To say that mining entrepreneur Alexander MacDonald lived an interesting life would be one of the great understatements.
As Townsville-based historian Colin Hooper reveals, MacDonald was involved in mining and filmmaking, and quite a bit in between.
“My interest in Alexander MacDonald was piqued by being told in Chillagoe in the 1980s about the world premiere of an Australian film which was released overseas but not in Australia,” Mr Hooper said.
“The old Palace picture theatre was still there at that time and investigating the reasons for this led me down Alexander MacDonald’s path.
“Once started, he proved a most interesting and resourceful man of the world as an author, explorer, prospector, mining entrepreneur and film producer.
“His development of the ore body and treatment at Khartum was interesting in the light of the extensive plant there, of which there is no discernible trace today.”
According to Mr Hooper, Alexander MacDonald was born in 1878 in Perthshire, Scotland and, by the turn of the century, he was in the Klondyke goldfield in Alaska.
“He went on several exploration and geological expeditions before migrating to Western Australia,” Mr Hooper said.
In 1908, with finance from two fellow Scotsmen, MacDonald bought mines around Cardross, near Chillagoe, and in 1915 he took up the Mount Wandoo gold leases near Mungana, which were discovered in 1901 but abandoned in 1908.
“MacDonald floated a new company in 1916 to develop the molybdenite deposits around Khartum,” Mr Hooper said.
“This ore body was extremely promising as the only mineral present in the clear translucent quartz was molybdenite, and the value increased with depth.
“The first World War meant prices were buoyant and MacDonald Kitchener Mines Ltd had the plant working in 1916, though they lost some ore stacked for retreatment in the wet season in January 1917.”
However, Mr Hooper said the situation had become desperate in Cardross by this stage and Kitchener Mines Limited attempted a new promotion, which failed, and the smelters closed in 1916.
“Then disaster struck at Khartum, when the increasing ore values suddenly pinched out, leaving the company without stone,” Mr Hooper said.
“The Mount Wandoo mines, however, under the reformed company Gold and Rare Metals Limited, continued working until 1937, when all mining ceased.”
MacDonald also branched out into the film industry, with quite a degree of success.
He produced the 1930 film, The Kingdom of Twilight, with his wife Wendy Osborne and Lacey Percival in the starring roles, and his daughter having a small part.
The film was shot on location in Chillagoe, with scenes shot in Torpy’s hotel and the caves.
The Kingdom of Twilight premiered in Chillagoe in 1932, with 50 per cent of the theatre takings, after expenses, going to the Chillagoe hospital.
It was released in the United Kingdom only and was a success.
The Kingdom of Twilight was a silent film and it was re-run at the Palace Theatre in Chillagoe in 1933 after the UK release.
At this second showing, MacDonald indicated that he intended to make a ‘talkie’ of it.
MacDonald had previously released the film, The Unsleeping Eye, shot in New Guinea, with Wendy Osborne as leading lady, in 1928 and this had also been successful.
MacDonald also served in the Australian contingent in the Boer War and became a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and an author like his friend, Jack London.
MacDonald published 14 books, mainly on travelling and prospecting.
He married Wendy Osborne in 1915 and they had a son and daughter.
MacDonald retired to Sydney and died there in 1939.