Mining in Australia in the Broken Hill region dates back to the 19th Century when suddenly the mines were discovered. Broken Hill is located far west of New South Wales (Spry, 2007). BHP Billiton constitutes the world’s largest mining company located in the area. Broken Hill has often been referred to as “The silver City”, “Capital of the Outback” and “Oasis of the West”. It has been Australia’s longest-lived mining city and it was named as Barrier Range by Charles Sturt. The area contains a massive orebody that dates back to 1,800 million years and has zinc, silver, lead mineral deposits.
Figure 1 : Mining Broken Hill
Source : (australianminesatlas.gov.au, Retrieved on 13th December 2016)
The shape of the orebody is like a boomerang plunging into the earth outcropping from its center. Miners often refer the orebody as the Line of Lode and an unque mineral along with existing ones that has been discovered in the area is Nyholmite (Battellino, 2010). The scope of the report analysis the impact of such mining activities on physical, social and environmental surroundings of the region.
Descripition and discovery of mineral
Broken Hill historically was home to Wiljakali Indigenous Australians, who survived the region inspite of lack of water resources. Their main dependence was on underground source of water and wells. With Surveyor General of New South Wales, Major Thomas Mitchell being in the area as first white settler in 1841 exploration and development in the region began (Plimer, 2006). Charles Sturt in search on inland water source came across and named Broken Hill as Barrier Range. Charles Rasp in 1883 founded mineral deposit in the region that tested came to be discovered as being silver and lead. He set up Broken Hill Proprietary Company (BHP) and BHP Billiton in the region to extract ores from the region. Upon further exploration and discoveries in the region due to the limitedness of the ore steel production was started. Apart from these companies Perilya Limited was also into mines exploration along the Line of Lode.
Historical mining events and initial miners
The Battle of Broken Hill is a landmark event in the region where Afghan men fired trainload on people. The area has one of the richest labor trade union with certain bitter industrial disputes fought over Broken Hill. The subsequent disputes in the region led to the establishment of the Barrier Industrial Council in 1923 with a group of 18 trade unions (Lyle, 2006). Broken Hill consisted of highest deposits of lead, zinc and silver that is on a state of depletion. Yet the extraction amounts for two million tons on an annual basis. While Broken Hill was exploited by small prospectors employed on the gossan. Ore was initially carted by means of camel trains, pack mules and wagons. The demographics and business in the area took turn when silver was discovered. Open-pit mining was initially followed from 1885 ill 1898 with silver being locally smelted. Lead, zinc and silver from 1898 till 1915 was developed by means of concentrates made overseas, post which concentrates were made in Australia (Mudd, 2007).
As mining transformed in the 20th century with the formation of companies, there was a shift from small prospectors to large companies. The two giant company set up BHP Billiton and Broken Hill Proprietary Company set up highly efficient bulk underground mechanized mining techniques. Mining in the region did not initiate by skilled tradesmen however, as activities in the region grew it got transformed to form a high sophisticate system.
The central lode of Broken Hill was depleted from 1940s which led to production shifting to north and south ends. In 1950s properties included in the area were North Broken Hill Limited, The Zinc Corporation Limited, Broken Hill South Limited and New Broken Hill Consolidated Limited. There was major production and extraction of Zinc. Broken Hill South Limited ended its operations in 1972, leases for the company was acquired by Minerals and Mining and Metallurgy Limited. Pasminco Limited undertook leases of Zinc Corporation Limited as well as New Broken Hill Consolidated Limited.
Environmental physical and social impacts of mining
Mining has brought immense prosperity to Australia with having a considerable share in the GDP of the country. Mining has generated immense investment that has reflected as growth and output in the GDP (Spry, 2007).
Figure 2 : Mining Industry Investment from 1994-2014
Source : (rba.gov.au, Retrieved on 13th December 2016 )
Mining has been generator of employment in the region that has again contributed to GDP growth and economic development of overall Australia. Historical trends depicts that mining has been the major cause of immigration into Australia.
Figure 3 : Employment by Industry
Source : (rba.gov.au, Retrieved on 13th December 2016 )
The country was generates high amounts of income from exports of metals and ores. But mining has been associated with severe health and environmental impacts (Boreland, 2008). Mining has resulted in deforestation of the Broken Hill region that has further reduced ground water in the area. Water resources depletion resulted in subsequent erosion and pollution in the area significantly. Pollution from mine smelters have had serious health impacts in the adjoining areas. Broken Hill has experienced significantly high levels of lead in bloods of children as well as adults. Further due to the containment of such high amounts of resources in the area, it has been accustomed to high levels of contaminations in water of the area. Rise in diseases and costs of living from lack of water reservoir has made living conditions tougher for indigenous people (Boreland, 2006). There has been significantly high associated respiratory diseases also associated with such mining activities in Australia.
In 1895, data reveals that 1 in 50 miners were impacted due to lead poisoning. Study conducted in 1991, estimates that 80% children under 5 years of age had higher levels of lead in their blood that governmental limits. Lead Education program in 1990s tested several children 5 years for levels of lead in their blood (Mackay, 2013). There were also remedial actions taken to reduce high levels of ceiling dust or garden soils to reduce lead.
Zinc mining exposed children to higher risks and had developmental disorders compared to national average. Children who were exposed to high levels of toxic dust, air, water, soil pollution from zinc dust had lowest literacy levels also numeracy scores. High levels of such toxic metals hampers growing brain and such damage cannot be reversed.
Due to continues mining in Broken Hill region 50% children had excess levels of lead and Caucasian children were at risks. Lead neurotoxin once inhaled or absorbed affects nervous systems in children.
Figure 4 : Children's Literacy Skill who were exposed to Zinc and Lead
Source: (theconversation.com, Retrieved on 14th December 2016)
Revelations brought into the city
The city was isolated until mining activities in the region started and Adelaide narrow gauge railway link was established in 1888 (Spry, 2008). The South Wales Government was not allowed by New South Wales Government to set up railway connections across border. The last part of railway tracks was however completed by a private company Silverton Tramway. The railway track was laid to transport concentrates and ores from ores to smelters as well as port on the coast of Port Pirie, South Australia. The railway also transported timber and coal used for underground mining activities. Prior to 1940s mining was mostly done using hand tools that involved high labor use with horse drawn carts. With diesel coming into being mining equipment was mechanized (Heimann, 2009). With mechanization of mines workforce gradually declined and that led to shrinking of mining leases. Low metal prices in 1990s led to failure of Pasminco Ltd. and later recovering of such prices led only Perilya Limited surviving. Mining has high exposure to vagaries and with shrinking population and isolation of Broken Hill. Broken Hill is gradually evolving to promote itself as an artistic credentials and tourism destination to reduce its reliance on mining.
Multiple mines in the remote areas Broken Hill has a traditional company town as Roxby Downs. Thus, the town is supported by activities from mining and majority people in the area are employed with the mines to earn their livelihood. The town has school administrative offices, hospitals that are supported by companies itself.
Mining in entire of Australia generates approximately $138 billion annually which is approximately half of total goods and services produced. Contribution from mining constitutes to 6-7% of the economies GDP which is far higher than any other industry or services or agriculture. Employing a workforce of 187,400 people with 599,680 in supporting industries, the industry constitutes a 2% workforce of the total employed (Mudd, 2010). Broken Hill has a town dominated by mining activities that have provided source of direct as well as indirect employment opportunities.
Mining in Australia, especially in the Broken Hill region dates back to the 19th Century with English exploring and developing the region. Mining in the area still continues at a considerable high rates and yield high levels of incomes from indigenous usage as well as exports. While mining is associated to generating positive impacts on the society and economy as a whole by job generation and income generation, it has several ill-effects as well. Mining in the region has been associated with serious health related disorders and the young generation in the region are most at risks. Due to mining activities deforestation and pollution is also on the rise that has its negative impacts on the society. Thus, the mining has several impacts that can be debated to understand its broader scope.
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