Mary Kathleen is a ghost town halfway between Mount Isa and Cloncurry. It was built for a uranium mine that existed from the 1950s to the 1980s. Uranium was first found at the site in 1954 by Clem Walton and Norm McConachy and the site was named for Norm’s wife who had died only two weeks earlier. They sold the mining rights to Rio Tinto who formed Mary Kathleen Uranium (MKU) Ltd to develop a mine and service town. An architect-designed town grew during 1956-58, with reticulated water from Lake Corella.
A sales contract with the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority was signed in 1956. The project was developed by MKU at a cost of $24 million. Mining commenced at the end of 1956 and the treatment plant was commissioned in June 1958. At the opening, Prime Minister Robert Menzies unveiled this plaque with Queensland premier Frank Nicklin. In the first five years of open-cut operation, MKU extracted 4080 tonnes of uranium oxide but in 1963 the major supply contract had been satisfied ahead of schedule, and large reserves of ore lay at grass. The works were closed down until 1974, when Rio Tinto got new supply contracts with Japanese, German and American power utilities.
This photo from the Mount Isa North West Star taken in December 1974 promoted the town. The caption read: “The town centre where shops, post office, canteen, bank and other facilities are located. The town’s churches and sporting facilities, including swimming pool, bowling greens and golf course, are nearby.” The company made a share issue to raise capital, and the Commonwealth Government, through the Australian Atomic Energy Commission underwrote it, obtaining a 42% holding in the company. At the end of 1982 the mine was depleted and closed down after 4802 tonnes of uranium oxide concentrate had been produced in its second phase of operation. During 12 years of operations 31 million tonnes of material was mined, including 7 million tonnes of ore. Around 1200 people lived at Mary Kathleen in 1981.
Mary Kathleen became the site of Australia’s first major rehabilitation project of a uranium mine, completed in 1985 at a cost of $19 million. All the buildings were carted away leaving the site empty. The sign on the gate at the Barkly Hwy entrance to the site says “Even though no buildings remain, the ghost town like atmosphere makes one wonder what this flourishing community would have been like”.
A long unmaintained partially bitumen road takes you to the entrance to the town. The mine itself is a further 5km away. The site is now private property but open to visitors and a regular stopping point for caravans in the winter tourist months.
Only a few remnants of buildings remain. Everything was dismantled and auctioned off. A couple of buildings remain at Mary Kathleen Park, 60km away in Cloncurry.
One of the old streets of Mary Kathleen where houses once stood.
This is a view looking down eastwards towards the abandoned township nestled in the Selwyn Ranges whose peaks line the highway from Cloncurry to Mount Isa.
The mine site still has the remains of the processing plant and site office as well as the open cut mine. Nowadays the mine resembles a swimming hole and exudes a spectacular blue colour due to the washing of minerals from the mine walls. People swim here but it is extremely toxic and radioactive. Geiger counters still go ballistic around the region. According to scientists, uptake of radionuclides and heavy metals into vegetation are sufficient to raise concerns over cattle now freely grazing across the site.