It all began early in 2010 after I had returned from travelling abroad and was considering what career path I wanted to change to if I didn’t want to pursue Farming, Forestry Management and Shipping; which I had been involved with up until this point. I had always had an interest in Geology and thought the offshore oil industry was particularly interesting, so after learning more about the industry following the Deepwater Horizon and Macondo Well disaster, and considering the fact the natural resources industry was booming, I decided to return to University and study Geology and pursue either the minerals or the energy industry. As part of my due diligence, my father and I would take a trip to Queensland to visit a number of the booming sites and towns to learn more through a university friend who was working there as a mining geologist.
We initially arrived into Townsville, where we promptly picked up our camper van to begin our journey which would hopefully cover an astonishing 5,000km in 12 days. We certainly planned to see a lot of the Queensland countryside! After a night in Townsville and a hike up to Castle Hill to gain beautiful views over the city, Magnetic Island and surrounding coast, we headed to the northern tourist hub of Cairns. There is not a lot of mining activity along this stretch of the coast line so we promptly headed inland crossing the width of Queensland’s northern peninsular to reach the Arafura Sea coast and the town of Karumba.
The distances in the Australian outback are not to be underestimated! They are immense! Thankfully we had a caravan otherwise it would be difficult to cover an average of nearly 500km a day while also finding accommodation. After the brief stop in Karumba we made our way several hundred kilometres to the south and arrived in the world famous mining town of Mt Isa! Mt Isa came into existences basically because of the enormous mineral deposits found in the area with the Mount Isa Mines facility to one side of the town having the distinction of being one of the most productive mines in the world!
You can visit the Mount Isa Mines (owned by Xstrata at the time of writing) mine’s facilities by joining the bus tour which gives you an up close look at the mine and their operations, or you can join the Hard Times Mine underground tour to give you a better idea of the conditions miners endure. This can be arranged through the Mt Isa Information Center.
After the fascinating time exploring and learning about hard rock mining in Mount Isa, we drove several thousand kilometres past vast outback stations, through the agricultural towns of Wilton and Longreach (the original home of Qantas) to finally reach the small town of Blackwater. Blackwater is located in the middle of the Bowen basin which is known as a prolific producer of high grade coal from opencast and underground mines. A visit to the International Coal Centre is an absolute must for anyone passing through Blackwater and is interested in the mining or geological fields. You can even join a tour of an actual opencast coal mining operation to see the incredible scale of the operations and equipment such as the enormous Dragline machines!
From Blackwater we made our way north to the isolated mining town of Moranbah in the heart of the Bowen Basin where we hosted by my Geologist friend and his girlfriend. Daniel was also able to get us to join him for a drive around the surface facilities of the underground coal mining operations he worked with. Due to safety considerations we weren’t permitted to join him underground, but we did manage to see the exploration drilling operations and gas flaring/recycling in an attempt to reduce the methane content of the coal veins before their production.
Finally, to complete the grand tour of the whole process of coal production from exploration and evaluation drilling, to mining, to the transport by conveyor or train of the millions of tonnes to the sea side ports of Gladstone and the Dalrymple Bay Coal Terminal which exports some 85 million tonnes of coal annually to mostly Asian markets.
A scenic drive up Queensland’s East Coast back towards Townsville, taking in the tourist mecca of Airlie Beach enroute and we were back where we started after our 5,000km mining odyssey!