Mount Magnet (W.A.)
Mount Magnet is an old Western Australian gold rush town. The name was chosen during exploration of the region due to an isolated hill 5 km north west of the town current townsite. This hill has an extremely high iron content and affected the compasses of explorers. At the 2006 census, Mount Magnet had a population of 424.
It is located 573 kilometres (356 mi) northeast of Perth via the Great Northern Highway. Only a few mines are still worked, including Hill 50 which started operations in the 1890s.
The area once had three separate townsites – Mount Magnet, Boogardie, and Lennonville. Boogardie has since been swallowed up into the open cut mining operations at Hill 50. Lennonville was abandoned at the start of World War I, and the foundations of the bank and train station can still be seen.
Unusual for such a large mining community, Mount Magnet has never had a public battery. The nearest battery was built 5 km west, in Boogardie. However its gold-rush heyday can be seen in its very wide main street with three hotels, a race course and a golf course complete with oiled greens.
Surrounding the town are remnants of old mining operations, and to the north east are significant Aboriginal sites being preserved jointly by the local community and the West Australian Museum. Today Mount Magnet is primarily a service town for the surrounding pastoral district which supports very large sheep stations.
During spring (September to November) the area attracts tourist viewing the natural display of everlastings that can stretch for kilometres in all directions. Being 6 hours drive from Perth makes it a comfortable day’s journey for vehicles heading further north to places like Mount Augustus and Port Hedland.
During the lifetime of the Northern Railway to Meekatharra Mount Magnet was an important railway station and yard.
Mount Magnet is served by Mount Magnet Airport, where Skippers Aviation has services to and from Meekatharra and Perth.
Australian test cricketer Bill Ponsford spent summers in Mount Magnet during his youth.
Serendipitously, the magnetic variation at this location, as of 2006, is zero: magnetic north equals true north.
In Australia’s Golden Outback, Mount Magnet is one of the Murchison region’s original gold mining towns with the first find recorded in 1891.
Today, it is both mining and pastoral industries which form the economic base of the Shire of Mount Magnet, however the beautiful wildflower blooms that can be seen between July and September each year also draw many tourists to the town.
Hill 50 Gold Mine was incorporated in May 1934 taking up the Sidar and Zion leases near Boogardie.From a modest start in 1936 the mine gradually developed in size until at the outbreak of World War 11, they were producing about 40,000 tonnes for 13,5000 ounces annually.Ore reserves of 250,000 tonnes, proved up and developed before the war, enabled this company to persist during the war on limited manpower and to maintain production after the war.
In contrast the Hill 60 and St George mines did not survive the war because of their lower grade reserves and bad ground, which caused them to be more labour intensive.
The Hill 50 Gold Mine had depleted its ore reserve to 73,000 tonnes during the war, but mining was given a great boost by the finding of the main shoot in 1949 by drilling beneath the north of the mine.The section of the mill in this sketch was in place by 1951 and the steel shaft was erected in 1956 having been brought over from Broken Hill.
The ore was all hoisted with a steam winder until 1959.Production from the rich main ore shoot peaked during the late 1950s at 75,000 90,000 ounces per year with profits for the year running at £750,000 to £1,000,000. Based on the relative price for gold this would translate to about $30 million per year profit.
Hill 50 was Australia’s most profitable mine between 1955 and 1961. From then to 1976, the year the mine closed, the profits gradually decreased because of lowering grade and the great depth (1000 metres) from which the ore was produced. The Hill 50 mine up until 1976 had produced 3,600,000 tonnes of ore for 1.4 million ounces of gold worth $700 million.
During the 10 years from 1966 to 1976 ore was also produced from the Morning Star shaft. It was upon this shaft that the re opening of Hill 50 Gold Mine N.L. operations depended in 1980. A good result for a company with an initial issued capital of $50,000. Hill 50 Gold Mine is now owned by Harmony Gold.
Graziers and Pastoralists – 1854 to 1891
The Aborigines sole possession of Mt Magnet and its surrounds ceased in 1854 when Robert Austin, the assistant government surveyor, traversed the area describing it as a fine goldfield and good grazing country.
Although he camped in the area he did not find any gold himself. The gold boom was in full swing in Victoria and New South Wales and it would be imagined that he would be on the constant lookout for indications of gold.
His suggestion that the area was a fine goldfield was not followed up and it was another 34 years before the first gold was found in the area. In the meantime in 1879 the Watson family settled on Yoweragabbic Station.
The Jones family on Boogardie Station were followed closely by other families and individuals until most of the Mount Magnet hinterland was sparsely settled by graziers.
In the intervening 30 years from 1854 1884 the search for gold had circled half the Australian continent and men were working their way down from the discoveries at Halls’ Creek (found by the government geologist, E.T. Hardman, in 1882).
George Woodley and Tom Sampey found gold near Mount Magnet in 1888 but it wasn’t until July 1891 that they applied for a claim and miners started working the area which was about 4 km NW of Mt Magnet, in the shadow of Warramboo, the hill dominating the town.
The decision to update an historical booklet turned into a 10 year odyssey of research and learning for two Mount Magnet women. Karen Morrissey and Lorna Day have just finished a decade of studying Mount Magnet’s past. The title of which is “Drawn to Mount Magnet” – a comprehensive book about the town, the district and its people. The duo initially volunteered to help update a historical booklet about the mining town, originally written by a local priest in 1979.
But after a year of updating they knew they had started something big.”After 12 months, Lorna and I realised we weren’t updating the booklet anymore, we were writing a book,” Mrs Morrissey said. “So we just kept going until we’d finished.” This included making many trips to Geraldton and Perth to access records about the district.
Some record files were accessible in Mount Magnet but a great deal had been lost to fire.”Because of the damage, a lot of the history recorded had to come from families which had lived in the area for a long time,” Mrs Morrissey said.
This had benefits both for the women and the district. The two were able to glean the history of the district for their book through the interviews, at the same time preserving history and recollections of the past which may well have gone to the grave with the people if not for their work.
According to the women the book has also served to place Mount Magnet in the context of WA’s history, “A lot of the early families here were connected to families on the Swan River settlement,” Mrs Morrissey said. So it seemed appropriate to go back to the Swan River settlement and show how they got here. But it’s not just a book about the distant past. It’s also a very modern record of what has happened here.”
The book also features an extensive range of colour photographs of the district and examines the early links between the region’s pastoralists and prospectors. “When the pastoralists came in the 1880s. they created places for prospectors to stay; often prospectors stayed at the homesteads,” Mrs Morrissey said.
The two women were named 1997’s Mount Magnet’s Citizens of the Year for their work.\