As week 4 of a locum stint at Mt Isa loomed, we headed out for a day trip to the former uranium mining town of Mary Kathleen.
Mary Kathleen isn’t a particularly spooky ghost town.
As long as you follow the rules – no motorbikes, no fires and ‘behave’ – no cranky spirits are likely to wreak revenge.
The same can’t be said for the camels though. The one we saw in the middle of town definitely felt we were intruding on his territory. And the cows weren’t that impressed either. Or the roos.
The former town, halfway between Mt Isa and Cloncurry, sprang up in the 1950s in response to discovery of a large uranium deposit. A mere 31 million tonnes of ore later, the town became the site of Australia’s first major mine rehabilitation, after it was finally closed down in 1982.
The town was architect-designed, and the resulting neatness is still evident in the regular arrangement of concrete blocks – which must be former carports, as they are too small to have been house blocks. There was also a post office, cinema, sports ovals, a school, banks and a community store.
The open-cut mine was six kilometres away, and is probably more accessible to the public now than it was when it was operating. That doesn’t mean it was easy to find – once we found the turn-off from the main drive in, we needed Google maps on satellite view to find the pit.
But first we came across what could be best described as a graffiti art gallery. Concrete structures have become canvases for the kind of painting usually found in the urban jungle.
You can drive right up to the pit, now a lake, and walk around the cuts which encirle it. The sense of scale cannot be captured in a photograph. The cuts are wide enough to take two dump trucks, and the colour of the water is an unnatural green – and apparently leaking radiation at a faster rate than was predicted (Wikipaedia).
As we left the pit, a young camel was grazing by the side of the road, and seemed quite unperturbed as we played camel paparazzi with it.
Life may have come to an end for Mary Kathleen the town, but it goes on for the wildlife.