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Commonwealth Government Records about the Northern Territory

Mining in the early Commonwealth years

In 1911 there were 61 gold mining leases in the Territory and 22 mineral leases in effect, while 17 gold mining lease applications were in train, as were 37 mineral lease applications.28 From the beginning, the Commonwealth accepted a policy of encouragement to the mining industry. It established a Department of Mines with Harold Jensen as the first Director. He arrived in Darwin in September 1912. At the same time T G Oliver was appointed as Inspector of Mines.

A Tin Dredging Ordinance was introduced in 1911, which provided for leases of 21 years duration. This was superseded by the Encouragement of Mining Ordinance of 1913, which offered leases of up to 42 years, as well as financial subsidies.

In 1913 tin was discovered at Maranboy, 50 kilometres south-east of Katherine. A battery to crush ore at the site was completed in 1915 at a cost of over £20,000. Crushing charges were kept low in order to provide support for the miners. A second battery was completed at the Hayes Creek tin mine in October 1916 at a cost of almost £3,300.29

In 1916 an outbreak of malaria led to many deaths and severely curtailed operations at the Maranboy site. Nevertheless, mining continued, and by 1918 Maranboy had passed Mount Wells as the Territory's premier tin mining site.

Mining in the early years of Commonwealth administration was for the most part a costly failure, as it had been during much of the South Australian administration. Despite financial assistance from the Government and high metal prices in the early years, by 1918 mining was confined to a few small syndicates. Administrator Gilruth

commented on the waste by some companies, which had completed expensive buildings before ascertaining the full value of their mine sites and ultimately withdrew having lost their investments and leaving a trail of derelict buildings in their wake.30

In his report for 1921, Oliver, by then Director of Mines, referred to the 'collapse' of the mining industry which he attributed to a serious fall in metal markets, particularly for tin and wolfram, the exhaustion of easily extracted and richer surface deposits, and the utter failure of all government efforts to introduce outside capital for development and prospecting purposes.31

Most records relating to mining in this period are in the custody of the Northern Territory Archives Service.

Selected Records Relating to Mining in the Early Commonwealth Years
National Archives, Canberra
Tin Dredging Ordinance, 1907–24 A3, NT1924/1602
H I Jensen appointment as Director of Mines and Geologist, Northern Territory, 1911–15 A3, NT1915/1197
Mining Ordinance – Northern Territory, part 1, 1912–16 A3, NT1917/958
Mining Ordinance – Northern Territory, 1912–38 A432, 1953/1718 part 1
Encouragement of Mining Ordinance and Regulation – Northern Territory, 1913–33 A1, 1932/4084
Dr Jensen's geological report on the Darwin and McArthur River mining districts, 1913–16 A3, NT1916/733
Mining Ordinance, Northern Territory, 1913–22 A3, NT1921/2329
Geological maps and plans of the Northern Territory, 1915–16 A6131
Northern Territory Archives Service
Register of applications for protected mining leases Darwin and Alice Springs, 1904–40 F1089
Correspondence files, 1910–15 NTRS2881
Outward letter book, 1911–12 NTRS2727
Correspondence relating to drills, 1911–20 NTRS2753
Register of suspension of leases, 1911–40 NTRS3288
Register of assay results, 1912–17 F1388
Register of free assays for prospectors and others, 1914–17 F1389
Correspondence files, unregistered, 1917–39 NTRS2723
Applications for free assays, 1920 NTRS3138
Applications for coal and mineral oil leases, 1920–26 F146


Chapter notes | All notes

28 Northern Territory Report of the Acting Administrator for the Year 1911, p. 40.

29 Northern Territory Report of the Administrator for the Years 1915–16 and 1916–17, pp. 8, 20–21.

30 Northern Territory Report of the Administrator for the Years 1915–16 and 1916–17, p. 9.

31 Northern Territory Report of the Administrator for the Year 1921, p. 12; Commonwealth ParliamentaryPapers (1922), volume II, pp. 2927–63.


Chapter 2
Early Commonwealth Years, 1863–1911