Friday, 22 May 2015

TOD Tour, Day 102 - Mount Morgan

The Mount Morgan Mine
After a hectic few weeks and the changes of plans wrought by family health issues, coupled with the inordinately long drive yesterday, I decided to take today off from the return home and just chill.

My morning was one of leisure activities which included reading, after which I was ready to wander to the local supermarket and replenish the grocery stock for the last few days until home. I couldn't find a coffee, although the newsagent - go figure - was highly recommended but unfortunately, they didn't stock decaf.

The hospitality of the Silver Wattle Caravan Park includes the provision of four fresh eggs ... real ones from free chickens ... so with the new supply of bacon and bread, I had two bacon and egg sandwiches for lunch.

In the afternoon, I caught up with the main tourist attraction in Mount Morgan, John Steinberger's TMC Tours. It's the only way to go inside the fences and see the Mount Morgan Mine, which at one stage was the richest mine producing site in Australia. Mining started here in 1882, when three enterprising hoteliers, the Morgan Brothers, convinced some investors to form a syndicate and take out a mining lease on Ironstone Mountain. Four years later, the syndicate became the Mount Morgan Mining Company and it operated by digging shafts and tunnels under the mountain which had been renamed in honour of Thomas, Edwin and Frederick Morgan. By 1907, the mine had produced $60 million in gold, created a town and installed a railway line from Rockhampton. At that stage, its population of fifteen thousand was three times greater than its coastal rival and it was one of the top three gold producing mines in the world.

Conditions for the men working in the mine were poor and with depression looming in the late 1920's and gold prices falling, a bitter industrial dispute engulfed the mine. The long conflict ended when a fire broke out in the tunnels and the mine was flooded to extinguish it. The company went into liquidation soon after and the population of Mount Morgan halved during the next few years, many of the workers taking their houses with them, mostly to the coastal towns of Rockhampton and Yeppoon.

The "head" which used to take men
into the mine the down the
longest staircase in the world
In 1928, the Mine was reopened as Mount Morgan Ltd and adopted the new method of stepped open cut mining and the focus became silver and copper. The last of the original ores taken from the mine were in 1981 and then the company reworked the tailings under a new processing which recovered ores not extracted under previous methods. After the mine closed in 1990, the Qld Government began administrating it in 1992. Carbine Resources are the latest company to show an interest in reviving the mine, with a project to extract the approximately eight and a half thousand kg of gold estimated to still be there. If so, the fifty workers they would employ, mostly locals, would be a boast to the town.

TMC Tours - town, mine, caves - are the only tour operators with a licence to visit the mine site and John Steinberger takes folks around the town and onto the mine site twice a day, including school groups. After a drive through Mount Morgan and then out to the town's water supply - the large dam on the Dee River that we lunched at when we were here last month - we were taken to the mine and given an extensive narrative of the history and operation of the mine. John is an interesting fella, with the ever present terminal "eh" on the end of sentences as though all of life is a question.

He has lots of information to share: Mount Morgan once had 27 pubs (now there are four); the town was settled as eleven different communities which residents still adhere to today in describing where they live in town; the bell at the defunct Scouts hall was made from sixty thousand pennies collected by school children durign the Boer War; the place is full of fruit trees both in number and variety; the dam, currently at 96%, is restocked every year with Yellowbelly fingerlings; there were once six suspension bridges over the Dee; the Leichhardt Hotel is the oldest remaining pub at 127 years old; and it goes on and on.

Happy Hour at the Silver Wattle
(photo courtesy of their Facebook page)
Frankly, he can tell you much more than you can take in, even if your stayed here a week and went twice a day. Every hundred metres of the town part of the tour there was a new landmark and a story to be told. For instance, the public toilets, located in the middle of the main street, were built as an air raid shelter from Japanese bombers during WWII. The man is a font.

Bamboozled with information - Google be damned - I retreated to the Silver Wattle and "happy hour"; a gathering hosted by owners Sarah and Mark and Sarah's mum! They supply the fire, the chairs and some tucker and guests gather around for the best sundowners you'll have on the road. I read a few of my poems and had some great conversations.

It was just the day I needed to refresh myself.

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