Monday, May 19, 2008

Striking it Rich

About 5300 people live in the town of Cobar itself, maybe a thousand more in the outlying areas. Most of them have some sort of connection to the large mines in the area.

Mining is big business for Australia; the land, so old and undisturbed by continental shifts over millions of years, bears tremendous mineral resources – gold, copper, uranium, zinc, lead, silver.... If it can be found on the periodic table of elements, it’s probably here.

Here in Cobar copper was the first big strike. It came entirely by accident. In 1870 three guys – Campbell, Hartman and Gibb – were on their way elsewhere, having found that their dam-building and well-sinking services were of little interest to a community struggling through a drought. While moving through the area they came across some strange red and green rocks.

They had no idea what the rocks were (Christmas tree ornaments? Kryptonite?), but a lady they met the next day, Mrs. Sidwell Krue, formerly of England's copper hub Cornwall, immediately identified them as such. Their first test rocks contained an average of 33% copper. That’s a lot. And off they went. Gibb was so overjoyed he took his initial profits, quit the mining business and became a song writer. His first big hit: “How Deep is your Lode”. (That’s right, a Gibb Brothers reference. It's just emotion that's taken me over.)

The Cobar Museum, former headquarters of the Great Cobar Copper Mining Company Limited

Gold was also discovered by chance in the area, when a hungry prospector, Henry Cornish, picked up a stone to brain a possum in a nearby tree and saw that it had some flakes of gold on it. Sweet!

It took 18 years for him to convince someone to back him; people refused to believe there was really gold in the area. But in 1888 he was able to start a mine. And today, gold is the big business in Cobar, along with zinc, lead and silver.

The Open Cut Mine, Cobar

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