When the Ballara Mining Heritage Trail Committee installed a shade shelter and panels depicting the history of Mary Kathleen, they also explained the environmental features relating to the Uranium mine.
Mr Van Ryt said the panels are well illustrated with pictures, aerial photos and short stories about the township and mine.
In ‘Bringing History Back to Life – Part One’, Mr Van Ryt explained the history of the township of Mary Kathleen.
This second article relates the history of the Uranium mine.
The History of Mary Kathleen Uranium Mine by Mark Van Ryt.
In 1954 a uranium rush in the Cloncurry-Mount Isa vicinity had started driven by rich rewards offered by the Commonwealth government and the promise of contracts with the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority.
It was said there were more Geiger counters in Mount Isa than women.
The town was at fever pitch with most able-bodied men spending their weekends going prospecting on bicycle and on foot.
There was claim jumping, races to the Mining Warden’s office in Cloncurry, brawls and rumours until the fever died down.
By then 2000 claims had been filed, most prospectors had sore feet, few had well-lined bank accounts.
Everyone seemed to realise that there must be a mother lode somewhere, just waiting to be found! Although not quite so active, there were still a few ardent prospectors moving about the countryside, hoping to be the lucky one.
The Mary Kathleen uranium deposit was eventually discovered by a syndicate of eight Mount Isa prospectors led by Clem Walton and Norm McConachy.
The group had an advantage of local knowledge and the use of one the few 4WDs in the district.
Informally it was agreed that they would go prospecting on their weekend days off in parties of two.
On Sunday 4 July 1954, Norm McConachy and John Walton were making their way along a dry creek bed when the truck broke down with a loose lead on a spark plug.
McConachy is said to be the one who actually took the Geiger counter out of the truck and turned it on.
As he continued walking up the dry creek bed, the instrument needle reportedly went off the scale.
McConachy then called John Walton, who was coaxing their broken down vehicle back to life.
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The ore body was then discovered by following a 1.5 kilometre trail of radioactive boulders along the drainage system.
The claim was pegged and an application for a mining lease was lodged at the Mining Warden’s office in Cloncurry.
The deposit was named Mary Kathleen in honour of Norm McConachy’s wife who had died shortly before the discovery.
Clem Walton was the chief negotiator for the syndicate and he lost no time in securing a deal with Australasian Oil Exploration Ltd for a yet to be proven deposit of uranium.
This ensured immediate wealth for each of the syndicate members, with a continuing share in the profits should a mine be established.
The company Mary Kathleen Uranium Ltd (MKU) was formed and the Rio Tinto group subsequently became the major shareholder and undertook development of the mine.
In the next two years the simultaneous construction of township, water supply, mine and plant complex occurred.
This was a remarkable feat considering the short planning time frame and the distance from all major transport infrastructure.
All levels of government gave their full assistance and some of the best talent in industry was put to the task. Mining commenced in October 1956 and the treatment plant was commissioned in June 1958.
In the first five years of its operation, MKU produced 4080 tonnes of uranium oxide, which was trucked in 44 gallon drums to Cloncurry, railed to Townsville and then shipped to England.
By October 1963 the major supply contract had been satisfied ahead of schedule.
The contract with the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority was completed one year earlier than expected after the installation of ore sorting discriminators using Geiger counters to read the radioactive grade of each rock.
Further sales contracts could not be obtained and the mine and treatment plant were placed on a care and maintenance basis.
Production recommenced in 1974, following Australian Government investment and its approval for Rio Tinto to export uranium oxide to Japanese, West German and United States power utilities.
A further 4,802 tonnes of “yellow cake” was processed and shipped before production ceased in October 1982.