Mt Painter Photo Gallery - Mt Gee Photo Gallery
In 1944, with the agreement of Prime Minister John Curtin, samples of high grade uranium ore were produced from Mt Painter and flown to the USA for use in the Manhattan Project - this may have been used to create the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima or Nagasaki. (6)
Mt Painter is a site of great significance for the local Adnyamathanha Aboriginal people, traditional owners of the region. Initial prospecting and trial mining never recognised their rights to land and protection of sacred sites, and today they are still not being given proper recognition.
Uranium bearing minerals were discovered in the Mount Painter area by G. A. Greenwood, son of a local pastoralist and prospector, W. B. Greenwood, in 1910. This discovery, on what was later named Radium Ridge, was exploited for radium by the Radium Extraction Company of South Australia Ltd (RECSAL).
Many prominent locals from the nearby mining town of Leigh Creek bought shares in RECSAL, in the spirit of the mining boom of the time. These included James William Duck (storekeeper), Mary Ann Duck, Miss Ella Levick, Harriet Francis O'Hearn, Edith Levisk (Leigh Creek Hotel), William Henry James (teamster) and James Eugene O'Hern (blacksmith) (1). Very few of these locals were alive during World War II when the Mt Painter region was the first target of intense exploration for uranium at the special request of the United Kingdom government (for their atomic weapons program).
The company opened up several other deposits during the next two years, the largest being the No. 6 workings near Mount Painter. Ore was shipped to Europe until the outbreak of war in 1914; the company went into liquidation in 1917.
The workings were reopened in 1923 by what was to become the Australian Radium Corporation N. L. Lack of water prevented the erection of a leaching plant on site, and a small crushing and screening plant gave unsatisfactory results. Camels were used in the rugged terrain to carry crude concentrate and hand-picked ore to less hilly country, where it was transferred to motor lorry and carted to the railway at Copley. From there it was railed to the Dry Creek treatment plant. The Australian Radium Corporation ceased operations in 1932.
Exploration at Mount Painter resumed in 1944 in conjunction with re-examination of Radium Hill and other uranium deposits. Roads were constructed into the workings and camps erected, but the deposits proved to be low grade and uneconomic. Drilling and underground development was continued at East Painter by the South Australian Government. The East Painter Camp accommodated up to sixty workers and was equipped with a canteen, bunkhouses, and garages. The project was abandoned in 1950 and the East Painter Camp dismantled.
Between 1968 and 1971, a consortium of mining companies discovered further uranium deposits including the richest and most easily accessible at the Hodgkinson Project. The total uranium resource outlined at Mt Painter by Oilmin NL was about 3,800 tonnes of U3O8 at an average grade of 0.1% (2).
Transoil NL has also been prospecting with Oilmin at Mt Painter, 110km north-east of Leigh Creek in the Lake Frome area of South Australia. More than 7,000 tonnes of U3O8 in a number of small deposits have been located (8).
Like Oilmin and Petromin, Transoil was partly controlled by the interests of Bjelke Petersen, the well-known racist ex-Premier of Queensland.
The Mt Painter deposit is also sometimes confused with the nearby Mt Gee deposit, and has also been referred to as Armichair and Streitberg. In general it is best to think of the region as a series of small deposits known as Mt Painter.
In recent years the Mt Painter region has seen further exploration through a joint venture between Goldstream Mining NL (75%) and Bonanza Gold Pty Ltd (25%), with Goldstream as the operator. The program was of concern to many within the local Adnyamathanha community, the traditional owners of the area. In August 1999 Goldstream announced "significant uranium mineralisation" at Mt Gee but follow-up work apparently failed to identify any significant new deposit.
It is perhaps poignant to quote an old SA Government Inquiry from 1972 (7) :
"if the exploration had been conducted under the provisions of the latest legislation, much less despoilation of the landscape might have occurred".
Thus, even in the 30 years since this strong comment was made, it would seem that no mining company has learnt anything about the sacred importance of the Mt Painter area from the Adnyamathanha in a century, with little improvement in environmental management. It is hoped that other exploration and mining companies follow Goldstream and abandon further uranium exploration and leave the region and the Andyamathanha in peace.
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