The treasures of the Shire of Etheridge, North Queensland

  • By Angus M Robinson FAusIMM(CP)

The Etheridge Shire Council in North Queensland has decided to prepare and lodge a nomination for a UNESCO Global Geopark over an area of some 40 000 km2. The nomination, which is to be known at this stage as the ‘Pre-Aspiring Etheridge Global Geopark’, embraces the Etheridge Province of the North Australian Craton, which contains rocks of both Proterozoic and Paleozoic age.

In addition, rocks of the Forsayth Subprovince host important gold mineralisation that includes the Etheridge Gold and Mineral Field, the most significant of which is located at the former Kidston mine. Gold was discovered in the Georgetown mining district in 1868, and a series of other gold and base metal discoveries followed. According to Wikipedia, ‘the Ortona Mine and Battery was listed on the Queensland Heritage Register in 2000 because of its significance in demonstrating the effort employed in the early exploration and development of mineral deposits, in this case, copper. The place is the most isolated copper mine and treatment plant in the Georgetown mining district. It contains historical landscape qualities and demonstrates a combining of natural and cultural heritage values.’ The Einasleigh (Lynd) mine and smelter site is also located in the Shire of Etheridge. The historic site is an area of around 4 ha, situated 1 km north of Einasleigh on the west bank of the Copperfield River at its junction with the Einasleigh River. Information about recent exploration and development work in this area is prominently displayed within the heritage listed Einasleigh Hotel. The Etheridge Province also includes significant occurrences of gemstones, notably agates and topaz, as well as hot springs attractions.

Two geological events in the Cainozoic now feature as iconic geotourism attractions in the region. The most significant of these is the Undara lava tube system, which is truly unique in the world based on its age, preservation and lineal extent, as well as the geomorphological expressions within flat-lying sediments at Cobbold Gorge. Both of these landforms, as well as the other Proterozoic and Paleozoic landforms in the area proposed for the Global Geopark, have resulted in a diverse range of landforms with unique biodiversity characteristics including a rich assemblage of birdlife. Committed input from the Ewamian Aboriginal community is sure to identify sites exhibiting rich indigenous culture.

Local mining company interests as well as AusIMM members of the Far North Queensland and North Queensland branches are expected to contribute information about the geological and mining heritage of the Etheridge Province and surrounding mining areas of North Queensland.

The Etheridge geotourism project (strongly championed by Etheridge Shire Council Mayor Warren Devlin and Chief Executive Michael Kitzelmann) is being coordinated from the Shire Council office in Georgetown, which is located on the Savannah Way, west of the localities of Mt Garnet and Mt Surprise. In October 2016, Etheridge Shire Council unveiled the world’s first peace monument represented by a substantive rock sculpture garden adorned with plaques recognising seven global peace leaders, including three Australians – Eddie Mabo, Helen Caldicott and Julian Burnside. This cultural project is strongly supported by the Mayor, who includes gold mining as part of his various business interests.

Georgetown also hosts an important mineral and fossil collection, the Ted Elliot Collection, housed in the TerrEstrial Centre.

Apart from his family, Ted Elliott OAM had two main passions in life – the collection and preservation of Australian mineral heritage and mining history and working for the benefit of disadvantaged and isolated children and youth. His passion for Australian mineral heritage began in 1946 when he first began collecting minerals as a young lad on his father’s farm at Wirrimah, near Young in New South Wales. Since that time, the Ted Elliot Collection has grown to become one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of its type in Australia, consisting of outstanding specimens from Australia and all over the world.

The collection at the TerrEstrial Centre consists of over 4500 separate specimens and constitutes the bulk of Ted’s lifetime of work in collecting and acquiring minerals. The minerals on display are generally arranged geographically, with many parts of the collection representing significant stages in the development of Ted’s collection over the years.

From humble beginnings in Young (the Lambing Flat gold mining area), Ted moved to Uralla and continued collecting specimens from the New England mining areas of New South Wales into the 1950s and 1960s. In the early 1960s, Ted returned to Queensland, where he spent three years at Charleville collecting from the opal fields in the region, including additions from the Yowah, Quilpie and Eromanga fields. A later move to Far North Queensland in 1966 resulted in the addition of specimens to his collection from the Agate Creek, Mount Surprise, Herberton, Irvinebank, Chillagoe, Wolfram Camp and Cooktown areas.

In 1976, Ted acquired a significant collection of specimens from Wolfram Camp and ammonite fossils from Wrotham Park Station near Chillagoe from the late Ken Collins. In the same year, he acquired a good collection of agate from Bob and Yvonne Dighton, who were formerly Agate Creek miners. In 1978, good agate and prehnite specimens were purchased from Les Kertez of Cairns. This was also the year that the 250 kg crystal from Wolfram Camp, one of the largest quartz crystals in any Australian collection, was acquired from the late Dr B G Clarke of Cairns.

During the 1980s, Tasmanian-sourced minerals, including crocoite from Dundas, and overseas minerals acquired from Kevin Davey, Albert Chapman, Dehne McLaughlin and Rene Boissevain were added. In the same period, Ted acquired the collection from the Erola Rock Shop in Cairns, put together by Doug and Pat Simpson. The 1980s also saw the addition of gold specimens from New Guinea and the Palmer and Georgetown goldfields and the acquisition of a fine collection of silver specimens from Stephen Thomas, Australia’s champion rock driller, at Cobar Silver.

During the 1990s, a collection from the retired Swiss geologist Hans Mulli and the purchase of a large collection of Walsh River fossils from Je Forrest at Mount Garnet were added. A number of these fossil specimens were traded for a fine collection of minerals from Afghanistan. In 1993, a visit to Dysart resulted in the addition of Permian flora fossils and fine petrified wood. At this time, Ted also acquired the collection of the late Ken Pike, who had spent significant time collecting and working in mines in Zimbabwe and Queensland, including at Mt Isa and Cloncurry. Ted also personally collected specimens from a number of mines, including the Red Dome gold mine near Chillagoe and the Osbourne, Mt Elliott and Biggenden mines.

The purchase of the collection for display at TerrEstrial Georgetown, significant purchases of local gold specimens, including the Providence Nugget and the Devlin Nugget, and the donation of local mineral specimens completed the outstanding collection that is now on display.

The ‘treasure’ trove of the TerrEstrial will be prominently featured as part of the nomination documentation to be submitted to UNESCO.

Click here for more information on the UNESCO Global Geopark Progam.

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