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Cloncurry, QLD

Historic outback mining town - home to John Flynn Memorial Place

Cloncurry was effectively created by one man: Ernest Henry. Although he came to the district planning to find good grazing land he found copper, established  the Great Australian Mine, and built and operated a hotel and a general store. As a result the town became the most important transportation centre in Western Queensland. Cloncurry was the destination for the first regular Qantas flight. John Flynn established his first Flying Doctor Base in the town. And the local airport was a vital link with Europe and was used by the US Air Force during World War II. It would now be the most important centre in Western Queensland if it wasn't for the development of Mount Isa. Today the town - with its interesting museums and historic connections with copper and uranium mining - remains important because it is located at the junction of the major roads from Townsville, the Gulf, Winton, Longreach, and Mount Isa.


Cloncurry is located 1,704 km north west of Brisbane via Longreach, 784 km west of Townsville, 125 km east of Mount Isa and 189 m above sea-level. 


Origin of Name

Cloncurry River was named after Lady Elizabeth Cloncurry from County Galway in Ireland. It was named by the explorer, Robert O'Hara Burke. Lady Cloncurry was his cousin. When the town was surveyed it took the name of the river.


Things to See and Do

The Mary Kathleen Memorial Park and Museum
When the uranium mining town of Mary Kathleen closed down its entire contents were auctioned off. The museum in Cloncurry obtained a number of buildings and some important relics from the site. The sign, which once stood on the road into the town, is prominently displayed. It proclaims: 'Welcome to Mary Kathleen. This town was built by MK Uranium Ltd for the mining of the uranium deposit discovered by Walton McConickie Prospectors syndicate to produce uranium oxide. The town mine treatment plant and Lake Corella were completed between April 1956 and May 1958 and the project is under the management of CRA Ltd.'
The most unusual exhibit in the museum is Robert O'Hara Burke's (of Burke and Wills fame) water bottle. There is also a detailed history of their ill-fated attempt to cross the continent. There is an interesting gem and mineral display and an exhibition of local Aboriginal memorabilia including the breastplate worn by George, King of Friezland. Outside there are historic steam engines, a traction engine, farm and mining machinery and a unique 1948 Ford V8 Rail Ambulance. The park also has a picnic barbecue area and a playground for children and there is a short path (it takes around five minutes) to a scenic lookout with panoramic views over Cloncurry. Located on the Flinders Highway,  it is open from 8.30 am to 4.30 pm on weekdays, year round. On weekends it is open from 9.00 am - 4.00 pm (May to October) and 9.00 am - 2.00 pm (November to April), tel: (07) 4742 1361.

Cloncurry Court House
Located at 42-48 Daintree Street the Cloncurry Court House was a work in progress from 1897-1961. This long period of development has been seen as one of the most important aspects of this very modest building. The Queensland Heritage Register notes: "The Cloncurry Court house is a good example of a building serving a number of important governmental functions and extended over time while adhering to the original design principles. It provides a demonstration of building techniques within the traditional style between 1897 and 1961." There is a detailed description of the evolution of the building (as it expanded its usage) at https://environment.ehp.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=600415.

Cloncurry Post Office
Located at 47 Scarr Street this modest single storey timber buildings was built in 1906. The Queensland Heritage Register notes: "It is important in illustrating the principal characteristics of a timber twin porch and gable post office building of the period 1906-1921, designed by the Queensland Works Department, and has aesthetic value which contributes significantly to the Cloncurry townscape." Check out https://environment.ehp.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=600416 for more details.

The Great Australian Mine
It is still possible to visit the site of the mine. It is located to the south of town across the railway line from Schaeffe Street. Beyond the railway line the road breaks into a number of tracks. The track to the mine runs to the east just after you have crossed the railway line. The Mindat website (Mindat still mine the site) notes that "The mine was operated spasmodically till 1919, due to its isolation, but reopened in about 1995. It is now operated by CopperChem and is still being open cut mined today. Ore is currently mined in three open pits at a rate of approximately 700,000 tonnes per year ... The ores were fault-related veins in early Proterozoic dolostone, metadolerite and metatuff. There was an extensive supergene zone rich in native copper, cuprite and chalcocite; the primary ore was chalcopyrite rich." Check out https://www.mindat.org/loc-134.html for a list of all the minerals in the mine. There is a mineral amusingly called Cloncurryite.

Mount Elliott Company Metallurgical Plant and Mill
Located beyond the boundary of the town on Sheaffe Street, the Mount Elliott Company Metallurgical Plant and Mill is significant "as the only recorded surviving evidence of an early electrolytic plant in Queensland. The laboratory remnants associated with the plant are architecturally uncommon, being made of ant bed adobe bricks. The Queensland Heritage Register explains: "In 1926 the Mount Elliott Company started building the first 1,000 ton per year unit of a large electro-chemical copper treatment plant at Cloncurry on the outskirts of the town adjacent to the railway line. This comprised crushing, roasting furnace, leaching vats and a cell house section and was completed in April 1927. The 6m diameter Mackay modified wedge furnace had seven roasting and one drying hearths. The furnace was connected to a Wilson pressure-type gas producer, which delivered gas to the roasting furnace as fuel to roast the ore ... before the plant was actually commissioned, instructions were received from London to close down without even a trial run. Apparently, the £128,000 construction expenses had been too high and it was considered that the capacity was insufficient for profitability." For more detailed information check out https://environment.ehp.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=602256.

John Flynn Place Museum and Art Gallery
The Rev. John Flynn (known as Flynn of the Inland) chose Cloncurry as the ideal location for his Flying Doctor Service which he established in 1928. Flynn's choice of Cloncurry was based on its proximity to the mining camps and scattered pastoralists, all of whom were poorly served by any kind of medical services.
John Flynn Place Museum & Art Gallery, a Bicentennial Project, is a comprehensive overview of the Flynn legacy. It moves from an image of outback conditions at the turn of the century to the history of Flynn himself. The display includes some interesting personal memorabilia and explanations of how the whole Flying Doctor system worked in the early days. Flynn's story is the triumph of an unceasing commitment against huge odds. The result of his labours is still in evidence today when, even with modern technology, the Royal Flying Doctor Service is still in operation covering 80% of Australia, particularly the outback areas of Western Australia, Queensland, South Australia and the Northern Territory. 
The museum also records the remarkable work of Alfred Traeger, the man who invented the pedal radio, and the Fred McKay Art Gallery (named after the clergyman who took over from Flynn) holds a collection of art works.
Flynn's vision is succinctly summed up on the Flynn Memorial which stands over 600 km to the west at the Three Ways near Tennant Creek. The dedication notes: "Flynn saw that only radio and fast efficient transport would really overcome the inland's vast distances. At a time when his ideas seemed wild and revolutionary, he developed a scheme which combined aircraft, radios and medicine to provide a mantle of safety for inland people. The establishment of the Royal Flying Doctor Service was mainly due to his vision and energy. The first Flying Doctor base was established in 1928 at Cloncurry. Today there are 20 such bases serving some 2200 radio and outstations scattered over some 70 per cent of Australia's land area."
The museum is located on the corner of King Street and Daintree Street. It is open from 9.00 am to 4.00 pm Monday to Friday from May to the end of September. It is also open weekends from 9.00 am to 3.00 pm, tel: (07) 4742 2778. The website - http://www.johnflynnplace.com.au - has detailed information about the Museum and Art Gallery.

The Chinese and Afghan cemeteries are of interest. The so-called Afghan Cemetery, located in the north-west corner of the Cloncurry Cemetery (on the corner of Alice Street and Sir Hudson Fysh Drive), contains " many graves of Afghan camel train drivers and a Mohammedan Priest (Syid Omar). All graves face toward Mecca. These graves date from around the turn of the century to the 1950s. Cloncurry was Queensland’s largest ‘Ghan town’ in the late 1890s and early 1900s."
The Chinese Cemetery, located on the corner of Coppermine Creek and the anabranch off the Barkly Highway near Francis Street, is the resting place of many Chinese miners who worked in the area in the late 19th century.
Dame Mary Gilmore, a famous Australian poet, is buried in the Cloncurry Cemetery in the grave of her husband.

Qantas and the Cloncurry Airport
On 3 November 1922 Qantas flew its first customer, Alexander Kennedy, from Longreach to Cloncurry. The flight cost £11/2/-. There is a monument at the airport which recalls the event and the original hanger is still operational.


Other Attractions in the Area

Mary Kathleen - Ghost Town
Located off the Barkly Highway 67 km to the west of Cloncurry are the remains of Mary Kathleen - a stark reminder that when the minerals are gone a mining town can simply disappear. In 1954 uranium (then the largest known deposit in Australia) was discovered by Walton and McConachy and named after McConachy's wife, who had died a couple of weeks earlier. The road to the site is marked but is on the northern side of the road. All that is left of the once thriving town is a series of old streets. Everything else, including all the houses, has disappeared as the centre was completely closed down. 
Between 1954-1958 an eight-man syndicate built a model town, signed a contract with the UK Atomic Energy Authority, and began producing uranium. Between 1958 and 1963 4,500 tonnes of uranium were extracted. A world oversupply of uranium led to the mine lying idle from 1963. It was reopened in 1974 but closed again in 1976. It was finally closed in 1982 and the following year everything in the town, from the houses to the public buildings and the equipment, was put up for auction. 



* Prior to the exploration by Burke and Wills the area was home to the people from the Mayi-Thakurti and Mitakoodi First Nations language groups.

* The first Europeans in the area were Burke and Wills who passed through the country between present-day Cloncurry and Mount Isa on their way to the Gulf of Carpentaria. A monument at the side of the Flinders Highway between the two towns records that Burke and Wills passed through the area on 22 January 1861. 

* The search for Burke and Wills saw a number of explorers pass through the area. One, John McKinlay, noted copper in the Cloncurry district.

* In 1867 the pastoralist and prospector Ernest Henry discovered rich deposits of copper in the area. 

* Ernest Henry was Cloncurry's founding father. He found the first copper and established  the Great Australian Mine, which operated continuously until the 1920s. 

* The town was surveyed and gazetted in 1876. That year a hotel and a general store were opened.

* By 1879 a hospital had been built. 

* In 1880 copper was found at Argylla west of Cloncurry.

* In the 1880s a school was erected and the local newspaper, the Cloncurry Advocate, was established. 

* A further substantial copper deposit was discovered in 1883.

* A school opened in 1884.

* By 1889 the Cloncurry Advocate was published. 

* The 1890s saw the construction of the local Court House.

* In 1906 the Post Office opened its doors.

* The railway from Townsville arrived in 1907 making the town a vital transportation hub for the pastoral interests which lay to the west and the north. It was officially opened in 1908.

* A Catholic school was established in 1909.

* In 1914 a serious fire destroyed the Post Office and eleven shops.

* In 1919 a temporary aerodrome was built for the London to Melbourne air race.

* In 1922 the first scheduled Qantas air service arrived in Cloncurry.

* By 1928 Cloncurry was the home of the Australian Inland Mission's flying doctor service.

* By 1929 the railway had been extended to Mount Isa.

* By 1937 the town had an electric power plant.

* During World War II Cloncurry was the site of a major US Air Force base.

* The Cloncurry aerodrome's runways were sealed in 1944.

* The Cloncurry Advocate ceased publication in 1953.

* In 1954 uranium (then the largest known deposit in Australia) was discovered at Mary Kathleen

* Between 1954-1958 a model town was built, a contract was signed with the UK Atomic Energy Authority, and the Mary Kathleen mine was brought into production.

* Between 1958 and 1963 a total of 4500 tonnes of uranium were produced. 

* The 1970s saw the arrival of sewerage for the town.

* Mary Kathleen was reopened in 1974 but closed again in 1976. 

* Mary Kathleen was finally closed down in 1982. In 1983 everything in the town from the houses to the public buildings and the equipment was put up for auction. 

* In 2014 the Queensland government encouraged reopening the Mary Kathleen mine.


Visitor Information

Cloncurry Unearthed Visitor Information Centre and Museum, grounds of Mary Kathleen Memorial Park, tel: (07) 4742 1361.


Useful Websites

The Cloncurry Shire Council has a useful section for visitors. Check it out at http://www.cloncurry.qld.gov.au.

Got something to add?

Have we missed something or got a top tip for this town? Have your say below.

12 suggestions
  • Can you please tell me what retail stores they have in Cloncurry?

    shirley horne
  • Will be working here for 3 months. Is there a gym in this town? thanks

  • As we are planning an extensive trip through Queensland, we have been using this web site (aussietowns) a lot and thank you for your interesting information but I note that in the article about Qantas & the Cloncurry Airport the spelling of COST is COAST. Thank you.

    Lynette Stahmer
  • Very disappointed there is no mention of Battle Mountain. Very limited history other than white history. Please update and be real about Battle Mountain Massacre. Time to be honest. I am a descendent of a white man involved in the massacre. Time to tell the story and for Australians to be open to know. I only found out a few years ago. Sad, very sad for all.

    Sally Clarke
  • Having worked for a well known Cloncurry Shearing Contractor Merlin Jenkins who managed a Shearing Contract around a wide area of Cloncurry, I am surprised there is no mention of the Wool Industry that was alive and well for around 60 years..Merlin was not the only contractor..I was there all 1964

    Rob Stein
  • I would like to know if I can access the original site where Ernest Henry lived an worked the copper mine. He was my great grandfather

    kathy mcphee
  • Could you include some ‘fossicking’ information? Would be an advantage for all towns with this attraction

    Lizzy Gambs
  • I have been trying to work out the population of Cloncurry around the time period in 1907 when the railway line was connected to the town. Thanks.

    robert thomas
  • Where would I find a list of all the pubs that have been in existence in Cloncurry, dates of establishment and cessation (most burnt down). My great grandmother and great, great uncle owned, managed and were licensee of several in the early 1900s.

    Damien Joseph Shanahan
  • Doing my family tree would like any information on Nora Bignell and Norah Ah Hon. Also any history on Greenwood, Flores and Thompson. I am a descendant of all above.
    Thank you any information would be greatly appreciated.

    Paula Napoletano