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Mining in Australia is a significant primary industry and contributor to the Australian economy. Historically, mining booms have also encouraged immigration to Australia. Many different ores and minerals are mined throughout the country.
Mining has had a substantial environmental impact in some areas of Australia. Although mining services, equipment and technology are being exported, the mining sector employs 2.2% of the total labour force.
Mining contributed significantly to preventing potential bankruptcy for the early colonies in Australia. Silver and later copper were discovered in South Australia in the 1840s, leading to the export of ore and the immigration of skilled miners and smelters. The first economic minerals in Australia were silver and lead in February 1841 at Glen Osmond, now a suburb of Adelaide in South Australia. Mines including Wheal Gawler and Wheal Watkins opened soon after. The value of these mines was soon overshadowed by the discovery of copper at Kapunda (1842), Burra (1845)  and in the Copper Triangle (Moonta, Kadina and Wallaroo) area at the top of Yorke Peninsula (1861).
In 1851, gold was found near Ophir, New South Wales. Weeks later, gold was found in the newly established colony of Victoria. Australian gold rushes, in particular the Victorian Gold Rush, had a major lasting impact on Victoria, and on Australia as a whole. The influx of wealth that gold brought soon made Victoria Australia's richest colony by far, and Melbourne the island's largest city. By the middle of the 1850s, 40% of the world's gold was produced in Australia.
Australia's population changed dramatically as a result of the gold rushes: in 1851 the population was 437,655 and a decade later it was 1,151,957; the rapid growth was predominantly a result of the new chums (recent immigrants from the United Kingdom and other Commonwealth states) who contributed the 'rush'. Although most Victorian goldfields were exhausted by the end of the 19th century, and although much of the profit was sent back to the UK, sufficient wealth remained to fund substantial development of industry and infrastructure.
Australia has mining activity in all of its states and territories. Particularly significant areas today include the Goldfields, Peel and Pilbara regions of Western Australia, the Hunter Region in New South Wales, the Bowen Basin in Queensland and Latrobe Valley in Victoria and various parts of the outback. Places such as Kalgoorlie, Mount Isa, Mount Morgan, Broken Hill and Coober Pedy are known as mining towns.
Major active mines in Australia include:
Large quantities of minerals and resources are extracted in Australia. These include:
Much of the raw material mined in Australia is exported overseas to countries such as China for processing into refined product. Energy and minerals constitute two thirds of Australia's total exports to China, and more than half of Australia's iron ore exports are to China.
Coal is mined in every state of Australia. It is used to generate electricity and is exported. 54% of the coal mined in Australia is exported, mostly to eastern Asia. In 2000/01, 258.5 million tonnes of coal was mined, and 193.6 million tonnes exported, rising to 261 million tonnes of exports in 2008–09. Coal also provides about 85% of Australia's electricity production. Australia is the world's leading coal exporter.
Uranium mining in Australia began in the early 20th century in South Australia. Australia contains 23% of the world's proven estimated uranium reserves. In recent decades opposition to uranium mining in Australia has increased, resulting in many government inquiries into its extraction. The three largest uranium mines in the country are Olympic Dam, Ranger Uranium Mine and Beverley Uranium Mine. Future production is expected from Honeymoon Uranium Mine and the planned Four Mile uranium mine.
At various stages in the history of the mining industry in Australia, individual mining managers, directors and investors have gained significant wealth and the subsequent publicity. In most cases the individuals are designated Mining Magnates or Australian mining entrepreneurs.
A number of large multinational mining companies including BHP Billiton, Newcrest, Rio Tinto, Alcoa, Chalco, Shenhua (a Chinese mining company), Alcan and Xstrata operate in Australia. There are also a lot of small mining and mineral exploration companies listed on the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX). Overall, the resources sector represents almost 20% of the ASX market by capitalisation, and almost one third of the companies listed.
Mining contributes about 5.6% of Australia's Gross Domestic Product. This is up from only 2.6% in 1950, but down from over 10% at the time of federation in 1900. In contrast, mineral exports contribute around 35% of Australia's exports. Australia is the world's largest exporter of coal (35% of international trade), iron ore, lead, diamonds, rutile, zinc and zirconium, second largest of gold and uranium, and third largest of aluminium. Japan was the major purchaser of Australian mineral exports in the mid-1990s.
Of the developed countries, perhaps only in Canada and Norway does mining play as significant a part in the economy; for comparison, in Canada mining represents about 3.6% of the Canadian economy and 32% of exports, and in Norway mining, dominated by petroleum, represents about 19% of GDP and 46% of exports. By comparison, in the United States mining represents only about 1.6% of GDP.
Despite its export importance, the mining sector employs only a small proportion of the workforce – roughly 129,000 Australians, representing only about 2.2% of the total labour force.
Australia's high labour costs and first-world safety regulations, distinctive geology, and the importance placed on mining research by successive governments and businesses has meant that the Australian mining sector is quite technologically advanced. A large proportion of mines worldwide make use of Australian-developed computer software, such as specialised Geological Database and Resource Estimation Modelling software by Micromine and geology/mine planning software by Runge Ltd and Maptek Pty Ltd. Australia is also home to promising new tech companies that offer mine planning software including Oreology and Paradyn. Mines in Australia are leading the market globally deploying mine production data management software such as Corvus developed by Intov8 Pty Ltd, which displays real-time production data from multiple source systems on dashboards, and includes comprehensive dynamic analysis and reporting, driving process and cost efficiencies at the shift level. Caterpillar's proprietary end-to-end mine management and information management system, MineStar, is also developed in its Brisbane office. Australia's mining services, equipment, and technology exports are over $2 billion annually.
The world first large scale remote operations centre for operation of the Rio Tinto mines in the Pilbara is located in the airport precinct in Perth – operating mines sites, ports, rail and logistics from a central remote location.
Most mines in remote areas are operated on a fly-in-fly-out basis where the miners' "home" and family remains in a major city, and the miners fly out to their mine for two weeks of 12 hours a day solid work, then fly home for one week of rest. The rosters vary from company to company and from site to site. Every site has people on different rosters, mainly due to the fact that many aspects of a whole mine operation are carried out by contracting companies and they may / will offer different working conditions. 3 weeks on / 1 week off rosters are not uncommon and the working away period can be, but seldom is, for much longer than 2 or 3 weeks.
However, in recognition of the stresses and strains that "fly in fly out" rosters can often put upon the miners' social and family life, and in an attempt to retain staff for the medium to long term, rosters of 9 days work followed by 5 days off ("9 & 5") and 8 days work with 6 off ("8 & 6") are becoming more widespread. A fly-in-fly-out roster is normal on offshore oil platforms,(not least because people cannot live there permanently, unlike many onshore mining towns ) as well as minesites located inland of Australia, such as Century, Challenger, Bronzewing and Yandicoogina minesites.
Free meals and motel style accommodation are provided as is any work related transport, including air fares. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are consumed and collected from the mess hall at the mining camp. Living quarters provided at camp sites range from 2 by 4 metre portable homes to permanent 6 by 8 metre rooms with ensuites. Fridges, single beds, television, electricity and water are also provided with rooms. Every camp has a bar facility and a gym, most have swimming pools and some have outdoor sports courts / fields too.
Mining has had a substantial environmental impact in some areas of Australia. Historically, the Victorian gold rush resulted in substantial deforestation, consequent erosion, and arsenic pollution. The effects on the landscape near Bendigo and Ballarat can still be seen today. Queenstown, Tasmania's mountains were also completely denuded through a combination of logging and pollution from a mine smelter, and remain bare today.
Uranium mining has been controversial, partly for its alleged environmental impact but more so because of its end uses in nuclear power and nuclear weapons. The Australian Labor Party, one of Australia's two major parties, maintains a policy of "no new uranium mines". As of 2006, the increased world demand for uranium has seen some pressure, both internally and externally on the ALP, for a policy change. Australia is a participant in international anti-proliferation efforts designed to ensure that no exported uranium is used in nuclear weapons.
Creswick in the Victorian goldfields was the site of The New Australasian No.2 Deep Lead Gold Mine. At 4:45am, Tuesday 12 December 1882, 29 miners became trapped underground by flood waters that came from the flooded parallel-sunk No.1 mine shaft, only five men survived and made it to the surface. Despite two days of frantic pumping the waters filled the mine shaft. The trapped men scrawled last notes to their loved ones on billy cans before they drowned. Some of these have been kept and still bear the messages. The men that perished left 17 widows and 75 dependent children.
In 1883 a coal mine was opened near Mount Kembla in the Illawarra District of New South Wales. In 1902 there was an explosion in the mine and 96 men and boys lost their lives, either while at work or in the course of trying to save the lives of others. Every family in the village lost a relative. A service of commemoration is held annually on 31 July at the Mount Kembla Soldiers’ and Miners’ Memorial Church. This is the worst mining disaster in Australia’s history.
Balmain Colliery was located in Birchgrove, New South Wales and produced coal from 1897 until 1931 and natural gas until 1945. During this period, 10 miners lost their lives in three separate incidents:
1900 On 17 March 1900, six miners were being lowered down the Birthday shaft. At 1,424 feet the bucket they were travelling in caught on a projection, tipped over and five of the six men fell to their death in the shaft. As a result of this accident, the Mining Act was amended to provide guide rails in shafts to prevent bucket swinging or overturning.
1932 In 1932, a year after the mine closed, a six inch bore was sunk below the Birthday shaft to pipe Natural Gas to the surface. During the sinking of the bore, two men were killed when the gas ignited and exploded.
1945 During the sealing of the Birthday shaft on 20 April 1945, a rudimentary test was being undertaken which ignited escaping gas and caused an explosion below the seal. The company manager and two men were killed in the accident and another two men injured.
On 12 October 1912, the North Mount Lyell Fire caused the death of 42 miners, and required breathing apparatus to be transported from Victorian mines at great speed, to rescue trapped miners. The subsequent royal commission was inconclusive as to the cause
Four serious accidents have occurred at mines in the Central Queensland town of Moura, Queensland|Moura. The first accident took the lives of 13 men in September 1975. In July 1986 there was an explosion at Moura Number 4 Mine. 12 coal miners lost their lives in this disaster that sparked controversy after experts claimed the accident was avoidable. Another explosion killed two men in January 1994 and just eight months later another explosion deep underground took the lives of 11 men.
On 26 June 2000, at the Bronzewing Gold Mine in Western Australia (400 kilometres from Kalgoorlie), 18,000 cubic metres of sand-slurry, sludge, mud and rock broke through a storage wall. Three men (Timothy Lee Bell, 21, Shane Hamill, 45 and Terrence Woodard, 26) were killed and eight escaped the 'accident'. It took over a month to retrieve the men from the site.
On 25 April 2006, part of an underground gold mine at Beaconsfield in Tasmania collapsed. One miner, Larry Knight, was killed by the rock fall, and two others, Brant Webb and Todd Russel, were trapped, leading to a rescue mission that took two weeks to get them out alive.
|“||..that the explosion was caused by marsh gas or carbonic hydrate that had accumulated at the face. That the immediate cause was probably the flame from an overcharged shot fired by a miner in the coal in No. 2 Heading.||”|
This gas explosion propagated a coal dust explosion and travelled towards the fresh air at the surface. The commission was also of the opinion that the Deputy, Overman and to a lesser extent the Manager, were all guilty of contributing negligence.
1965 On 9 November 1965, a pocket of gas ignited in a panel several hundred yards from the main shaft and killed four miners. Ten mining rescue teams and the Southern Mines Rescue Station worked all night to extinguish the fire.
At the Box Flat Mine in Swanbank, South East Queensland, 17 miners were lost after an underground gas explosion occurred on 31 July 1972. Another man died later from injuries sustained in the explosion. The mine tunnel mouths were sealed and the mine closed shortly after.