This is part one of a two part article on the history of Mary Kathleen.
The Ballara Mining Heritage Trail Committee have been working hard on extensive upgrades to the Mary Kathleen township over the last few months.
The installation of a replica of the original plaque from when the township, officially opened by Prime Minister Bob Menzies in 1958, was installed as part of Stage one of the Heritage work project and more recently, Stage two, saw twelve new posts and a shade shelter assembled.
The shade shelter was assembled on site in the town square and featured two large colour panels with photos and historical stories relating to Mary Kathleen.
The history panel acknowledged the different aspects of town life at Mary Kathleen and also an environmental feature relating to the Uranium mine.
Mark Van Ryt from the Ballara Mining Heritage Trail Committee researched and had this information printed onto one of the colour panels.
The History of Mary Kathleen township by Mark Van Ryt.
Rio Tinto gave highest priority to the building of Mary Kathleen township.
The provision of adequate permanent living quarters was a matter of urgency if the rest of the project was to proceed according to plan.
This architecturally designed model township was completed before any uranium oxide was produced.
The whole town was built in just over a year with houses completed at the rate of one per day.
The township is located approximately 5 km from the mine.
The ground in this area was more suitable for the development of home gardens, and the water pipe line from Lake Corella would pass reasonably close by.
The town was developed into five residential areas, bounded by creeks and other natural features.
Every effort was made to retain and preserve the existing native trees and many hundreds of flowering ornamental plants were added.
The shopping and community centre was sited centrally.
The community consisted of approximately 1,100 people made up of families and about 200 single men. These people occupied 222 dwellings including the single men’s quarters.
The Community Store provided a full range of everyday grocery needs as well as clothing, footwear and hardware.
Located in the town square was a cafeteria; milk bar; bakery; barber shop; post office; library; two banks; a beer garden and recreation club in which billiards and darts were played.
An open-air cinema entertained five nights a week; the swimmers had an Olympic standard swimming pool; an oval enabled sporting clubs to play cricket, hockey and football.
Tennis courts, lawn bowls and a golf club provided further sporting options.
Two churches established with the help of Rio Tinto overlooked the town from their elevated sites on the eastern ridge, provided for the spiritual needs of the community.
During the first operation 1956–1963, the relative isolation of the community made it desirable to achieve some self-sufficiency, so a market garden and orchard of 23 acres was established to supply fresh fruit, vegetables, poultry and eggs needed by the residents.
The town had a six-bed hospital under the care of a doctor and staffed by sisters of the Australian Inland Mission. In the first few years they helped deliver over 200 babies.
Between 1964 and 1975 the mine was placed in care and maintenance. Mary Kathleen became a town of fully furnished homes in quiet empty suburbs.
RELATED STORIES: Heritage installation at Mary Kathleen
RELATED STORIES: Stage two of the heritage work at Mary Kathleen
Only a dozen families remained.
Sensitive garden plants disappeared, lawns turned to buffel grass. The company maintained public gardens withered away and the open areas received only an occasional slash with a tractor.
By the time of the second operation, the highway had been upgraded so a school bus for secondary students travelled daily to Mount Isa and a shopping bus travelled twice a week.
The small hospital was not re-opened, patients were treated in Mount Isa.
With the ease of travel, sporting competition between the communities thrived and many workers began to commute from Mount Isa.
Over the years Mary Kathleen achieved a considerable reputation as a lively, attractive community and a very pleasant place to live.
Many former residents have said this is where they enjoyed the best years of their life.
The Company charged only $8 per week for a two bedroom unit, no one paid rates or electricity, all the amenities were free and the pay was good.
For the working man it was a heaven on earth.