Shakespeare’s question in Romeo and Juliet of ‘What’s in a name?’ may have referred to a rose but for Mount Isa a name and its correct spelling has been anything but sweet.
Mount Isa, Mt. Isa or Moun Tisa? Which is the correct written form and pronunciation?
Is it the full Mount Isa or the abbreviated Mt. Isa? And is the Mount pronounced with the ‘t’ or without, giving a Moun followed by Tisa? And where did the name come from?
There is no doubt whatsoever that John Campbell Miles discovered the silver-lead ore when he knapped off a bit of rock from a big outcrop in the hills but where was the so called ‘mountain’ which gives credit to the abbreviated use of Mt. in the name Mt. Isa?
And where did the name ‘Isa’ originated from? Did John Campbell Miles name the new lease after Mt. Ida in Western Australia or did he name it after his beloved niece Isobel who was living in Victoria?
Ask local residents these perplexing questions and most everyone has a definitive answer. One faction believe the city was named after Mount Ida in Western Australia, with many swearing on their hearts that their father or grandfather or someone close had told them so and their rendition is correct.
Another faction says it was named after John Campbell Miles niece, Isobel (general acceptance of spelling in this instance), and they too believe rightly or wrongly that they are right.
So what is the correct version?
A story in MIMAG heralded "ISA is found the woman after whom Mount Isa was named, has been found; she is Mrs Isobel Tracey of Murrumbeena, Melbourne.”
In the article, Mrs A P Beard (wife of Alfred Beard known colloquially as ‘Neane’ who was the first Comptometrist of Accounts for Mount Isa Mines Limited) referred to Mrs Tracey’s letter in which she advised that indeed Uncle Cam’s lease and the town was named Mount Isa after herself.
Mrs Tracey wrote: "Your interview with Norm Banks of the ABC Radio was most interesting. We have heard and read so many different stories – yours was the only correct one."
However, Gordon Sheldon in his book Industrial Siege claimed Cam Miles (as John Campbell Miles was known to family and immediate friends) staked his claim and called the craggy hill ‘Mount Isa’, after the Western Australian gold mine ‘Mount Ida’. For many years, he continued to write, the accepted story was that he named his discovery for a niece, Isabelle, but in his old age Cam denied this, preferring to stick to the more prosaic truth.
All of which brought forth another question; was it Isobel (as in Mrs Isobel Tracey) or Isabelle (Sheldon’s spelling)? But the myth of Miles naming his prospecting leases after Mount Ida, was endorsed by Mount Isa Mines Limited in their paper A Short History of the Company. And it gained momentum when the North West Star commemorated Mount Isa’s golden jubilee in 1973 with a lift-out Mount Isa’s Golden Jubilee – The Pioneering Years.
In that publication yet another version of the naming of Mount Isa came to the fore when the writer boldly stated that "He (Cam Miles) named his field after Mount Ida, a Western Australian gold field, and simply change the ‘d’ to an ‘s’ because he liked the sound of the name."
To name a rose by any other name may indeed smell as sweet but there is no doubt an identity crisis has been evident for 96 years over the origin and spelling of Mount Isa. However contrary to each claim, Geoffrey Blainey (Mines in the Spinifex) wrote: "It was on one of these visits to Cloncurry that Miles named the field."
Blainey continued "Asked by Warden Dunlop what he would call his prospecting leases, he pondered for a moment and thought of Mount Ida, the West Australian goldfield of which Moses Rowlands had talked incessantly as they rode their bikes across the plains from Broken Hill. No, he’d call it Mount Isa, and the name of his lease became the name of the field."
Further on, Blainey acknowledged that "It was invariably written that Miles had in mind a sister or niece named Isobelle, and in fact one of his nieces has a similar name. But her name is Isobel, and her claim that the mine was named in her honour was laughingly denied by John Campbell (Cam) Miles himself." Blainey concluded.
And contrary to popular belief Cam told Blainey he had never been to Mount Ida let alone Western Australia but rather he called the new lease Mount Isa, as he had said he, "liked the sound of the name." But as for the abbreviated form of mountain (Mt.) when giving name to a very large, high and steep hill - as in Mt. Everest - belies the description of the craggy outcrop that Cam saw in the hills of the Selwyn Ranges.
Yet another question to consider, if Mount Isa Mines can proudly and rightly identify themselves with the full ‘Mount’ why do other people, authorities and the national broadcaster insist on the ‘Mt.’ form when referring to Mount Isa. Perhaps, Les Mots had Mount Isa in mind when he wrote in 1964, “I confused things with their names: that is belief.” So, the conundrum continues as to the correct spelling of our city name – is it Mt. Isa or Mount Isa?
It would bode the community well to copy the actions of A. P. Beard (Mount Isa Mines Limited, Comptometrist of Accounts) who, in his day at the mine, would return to sender any mail that was incorrectly addressed – Mt. Isa – noting on the envelope to be returned … No town known of this name in Queensland. This proud city is - Mount Isa - 96 years young and still going strong in 2019.
Researched and written by Kim-Maree Burton www.kimmareeburton.com Information sourced from The Cloncurry Advocate, Mount Isa Mines Ltd magazine MIMAG,Brisbane Daily Mail, Mt Isa Mail and The North West Star newspapers. Photographs courtesy of Mount Isa Mines Limited MIMAG, Mount Isa City Library and NQHC.