History of Australia's Minerals Industry

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Interactive History

View an interactive history of Australia's minerals industry. This download shows Australia's mineral development over time, highlighting which deposit was discovered when and includes the ability to do this for a particular commodity group. You also can choose a specific point to zoom into and view information about that specific mine.

To view the interactive history, requires Google Earth to be installed on your computer.

Once the KML file is loaded, you can use the sliding time scale which should appear at the top of the viewing window to move through time. Slowing down the animation and playing/pausing can all be done through this interface.

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The Story of Minerals in Australia

In Australia, minerals have been part of the continent's culture and development since man's first appearance. Minerals were used to colour paints in ancient rock art which is an integral part of Aboriginal heritage. Minerals began to be produced in Australia in large quantities from the early days of European settlement at Sydney Cove. Within ten years of the First Fleet arriving in 1788, coal was discovered near Newcastle in New South Wales and later to the south and west of the settlement. These areas provided fuel for heating and cooking, and later steam locomotion in the young colony of New South Wales. The first metal mined in Australia was lead at Glen Osmond in South Australia in 1841. The young colony was quick to start exporting agricultural products but by 1850 exports of copper and lead from South Australia earned more than Australia's exports of wool and wheat.

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The Goldrush of the 1850s

The goldrushes of the 1850s made the Australian colonies world famous for mining. Gold was first discovered in New South Wales in 1823 by a public official named James McBrien while he was on a survey mission in hills near the Fish River east of Bathurst. The gold was sparse and McBrien's record of his find was forgotten. Other traces of gold were found in the following decades in New South Wales and in Victoria. Edward Hammond Hargraves had returned to Australia from the Californian goldrushes and guided by a publican's son, John Hardman Australia Lister, he had ridden to Lewis Ponds Creek, near Bathurst. Here he washed sand and gravel in a borrowed tin dish and of the six dishes he washed, all but one yielded a grain of gold. Hargraves' efforts to publicise his find started the first goldrushes and others followed in Victoria, particularly at Ballarat and Bendigo. With news of the rushes, people began to emigrate to the Australian colonies and growing population enabled increased agricultural and industrial development. By the 1850s, Australia was producing almost 40 per cent of the world's gold.

Image of Australia's Mines in 1855

Australia's Mines in 1855

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1870 - 1900

In the 1870s, Australia became an important producer of tin with the discovery of the metal at Mt. Bischoff in Tasmania. In the latter years of the 19th Century, the first great mines were established: Copper and gold at Mt. Morgan near Rockhampton in Queensland; Silver, lead and zinc at Broken Hill in New South Wales; Gold at Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie in Western Australia; and Iron ore at Iron Knob and Iron Baron in South Australia.

Image of Australia's Mines in 1900

Australia's Mines in 1900

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1900 - 1950

In the early years of the 20th Century, mining activity in Australia began to decline despite a continued rise in the value of mineral production. The only major finds of the first half of the century were lead, zinc and copper deposits at Mt Isa but their full potential was not realised until the 1950s.

Image of Australia's Mining Industry in 1950

Australia's Mines in 1950

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The Resources Boom

Until the early 1960s it was believed Australia lacked sufficient reserves of iron ore for domestic use. Once export controls of iron ore were lifted, the development of the Pilbara iron ore region in Western Australia commenced. Aided by information from the Bureau of Mineral Resources (now Geoscience Australia), the pace of exploration was stepped up. Discoveries of the 'new' metals - bauxite (the source of aluminium), nickel, tungsten, rutile (the source of titanium), uranium, oil and natural gas followed a resurgence of interest in Australia's mineral resources. Production of other minerals also increased and Australia became a major raw materials exporter, especially to Japan and Europe.

Image of Australia's Mining Industry in 1980

Australia's Mines in 1980

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The Situation Today

Australia is one of the world's leading mineral resources nations. It is the world's largest refiner of bauxite and the fourth largest producer of primary aluminium. It is the largest producer of gem and industrial diamonds, lead and tantalum, and the mineral sands ilmenite, rutile and zircon. It is the fifth largest producer and largest exporter of black coal and the second largest producer of zinc, the third largest producer of gold, iron ore and manganese ore and the fourth largest producer of nickel. It is the fifth largest producer of copper and silver. It has the world's largest resources of low-cost uranium. Australia also has the potential to remain among the world's leading mineral nations. New deposits have been discovered and developed as demand for mineral products grows, but the minerals industry has to continue to find and develop more mineral deposits to meet the demand for its products and replace worked out mines. Many Australians believe huge areas of the continent are devoted to mining when in fact less than 0.02 per cent of Australia is affected by mining. Although this disturbance is small when compared with that caused by other activities such as real estate development, farming and grazing, road construction and the urban sprawl, the minerals industry must responsibly manage the environment in which it operates. Australians enjoy one of the highest living standards in the world and part of the reason is that it is a major trading nation. The minerals industry is one of the biggest contributors to Australia's export trade.

Image of Australia's Mining Industry in 2003

Australia's Mines in 2003

This is an extract from What Minerals Mean to Australia, courtesy of the Minerals Council of Australia. Images are taken from the interactive history as viewed in Google Earth and are Copyright © 2007 Google.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics has published an article called The Australian Mining Industry: From Settlement to 2000 which is a valuable source of information about Australia's mining history.

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