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Ben heading down
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Mt Isa Mine Tour

Thursday, August 15, 2002
We send Ben in on a mining tour to one of the world's richest deposits of silver, lead, copper and zinc. Will he come up trumps?

Mt Isa is Queensland's largest inland city. It sits on one of the world's richest deposits of silver, lead, copper and zinc. Copper was first mined in the 1880s but the Depression of the 1920s caused the venture to collapse. In 1923, silver, lead and zinc deposits were discovered and within months more than 500 claims had been lodged. They slowly became owned by two companies, and by 1925 Mt Isa Mines (MIM) Ltd had taken over all leases.

Isolation and poor facilities caused problems so MIM built a company town with low-rent housing and amenities in 1927. This improved even more when in 1929 the railway linked Mt Isa to Townsville.

Things are thriving today and it is proud to be the world's largest city extending 40,977 square kilometres almost to the Northern Territory border. Camooweal Road is the world's longest, so Mt Isa is a place of Guinness Book entries.

The skyline is dominated by the 270m lead smelter exhaust stack and Australia's largest underground mine has a daily output of 35,000 tonnes of ore. Five thousand jobs cost MIM $300 million a year on wages and payments to local contractors and suppliers. The mining operations have attracted people from 60 ethnic backgrounds.

It is widely acknowledged today that a visit to Mt Isa is not complete without taking part in the mine tour. It is visiting the heart of the town's reason and it is a rare opportunity to see a mine in full working operation. Most visits in Australia are to disused mines.

There are two tours — one where you remain on the surface and see what happens to the ore once it is surfaced and the other is the underground tour.

Participants must be at least 16 years and in good physical shape. There is no crawling involved and the mine resembles an underground city more than a mine.

The tour begins at the back of the Riversleigh Fossil Centre where you are given coveralls, boots and helmets and where there is a safe place to leave belongings.

Then there is a minibus transfer to the mine where a safety induction video is shown and you receive your battery packs and headlamps.

When everyone is ready to go you wait at the platform for the "cage" which takes you around a kilometre underground.

Every tour differs depending on the activities of the day. You might see remote control technology in action, man-operated machinery, mucking or digging. You may see miners preparing explosives for blasting and you will certainly visit their crib rooms where they take their breaks. They are huge areas and don't really look like caves.

The mines are warm due to the amount of machinery in operation and even that far down, the temperature can be affected by the sun. New explorations need vent bags which pump in fresh air as it would be stifling without it.

You might find your guide is an ex-miner who still loves to board that cage, and of course he has lots of knowledge and information.

Once you have resurfaced, a visit to the Fossil Centre is interesting. It has an important collection spanning 25 million years which have revealed much about the evolution of Australia's wildlife.

Location

1580km north-west of Brisbane.

Cost

The Underground Mine Tour costs $60 per person. It operates every week day.
Please note prices are valid at time of transmission and to the best of our knowledge are inclusive of GST.

More information

Mt Isa Tourist Information Centre
Box 815 Mt Isa QLD 4825
Ph: (07) 4749 1555
Fax: (07) 4743 6296
Riversleigh@mountisa.qld.gov.au

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