The Mongolata Goldfield in South Australia is a mine about 150km north-northeast of Adelaide. The Mongolata Goldfield is at an elevation of approximately 371m above sea level.
The depression of the 1930s increased the search for gold, and any other minerals once more. Numerous unemployed men took to the road humping their swags in the hope of finding gold or a job. During the previous years very little gold mining had been done.
Most fields were very quiet with only a few men prospecting, cleaning out, dry blowing or retreating old dumps. However as the economic depression deepened, many more men took to gold prospecting and the reopening of old mines.
With government assistance several prospecting parties were organised among the unemployed and some good finds were made. The best, and largest was at Mongolata, about twenty-five kilometres northeast of Burra.
The Mongolata area had been settled by the early 1870s when hopeful farmers grew potatoes but later changed to barley. At the end of the 1878 season they harvested forty bushels of barley to the acre. After that the rains were far and few between. However in May 1884 they received ‘splendid rains’ as much as 4.5 cm. It was reported that it would do ‘an immense amount of good for the wheat and the grass’.
A small community developed and for a short time there were enough children around for a school to be opened. Emily Laura Cameron was the last teacher before the school closed in 1899. By this time farm sizes had become much bigger and fewer people remained in the area.
It was at Mongolata that a claim was staked by Henry A. Byles, a drover, after he found some gold in November 1930. He was granted an eighteen acre lease and started a drive into the hillside. As usual, news spread quickly and by the end of the year seven additional claims had been applied for. By February 1931, more than fifty men were prospecting the field. At its peak more than 120 men were actively working the field.
Early August 1931 Chief Inspector of Mines, Louis Winton visited the field and reported rich specimens of ore from some of the openings but they were rather patchy. There was also a problem during the treatment of the ore as the gold did not readily almalgamate. However the value of the tailings of the battery was high but cyaniding was indispensable. So far 37 tons had been treated yielding 136 oz.
Having mined about twelve tons of ore, Byles transported it to the Peterborough Government Battery and Cyanide Works were it was treated and yielded seventy-three ounces of gold. A total of 863 ounces were obtained from these works by the different mines at Mongolata.
Later in August 1931 the Government Geologist, L. Keith Ward, also visited the field. He reported that although it was in its early stages a considerable amount of work had already been done. He advised that provisions for a water supply were essential and should be investigated without delay.
Last but not least he wrote that ‘We are strongly of the opinion that the serious efforts of those men who are working on rations, provided by the Unemployment Relief Council, is deserving of full recognition’.
With the assistance of funds from the Commonwealth Unemployment Relief, Forward Down & Co erected a ten head battery in 1932 to encourage employment on the field. By the end of 1932 the government battery and cyanide plant were completed and trials conducted. Premier Richards officially opened it on 2 March 1933. During the first eighteen months it produced four thousand ounces of gold.
The start of the battery reduced transport costs considerably and made it possible to mine lower grade ores as well. Work was now continued in a much more professional manner. The Mongolata Gold Mining Syndicate was formed with a capital of £500 to develop the mine. Eight men were employed in sinking a shaft, extending the original drive and work part of the property by open cut method.
In March 1932 the Mongolata Gold Mining Syndicate was reorganised and became the Byles’ Mongolata Gold Mining Company, which was later able to pay dividends to its shareholders, something very few gold mines had done so far. The mine employed fifteen men in 1932. There were also a number of different companies working the field.
Among them the Mongolata No1, Mongolata No2, Mongolata Block 8, Mongolata Alluvial Gold Mining Company, Mongolata Central, Mongolata South, Burra Mongolata, Curlew Gold Mining Syndicate, Wildildie, Mount Edith Claim, Black Hill, East View, Golden Harp, Rampton’s Lease, Pinnaroo Gold Mining Syndicate, Baldina Gold Mining Syndicate, Terry’s Claim and the Takati Gold Mine. This last one was owned by William Rexton who worked it with the help of his sons from 1932 until 1942.
Most of these companies had sunk one or more shafts, tunnels or drives and several had obtained a little gold. At the Curlew, H. Lewis found gold in a small gully near a newly dug tunnel. Byles’ Mongolata Company took over The Golden Harp after a few months and found good gold. During the first six months of 1933 it produced 398 ounces. At the Takati, on section 23, 154 ounces were handpicked from the ore before it was treated at Peterborough. This company had a poppet head erected above its main shaft for the removal of the ore.
By mid 1933 the Mongolata field had produced 2038 ounces of gold. It seemed large and prosperous enough for some time for an area to be surveyed for permanent residents and a few businesses, including Carpenter’s Eating and Boarding House.
Some miners though preferred to live in dugouts on the mine site, or in the side of the creek, like the original miners at Burra. Doing it that way they saved time, effort and building materials for one or even two walls. It also provided insulation against the summer heat and winter cold.
A tense moment in 1934 during which all eyes were on Mr J. Morgan, the manager of the new show, as he panned some dirt for the first time searching for little specks which meant so much to the prospector.
Within a few years most of the gold deposits had been located although some very rich but isolated patches were found occasionally. Only a few companies were able to keep going, seldom employing more than a few men. During 1936 there were only thirty-five men working for the different companies. However Byles’ Mongolata mine had by this stage produced gold to the value of more than £25,000. Gold had been produced from a number of shallow workings below the old open cut.
During 1937 the mine was modernised, the vertical shaft deepened and headgear installed. However no gold produced. By this time the Curlew mine had produced 1215 ounces of gold and the East View 443 ounces. Byles’ Mongolata produced about one hundred ounces of gold in 1947.
By the end of 1936 most miners had left as very little gold was produced by any of them. By the end of 1938 the Mongolata Battery had produced 8,980 ounces of gold. In 1945 L.L. Mansfield, Inspector of Mines, wrote, ‘The Mongolata Field is a gouger’s proposition only, and will no doubt continue to attract this type of miner and more rich packets will probably be unearthed’.
Unfortunately this has not been the case and the battery closed down in 1954 having produced more than ten thousand ounces of gold. Mongolata accounted for 350 kg of gold.
It is still worked today on a very small scale with extra income provided by tourists.