Travelling Australia - Journal 2013
25-26 May 2013

location map
We spent the weekend in Cloncurry. Both days were bright and sunny with blue sky. The wind on Saturday was strong and gusty; the wind faded overnight but resumed next day with less strength. Nights and mornings were cool.

Cloncurry's population in 2011 was 2796, an increase from the 2006 census of 2384, but less than the 3,898 people recorded in 1996. The climate is hot. Average daily maximum temperate is 33.1°C and the average daily minimum is 18.7°C. December is hottest month with average daily maximum temperature of 38.5°C. Annual rainfall is 584.5 millimetres, most of it (453 millimetres) falling from December to March.

Cloncurry businesses are an interesting cross-section. The town was established to support copper mining but the cattle industry has developed in the local area; servicing passing caravans and motor-homes has become important. Cloncurry is located so that the majority of tourists from Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland heading for the Northern Territory and northern Western Australia pass through here. Travellers coming from Victoria or New South Wales on the Newell Highway and Landsborough Highway join the Flinders Highway from Townsville and coastal north Queensland east of the town then pass through Cloncurry enroute to Mt Isa and the Barkly Highway into the Northern Territory. These same travellers also usually pass through Cloncurry on their return trip. Caravans line the streets during the day when travellers stop at the shops.

The town was established in 1876 to support the nearby Great Australia copper mine which followed the discovery of copper ore by Ernest Henry in 1867. Other mines were subsequently established on rich copper ore deposits around the area and Cloncurry boomed as copper mines prospered but long term development was more as a cattle industry support centre and the town boasts substantial saleyards. The cattle industry remains important but mining has experienced a resurgence and mining industry vehicles and people are now often seen around the town.

The Ernest Henry mine, operated by XStrata and named after the original discoverer of copper, opened in 1998 to extract copper, gold and magnetite. This mine is 38 kilometres from Cloncurry. Operations at Ernest Henry have expanded with the addition of Mount Margaret copper mine less than 25 kilometres from Ernest Henry, operation there began in July 2012; ore from Mount Margaret is trucked to Ernest Henry for initial processing.

A mine with possibly more direct impact on Cloncurry is the Rockland mine, operated by CuDECO Ltd and designed to extract copper, cobalt and gold. This mine, under construction in 2013 while diamond drilling establishes the full extent of copper deposits, is 15 kilometres west of Cloncurry. Rockland is very much a Cloncurry local industry; CuDECO's office is in Cloncurry, the company has built accommodation (38 single units) in Cloncurry and acquired houses in town for senior staff. CuDECO uses other accommodation as well. CuDECO vehicles are often seen around town and the company advertises for technical personnel on commmunity notice-boards in Cloncurry. But CuDECO is not necessarily seen as good for Cloncurry since the company houses employees in self-contained accommodation which does not provide business opportunities for Cloncurry; employees housed by the company do not shop in town because the company provides all they need. One business person we spoke with believed the mines were, on balance, bad for Cloncurry.

A third mine around Cloncurry is Dugald River, still under construction and planned to begin operating in 2015. This is a silver, lead and zinc mine 65 kilometres north-west of Cloncurry being built by MMG (Minmetals) to replace the Century mine which is expected to be depleted by 2016. Dugald River is a fly-in/fly-out operation with workers flying into Cloncurry then travelling 40 minutes by bus to accommodation at the mine site. The impact on Cloncurry will be virtually nill.

Concentrated ore from mines at Ernest Henry, Rocklands and Dugald River will be carried by truck into Cloncurry to the Multi-user Rail Load-out Facility to be loaded on trains and sent to the Port of Townsville for export.

Mining has affected Cloncurry in many ways; mining vehicles in the street is one and people in shops wearing hi-vis overalls is another. One change obvious to us is that the caravan park we have used on previous visits has built a large number of accommodation units for miners. Some van sites have been retained in an attempt to combine permanent accommodation for miners and sites for transient caravans but the mix wasn't working when we called in; the van sites were uninviting and we went elsewhere.