Mining in Australia: Wikis


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Super Pit gold mine at Kalgoorlie in Western Australia is Australia's largest open-pit mine

Mining in Australia is a significant primary industry and contributor to the Australian economy. Historically, mining booms have also encouraged immigration to Australia. Many different ores and minerals are mined throughout the country.


Brief history

Mining contributed significantly to preventing potential bankruptcy for the early colonies in Australia. Silver and later copper were discovered in South Australia in the 1840s, leadingr to the export of ore and the immigration of skilled miners and smelters.

The first economic minerals in Australia were silver and lead in February 1841 at Glen Osmond, now a suburb of Adelaide in South Australia. Mines including Wheal Gawler and Wheal Watkins opened soon after. [1]

The value of these mines was soon overshadowed by the discovery of copper at Kapunda (1842), [2] Burra (1845) [3] and in the Copper Triangle (Moonta, Kadina and Wallaroo) area at the top of Yorke Peninsula (1861).[4]

In 1851, gold was found near Ophir, New South Wales. Weeks later, gold was found in the newly established colony of Victoria. Australian gold rushes, in particular the Victorian Gold Rush, had a major lasting impact on Victoria, and on Australia as a whole. The gold rush coloured every aspect of Australian society and elements of it are still clearly visible today. The influx of wealth that gold brought soon made Victoria Australia's richest colony by far, and Melbourne the island's largest city.

Australia's population changed dramatically as a result of the gold rushes: in 1851 the population was 437,655 and a decade later it was 1,151,947; the rapid growth was predominantly a result of the new chums (recent immigrants from the United Kingdom and other Commonwealth states) who contributed the 'rush'.[5] Although most Victorian goldfields were exhausted by the end of the 19th century, and although much of the profit was sent back to the United Kingdom, sufficient wealth remained to fund substantial development of industry and infrastructure.

Broken Hill, NSW, one of Australia's iconic mining towns, backed by the man-made mullock heaps from the Line of Lode



Minerals and resources

Large quantities of minerals and resources are extracted from Australia's landscape. These include:

  • Iron ore (World's third largest supplier in 2006 with 270 million metric tonnes after China and Brazil.)
  • nickel (third largest producer after Russia and Canada)
  • bauxite/aluminium
  • copper
  • gold (4th largest producer after China, South Africa and the United States)
  • silver
  • uranium (22% of the world's production. World's second largest supplier after Canada.)
  • diamond (third behind Russia and Botswana in terms of commercially viable gold deposits. Australia also boasts the richest diamantiferous pipe with production reaching peak levels of 42 metric tons (41 LT/46 ST) per year in the 1990s
  • opal
  • zinc (second only to China in Zinc production and just under 14% of world production)
  • coal (world's largest exporter of coal and 4th largest producer of coal behind China, USA and India)
  • oil shale
  • petroleum (28th largest producer of petroleum)
  • natural gas

Once extracted, the raw material is processed into useful products. For example, crude oil is used downstream to make a range of refined products. Much of Australia's raw materials are exported to overseas countries such as China. Two thirds of Australia's exports to China is energy and minerals, and more than half of the exported iron ore goes to China. [6]

Mining regions

Drilling rig at a BHP Billiton minesite about 550 km outside of Newman, Western Australia.

Australia has mining activity in all of its states and territories. Particularly significant areas today injlclude the Goldfields, Peel and Pilbara regions of Western Australia, the Hunter Valley in NSW, the Bowen Basin in QLD and Latrobe Valley in VIC and various parts of the Outback.

Major active mines in Australia include:

For a more comprehensive list of mines in Australia, see Mines in Australia

Coal mining

Coal is mined in every state of Australia. It is used to generate electricity and is exported. 75% of the coal mined in Australia is exported, mostly to eastern Asia. In 2000/01, 258.5 million tonnes of coal was mined, and 193.6 million tonnes exported. Coal also provides about 85% of Australia's electricity production.[7] Australia is the world's leading coal exporter.[8]

Uranium mining


A number of large multinational mining companies including BHP Billiton, Newcrest, Rio Tinto, Alcoa, Chalco, Shenhua (a chinese mining company), Alcan and Xstrata operate in Australia. There are also a lot of small mining and mineral exploration companies listed on the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX). Overall, the resources sector represents almost 20% of the ASX market by capitalisation, and almost one third of the companies listed. [9]

Mining contributes about 5.6% of Australia's Gross Domestic Product. This is up from only 2.6% in 1950, but down from over 10% at the time of federation in 1900. [10] In contrast, mineral exports contribute around 35% of Australia's exports. Australia is the world's largest exporter of coal (35% of international trade), iron ore, lead, diamonds, rutile, zinc and zirconium, second largest of gold and uranium, and third largest of aluminium. [11]

Of the developed countries, perhaps only in Canada and Norway does mining play as significant a part in the economy; for comparison, in Canada mining represents about 3.6% of the Canadian economy and 32% of exports [12], and in Norway mining, dominated by petroleum, represents about 19% of GDP and 46% of exports.[13] By comparison, in the United States mining represents only about 1.6% of GDP[14].

Despite its export importance, the mining sector employs only a small proportion of the workforce - roughly 129,000 Australians, representing only about 1.3% of the total labour force [15].

Technology and services

Australia's high labour costs and first-world safety regulations, distinctive geology, and the importance placed on mining research by successive governments and businesses has meant that the Australian mining sector is quite technologically advanced. A large proportion of mines worldwide make use of Australian-developed computer software, such as specialised Enterprise resource planning software by Mincom Limited and geology/mine planning software by Maptek Pty Ltd. Australia's mining services, equipment, and technology exports are over $2 billion annually [16]


Many mines in remote areas have a traditional company town (for example Roxby Downs or Leigh Creek), or support towns that used to be company towns such as Broken Hill and Mount Isa.

The town of Mount Isa is surrounded by vast mineral deposits.

Most mines in remote areas are operated on a fly-in-fly-out basis where the miners' "home" and family remains in a major city, and the miners fly out to their mine for two weeks of solid work, then fly home for one week of rest.[citation needed] The roster may vary from site to site. 3 weeks on / 1 week off rosters are not uncommon and the working away period can be for much longer than 2 or 3 weeks. A fly-in-fly-out roster is common on offshore oil platforms, as well as minesites located inland of Australia, such as Century, Challenger and Bronzewing minesites.

Free meals and accommodation are provided for employees as a means to offset the time spent living away from home. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are consumed and collected from the 'mess hall' at the mining camp. Living quarters provided at camp sites range from 2 by 4 metre portable homes to permanent 6 by 8 metre rooms with ensuites. Fridges, single beds, television, electricity and water are also provided with rooms.

Environment and politics

The mountains near Queenstown, Tasmania, completely denuded of vegetation through effects of mining

Mining has had a substantial environmental impact in some areas of Australia. Historically, the Victorian gold rush resulted in substantial deforestation, consequent erosion, and arsenic pollution. [17] The effects on the landscape near Bendigo and Ballarat can still be seen today. Queenstown, Tasmania's mountains were also completely denuded through a combination of logging and pollution from a mine smelter, and remain bare today.

Uranium mining has been controversial, partly for its alleged environmental impact but more so because of its end uses in nuclear power and nuclear weapons. The Australian Labor Party , one of Australia's two major parties, maintains a policy of "no new uranium mines". As of 2006, the increased world demand for uranium has seen some pressure, both internally and externally on the ALP, for a policy change. [18] Australia is a participant in international anti-proliferation efforts designed to ensure that no exported uranium is used in nuclear weapons. [19]

Mining disasters

Memorial for the workers who lost their lives at Mount Kembla, 1902

Mount Kembla

In 1883 a coal mine was opened near Mount Kembla in the Illawarra District of New South Wales. In 1902 there was an explosion in the mine and 96 men and boys lost their lives, either while at work or in the course of trying to save the lives of others. Every family in the village lost a relative. A service of commemoration is held annually on 31 July at the Mount Kembla Soldiers’ and Miners’ Memorial Church. This is the worst mining disaster in Australia’s history. [20]

Balmain Colliery

Balmain Colliery was located in Birchgrove, New South Wales and produced coal from 1897 until 1931 and natural gas until 1945. During this period, 10 miners lost their lives in three separate incidents:


On 17 March 1900, six miners were being lowered down the Birthday shaft. At 1,424 feet the bucket they were travelling in caught on a projection, tipped over and five of the six men fell to their death in the shaft. As a result of this accident, the Mining Act was amended to provide guide rails in shafts to prevent bucket swinging or overturning. [21]


In 1932, a year after the mine closed, a six inch bore was sunk below the Birthday shaft to pipe Natural Gas to the surface. During the sinking of the bore, two men were killed when the gas ignited and exploded. [21]


During the sealing of the Birthday shaft on 20 April 1945, a rudimentary test was being undertaken which ignited escaping gas and caused an explosion below the seal. The company manager and two men were killed in the accident and another two men injured. [21]

North Mount Lyell

On October 12 1912, the North Mount Lyell Fire caused the death of 42 miners, and required breathing apparatus to be transported from Victorian mines at great speed, to rescue trapped miners. The subsequent royal commission was inconclusive as to the cause.

Mount Mulligan

The 1921 Mount Mulligan mine disaster occurred in Far North Queensland. These explosions, caused by using naked flame for lighting, killed seventy-five men.


Four serious accidents have occurred at mines in the Central Queensland town of Moura, Queensland|Moura. The first accident took the lives of 13 men in September 1975. In July 1986 there was an explosion at Moura Number 4 Mine. 12 coal miners lost their lives in this disaster that sparked controversy after experts claimed the accident was avoidable. Another explosion killed two men in January 1994 and just eight months later another explosion deep underground took the lives of 11 men.[22]


On the 26th of June 2000, at the Bronzewing Gold Mine in Western Australia (400 kilometers from Kalgoorlie), 18,000 cubic meters of sand-slurry, sludge, mud and rock broke through a storage wall. Three men (Timothy Lee Bell, 21, Shane Hamill, 45 and Terrence Woodard, 26) were killed and eight escaped the 'accident'. It took over a month to retrieve the men from the site.


Headworks over a shaft at Beaconsfield gold mine in Tasmania.

On 25 April 2006, part of an underground gold mine at Beaconsfield in Tasmania collapsed. One miner, Larry Knight, was killed by the rock fall, and two others, Brant Webb and Todd Russel, were trapped, leading to a rescue mission that took two weeks to get them out alive.



At 2.30pm on 23 March 1887, an explosion at the mine in Bulli in New South Wales killed 81 people. [23] A special commission was set up to investigate the explosion and concluded:

..that the explosion was caused by marsh gas or carbonic hydrate that had accumulated at the face. That the immediate cause was probably the flame from an overcharged shot fired by a miner in the coal in No. 2 Heading.

This gas explosion propagated a coal dust explosion and travelled towards the fresh air at the surface. The commission was also of the opinion that the Deputy, Overman and to a lesser extent the Manager, were all guilty of contributing negligence. [24]


On November 9 1965, a pocket of gas ignited in a panel several hundred yards from the main shaft and killed four miners. Ten mining rescue teams and the Southern Mines Rescue Station worked all night to extinguish the fire. [25]

Australian mining in literature, art and film

See also


  1. ^ "The Glen Osmond Mines". South Australian History. Flinders Ranges Research. Retrieved 2006-06-05. 
  2. ^ "Kapunda". South Australian History. Flinders Ranges Research. Retrieved 2006-06-06. 
  3. ^ "Burra". South Australian History. Flinders Ranges Research. Retrieved 2006-06-06. 
  4. ^ "The Moonta Mine". South Australian History. Flinders Ranges Research. Retrieved 2006-06-06. 
  5. ^ Caldwell, J. C. (1987). "Chapter 2: Population". in Wray Vamplew (ed.). Australians: Historical Statistics. Broadway, New South Wales, Australia: Fairfax, Syme & Weldon Associates. pp. 23 and 26. ISBN 0-949288-29-2. 
  6. ^ The Hon De-Anne Kelly MP, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Trade (2006-05-03). "Speech at the Australia China Business Council, Queensland Branch Business Dinner". Retrieved 2006-06-18. 
  7. ^ "The Importance of Coal in the Modern World - Australia". Gladstone Centre for Clean Coal. Retrieved 2007-03-17. 
  8. ^ International Energy Agency. (2008-08-31) Coal Information 2008. Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development. ISBN 9264042415
  9. ^ "ASX and Australian mining". Australian Stock Exchange. Retrieved 2006-06-04. 
  10. ^ "1301.0 - Year Book Australia, 2005". 2005-01-21. Retrieved 2006-06-18. 
  11. ^ The Hon Peter Costello, MP, Treasurer of Australia (2002-06-05). "Address to the Minerals Council of Australia, 2002 Minerals Industry Dinner". speech. Government of Australia. Retrieved 2006-06-18. 
  12. ^ Natural Resources Canada. "Canadian Minerals Yearbook, 2004". government of Canada. Retrieved 2006-06-19. 
  13. ^ Statistics Norway. "Statistical Yearbook 2005". Government of Norway. Retrieved 2006-06-19. .
  14. ^ Bureau of Economic Analysis. "Gross-Domestic-Product-by-Industry Accounts". United States government. Retrieved 2006-06-19. 
  15. ^ "6291.0.55.003 Table 04: Employed persons by Industry - Trend, Seasonally adjusted, Original". Australian Bureau of Statistics. 2006-03-16. Retrieved 2006-06-18. 
  16. ^ "Mining Capability Overview". Austrade. unknown.,,0_S3-1_3zo-2_-3_PWB110704527-4_-5_-6_-7_,00.html. Retrieved 2006-06-18. 
  17. ^ "Deforestation - Gold". Special Broadcasting Service. Retrieved 2006-06-19. 
  18. ^ Patrick Walters and Joseph Kerr (2006-04-04). "PM threatens ALP on China uranium deal". The Australian.,20867,18703281-2702,00.html. Retrieved 2006-06-19. 
  19. ^ Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (2005). "Weapons of Mass Destruction: Australia’s Role in Fighting Proliferation". Government of Australia. Retrieved 2006-06-19. 
  20. ^ Stuart Piggin and Henry Lee, The Mount Kembla Disaster, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1992
  21. ^ a b c Peter Reynolds, Balmain Places 2 - The Coal Mine Under The Harbour , Architectural History Research Unit, University of New South Wales, 1996, ISBN 0-908502-54-0
  22. ^ Barwick, John (1999). Australia's worst disasters: mining disasters. Port Melbourne, Victoria: Heinemann Library. pp. 24–25. ISBN 1863918868. 
  23. ^ Wollongong City Library, Bulli - History, Retrieved on 2/11/06.
  24. ^ Illawarra Coal, Bulli Colliery Gas Explosion- 1887, Retrieved on 2/11/06.
  25. ^ Illawarra Coal, Bulli Colliery Underground Fire - 1965, Retrieved on 2/11/06.

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