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Mt Isa - self proclaimed out back paradise

AUSTRALIA | Saturday, 3 May 2008 | Views [2252] | Comments [4]

Mt Isa – we hit the 3000 kilometres of our journey.

Mining, the best Tourist Centre we’ve come across, ‘nobody cares, its just about the mines here’, and the Tent house.

We approached the Isa from the West.  We’ve noticed a distinct lack of friendly fingering since crossing over the border. The first petrol station in Queensland told us to wind our clock forward 30 minutes and 5 years. We’re experiencing the patronising smirk of an older brother, similar to Britain and Australia, Australia and New Zealand, and Sweden and Norway. Can’t get away from it.

Across kilometres of self proclaimed cattle country our little van thundered forward with intent to see the ‘not even’ 100 years old mining town. Amusing to the Catalan of our group who has quite a different perspective of history. 

The town is nestled in the centre of round red earthen hills. There’s the big mine on one side of the dry (in April) river bed and the town supplying the mine on the other. We went directly to the lookout for a red sunset, highlighting the billowing smoke from the tallest free standing building in Australia . The tourists came and looked at the sun setting behind the mine while the locals, with a bottle of wine, faced the opposite direction and watched the sun drench the surrounding hills in vermillion. Its something to see.

We took a stroll on a Thursday evening and found the streets virtually deserted with a couple of exceptions. There’s a crossways with big brand take away food that was packed full of punters and the biggest DVD/Video store in popular use that I’ve seen in the past 15 years.  That was that. Also, the local club was in full swing, the car park packed with shiny and dominant 4-wheel drives.

The mines are under the title of Mount Isa Mines and Xstrata acquired MIM holdings in 2003. A little bit of googling will give you more information.  I’m just repeating what the brochure says.

They say they have two productive streams – copper and lead-zinc-silver.  They send it to the Xstrata refinery in Townsville, they ship it to the UK  refinery and to domestic and international customers.

We met a woman who with very little prompting said that the people here don’t care about you. She had planned to continue her nursing course when her husband took up work here, but she gave it up. She was disillusioned with the medical system. She took her son down to the hospital and it took them 6 hours to take a look at his broken arm. She say, ‘Its all about the mines here. Nobody cares if you aren’t working for the mines.’ She says a friend of hers took her little girl down to the hospital with a stomach ache, and the child died in the night. ‘How can I work for people like that? I just want to get out of here. But my family like it. My husband has a good paying job and my boys like to go pig shooting on the weekends. I don’t have a say in the matter.’  And by the way, not many women work in the mines due to the lead poisoning.

But they have a big rodeo!

We visited the tent house at Albert’s insistence.  I thought it was going to be a heap of crap, but actually, it was full of memorabilia and the place had an interesting feel. Helped us gain a bit of insight into times past. We teased Jett about having to use the dirty and ill-kept toilet, and generally had a fun time explaining and some times guessing what the things in the house were used for. People have donated items to the little museum from across the area. Worth a look if you’re nearby.

Cattle town? Mining town?

If you’re like me, and have lived most of your life cocooned in the suburbs, you don’t know much about what happens ‘outback’.  Honestly, when I was a teenager, I couldn’t have cared less. But now, being a grown up and taking an interest, I found out a couple of things.

We talked to a few people who were brought up in cattle towns, who experienced the growth of a mining town, and went back to subsiding on the cattle industry.  What’s the difference exactly?

Cattle towns are there to stay. There’s a feeling of community and common respect for services given. You can walk down the street and talk to people you’ve known for most of your life.

The mining towns come and go, depending on a contract, or when the mined stuff runs out. The people working for them are earning a living, and working long hours. They may only work in the industry for a few years, and then settle somewhere else. They work hard, play hard, and sleep. Their existence brings the big businesses to the area to supply them, wiping out the local grocery store and hamburger joint. (We saw a sign in Mt Surprise saying ‘we serve real hamburgers, like they used to have before McDonalds stuffed them up’).

There is a feeling of inevitability about it all. Nobody really complains. Also a feeling that the mine will eventually close down, and then it will go back to how it was.

Tags: allwelcome, ambassador van, on the road, t a j




I read with interest this article. My daughter aged 21 might be moving to Mt Isa with boyfriend (him to work in mines) of course, and she would be leaving Mackay, Queensland. What's your opinion about a young couple (who enjoy the beach need I say, watch DVDs, and have lots of friends here) moving there for a small increase in income. Thanks

  tina skellett Jun 4, 2008 4:01 PM


Hi Tina,
Thank you for you comment.
I'm one of the least informed about the real move your daughter might make. We travelled through the area pretty quick and my opinion is limited by generalising and my personal distaste of mining finite resources (when we are in desperate need of alternatives and money for research for alternatives).
The miners I have spoken to do it for the money. The women make the best of the situation.
I have to point out that contributing to the mining industry, 'for the money' is not really a valid choice for me.... however, in different circumstances I might have to. Luckily, at the moment, I have a choice. Perhaps I'm not earning a lot (actually very little).
Its worth researching a bit...
I'm a HUGE fan of the beach, and I wouldn't move if I was them... but! The money is tempting for everyone...
What do you think?

  allwelcome Jun 4, 2008 4:54 PM


I have been in mt isa for a little over 4 years and while it's not my favourite place in the world it's ok. As to the comments about the hospital...I recently had a baby and wouldn't have gone anywhere else. We had a few complications and bub & i had to stay in for 8 days. The staff were amazing and very professional. All hospitals have waiting time troubles due to staff shortages and ours is no exception...by the way, alot of wommen work at the mines, it is only certain areas they can't due to the affect of lead on the reproductory system...i would suggest you do a little more research before making generalisations...It isn't the easy place to live but for what ever reason people choose to be here you always have a choice, if you don't like it, leave it and move else where..

  Ellana Jan 22, 2009 6:18 PM


Hi Ellana, thanks for writing.
I appreciate what you wrote, from your point of view, and I would just like to point out, that I didn't say any of those things about the hospital. It was, only one woman that we met, and I quoted her in the above blog entry.
Again, I admit, I only passed through, and again, let me add, I'm one of the least informed of all people to discuss all the issues here.
Thanks for making the entry a bit more balanced, by offering your opinion.
Any you're right - my mother has a bumper sticker saying 'if you don't love it, leave' - and the saying goes for all of us lucky enought to chose our place of residence.
take care -

  allwelcome Jan 23, 2009 2:46 AM

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