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Glencore has delved into the archives to celebrate Mount Isa Mines’ history as it marks the 90-year anniversary of the commissioning of the lead smelter.

It is a mighty milestone for the mining city, with a skyline marked by the towering presence of the operation’s current lead stack, standing at 270m.

When Mount Isa Mines was formed in 1924, with no processing plants in Queensland, ore was sent the enormous distance to either Port Pirie or Newcastle for processing.

For the company to be profitable, given the huge expense that came with handling, brokerage, freight and processing, the ore needed to contain a minimum of 45 per cent lead and 20 ounces of silver per tonne.

It quickly became apparent that for mining to be economically viable, the processing of ore to metal needed to take place in the heart of the Mount Isa mining lease.

To compound matters, Mount Isa ore bodies were different to most other lead mines, with Mount Isa having both sulphide and carbonate ores of high and low grades.

Therefore, the commonly used method of processing and smelting lead did not deliver high returns for Mount Isa’s uncommon ores.


Prior to the construction of the city’s lead smelter in 1931, Mount Isa Mines built an experimental plant at Mineside in 1928.

This included crushers, grinders, concentrating tables, flotation banks, rollers for drying the concentrate, sinter plant and a blast furnace. At the time, it was reported as being the most up-to-date testing plant in the world.

Construction of Mount Isa’s lead smelter began in 1929 and it was commissioned in June 1931, at a total cost of 3,500,000 pounds, including all site infrastructure.

By 1931, Mount Isa’s very first tonne of lead bullion was cast and shipped overseas, which marked the start of a remarkable 90 years of lead smelting at Mount Isa Mines.

Stacks of Isa history in lead smelter milestone


During the intensification of the war effort in 1942 it became necessary for Australia to expand production of armaments, and consequently copper demand increased.

During World War II and at the request of the Commonwealth Government, Mount Isa Mines transitioned from lead smelting to copper smelting to produce copper for war munitions, in an extraordinary display of Australian nationalism and ingenuity.

During the transition, tests were conducted on one section of the lead mill, and demonstrated that a concentrate grade of 22-23 per cent copper with a recovery of 80-85 per cent could be expected. These recovery figures were later improved to 93-95 per cent by 1946.

What was to follow was another remarkable period for Mount Isa Mines, this time for copper mining and smelting with parallel production of zinc-lead-silver.

In an impressive production achievement, Mount Isa Mines has produced in 9.2 million tonnes of crude lead bullion over the 90 years, mined from rock and processed to lead bullion at the one single site.

From the first tonne of lead cast in 1931, it took 28 years to produce one million tonnes. The second million tonnes was produced 13 years later in May 1972. It took a further eight years to reach the remarkable record of three million tonnes of crude lead bullion, reached in March 1980.

Since its commissioning in 1931, the lead smelter has been home to three separate lead stacks.

The first one was located near the Urquhart Shaft, the second was constructed along with a new baghouse in 1953 and was located just east of the current lead stack. The third, and current lead stack, was built from 1977-1978.

The current lead stack, standing at 270m high, took two full years to construct from 1977 – 1978, with around five metres of concrete poured each day.

The total weight of concrete used was 17,400 tonnes, which doesn’t include the reinforcing steel.

During the planning phase, load testing of the ground that would support the stack was carried out using large tonnes of lead ingots.

The lead stack has a diameter of 22m at the base, a diameter of 12.4m at the top, a thickness of 700mm of concrete at the base, and a thickness of 235mm of concrete at the top.

Interestingly, 5,000 tonnes of ice was used during construction, to keep the concrete cool while it was being poured in Mount Isa’s searing heat.

The portion of the flue which protrudes from the stack is insulated and clad with stainless steel. The stack is tapered to 205 metres and then continues parallel to the top.

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Australian gold production for the first half of 2021 topped Chinese output by four tonnes, new figures show.

Gold specialists, Melbourne-based Surbiton Associates said this was based on the China Gold Association’s recently released figures for the period.

In the latest six-month period, Australia produced 157 tonnes of gold, with 74 tonnes in the March quarter 2021 and 83 tonnes in the June quarter 2021. This compared with the reported Chinese output of 153 tonnes.

“We shall have to see what happens to gold production in the next six months, both in Australia and in China,” Surbiton Associates director Dr Sandra Close said.

“It was reported that Chinese gold output was adversely affected by work accidents including deaths, with shut-downs resulting while investigations took place.”

According to the US Geological Survey (USGS), China has been the world’s largest producer of gold since 2007 when it surpassed South Africa.

The USGS estimated Chinese output at 380 tonnes in calendar 2020. Australia has remained the world’s second largest producer after China for over a decade, while South African production has fallen substantially.

“Australia’s gold production was 321 tonnes for the financial year 2020/21 and this is worth around A$26 billion at the current gold price of some A$2,500 per ounce,” Dr Close said.

“Gold has certainly made a sizeable contribution to the economy in what has been a most challenging COVID year.”

Australia’s 2020/21 output fell seven tonnes, or 2 per cent, compared with the previous financial year figure of 328 tonnes, which was an all-time record.

The nine tonne, or 12 per cent, increase from the March 2021 to the June 2021 quarter was due to a number of existing and new operations recording higher gold production.

It is interesting to look at the amount of money now being spent on gold exploration as a proportion of total mineral exploration expenditure,” Dr Close said.

“In 2001 gold exploration comprised around 55 per cent of total mineral exploration expenditure. It fell to only 20 per cent between 2008 and 2014 but has recovered now to around 50 per cent.”


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M Mining has awarded a $425 million contract to PIMS Group to provide underground mining services at the Millennium and Mavis Downs coal project near Moranbah.

The five-year contract is expected to spark up to 100 mine construction jobs and more than 125 direct full-­time mining jobs for the region.

M Mining director and owner Matt Latimore said PIMS Group’s partnership and risk-sharing approach together with employment of locals was an attractive part of their bid.

“With the majority of the PIMS Group worforce living locally, we’ll be creating new local employment opportunities, with the potential for more jobs as the project ramps up over the next 12 months,” he said.

“PIMS Group shares the same values as M Mining, being focused on making a positive difference for the communities where we operate, through a focus on safety, employment, economic growth and sustainability.”

Underground mining is expected to commence in July 2022 and Mr Latimore said work would commence immediately on preparation and scheduling.

A joint venture between Stanmore Resources and M Resources – MetRes – acquired the mothballed Millennium and Mavis Downs metallurgical coal mine from Peabody Energy Australia last month. M Mining is the joint venture manager and operator of the proposed mining activities.

Stanmore said awarding of the mining services contract to PIMS marked another major milestone in re-opening the mine, following restarting of auger and open-cut operations in Q3 2021.

With $80 million to be spent on infrastructure, civil works and locally built mining equipment, the company said the mine represented a boost to the Australian economy as Queensland continued to recover from COVID-­19.

The contract with PIMS Group covers underground mining, using the bord-­and-­pillar method, commencing with Mavis Downs and later transitioning to Millennium.

Production will be in excess of 1.2 million tonnes run of mine per annum from July 2022.

PIMS Group will be responsible for setting up required infrastructure including conveyor systems, ventilation, associated mine services and surface infrastructure.

The contract also provides for PIMS Group to supply new underground mining equipment, including two continuous miners, bolters and shuttle cars as well as a range of ancillary production equipment to support the operation.

M Mining has the option of retaining all equipment at no additional cost on completion of the contract.

The contract includes an option to extend the agreement to support 15-­years mine life.

Richard Mills from PIMS Group said the company was delighted to partner and support M Mining to successfully develop and extract the underground coal resource at the Millennium and Mavis Downs mine.

“We strongly believe in the fundamentals of the project,” he said.

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Developers behind a $300 million-plus residential and tourist project at Cairns say Stage 1 construction will kick off in early October following a Planning and Environment Court ruling in their favour.

PPNQ Developments directors Darren Halpin and Evan Yelavich say they are excited to be able to progress The Palms Collection masterplanned community on the Northern Beaches unhindered. 

FGF Developments has been contracted for the project civil works and Trinity Engineering Consultants for civil engineering.

“Even though we expected this result, it’s great to be able to finally commence work on the project and deliver an amazing product for the Cairns community and the drive tourism market,” Mr Halpin said.

“It’s been a costly three-year process to get to this point.  It is something that we believed in for our region and we weren’t going to let anything stand in the way of what we know will be an iconic project for the city that we can all be proud of for many generations to come.”

Start date for $300m Cairns development

The project is a redevelopment of the former Paradise Palms golf course at Kewarra Beach and is set to include a major waterpark.

Enclave One of The Palms development will consist of 87 blocks of land surrounded by vegetation and a large multi-use amphitheatre, parklands and community facilities. 

The developers say Stage 1 will consist of 40 lots and Stage 2 will follow soon after with a further 47 blocks, all forming part of a Renewable Energy Precinct in what they are touting as the Far North’s first ‘EnviroDevelopment’.

Upon completion, The Palms Collection is expected to generate an ongoing economic injection into the city of $34 million per annum and attract an additional 95,000 visitors per year. 

“It’s the shot in the arm the tourism industry is crying out for as the focus moves to domestic travel in the wake of restricted international travel.  COVID has accelerated people’s desire to holiday at home,” Mr Halpin said.
Inca Minerals says it has substantially upgraded the potential of its MaCauley Creek project in North Queensland after discovering large outcrops with visible copper mineralisation in multiple locations.

The finds, during a recent surface mapping and sampling program, included visible skarn-style copper mineralisation extending over 850m strike length at the Wallaroo prospect.

There was visible copper mineralisation and gossanous limestone and porphyry at Mount Brown.

Inca said the Carraway North prospect, renamed Copper Cliffs, showed visible copper mineralisation extending over 550m strike length, varying in width from 5m to 15m.

The purpose of the field tip was to investigate recently identified prospect areas generated from an independent review and remodelling of historical geophysical and geochemical data.

The company also aimed to investigate other new prospect areas identified in the central and southern parts of the project area.

“Among other positive results, mapping has identified several mineralised skarn occurrences and a gossanous porphyry. A gossan is the weathered remains of sulphide mineralisation,” the company stated in its report to the ASX.

“Accordingly, the project has been elevated in terms of its potential to host skarn and/or porphyry/intrusive-related mineralisation with the discovery of multiple new and extensive occurrences of visible copper mineralisation reinforcing the opportunity to make a Tier-1 scale copper discovery.”

A total of 110 samples were collected from 12 prospect areas, with assay results pending.

A detailed AMAGRAD survey covering the northern third and the southeast corner of MaCauley Creek is planned for the coming weeks.

Inca said the survey, of about 3000-line kilometres, would assist in refining the northern prospects and Mount Podge.

The company said it was likely that follow-up ground geophysics – principally IP surveying – would be necessary for detailed drill targeting studies.

Other possible exploration techniques being assessed include soil sampling, ground magnetic surveying, and prospect scale mapping.

MaCauley Creek copper finds boost confidence
Austral Resources expects to start mining at its Anthill copper project in the last quarter of 2021 and to process first ore early 2022 after clearing the final regulatory hurdle.

The State Government has approved the amendment to Austral’s Environmental Authority for the operation, expected to run for at least four years and see the company employ more than 100 people.

Chief operating officer Shane O’Connell plans to award the mining and haulage contracts for the open-pit operation early next week.

Mr O’Connell said it was a proud moment for the company, which purchased North-West Queensland’s Lady Annie operation and its associated tenements, including Anthill, from CST Minerals in July 2019.

“We’ve been working tirelessly with the Department of Environment and Science, and the Department of Resources over the past two years to get Anthill to production stage,” he said.
“I thinks its appropriate to mention that we have had a tremendous amount of assistance from SGM Environmental.  

“It’s an extremely proud achievement for the Austral Resources team to get this Environmental Authority amendment across the line and, with that, we are now shovel-ready for Anthill.

“Anthill will provide near-term production and boost our existing production of copper cathode and, with copper prices being at an all-time high, the revenue from Anthill will allow Austral to facilitate the board’s mandate to explore and discover both oxide and sulphide targets across its 1340 sq/km of tenure.”

The company, which is working towards an ASX listing, has recently signed a $30 million debt facility to bring the Anthill project into production.

Anthill is located 45km from the already constructed and producing heap leach and SX/EW processing facilities at Austral’s Lady Annie operations, north of Mount Isa.

Austral Resources is currently producing about 250 tonnes a month of LME grade A cathode copper from the Lady Annie operations, with about 30 employees and contractors working at the site.

A remnant mining campaign was completed in January 2021 and the site is still processing that ore from the heap leach pads to produce copper cathode.

The number of people employed at the Austral mining and processing operations is expected to lift to well over 100 when Anthill comes online. Mr O’Connel said the employees and contractors would be housed at the site’s established, well-appointed camp.

The Anthill deposit will be mined in four stages across two pits, with exploration work underway to extend the pits and life of mine.

Austral expects to mine and process more than five million tonnes of Anthill ore to produce more than 40,000 tonnes of copper, with production ramping up to approximately 1000 tonnes of copper per month.

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