Although Mackay could never be regarded as a centre of mineral production, its strategic position as a port ensured its participation in the mining activities of the hinterland.
As early as 1861, just after the John Mackay expedition had discovered the Pioneer River , a gold prospector found a green-stained outcrop at Peak Downs in the Clermont district and as a result, the first successful copper mine outside South Australia was launched. Although the copper was shipped out through Broadsound, Mackay indirectly received a spin-off. The road party, after surveying the track from Peak Downs to St. Lawrence, was relocated to Nebo to improve the dray road from that point to the new settlement at Mackay. This road became known as the Peak Downs Highway.
The next big mineral find in the district was also copper. This was at Mount Flora, about 18 kms. southwest of Oxford Downs station, to be soon followed by another strike at Mount Orange nearby. About the same time copper was also found at Mount Gotthard near Lake Elphinstone. A number of local identities were appointed to the board of directors of Mount Flora, including Charles Rawson, William Henry Paxton, Henry Brandon and Charles Keeley, after whom the newly erected smelter was named. Several loads of unrefined copper were shipped out through Mackay, but in 1879 work was suspended until the prevailing low prices recovered. It was 30 years before the furnace was lit again.
Again local Mackay names appeared on the list of shareholders and directors when the second Mt. Flora company was launched in 1907. W.H. Kirkup, F. Reichelmann, H. McClusky, S. Pearson and J. Swanson among them. However, the outbreak of war in 1914 put an end to the mine.
Mount Gotthard on Suttor Creek, west of Nebo, also raised high hopes for a mining boom to offset losses in the sugar industry due to rust. The arrival of the first loads of copper drawn by Pugsley and Ironsides' horse teams at Mackay in 1878 was greeted with the greatest excitement by a big crowd of sightseers and toast were drunk in champagne to the success of the mine. However, the excitement was short-lived. The mine manager resigned, the furnace gave trouble and it was rumoured the ore was running out. The company went into liquidation and the mine was abandoned.
Copper was found at Pine Vale, 10 kms. south of Mia Mia by Messrs. Orange and Keeley soon after the opening of Mount Flora field in the 1880's but the mine was in a fairly inaccessible position and work was carried out spasmodically until suspended altogether in the 1950's. Pine Vale, however, could be regarded the most successful of the copper mines.
Mount Britton goldfield was discovered in 1881 by James Heenan who did not bother to register a claim until the best spots had been taken up by others.
The alluvial gold was soon worked out and the reefs were then opened up by a mining company. A township developed, but by 1890 the company had ceased operations and only prospectors remained.
Over the years there have been attempts to mine Mount Britton profitably and even at the present time activity is still going on.
If the 1870's could be called the 'copper era' then the 1880's must have been the age of gold. After Mount Britton, it was Eungella's turn. Gold was found at Bee Creek in 1888 and soon after on Broken River. Access to the field was originally via Nebo because of the steep climb up the range from the Mackay side.
Although pack horses could negotiate the steep track, heavy machinery and such like went by the longer route. By 1898, the gold mines had closed although there is still prospecting going on.
Silver was found at Mount Barker in the Eungella area in 1889 and worked by a syndicate. Up to 1914 it produced some 218 tonnes of lead and 2222 ounces of silver.
There was another gold find in 1889 at Grasstree south of Mackay and the Zelma Gold Mining Co. was formed. However, in 1895 it was reported to be practically deserted. Various attempts to reopen the tried over the years without a great deal of success.
At the present time 'black gold' is the district's mining wealth. Although coal was reported in the late 19th century, it was not until 1971 that the first coal from Goonyella was exported through Hay Point, south of Mackay, where a massive coal loading terminal was established. This terminal later extended to another at Dalrymple Bay nearby, fed by an electric rail service to the various mines in the hinterland.
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created 12 August 2004.
last updated 09 August, 2006 .
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