the size of a hippo, but there wasn’t anything remotely as big in Australia these days. So what could it be?

Phosphate Mine

They found a diprotodon. It’s a wombat-like herbivore, a marsupial, but one that was between the size of a hippo and an elephant. They were around one million years ago, when the area around Wellington Caves was much wetter, and there was much more vegetation to eat. They died out perhaps 25 to 50 thousand years ago, although scientists are still arguing why (climate change?).

Imagine having one of those roaming the back paddock.

Into the Mine – Part 4

Phosphate wasn’t the only thing the miners found.

Phosphate Mine

The deeper they went, the more fossils they found.

Phosphate Mine

At one place, there was a wall full of bones and teeth.

Phosphate Mine

Over the years, paleontologists have been digging up and studying the fossils found in the mine. Some even ended up in Germany.

Phosphate Mine

But how had the animals got there?

Phosphate Mine

Scientists think it might be one of two ways. Remember the bats, the ones who produced all the poo? These bones might be the remnants of their kills. That’s why there were a lot of small animals there – rodents, snakes, bandicoots, and other small marsupials. The second way was that they fell into the caves through sink holes and couldn’t get back out.

The first explanation covers the shards on the walls. The second covers the bigger things they found. We’ll see what they were next.

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.

Into the Mine – Part 1

The area south west of Wellington is well-known for its caves, even from early colonial times. It was already settled on by the time explorer Thomas Mitchell and his party ventured through in 1835 to trace the course of the Darling River. He was led by the local magistrate, George Rankin, to the caves, where they discovered some peculiar things. But more on that later.

The first thing you notice about the landscape is that it’s, well, lumpy. It’s what is called a karst landscape – the landscape of caves – and apart from the vegetation, it’s similar-looking everywhere you go on earth.

Phosphate Mine

But the interesting things aren’t on the surface, as you might have guessed, but in a WWI phosphate mine. So let’s go underground.

Phosphate Mine