Near the town of Ewan in Queensland there is a cluster of old mines named after fish. Sardine, Groper, Tinfish Trevally, Barramundi, and Mackerel are just a few examples.
The ironic thing about this is that Oakey Creek (the river that runs through the centre of this cluster) is not known for its good fishing, in fact it runs dry for most of the year.
Mechanical engineer and Townsville-based historian Col Hooper says that old mine names are a reflection of the “Aussie way” of having a sense of humour, telling a story, or working towards a dream.
“Sense of humour, that’s the Australian way of doing things I feel. There is a lot of tongue and cheek involved.”
Mr Hooper says that almost all mine names have a story, a joke, or a dream behind them.
“It’s hard to know what went through a bloke’s mind when he was naming a mine, but tying a yarn to the mine it’s true, it’s the Aussie way of leaving a story behind.”
In his book Angor to Zillmanton, stories of North Queensland’s deserted towns, Mr Hooper tells the story of stockman John Munro who named a town after a well known brand of jam.
In 1901 Mr Munro discovered a copper deposit in a small area near Mount Garnet in Queensland. Mr Munro also happened to find an empty tin of O.K. jam lying around. From this he named the town O.K and the mine became the O.K. Mine.
Mines such as Hidden Treasure, Victory, Lucky Star, and Hope, were given names hoped to bring good fortune. Other names including Last Chance, Poverty, and Titanic speak of the hard work and toil of the time.
Mr Hooper says that nowadays the naming of mines has lost much of its imagination and freedom and suggests that this is due to the presence of much bigger companies and organisations that make the decisions.
“I think because the bigger mines run things now the names don’t really reflect the individual and can now be a bit boring,” he said.
“Back then you had men coming over from Pommy land and they were in charge of their own destiny. Australian life and mining was a freedom, life was hard sometimes and people made it by the sweat of their brow and their own toil.
“The naming of mines, the telling of stories, and the real mateship of the time were part of that freedom. It’s something that I feel has been lost today.”
Pioneer had bags of ideas
Mount Isa open-cut mine Black Star is part of the Glencore empire now but it had humble beginnings.
Mining author Barry Merrick says the naming of the Black Star mine in 1923 is an interesting tale.
“In those days they transported ore in bags, and bags could get mixed up so they had to be marked and labelled as to which mine they were from.
“In the early days they didn’t have service stations every block like we do today, and they actually had to carry their fuel around with them.
“What these guys had was a Texaco petrol can, so they cut the red star out of the Texaco tin and flattened the tin as a stencil. Then they mixed up a slurry of charcoal and water from the ash from the fire and they rubbed it into the stencil to make a black star mark on the bag.
“Simpson was so happy with this mark that he christened one of his leases The Black Star.”
The naming of the Black Star set a trend for the naming of other mines in the area.
“Once there was one star, the Three Star West, the Silver Star, The Roo Star, Roo Star North, Star of Bethlehem, Dark Star, and many other stars followed in the area.”