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Mining at Iron Knob.

Road Trip Day 10: 1st June 2007 (Morning)

The township of Iron Knob reminds me very much of Silverton in Broken Hill. It is a town that has been largely forgotten once the mines, that gave it life, were closed down in 1999. Like Silverton a few die hard locals still live there, doing what they can to breathe life into a town that truly is the Birth place of the steel industry in Australia.

The town no longer has a council, no one pays rates and consequently it is looking a little run down around the edges (and a bit in the middle too). However the town project committee is dedicated to building a tourist industry that will help build the town again. Either way, Iron Knob isn't destined to become a ghost town as the mines are being reopened. Property values in Whyalla have started to rise because of this and no doubt Iron Knob will follow.

Our tour of Iron Knob began at the Iron Knob Tourist Centre where our guide, Phil, showed us around the various exhibits and explained the history of the mine.

Broken Hill Proprietary Limited (or BHP as they came to be known) weren't the first to mine Iron Knob but were the first to get things going full steam and were largely responsible for building the Township. BHP came to the region in 1899 as it began developing its interests in the steel industry.

There is no definitive answer as to how the town got it's name. It is thought that the name comes from a very large piece of Iron Ore found protruding from the side of the hill (hence 'iron knob') however the actual name given was 'Iron Monarch' because the rock formation resembled a monarch sitting on his thrown (maybe the English monarch at the time was a bit of a 'knob'?). There are other mines in the region 'Iron Prince' and 'Iron Baron' the names of which were inspired by the royal theme begun with 'Iron Monarch'.

After watching a short video on the history of the mine the tour continues with a trip around the town and up into the original mine. You drive your own car with the guide in the back seat directing you to all the significant places.

The first part of the tour is the township. Phil says that he recently added this as part of the tour to create a more complete picture of the region's history. He points out many houses and talks about who used to live in them as well as injecting his own local knowledge of events - the kind of stuff that never makes it into tour brochures.

One of the more unusual sights is the town's public toilet facilities which Phil proudly announces is one of the most photographed toilets in Australia. Hardly surprising given that a local artist painted a very classy mural of the word 'Dunny' on the front wall. You can't get much more Aussie than that!

Next you head up to the only mine that you are able to view now that the lease is being reopened. It's a rather steep climb up a dirt road and on the way you pass an early 'digger' (electric shovel) which is kind of like a crane but with a shovel on the front.

At the top you look into one of the biggest 'hand dug' holes you're ever likely to see. This is one of the original mines and was worked by teams of men digging by hand, removing some 80-90 tons of ore (each) per day.

There is also a very spectacular view of the surrounding country side from here. After recent rain, Phil informed us that the view was about as green as you're ever likely to see it.

Once you've seen the mine, the tour is pretty much over as you head back to the tourist centre. Phil pointed out some final pieces of historic equipment within the grounds of the centre including one of the old electric trains used to haul ore.

Iron Knob is a town with a great potential for a thriving tourist trade. It could easily be as successful as Silverton. The surrounding country side at Iron Knob is every bit as inspiring for artists as Silverton. It is surprising that no local artists have set up a gallery (Phil said that the town's only recognised artist - who painted the Dunny mural - no longer lives in Iron Knob). There's a lot of history to be inspired by and a great opportunity to benefit from the initiatives of the town's project committee.

The tours are excellent value and comprehensive. Our guide, Phil, lives in the town and is part of the push to revive it. He's worked for BHP during the seventies and has many stories to tell. He believes enthusiastically in the townships future and really puts across a strong sense of community. Iron Knob is much more than a big hole in the ground.

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