Indooroopilly Mining Heritage

Google Earth 3D projection of the mine site, now heavily treed
(Google Earth: Image Landsat/Copernicus)

The end of 2018 will mark the centenary of the accidental discovery of the Finney’s Hill silver-lead outcrop at Isles Road, Indooroopilly. Now, well timbered and largely hidden from view, few, other than a generation of UQ educated mining engineers realise that by the time of its closure in 1929, material extracted from the site yielded some 227,343 ounces of silver and 1,796 tons of lead.

The discovery was followed initially by open cut mining, and then by the sinking of shafts and underground tunnelling. The only remaining clue at surface level of the latter is the head frame for the main shaft which served the extensive underground workings.

Following closure of the mine the site was taken over by Brisbane City Council in 1930 and then acquired by the University of Queensland in the early 1950s. UQ undertook the necessary rehabilitation and set it up as an experimental mine to supplement student’s campus based study. Many of today’s geologists, mining engineers, surveyors and others received practical underground training at the facility. Interestingly ten mining engineers that utilised the mine received Rhodes Scholarships.

From the early 1960’s an independent research centre was attached to the mine. This, with the financial support of large sponsors such as Mt lsa Mines, expanded and became known as the Julius Kruttschnitt Centre. The centre was officially opened by the Governor of Queensland Sir Allan Mansfield on 5 May 1971.

The experimental mine and the research centre, which are now part of the University of Queensland Sustainable Mineral Institute, share the surface infrastructure on this large site where up to 200 personnel have been employed.

In addition to academic activities, the mine was also used for research projects, training exercises by the Fire and Rescue Service, the SES and many others. Underground visits from schools groups, Probus and others accounted for up to 1,000 participants per year. Very successful annual open days to the public also started in 1965. Many parents and children who were escorted through the mine retain great memories of the conditions in a real mine. And all within easy reach of the City.

It is understood that the mine, which still has a full time underground manager, is ‘open’ but with restricted access.

A more comprehensive history of the mine Silver Hill – The University of Queensland Silver Mine Precinct by Ken Grubb was launched on site in September 2014. Copies are available from Reception at the Julius Kruttschnitt Centre.

If you have knowledge or memories of the mine site you would like to share please drop us a line.

On Saturday 30 March 2019 80 people gathered at the University of Queensland’s Julius Kruttschnitt Mineral Research Centre (JKMRC) to mark the centenary of the discovery of the lead/silver outcrop at Finney’s Hill in 1919. The Centre is now part of the University’s Sustainable Minerals Institute (SMI).

Morning tea was the first item on the agenda and had the feel of a reunion, it included the cutting of a ‘100’ cake baked and decorated by Professor Plint, the Director of SMI.

The Acting Director of JKMRC, Associate Professor Marcin Ziemski welcomed attendees and gave a brief overview of the nature of the research being undertaken at the centre. This now has an emphasis on unlocking resources in a sustainable and environmentally responsible way, and energy efficient processing. The traditional strong links with and support by industry is ongoing.

MC for the day Sam Logan introduced the next speaker, Ken Grubb author of ‘Silver Hill – The University of Queensland Silver Mine Precinct’. Recognising a good 50% of his audience had little knowledge of the subject, Ken gave a simplified version of the geology of the area and the site in particular.

Don Matthews then gave a talk on the life of his grandfather PJ Madden, partner in the original mine with GJ Ohlsen who first came across the outcrop during the construction of his house on the Goldieslie Estate. He was born in 1877 in Australia at Yengarie, near Maryborough, to Irish parents who migrated to Australia in 1875, initially to Maryborough where he worked as a timber getter, then moving to Gympie in the 1880s were he worked for a solicitor. By 1912 he was in Brisbane, first Graceville and then Finney Road. Don noted that working the mine had allowed his grandfather to lead a comfortable life rather than becoming rich and famous.

Ken Grubb then provided an overview of the history of the mine up to the 1950s when the University was gifted the site by the Brisbane City Council. He then invited comment from the floor which prompted recollections of Professor Frank White (Mining and Metallurgical Engineering) who was the driving force behind the initiative. He oversaw the rehabilitation of the mine, much of the work undertaken by Burmese students here under the Colombo Plan, and the establishment of the experimental mine. His ex-students in the audience recalled his practice of interviewing all new applicants, his ongoing guidance, and a never say no attitude when proposals were brought to him (albeit not having the  necessary or appropriate resources immediately to hand).   

Don McKee next reminded the gathering that metallurgy had a claim on the history of the site as well as mining. The dawn of the nuclear age led to a flurry of exploration in the 1950s and when a test site was required to determine the best way to extract uranium from ore from the Anderson Lode (Mount Isa) a pilot plant was erected on the former site of well-known Architect Mr GHM Addison’s 1890s residence ‘Fernbrook’. It was noted that only 10 tons of ore was brought to site but over 80 tons of material returned to Mary Kathleen mine as part of the clean-up.

Whilst this particular project was not a success it established strong links with industry, facilitating the preference for PhD research to be done insitu. Industry support extended to Mount Isa Mines  contributing to the cost of the first building on site. They also provided the name for the Centre, commemorating Julius Kruttschnitt the legendary American engineer who turned around MIM’s fortunes in the 1930s. Industry support is ongoing making the research work pretty much self-funding. A special guest for the day was Albyn Lynch, the original Director of the JKMRC who set it on its course as a world renowned research facility.

The morning’s final speaker, Professor Neville Plint  suggested that it is possible that the clean-up after the test on the uranium ore and other remediation undertaken on the site over the years could possibly be the key to its future. He advised that an examination of the site’s infrastructure was underway to inform ongoing  discussions with industry and the government. The main shaft head frame will shortly be dismantled, repainted off site and then re-erected, however, it is highly unlikely that there will ever be any reappearance of the underground mine tours so popular with the local populace. He noted that UQ was placed first in the Mining & Mineral Engineering category of the 2018 ShanghaiRanking’s global ranking of academic subjects, part of their process in determining the academic ranking of world universities.

The morning concluded with the showing of two films on the work of the JKMRC.

Popup displays were provided by Cubberla Creek Catchment Group, Indooroopilly & District Historical Society and the St Lucia and Toowong History Groups.

[Nov 2019 – Thanks for sharing the photograph ]

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