Wow wow wow. The Hard Times Mine Tour at Outback at Isa is fabulous. We were so fortunate that an extra tour was being run at 11am as the usual 9am and. 2pm tours had been all booked out. We had to arrive and checkin 15 minutes before, so, after packing up the motorhome, we left the Argylla Caravan Park and went directly to the RV parking near Coles to stock up on groceries. Once this was done we left the MH in the car park and walked the short distance to Outback at Isa where we met up with Mandie and Pete.
After checking in for our tour we were given little hanging tags with our names on them and our tour guide introduced himself as Allan. We were led down to the tour start and here Allan gave a short talk about the history of Mt Isa Mines (MIM). Then we were each given a bright orange hard hat and a set of disposable overalls (one size fits all). Change rooms are available to put on this most unglamorous outfit and lockers are available to store your stuff in. Next you were supplied with steel capped gum boots however Mandie and I were allowed to keep our own boots. Once everyone was kitted out we were led outside and around the various mining machinery on display.
Allan stopped at a few of the different machines and explained their use before he led us into a large tin shed. This big shed houses the winch mechanism for the cage that would lower us underground. But first we had to receive our lamps which were clipped onto our hard hats then before we were allowed ot go underground we had to hang our name tags on a board. Everyone that goes underground must hang their tag on the board. This is still the case in underground mines around the world. If your tag is on the board, you are underground and only you can remove the tag. If, for some reason, you forgot to remove your tag at the end of your shift and went home to bed, probably a mine supervisor would be knocking on your door to escort you back to the mine to remove your tag.
We were led back outside and 10 at a time went into the cage (an elevator) and down we went. The Hard Times Mine is about 20m underground and contains some 1.2km of tunnels. The Mt Isa Mine is 1900 metres deep. The Mt Isa Mine has many levels with access tunnels leading from one to the other. Allan explained that he’d worked underground for 30 years and the Hard Times Mine has been created so well that it looks the same as if you were in a real working mine. It certainly felt authentic.
There were two little boys aged 8 and 10 on the tour with their dad. Our guide encouraged people to ask questions and every time he asked if anyone had any one of the boys put their hand up. They asked good questions too. One funny occasion was when the youngest one asked what do the miners eat when they are underground. The tour guide looked directly at the boy and said “small children’. The look on the young boy’s face was priceless. He looked like he wasn’t sure if Allan was kidding or not.
We visited a number of sites underground and were shown how the rock face is drilled and exploded, then ‘bogged’ out and then the tunnels are covered in reinforcing on the sides and the backs (what I would call the roof). Allan explained that no one is allowed to work underground now without the backs being supported.
At one site there was a big pneumatic drill set up and everyone who wanted to could have a go at drilling a hole. We all had to wear ear muffs for that. It was so noisy!. Pete, Mandie and Richard all had a go.
Our last stop on the tour underground was the crib room. This is where the miners gather to enjoy their breaks and have something to eat. Allan explained that modern crib rooms have all the amenities one would expect above ground such as kitchens and flushing toilets.
In the crib room were samples of ore for us to see and we could all enjoy a cuppa and a Cornish Pastie. They were delicious. They serve Cornish Pasties as Cornish miners were some of the first miners in Australia and they brought their traditions with them such as calling the break room a ‘crib’. The Cornish miners pasties were originally made with a thick pie crust filled with vegetables. The miners could hold the pastie in their dirty hands but the veggies in the middle stayed clean. These days most pasties are made with flaky pastry.
A little tray back Ute pulled up in front of the crib room and in groups of 10 we were piled in the back of the Ute and driven up a long incline tunnel back to the surface. We were instructed to go back into the shed and put our lights back on the rack and most importantly, remove our tag from the board. Once all the tags had been removed we were free to end the tour and return inside where we took off our overalls and changed out of the heavy gum boots. Lastly our helmets were returned.
Allan had taken photos of everyone as we were ready to board the cage and those photos were available at the front desk for us to collect. We got a great photo as a memento. We farewelled Mandie and Pete as they are going to travel to Adels Grove via the 4WD Riversleigh track. It has 3 creek crossings and is not suitable for the motorhome. We would meet up with them in a couple of days time at Adels Grove.
We left Mt Isa following the end of our Hard Times Mine Tour and headed eastwards towards Cloncurry. The countryside was rugged rocky hills and steep valleys. This was the Barkly Highway and is the main road from Townsville on the Queensland coast to the Northern Territory and, as such, it is a wide two lane road. Through the ranges though there were double lines in the middle so no overtaking and we were following a line of RV’s.
Some of the road trains here are four trailers long. They create quite a wind as they go by us and the whole motorhome shudders.
Every now and then there are vast areas of land covered in red termite mounds. There are thousands and thousands of them.
We called in to check out the once thriving, now abandoned, town of Mary Kathleen. Mary Kathleen was a mining town of some 1,000 people after uranium was discovered in the area in 1954. The water filled open cut mine can be viewed today and lots of people travel the 4WD road just to see the colour of the vivid blue water. The uranium deposit ran out in 1982 and all the town buildings were sold and relocated elsewhere by 1984. All that remains are the concrete foundations of the many buildings. It is now a very popular free camp for self contained campers. We had a drive around then got back on the highway.
Next stop was Corella Dam. I’ve read on many other travel blogs that this is a beautiful spot to camp so even though we had no intention of camping we called in to check it out. Sure enough it is a lovely spot and it was very full with campers.
In the late afternoon we drove into the small outback town of Cloncurry. Cloncurry is famous for being the town where Qantas’s first flight from Longreach landed in 1922. The original hanger used is still standing at the airport.
We topped up with fuel but we couldn’t get a gas bottle even though we tried both service stations. We have one full one though and that should see us through for the next week. Maybe we’ll be able to get one at Burke & Wills Roadhouse.
We decided not to camp in another caravan park and headed northwards on the road to Normanton. A little way along we came to the abandoned ruins of the Quamby Hotel. It is falling down and has a safety fence all around it to prevent people getting too close. It looks like it could fall down any second. Opposite the old hotel is a large Rest Area and there were three caravans pulled up and looked like they were camping for the night. It was a bit too close to the road for us so we went a couple of kilometres further on and turned into the track leading to the Quamby Rodeo Grounds. Now that looked a good spot for a camp. It was a huge flat area that looked like it had cattle grazing on it recently as the grass was chewed right down and there were cow pats. However there was no one else there so we could set up our little fire pit and camp on our own. Perfect.
We enjoyed the ambiance of being out bush with just us and the stars. For the first time this trip we got out our Bidgee BBQ and Richard cooked up a great meal that we ate outside under that amazing night sky.