The Queensland Heritage Council has hailed the "extraordinary" contribution of the abandoned Ballara Mining District in the early 20th century.
The praise comes after a few months after the historic and abandoned remains of one of Queensland's most profitable but short-lived mining booms was entered into the Queensland Heritage Register, after years of work by the Ballara Mining Heritage Trail Committee.
Situated halfway between Mount Isa and Cloncurry, the former towns of Ballara and Hightville and the Wee MacGregor tram and rail complex, date from the early 1900s at a time when copper was valued more highly than gold.
Copper prices soared in World War I, but by the 1920s prices plummeted and by 1926 the former towns, which included a police reserve, a hotel, post office, hospital and school, and the tram and railway, which had its own Act of Parliament, were largely abandoned.
Acting Chair of the Queensland Heritage Council, George Seymour, said the infrastructure of the tram and rail complex, and the towns of Ballara and Hightville, was extraordinary for the times and location.
"The tram and railway started to operate from 1914," Mr Seymour said.
"Combined, they were almost 40 kilometres long, ran though cuttings and over embankments that involved significant earthworks, crossed eight railway bridges, ran through a 77-metre tunnel through MacGregor Hill, and had stations, platforms, goodsheds, maintenance sheds, stores and offices servicing the route.
"A 3-foot 6-inch gauge railway comprised the main section of the line, from Ballara to Hightville, across relatively low and flat ground, with a 2-foot narrow-gauge tramway traversing steeper, more hilly and elevated sections from Hightville to the Wee MacGregor mine.
"A short branch tramway also ran to the nearby Wallaroo mine."
The Wee MacGregor Tramway Agreement Act was passed in December 1912 allowing the Queensland Government to contribute costs to the rail infrastructure.
Mr Seymour said the settlement that became Hightville, closest to the mine, started in 1909 and included mining company offices, a store, and the MacGregor Hotel, with the town surveyed in 1913.
"Ballara, surveyed in 1914, was the railway terminus, and it was here that a transfer station conveyed the ore from the tram and railway to the main railway line to Cloncurry," he said.
"Among other services, Ballara boasted a hospital and a school."
At its height, three trains per week carried ore along the tram and railway complex while government run trains carried passengers on the main railway line from Cloncurry.
In 1912, the 1500 miners in the Cloncurry mining fields produced 45 per cent of Queensland's copper with annual copper earnings exceeding earnings from gold.
But it was short-lived. The tramway closed in 1921 and the railway in 1929, and the tracks were removed.
Hightville was abandoned by 1920, Ballara by 1926 and the foundations and ruins of buildings and residences are all that remain.
"The Wee MacGregor tram and rail complex and the former towns of Ballara and Hightville are representative of the very temporary nature of many mining towns and associated railways in Queensland, and their vulnerability to commodity prices," Mr Seymour said.
"What's been left behind, however, is important in revealing to us vital information about the construction and operation of remote mining infrastructure and the people who lived and worked in these far-flung mining operations."
An application to enter the Wee MacGregor tram and rail complex and the former towns of
Ballara and Hightville into the Queensland Heritage Register was made by a local heritage
organisation, with the Queensland Heritage Council approving the listing in March 2019.
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