Brisbane's own silver rush
Photo above courtesy of SLQ: Winding Plant at the Finney's Hill United Silver Mine, Indooroopilly, Brisbane, 1920s. Negative no 80152.
By Susan Prior
Finney's Hill United Silver Mine
Imagine you’ve purchased a block of land and you are just about to start building your new family home. There, in what is going to be your backyard, you find what you think is some precious metal – silver-bearing galena. That is what happened to a Mr G.J. Ohlsen (also spelled Olsen), back in late 1918, on Finney’s Hill in Indooroopilly. When travelling from the city southwards towards Indooroopilly on the Centenary Freeway, Finney’s Hill is straight ahead as you turn onto the off ramp to get to Moggill Road.
Some say the discovery was made while sinking holes for the piles of the dwelling, others say that the find was made while building a rockery. Either way, it really doesn’t matter. According to The Queenslander (25 January, 1919) Mr Ohlsen, with his friend Mr P.J. Madden, began to test the property for mineral deposits and decided it was worth going ahead and obtaining a mining lease on the land. They took out Mining Lease No 13 – unlucky for some, perhaps.
When Ohlsen and Madden took out their mining lease there must have been a frisson of excitement felt around the small semi-rural community, with everyone wondering if they were sitting on their own little pile of precious metals. Ken Grubb, in a booklet about the mine, Silver Hill – The University of Queensland Silver Mine Precinct, says that at the time there was a mining rush in the immediate locality with further mining leases being taken out.
Accounts vary, but going by the newspaper reports of the time, the discovery may have been made in late 1918 and by November 1919 the pair were in business. I am happy for someone with a more in-depth knowledge to correct me on the exact timing here.
Originally, the mine was an open pit, which meant Mr Ohlsen’s brand new home had to go. The ore was dug out and sent to the Cockle Creek works in New South Wales. Later, there were also shafts sunk underground to gain access to the precious ore. The mine, though, never made its owners the vast sums they had, no doubt, hoped for. After a strike by the workers, a drop in the price of lead, and an unusually wet summer that caused both work stoppages and subsidence, the mine closed in 1926. On 1 May, 1926, The Brisbane Courier reported the closure:
Finney’s Hill Mine.
When silver lead deposits wore discovered at Finney’s Hill, Indooroopilly, some years ago, the event created a good deal of interest in Brisbane. After some preliminary mining operations had been carried out the Finney’s Hill United Silver Mines Limited was formed. The high hopes, which were held out for the success of this venture, were dispelled, however, when the ore, which was of good quality on the surface, began to give a decreased yield. The broken character of the strata added to the difficulties of the company, which were made even more acute when industrial trouble occurred at the mine, and continued for a long period. A fall in the market value of the ore was the final calamity which overtook the enterprise. It was learnt yesterday that notice had been given to shareholders that an extraordinary general meeting would be held at Commerce House on May l8, at noon, for the purpose of considering, and if thought fit, passing, as an extraordinary resolution, that the company should be wound up voluntarily.
Mr Madden bought the land and revived production in 1928. But by 1929 its life as a commercial mine was over. According to The University of Queensland, the total production of the mine during its working life was 227,343 ounces of silver and 1796 tons of lead.
In 1930, Brisbane City Council took over the site, leaving it dormant until 1951, by which time all mining leases had lapsed. Then it was the turn of UQ. The university leased the derelict site, or in other accounts it was donated to them. The mine itself is an historical artefact, and is, to all intents and purposes, closed. Some of the mine infrastructure still remains in situ, above ground.
The site is now known as the Julius Kruttschnitt Mineral Research Centre (JKMRC), and is part of UQ’s Sustainable Minerals Institute (SMI). About 30 Masters and PhD students conduct research at the centre at any one time, along with about ten undergraduates who gain valuable work experience in the labs there.
The Centre conducts research into sustainable mining. Professor Alice Clark, who kindly agreed to meet me to talk about the site, describes it as ‘research into the productivity and the whole life-cycle of [the ore]’. In other words, researchers examine how best to extract minerals from the ore bodies in a sustainable manner. All parts of the mining and extraction process are examined. Some examples include: energy conservation, water conservation, how to reduce the production of potential toxins, and how to minimise waste products.
SMI is a world leader in researching sustainable mining; research undertaken at the centre contributes to making the mining process as environmentally acceptable as possible. The Finney’s Hill United Silver Mine Ltd may be closed but its progeny, the JKMRC, is now leading the world in making mining a more sustainable prospect.
Gold at Indooroopilly
As an aside, when the first test drill was done for the Walter Taylor Bridge in 1932, it was reported that ‘one of the richest gold finds in Queensland’ was found under what became the north abutment. Here is an extract from the Morning Bulletin from 17 June, 1932:
Bridge Builders Find Reef, BRISBANE, June 16.
While a shaft for the cable supports of a new traffic bridge at Indooroopilly was being sunk specimens of gold-bearing reef were discovered. Hopes are held out that a payable reef will be found …
Mr. Walter Taylor, contractor for the bridge, has taken out a lease of four acres on mining tenement.
Further excavations for the cable supports, which are already down 42ft., will show whether the gold-bearing ore will pay for working.
Because this was the best site for the bridge, and because he didn’t want any other mining leases being taken out and interfering with the bridge construction, Walter Taylor secured a lease over an eight-acre site adjacent to the bridge.
Noel Davis, grandson of Walter Taylor and author of the book The Remarkable Walter Taylor, recalls, in Oxley-Chelmer: The Dynamic and the Genteel:
My mother told how she remembered Grandpa spreading some rock from the site over the floor under the house, and then stepping over it while holding in both hands a gold chain. He was a firm believer in water divining and was using the same principle to discover if there was gold in the rock. She said that the chain spun round in his hands many times.
The Eldorado Cinema (Spanish for ‘city of gold’) is named after the gold found under the foundations of the Walter Taylor Bridge.