Mining in Australia

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Super Pit gold mine on Kalgoorlie's Golden Mile in Western Australia, Australia's largest open-pit mine Kalgoorlie The Big Pit DSC04498.JPG
Super Pit gold mine on Kalgoorlie's Golden Mile in Western Australia, Australia's largest open-pit mine
Adults employed in the mining industry as a percentage of the adult population in Australia divided geographically by statistical local area, as of the 2011 census Australian Census 2011 demographic map - Australia by SLA - BCP field 7134 Persons Mining Total.svg
Adults employed in the mining industry as a percentage of the adult population in Australia divided geographically by statistical local area, as of the 2011 census

Mining in Australia has long been a significant primary industry and contributor to the Australian economy by providing export income, royalty payments and employment. Historically, mining booms have also encouraged population growth via immigration to Australia, particularly the gold rushes of the 1850s. Many different ores, gems and minerals have been mined in the past and a wide variety are still mined throughout the country. Most of what is mined is exported with relatively little processing done within Australia.

Economy of Australia National economy

The economy of Australia is a large mixed-market economy, with a GDP of A$1.69 trillion as of 2017. In 2018 Australia became the country with the largest median wealth per adult. Australia's total wealth was AUD$8.9 trillion as of June 2016. In 2017, Australia was the 13th-largest national economy by nominal GDP, 20th-largest by PPP-adjusted GDP, and was the 25th-largest goods exporter and 20th-largest goods importer. Australia took the record for the longest run of uninterrupted GDP growth in the developed world with the March 2017 financial quarter, the 103rd quarter and marked 26 years since the country had a technical recession.

A royalty is a payment made by one party to another that owns a particular asset, for the right to ongoing use of that asset. Royalties are typically agreed upon as a percentage of gross or net revenues derived from the use of an asset or a fixed price per unit sold of an item of such, but there are also other modes and metrics of compensation. A royalty interest is the right to collect a stream of future royalty payments.

Immigration to Australia

Immigration to Australia began when the ancestors of Australian Aborigines arrived on the continent via the islands of Maritime Southeast Asia and New Guinea.



Mining was an important early source of export income in Australia and helped to pay for the imports needed for the growing colonial economy. 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. [1] The value of these mines was soon overshadowed by the discovery of copper at Kapunda (1842), [2] Burra (1845) [3] and in the Copper Triangle (Moonta, Kadina and Wallaroo) area at the top of Yorke Peninsula (1861). [4]

South Australia State of Australia

South Australia is a state in the southern central part of Australia. It covers some of the most arid parts of the country. With a total land area of 983,482 square kilometres (379,725 sq mi), it is the fourth-largest of Australia's states and territories by area, and fifth largest by population. It has a total of 1.7 million people, and its population is the second most highly centralised in Australia, after Western Australia, with more than 77 percent of South Australians living in the capital, Adelaide, or its environs. Other population centres in the state are relatively small; Mount Gambier, the second largest centre, has a population of 28,684.

Glen Osmond, South Australia Suburb of Adelaide, South Australia

Glen Osmond is a suburb of Adelaide, South Australia in the City of Burnside which is in the foothills of the Adelaide Hills. It is well known for the road intersection on the western side of the suburb, where the South Eastern Freeway from the Adelaide Hills and the main route from Melbourne splits into National Route A17 Portrush Road, Glen Osmond Road, Adelaide and state route A3 Cross Road west towards the coast and southern suburbs.

Adelaide City in South Australia

Adelaide is the capital city of the state of South Australia, and the fifth-most populous city of Australia. The demonym Adelaidean is used to denote the city and its residents.

Broken Hill Town & Line of Lode Pano, NSW, 08.07.2007.jpg
Broken Hill, NSW, one of Australia's iconic mining towns, backed by the man-made mullock heaps from the Line of Lode

Gold rushes

Australia mined gold production, 1960-2012 Australian Gold Production.png
Australia mined gold production, 1960–2012

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. [5]

Ophir is the name of a locality in New South Wales, Australia in Cabonne Shire.

Victoria (Australia) State in Australia

Victoria is a state in south-eastern Australia. Victoria is Australia's smallest mainland state and its second-most populous state overall, making it the most densely populated state overall. Most of its population lives concentrated in the area surrounding Port Phillip Bay, which includes the metropolitan area of its state capital and largest city, Melbourne, Australia's second-largest city. Victoria is bordered by Bass Strait and Tasmania to the south, New South Wales to the north, the Tasman Sea, to the east, and South Australia to the west.

Melbourne City in Victoria, Australia

Melbourne is the capital and most populous city of the Australian state of Victoria, and the second most populous city in Australia and Oceania. Its name refers to an urban agglomeration of 2,080 km2 (800 sq mi), comprising a metropolitan area with 31 municipalities, and is also the common name for its city centre. The city occupies much of the coastline of Port Phillip bay and spreads into the hinterlands towards the Dandenong and Macedon ranges, Mornington Peninsula and Yarra Valley. It has a population of 5 million, and its inhabitants are referred to as "Melburnians".

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 colonies of the Empire) who contributed the 'rush'. [6] 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. The Total income from the mining industry is about 10 Billion AUD.

British Empire States and dominions ruled by the United Kingdom

The British Empire comprised the dominions, colonies, protectorates, mandates and other territories ruled or administered by the United Kingdom and its predecessor states. It originated with the overseas possessions and trading posts established by England between the late 16th and early 18th centuries. At its height, it was the largest empire in history and, for over a century, was the foremost global power. By 1913, the British Empire held sway over 412 million people, 23% of the world population at the time, and by 1920, it covered 35,500,000 km2 (13,700,000 sq mi), 24% of the Earth's total land area. As a result, its political, legal, linguistic and cultural legacy is widespread. At the peak of its power, the phrase "the empire on which the sun never sets" was often used to describe the British Empire, because its expanse around the globe meant that the sun was always shining on at least one of its territories.


Drilling rig at the Area C iron ore mine, 95 km (59 mi) WNW of Newman, Western Australia. RC drill rig.jpg
Drilling rig at the Area C iron ore mine, 95 km (59 mi) WNW of Newman, Western Australia.

Australia has mining activity in all of its states and territories. The Minerals Council of Australia estimates that 0.02% of Australia's land surface is directly impacted by mining. [7]

The Minerals Council of Australia (MCA) is an industry association, notable for representing companies that generate most of Australia's mining output. The MCA was founded in 1995. It used to be known as the Australian Mining Industry Council which was established in 1960. The Minerals Council is an associate member of the World Coal Association.

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.

Goldfields-Esperance region of Western Australia

The Goldfields-Esperance region is one of the nine regions of Western Australia. It is located in the south eastern corner of Western Australia, and comprises the local government areas of Coolgardie, Dundas, Esperance, Kalgoorlie-Boulder, Laverton, Leonora, Menzies, Ngaanyatjarraku and Ravensthorpe.

Peel (Western Australia) region of Western Australia

The Peel region is one of the nine regions of Western Australia. It is located on the west coast of Western Australia, about 75 km (47 mi) south of the state capital, Perth. It consists of the City of Mandurah, and the Shires of Boddington, Murray, Serpentine-Jarrahdale and Waroona.

Pilbara Place in Western Australia, Australia

The Pilbara is a large, dry, thinly populated region in the north of Western Australia. It is known for its Aboriginal peoples; its ancient landscapes; the red earth; its vast mineral deposits, in particular iron ore; and as a global biodiversity hotspot for subterranean fauna.

Major active mines in Australia include:

For a more comprehensive list of mines in Australia, see Mines in Australia

Minerals and resources

Australian metal ore and mineral quarterly exports ($A millions) since 1969. ABS-5302.0-BalancePaymentsInternationalInvestmentPositionAustralia-GoodsCredits-Original Quarter-MetalOresMinerals-A3534882W.svg
Australian metal ore and mineral quarterly exports ($A millions) since 1969.

Large quantities of minerals and resources :

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. [20]

Statistical chart of Australia's major mineral resources

Australia ranks among the top 4 in economic resources for 21 primary industrial minerals, more than any other nation. Statistics are for December 2016. [21]

Units of measurement: t = tonne; kt = kilotonne (1,000 t); Mt = million tonne (1,000,000 t); Mc = million carat (1,000,000 c)

MineralUnit of MeasurementDemonstrated
Economic Resources
Ranking of
% of
Production (2016)World
Ranking of Production
% of
Years of Resources
at Current Production
Antimony kt content139495.54425
Bauxite Mt ore6,00522282.1513173
Coal, Black Mt64,045410566.347113
Coal, Brown (lignite)Mt66,43922463.3561,050
Cobalt kt content11642145.4754213
CopperMt content87.78212.955592
Diamond (industrial)Mc115.8431813.962248
Goldt content9,8001172882934
Iron ore Mt ore49,58812985813858
LeadMt content24.09140.452954
Lithium kt content2,73031814141195
Manganese Mt ore2194133.24968
Nickel Mt content18.5124.2045991
Rare Earth Elements Mt ore3.4363.014211245
Silverkt content89.292161.425563
Tin kt content4864106.647273

(Ilmenite & Rutile)

Mt ore276.12171.7210162
Tungsten kt content391212.1112.401,151
Uranium kt content1,2121296.31310192
Vanadium kt content2,11141100NANA
Zinc Mt content63.5128.8843775
Zircon Mt ore72.1167.60131120

Coal mining

Australian coal, coke and briquette quarterly exports ($A millions) since 1969. ABS-5302.0-BalancePaymentsInternationalInvestmentPositionAustralia-GoodsCredits-Original Quarter-CoalCokeBriquettes-A3534883X.svg
Australian coal, coke and briquette quarterly exports ($A millions) since 1969.

Coal is mined in every state of Australia except South 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. [17] Coal also provides about 85% of Australia's electricity production. [22] Australia is the world's leading coal exporter. [23]

Uranium mining

Uranium mining in Australia began in the early 20th century in South Australia. At 2016 Australia contained 29% of the world's defined uranium resources. 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.

Natural gas

Based on 2008 CSIRO report, Australia estimated to have stranded gas reserves with about 140 trillion cubic feet or enough to fulfil the needs of a city with one million people for 2,800 years. [24]

Mining Employment by Sector in 1000's Mining Employment by Sector in 1000's.jpg
Mining Employment by Sector in 1000's

Entrepreneurs and magnates

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.


Total employment in metal ore mining (thousands of people) since 1984 ABS-6291.0.55.003-LabourForceAustraliaDetailedQuarterly-EmployedPersonsByIndustrySubdivisionSex-EmployedTotal-MetalOreMining-Persons-A2546093J.svg
Total employment in metal ore mining (thousands of people) since 1984
Total employment in coal mining (thousands of people) since 1984 ABS-6291.0.55.003-LabourForceAustraliaDetailedQuarterly-EmployedPersonsByIndustrySubdivisionSex-EmployedTotal-CoalMining-Persons-A2546087L.svg
Total employment in coal mining (thousands of people) since 1984
Total employment in oil and gas extraction (thousands of people) since 1984 ABS-6291.0.55.003-LabourForceAustraliaDetailedQuarterly-EmployedPersonsByIndustrySubdivisionSex-EmployedTotal-OilGasExtraction-Persons-A2546090A.svg
Total employment in oil and gas extraction (thousands of people) since 1984

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. [25]

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 1901. [26] 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. [27] Japan was the major purchaser of Australian mineral exports in the mid-1990s. [5]

Of the developed countries, perhaps only Canada and Norway have mining as such a significant part of the economy; for comparison, in Canada mining represents about 3.6% of the Canadian economy and 32% of exports, [28] and in Norway mining, dominated by petroleum, represents about 19% of GDP and 46% of exports. [29] By comparison, in the United States mining represents only about 1.6% of GDP. [30]

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. [31]

Technology and services

Australia's mining services, equipment, and technology exports are over $2 billion annually. [32]


Many mines in remote areas have a traditional company town (for example Roxby Downs or Leigh Creek), or support towns that used to be company towns such as Broken Hill and Mount Isa.

The town of Mount Isa is surrounded by vast mineral deposits. Panorama of Mount Isa, Queensland.jpg
The town of Mount Isa is surrounded by vast mineral deposits.

Environment and politics

The mountains near Queenstown, Tasmania, completely denuded of vegetation through effects of mining Queenstown minesite area 1984.jpg
The mountains near Queenstown, Tasmania, completely denuded of vegetation through effects of mining

Mining has created major economic benefits for the country, but has also had a substantial environmental impact in some areas of Australia. Historically, the Victorian gold rush was the start of the economic growth of the country, leading to major increases in population. However, it also resulted in deforestation, consequent erosion, and pollution in the areas that were mined. [33] 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. It is estimated that 10 million hectares of land have been affected throughout the history of mining in Australia. [7] Because Australia's mines are distributed across varying climates the knowledge gained from one mine's restoration does not easily extrapolate to other sites. [7]

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. [34] Australia is a participant in international anti-proliferation efforts designed to ensure that no exported uranium is used in nuclear weapons. [35]

Mining disasters

Memorial for the workers who lost their lives at Mount Kembla, 1902 MtKembla coalmine disaster memorial.JPG
Memorial for the workers who lost their lives at Mount Kembla, 1902

New Australian Gold Mine

Creswick in the Victorian goldfields was the site of The New Australasian No.2 Deep Lead Gold Mine. At 4:45 am, 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. [36]

Mount Kembla

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. [37]

Balmain Colliery

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. [38]

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. [38]

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. [38]

North Mount Lyell

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.

Mount Mulligan

The 1921 Mount Mulligan mine disaster occurred in Far North Queensland. The coal dust explosion killed seventy-five men.

Mount Mulligan in Far North Queensland Mount-mulligan-cape-york.JPG
Mount Mulligan in Far North Queensland


Four serious accidents have occurred at mines in the Central Queensland town of 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. [39]


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. Two men (Timothy Lee Bell, 21, Shane Hamill, 45) were killed and eight escaped the 'accident'. It took over a month to retrieve the men from the site.


Headworks over a shaft at Beaconsfield gold mine in Tasmania. Beaconsfield mine.JPG
Headworks over a shaft at Beaconsfield gold mine in Tasmania.

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.


1887 At 2.30 pm on 23 March 1887, an explosion at the mine in Bulli in New South Wales killed 81 people. [40] A special commission was set up to investigate the explosion and concluded:

..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. [41]

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. [42]

Box Flat Mine

At the Box Flat Mine in Swanbank, South East Queensland, 17 miners were lost after an underground gas explosion occurred on 31 July 1972. [43] Another man died later from injuries sustained in the explosion. The mine tunnel mouths were sealed and the mine closed shortly after. [43]

Australian mining in literature, art and film

See also

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Mining is important to the national economy of Mongolia. Mongolia is one of the 29 resource-rich developing countries identified by the International Monetary Fund and exploration of copper and coal deposits are generating substantial additional revenue. Coal, copper, and gold are the principal reserves mined in Mongolia. Several gold mines are located about 110 kilometres (68 mi) north of Ulaanbaatar, such as Boroo Gold Mine and Gatsuurt Gold Mine. Khotgor Coal Mine is an open-pit coal mining site about 120 kilometres (75 mi) west of Ulaangom. Ömnögovi Province in the south of Mongolia is home to large scale mining projects such as the Tavan Tolgoi coal mine and the Oyu Tolgoi copper mine. Oyu Tolgoi mine is reported to have the potential to boost the national economy by a third but is subject to dispute over how the profits should be shared. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has estimated that 71 percent of the income from the mine would go to Mongolia.

Mining in North Korea is important to the country's economy. North Korea is naturally abundant in metals such as magnesite, zinc, tungsten, and iron; with magnesite resources of 6 billion tonnes, particularly in the Hamgyeong-do and Jagang-do provinces. However, often these cannot be mined due to the acute shortage of electricity in the country, as well as the lack of proper tools to mine these materials and an antiquated industrial base. Coal, iron ore, limestone, and magnesite deposits are larger than other mineral commodities. Mining joint ventures with other countries include China, Canada, Egypt, and South Korea.

Mining in Taiwan used to be a great industry, especially for sulfur, clay, gold and coal. Nowadays, Taiwan lacks natural resources for mining and relies on imports to meet its demand for minerals. The current mining industries in Taiwan are of small and medium size in terms of exploited minerals and the scale of mining, mainly focusing on marble and limestone for cement, stone and craft industries and sand and gravel for construction industries. Mining activities in Taiwan are regulated by the Bureau of Mines of the Ministry of Economic Affairs.


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