Exploring Mt Frosty mine

The waterhole at Mt Frosty mine, 50km from Mount Isa. Photo: Derek Barry
The waterhole at Mt Frosty mine, 50km from Mount Isa. Photo: Derek Barry

The intense heat and constant attention of flies make any outdoor adventure difficult. Nonetheless I was keen to check out a place called Mt Frosty. Perhaps I was hoping its name might cool me down.

I didn't know much about it. All I knew was a mine with a nice name on a dirt-track starting from a turnoff on the Barkly Hwy 50km out from Mount Isa. I left the bitumen and drove south.

After 3km the dirt road petered out at this water outstation for cattle. There was no defined track any further and I thought this was a wasted trip. But when I stopped and got out of the car, I almost immediately saw two things that assured me I had arrived.

Off to my left were the rusting iron remains of mineworks while straight ahead and deep down below there was the impressive two-sided tailings waterhole, complete with its own rusting campervan. The whole scene reminded me of Mad Max.

When I walked around the back of the waterhole the structure of the mine came more into view. Mt Frosty gets its name from the quartz that litters the ground. But what did they mine there? When I went back to my computer later that day, I found the information on Mt Frosty mine was contradictory. Someone said it was a gypsum mine, another called it calcite, but the best documented evidence I found was that it was a limestone mine.

The mine was owned by local legend Clem Walton (who also founded the nearby Mary Kathleen uranium mine). But at Mt Frosty in the 1950s and 60s they mined for limestone which was used by Mount Isa Mines.

The Mad Max feeling only grew with all the graffiti on the mine works scattered up the hill which reminded me of a ski resort – particularly the Sarajevo 1984 Winter Olympics site after it too was abandoned.

LIMESTONE MINE: Some of the rusting mineworks at Mt Frosty. Photo: Derek Barry

LIMESTONE MINE: Some of the rusting mineworks at Mt Frosty. Photo: Derek Barry

In his autobiography "Aussie Rogue" Raymond D. Clements described the time he and a mate quit work for Mount Isa Mines after just four hours. His friend got a job on a cattle station near Dajarra while Clements got a job at Mt Frosty working for Walton. Clements reckoned his friend had the better deal, "you won't die of led (sic) poisoning".

Walton would send newcomers like Clements out to crush rocks with 15-pound sledgehammers to test their mettle. Clements passed muster and graduated to work a drill for blast holes and helped the foreman charge up and fire the rockface. The mineworks reminded me of the German defences on Normandy,  a turret bristling with guns.

Clements said that after the tip truck dumped its load of limestone on the large cast iron screen, workers had to break it up with sledgehammers. The broken rock went through the crushing plants and was stockpiled until the roadtrains took it to the Mount Isa copper smelter. It looked another abandoned mine at Kuridala.

Clements said the crushed limestone was used for flux in the smelting process of copper. Smelting no longer uses limestone and the mine was abandoned in the 1960s. However there is still plenty of valuable minerals around here. Australian mining company Hammer Metals has formed a joint venture with Swiss-giant Glencore (the current owners of Mount Isa Mines) after acquiring AuKing’s interest in Mt Frosty.  It is in the Mary Kathleen Shear Zone which hosts several copper-gold, uranium and rare earth element prospects.

In 1975 member for Mount Isa Angelo spoke in parliament about the joys of Mt Frosty, “with its lime deposits and pools of water. One could fossick around there for hours and hours. The tourist to the Inland will feel that here is something quite different from what can be seen along the coast."

Bertoni was right about it being different and you could fossick around Mt Frosty for hours. But maybe not in December.

The flies would have long carried you away before.