Mt Ida is a ghost-town located between Mt Magnet and Leonora, 86 kilometres north-west of Menzies. It was named after a geological formation 21km south of the town by Sir John Forrest during an expedition in the area in 1869. The first gold rush to Mt Ida happened in February of 1895. Three years later, on May 6 1898, the town-site was declared and work began on the public battery on the south side of the Leonora-Mount Ida Road. The public battery began work on 15 April 1899.
By the turn of the century, 22 mines were operating at Mt Ida. This period saw the town at the acme of its life.
1895 the town had a population 50, 17 gold mining leases and a total acreage of 202. The following account of life at Mt Ida was provided by a prospector named Ted Edwards. It was published in the National Miner on 7 March 1977, p 17.
The closest water was at Granite Creek, 25 miles east. This was pretty well a permanent supply of good water, but 25 miles is a long way for horse and cart or pack horses. So water was a very real problem.
Prospectors had to be careful and washes were few and far between. When it rained and the creeks were in flood, stretches of water would last in pools for a few weeks. Every prospector had his little dam and banks were built guiding water into these little depressions. Naturally, every container would be quickly filled to the brim. The quickest way to clear muddy water is to put Epsom salts in it as it helps to settle the water.
If a man was lucky enough to have a good groundsheet, he could rig it up and catch the water in his containers before it reached the ground, but it does not rain very often on the fields.
When the alluvial at the Golden Mount was discovered, a small seepage was found on the south end of the Central Granite Rocks and a fairly good supply of water was obtained when this was dug out to about ten feet depth.
On the edge of the Granites, quarter-mile west of the Belvedere Mine, a well of good water was found at about forty feet. At 90 feet on the Belvedere itself, a good little supply of beautiful freshwater was found in a crosscut. When this shaft was deepened, the water was contaminated by copper sulphides, but that little stream in the crosscut supplied enough water for all the workers and miners. I myself have never tasted better water.
In the 1930s, we sank a shaft 110 feet just to the west of this stream and put a pumping plant on it. This supplied all the domestic water needed on the mine, all we had to do was turn on the tap. Beats pulling it by windlass any time. However, the early prospectors were faced with the dilemma: camp on water if you could and travel to your claim to work, or camp on your claim and cart water to your camp. Some prospectors carried two four-gallon tins of water up to three or four miles by the method of a yoke across the back with wire from the yoke to the handle of the bucket. When they stood upright, the hands would reach the bucket handle to steady the buckets, but the real weight would be on the shoulders.
The only conveyance most prospectors had was the boneshaker with thornproof tires. But they still had to cart water to their camp.
Tommy Andrews and his mate were camping on good gold south of the Golden Mount. They took it in turns to carry water by yoke method from the soak at the Granites, three miles to camp. Tom was a man who never used bad language of any sort. When Tom’s turn to carry water came, he got back to within fifty yards of the camp, stepped into a rusty barrel hoop and fell very heavily, face straight into the ground. The ground received a bonus of eight gallons of water and the mud never even said thanks. Tommy raised his bruised and bloody face from the ground, got to his feet in a daze, took a staggering step to catch his balance and over he went again; his legs were still in the hoop. He then went mad. He very quickly caught up with and passed all the swearing he had missed in his previous twenty years. His mate heard the hullabaloo, came running over, saw what had happened, then the bloody fool said, “Did you spill the water, Tom?” Tom took the hoop from around his legs, gave it to his mate and said: “Take this back to camp for me and hang it up.” He then got to his feet and walked back to the soak. It was his turn to get the water and he got it. Wherever he camped afterwards, that hoop hung on the outside of his camp.
Tom Andrews was nineteen when he went to Mt Ida and lived there until his death in the 1960s. In those fifty years, he only visited Menzies twice. The first visit was to the hospital. He was working in the Unexpected Mine when a big sliver of the footwall slid away and crushed his foot.
In 1906, he had worked the Rio Tinto with Michael Connolly. It is dangerous ground, which requires close timbering all the way. During one big wet, the workings all collapsed in. It was worth over two ounces to the ton.
In 1935, the underground boss on the Timoni Mine took Tommy for an afternoon run with his family. They took the old fellow to Menzies. There was a train in at the station and when Tom saw it he got very excited and said to the children: “Look at the Chitta Chitta.”
Tom fell in love with Chrissie Neilson who worked at the Mt Ida Hotel for James Ogle Moore. Chrissie married another man and this fact, coupled with his crippled leg, anchored Tom to Mt Ida. His last camp was on the Timoni GML. He was an embarrassment to the mining company because, when GAD developed this mine, Tom’s camp was right where they wanted to build the manager’s house. Tom was so highly regarded by everyone, from the lowest worker to the highest director, that he was never interfered with. Mine houses were built around his.
He was the proud possessor of a full range of Nellie Melba tube records and records of other famous singers. The spring in the gramophone was broken, but Tom rigged up a bike wheel on the wall of his camp, wound up the gramophone and attached a system of pulleys and a weight over the wheel. The weight, when released, worked the gramophone and the glorious voice of Dame Nellie Melba gave great pleasure to all who cared to listen.
After his death, his camp was bulldozed and everything was buried in the rubbish dump. No one was allowed to touch anything.
One of Tom’s yarns was about the Mt Ida controversy over the telegraph line or bike pad. The importance of the boneshaker, the sturdy bike with thorn-proof tyres cannot be emphasised enough. The Eastern Goldfields was largely opened up with the bicycle. The large flats were easy to ride over and the bike never had to be fed. Soft sand and stoney hills were a pretty tough ride. This was mainly get-off-and-push country. Mt Ida was pretty divided over the issue. Single prospectors and mine workers never wanted the telegraph line. They stuck out in favour of a bike pad into Menzies. Married people and mining staff were in favour of communication.
The issue was finally resolved by vote and the bike pad won the day. As a result of the lack of quick communication, it took a long time to get help if anyone needed medical attention.
It may seem surprising that some voted against the telegraph being constructed, but there were economic reasons for it. Prior to Federation, the State Government would provide postal and telegraphic services to new settlements at cost, or less than the cost of service, as the loss would be made good by the proceeds the sale of town lots, rents from mining leases, licence fees from hotels, etc. Developing these settlements made good economic sense.
After federation, the Commonwealth Government was responsible for providing postal and telegraphic services. Part of the agreement between the State and the Commonwealth governments was that the Commonwealth would continue to provide existing services, even if they were not profitable. This resulted in the commonwealth sustaining losses for providing these services. Some years this loss was 500,000 pounds. Unlike the State Government, it had no revenue from these settlements to make good the loss.
Sir John Quick was the Post Master General at the time and he determined that the Postal Department should be run on commercial lines. As such, all new services would be provided by the Commonwealth only if they would be profitable. The Postal Department had to rely on its own revenue to provide services. If new services were not going to be profitable, the service had to be guaranteed by those who benefitted from the service for at least two years at the discretion of the Commonwealth. He argued that as the State Government was responsible for the development of new settlements and it received the financial benefit that arose from developing them, so this was only fair.
There were many requests put to the Post Master to provide a service from Mt Ida to Menzies or Leonora, but in 1909 they calculated the service would run at an annual loss of 288 pounds. As such, the State Government would have fo guarantee it as no Corporate Body existed at the time at Mt Ida. This would explain why it was put to a vote to the locals. Even though the State Government guaranteed the telegraphic service for Magnet to Black Range (which also did not have a Corporate Body), it did not do so for Mt Ida. This was probably because it had a smaller population than Black Range.
Mt Ida didn’t have communication with the outside world until about 1946 when Ted Munde, general manager of GAD Company, installed two-way radio with the Timoni Mine and the Kalgoorlie office. There were twice-daily talks with head office and this instant communication vastly improved the quality of life, as the closest Doctor was 70 miles away in Menzies. They could also arrange for supplies, etc, to be sent much quicker.
Sometime between 1946 and 1954, telegrams were sent from Mt Ida to Leonora by the outpost radio of the Royal Flying Doctor. It was reported that this telegraphic system was so slow that the message often did not reach there until the next day. Often the Doctor from Leonora would use the Mt Ida telegraph to advise that he was about to return to Leonora, but he would arrive long before the message was received, He sent the message so he could get assistance if he broke down on the journey.
Probably the most famous medical incident occurred in September 1903. On a Sunday afternoon, the developers of the Federation Gold Mine, Bernard Gaffney, Francis Ridd and Bremner, were drinking at the Mt Ida Hotel. Gaffney and Ridd got into an argument. They took their argument outside and Gaffney fell heavily and hit his head on a rock after Ridd punched him. He was unconscious for a time but he recovered and they returned to the bar and had a few more drinks. With no complaint of injury, he retired to bed upstairs.
On Monday morning, Gaffney “was found to be wandering in his mind”. As he did not improve, a messenger was despatched by bicycle on Tuesday to Menzies for the Doctor. Dr Lewis was advised that Gaffney had pneumonia. Dr Lewis immediately set off to Mt Ida and when he examined Gaffney he determined he only had slight pneumonia, but his situation was serious due to his head injury. The doctor was advised that Gaffney was found with blood coming out of his ears and nose on Monday morning and he had vomited blood during the night. After treating him, Dr Lewis pronounced the case hopeless and returned to Menzies. He reported the case to the Police who sent two officers to investigate. Gaffney died on Tuesday. Gaffney was aged 40, unmarried from Queensland. He had a brother who resided at Black Range.
The Police Court Jury of the inquest concerning his death brought in a verdict of manslaughter against Ridd on 6 October and he was committed to trial with bail refused. Ridd was aged 38 and had a wife who resided in Perth.
On 26 November, the Circuit Court heard the case. The Prosection advised the jury that days prior Gaffney had fallen from a buggy. At the conclusion for the case for the prosecution, the jury acquitted the accused without hearing evidence for the defence.
In 1896, Gaffney had been jailed for fourteen days for being drunk and not paying the 5 shillings fine that was imposed.
On 8 November 1904, there was an explosion accident on the Nellie Bly Mine near Mt Ida where two men, John Robertson and Henry Walstab were seriously injured. It was suspected that they had bored into a charge that had been placed there earlier in the day that had not gone off. Robertson’s jaw was fractured by a piece of rock about two inches square that was imbedded between the bones of the jaw. His chest and face were badly cut and he had lost a finger. Walstab had a thumb and two fingers blown off and had a badly injured eye. he also suffered severe shock. The explosion occurred at 5 pm. Robertson’s brother went down the shaft. Shortly after, John Robertson came to the surface, climbing 80 feet from the bottom of the shaft. His brother put Walstab into a bucket and kept the bucket steady by climbing the ladder next to it as it got winched to the surface. Both were obviously in a lot of pain as they travelled all night on a dray (a cart without sides pulled by a horse) to Menzies. Their painful journey took 12 hours, as they arrived there the next morning at 7 am.
Another similar accident occurred at the Bell Mine in August 1905. Harry Peddle had an explosive accident which caused his left hand to shatter and the doctor stated it would most likely be amputated. His right hand was also damaged and he had a large cut on his forehead. He also had to travel to Menzies, so one can only imagine the paid he suffered during the journey.
In 1908, the Minister of Mines visited the region and reported that the ground in the Sourthern-Copperfied area was easy to work and very profitable. The northern area had larger reefs and seemed more permanent, but the country was hard and the ore contained large amounts of copper. This made cyanide treatment more difficult. There was also the relatively high cost of carting the ore to the battery, as there was then no tramway from the fields to the battery. He also reported that the owner of the 27 Mile water condenser on the Menzies-Ida road had cleaned out large cavities in the rock which resulted in large quantities of good water. He was generally pleased with the prospects and development of the area. The progress committee claimed that the Copperfield area produced more gold per man than any other part of the State. The committee complained that they did not get the assistance they deserved from either the Roads Board or the mines department. They were not satisfied with the manner in which the old mill performed its work and the road to Menzies needed repair. They noted that the district’s prospects were never brighter.
In late 1912, a new 10 head State Battery was built close to the old one which was a boon for the district. The output from the district in 1912 was 2,646 tonnes of ore for 2,715 fine ozs. The government also provided camel teams to enable ore to be transported to Mt Ida for treatment.
However, By May 1954, 67 mining leases had been abandoned. The Timoni Gold Mine produced 265,298 ounces until it shut in 1965. Finally, on 10 March 1967, a chapter in the Australian mining history ended when Moonlight Wiluna Gold Mines Ltd ceased to pull ore at Mt Ida’s last remaining mine. Since then, some open pits have been developed, but one source states all mining ceased by 1988. In 2003, International Goldfields commenced mining activities at Mount Ida, dewatering and refurbishing the Timoni shaft and the upper levels of the old mine workings, but activities at Mount Ida were suspended again in February 2005. After changing hands a few times, the mine began operations again in July 2007. All mining operations were put on hold in July 2008 as the company went into voluntary administration.
No doubt gold will continue to be extracted from the ground around the ghost-town of Mt Ida. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that this town will ever be revived to its former glory, as it is now more profitable for workers to fly or drive to work in these remote areas.
“The Hard Days” National Miner, 7 March 1977, p17
Photographs from “In the Mount Ida District – the Recent Visit of the Minister for Mines”, Western Mail [Perth], 27 September 1912, p29 https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/37957980
“Mt Ida Telegraph Line: A statement by Mr Hugh Mahon” East Murchison News, 9 April 1910 p2: https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/253583301
“The Mt Ida to Leonora Telegraph Service: Quicker Delivery Sought” The Kalgoorlie Miner, 22 April 1954, p5: https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/256961992
“A Fatal Blow”, The Murchison Times and Day Dawn Gazette, 29 September 1903 p2: https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/233375975
“Verdict of Manslaughter” Geraldton Advertiser, 7 October 1903 p3: https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/252830001
“Alleged Manslaughter, A Mt Ida Case, Death of a Leaseholder”, The West Australian (Perth) 28 September 1903 p5: https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/24834562
“The Mt Ida Fatality, Coroners Inquiry, A Serious Charge” The Kalgoorlie Miner, 28 September 1903 p5: https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/88873505
“Alleged Manslaughter, a Mt Ida Case” The West Australian (Perth) 26 November 1903 p6: https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/24838662
“Police Court” Coolgardie Miner, 16 December 1896 p3: https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/216683177
“A Serious Accident, Victim May Die” The Kalgoorlie Miner, 25 September 1903 p5: https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/88873190
“Federation Gold Mine, Mt Ida Goldfield (Copperfield), Menzies Shire, Western Australia” Mindat.org: https://www.mindat.org/loc-269767.html
“Mt Ida” The Daily News (Perth) 24 February 19413 p8: https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/79939069
“Mt Ida” Morgans Courier (Mt Morgan) 20 June 1908 p2: https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/251866896
“Mt Ida” Morgans Courier (Mt Morgan) 27 May 1908 p2: https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/251866543
“Mt Ida Battery” Menzies Miner, 22 April 1899 p6, https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/233065343
“Mining Accident at Mt Ida” Morgans Courier (Mt Morgan), 30 August 1905 p4: https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/251607701