Travelling Australia - Journal 2015c
|24-27 May 2015
Cobar is a small, but substantial, township in central New South Wales, population reported on roadside signs is 5,500; the 2011 census reported 3,817 living in the town and 4,700 in the shire. The climate is classed as semi-arid with average daily maximum temperature of 25°C and average daily minimum of 13°C. Rainfall is reported as about 390 millimetres annually and extremely variable. More than 200 millimetres has been recorded in a single month.
Pastoralists arrived in the area in the 1860s and copper was discovered in 1870. The Great Cobar Copper Mining Company Limited was established in 1878 and operated successfully into the next century. The township of Cobar grew alongside the mine. Although the Great Cobar Mine has been closed for many years remains of that mine greet visitors arriving from Nyngan/Sydney along the Barrier Highway. The large letters spelling out C O B A R are mounted on a concrete structure formerly part of the Great Cobar mine workings.
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There were many other mines, as well as the Great Cobar. In the 1880s many miners were from Cornwall with considerable experience in copper mines and Cobar is reported to have developed a Cornish feel about it then. Several of the more attractive buildings still used in Cobar were erected at this time.
The discovery of workable gold in 1887-8 provided another source of income for the miners and the town, this was fortunate because Great Cobar closed temporarily in 1889 during a downturn in metals demand.
The Cobar region is rich in minerals but is remote and dry so mining and ore processing were difficult. Transport was particularly difficult before the railway line connected Cobar with Nyngan in 1892. Before then, richer copper ore from Great Cobar was transported to be loaded on Darling River paddle steamers for the long journey to Adelaide for smelting. This was an expensive procedure and financially worthwhile for only the richest ore (25% or better).
The Cobar region is geologically very complex with a sequence of events geologists have traced back for 400 million years. Early miners successfully relied on visual surveys to find ore bodies; but eventually the industry realised many rich deposits do not show at the surface and different techniques using twentieth century technology were needed. The Enterprise mine north of Cobar was found in the 1970s by aerial magnetometer surveys and now produces silver, lead and zinc from an ore body deep underground.
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Mines around Cobar have varied histories depending on numerous factors including geology, technology and management but an important factor in profitable operation was (and is) the price paid by overseas buyers for a mine's output. Any slump in global prices is reflected in employment at the mine (because of reduced demand) which quickly affects the town so an alternative is useful.
Cobar, at the intersection of the Barrier Highway (Sydney to Broken Hill and Adelaide) and the Kidman Way (Bourke to Tocumwal and Melbourne), has developed refuelling facilities for long-distance heavy transports as well as emphasising more conventional tourism (with hotels and motels) and attracting recreational vehicles with parking areas and overnight stopping areas.
An imposing, two-storey, former Great Cobar building at the edge of the town has become the Visitor Information Centre (free entry) and the Great Cobar Heritage Centre ($10 entry). The comprehensive, extremely well prepared Heritage Centre display is well worth the entry price.
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One mine is also a tourist attraction. Fort Bourke Lookout, a few kilometres from Cobar on a reasonable bitumen road with adequate car parking, is on the edge of the 150 metre deep New Cobar open-cut. At the bottom of the open-cut a horizontal tunnel leads into access drives to the working New Cobar and Chesney gold mines well below the open cut. Ore from these mines is removed in dump trucks which fit comfortably through the entrance at the bottom of the open-cut.