The story of Kuridala, north west Queensland’s first boom town

GHOST TOWN: Kuridala is an abandoned copper mine 65km south of Cloncurry. Photo: Derek Barry
GHOST TOWN: Kuridala is an abandoned copper mine 65km south of Cloncurry. Photo: Derek Barry

Taking the deserted dirt road 40km past Malbon, I was worried I’d miss the turn-off to Kuridala and there was no one to ask for directions.

But the person who gave me the directions said “you can’t miss the chimneys”.  He was right, the huge chimneys were easy to spot and I knew I was at Kuridala.

Kuridala was a mining (copper, silver and gold) town which briefly flowered in the early 20th century but is now abandoned. The chimneys of the smelter still dominate the landscape 65km south of Cloncurry. 

Care needs to be taken when fossicking due to unmarked open mine shafts. Copper was discovered at Kuridala in 1884 (not long after Ernest Henry found the first copper at Cloncurry).  Kuridala is an Aboriginal word meaning eagle hawk, though experts are unsure which language it comes from. The area underwent several name changes in quick succession in the late 19th and early 20th century. It was first known as Gulatten, then Hampden (which gave its name to the copper company on the field). Probably because of the influx of German miners it was renamed to Friezland but although the mine thrived in the First World War, it was not a good time for German names and renamed Kuridala in October 1916.

 At its peak the town supported six hotels, five stores, four billiard saloons, three dance halls and a cinema, two ice works and one aerated waters factory. There are over 360 graves in Kuridala cemetery. 

The two big iron chimneys are part of a considerable amount of remains of the smelter-works including a blast furnace and concrete engine mounts. The Hampden Smelter opened in 1911 and over three years treated 85,266 tons of ore with an initial dividend of £140,000 in 1913.

FOSSICKING PLACE: The remains of the Hampden copper smelter at Kuridala. Photo: Derek Barry

FOSSICKING PLACE: The remains of the Hampden copper smelter at Kuridala. Photo: Derek Barry

The smelter serviced the British war machine from 1914-1918. The Hampden Cloncurry Company declared big dividends despite marketing, transport and labour difficulties: £40,000 in 1915, £140,000 in 1916, £52,500 in 1917 and £35,000 in 1918 The smelters treated over a quarter of a million tons of ore in the war, averaging over 70,000 tons annually. The company built light railways to its Wee MacGregor and Trekelano mines and installed a concentration plant in 1917. A year later they erected an Edwards furnace to pre-roast fine sulphide concentrates from the mill before smelting.

At the end of the war the British government dropped copper price controls which put the Hampden Cloncurry Company in difficulties. They postponed smelting until September 1919 and they lost heavily during the next season relying on ores from Trekelano. The smelter treated 69,598 tons of ore in 1920, but they halted operations after the Commonwealth Bank withdrew funds on copper awaiting export.

Negotiations for amalgamation occurred in 1925 but failed, and in 1926 Hampden Cloncurry offered its assets for sale by tender. Mount Elliott acquired them all except for the Trekelano mine. The company was de-listed in 1928.

The population of Kuridala peaked at 2000 by 1920, but reduced to 800 by 1924.  A new field at Mount Isa opened up and the bakehouse, the hospital, courthouse, one of the ice works and picture theatre moved there followed by Boyds’ Hampden Hotel (renamed the Argent). The police residence and Clerk of Petty Sessions house were moved to Cloncurry.

By 1928 all bar one family had gone. In its nine years Hampden Cloncurry had been one of Australia’s largest mining companies producing 50,800 tons of copper, 21,000 ounces of gold and 381,000 ounces of silver. Metal Manufacturers Limited established a major works at Port Kembla on the back of their Kuridala success.

The Tunny family lived on at Kuridala living off the Hampden and Consol mines from 1932 until 1969. A post office operated until 1975 and the last inhabitant, Lizzy Belch, moved into Cloncurry about 1982.