The commercial and population hub in outback, north Queensland is Mount Isa. The heart of this town is the Mount Isa Mines which mines for copper, lead, zinc and silver.
The town of Mount Isa is dominated by the imposing smoke stacks a short distance away in the mineral processing site now run by Glencore. There are three stacks, the largest of which is for the lead smelter. It was increased to it’s present tremendous height (270 m) in response to concerns about lead pollution of the town. This town is not unlike Karratha or Gladstone. Industry forms the beating heart of the town, it’s not traditionally pretty but plenty of people live and work here.
Around the back of the mines is a pretty, tidy and green suburban area. It seems more well off that other areas of Mount Isa. (Was that a gardener we spied as we cruised around for our quick tour?) In this area, there is also a heritage listed building called Casa Grande. This home was built in 1949 for the general manager of the mine. At the time, this was the largest house in outback Queensland and reflects a period when the mine finally became profitable after years of struggle which includes the depression and World War 2 years. The pretty suburb around Casa Grande is where the current managers and executives of the Mount Isa Mines have their homes.
Encourage those of you who are interested to read the Wikipedia article on the story of the Mount Isa Mine and the very significant adversities that were overcome as it developed into the very profitable and extensive operation it is today. Included, are some great stories of the world-class innovations that the miners pioneered at the plant. These innovations have since been employed elsewhere in the world under license.
Driving 17km north of Mount Isa, will bring you to Lake Moondarra. This serene, artificial lake was made to provide water for the town and the mine. It has recreational areas on it’s banks and is used by locals for canoeing, boating, fishing, BBQs and picnics.
Loitering at the recreational areas on the banks of the lakes are a number of peacocks. These birds are clearly used to being fed as they will approach any soft hearted candidates with enthusiasm and hope!
The annual highlight in Mount Isa is the Mount Isa Rodeo. This is the biggest rodeo event in the southern hemisphere and is a well run and highly entertaining few days. Surprisingly, the music being played by the resident DJ was a real highlight and was sufficiently up-beat and intense to add to the frenetic performances from the competitors. Thankfully, country music was kept to a minimum.
The rodeo is also a great opportunity for people-watching country style with ‘fashions on the field’ consisting of cowboy hats and jeans plus well heeled boots.
The various bucking animals are induced to perform so spectacularly by the use of a so-called ‘flank strap’. This drives them crazy and induces the crazy twisting and jumping motion. The rodeo guide explained that the flank strap is not actually in contact with the beast’s genitals as happened in the past or perhaps still goes on with less scrupulous operators. It was remarkable how the animal calmed in a matter of moments once the flank strap was removed.
The bare-back bronc event consists of the same process, but with the absence of a saddle, it makes for wild ride indeed. The unfortunate rider makes a convincing impersonation of a rag doll as the horse tries to remove him from it’s back. Suspicions are that the competitors brains will be adversely affected from all the impact.
Sideshow alley wasn’t drawing many customers when we were there, COVID no doubt wasn’t helping.
Burke and his faithful Wills are a celebrated tragedy and perhaps an example of the courageous amateur biting off more than they can chew. This duo were the first to travel from Melbourne, in the bottom of Australia to the Gulf of Carpentaria at the top but died not long after starting their journey back down. Nevertheless, hats off to these and others who opened up this vast, brown land. Whilst ruminating on the experience these men and their unfortunate followers went through as they suffered and died, we couldn’t help but wonder if the whole trip would have been easier with some participation from the Aborigines (even if not from the local area). It’s also not clear why the didn’t send through another party by ship to meet them at the Gulf of Carpentaria.