The site near Kilkivan.
The site near Kilkivan. Contributed

Mt Clara: Hundreds used to work there, now it's abandoned

I FIND it is usually worth the time and the trouble to take a diversion to discover something new, as I did last week.

Just before you get to Kilkivan, there is a side road heading into the hills looking over the town. Up a green valley and deep into these hills is a highly picturesque historic site that is well worth the effort of reaching it.

The Mt Clara Smelter is at the end of Rossmore Road.

As is often the case, as the road condition gets rougher, the passing scenery becomes more impressive.

Taking a similar path to Rossmore Road through this valley is Fat Hen Creek and the two repeatedly cross over and under each other.

RUINS: The fading grandeur of the Mt Clara Smelter.
RUINS: The fading grandeur of the Mt Clara Smelter. Contributed

The clear water of this creek is running quite fast now with the recent rains but the road is still passable.

Taking in the quiet serenity it is hard to believe that thousands of men came to this area in the early 1870s to work in the copper mines.

About 300 men worked in the mine nearest to this smelter.

The blue-green carbonate ore was brought to this smelter to produce copper.

The smelter actually ran continuously 24 hours a day, with three shifts of six men working the furnace.

The ruins here have been in this state of slow decay and reclamation back into the bush much longer than they were in operation.

Within two years of its construction, the use of the smelter was discontinued in 1875.

The most remarkable feature of the site is the chimney, which is possibly the oldest surviving mining industry chimney in Queensland.

It is constructed from local bluestone, clamped with iron, and held together with a lime and sand mortar.

The intricate patterns of the differently sized bluestone add a great deal of character and certainly stand testament to the fine workmanship of its builders.

Around the chimney can be seen the ruins of the smelter, made from brick and stone.

What is it about ruins that is so fascinating and so evocative?

Here, in the shadow of this tall structure made by man to process the ore from the mountain, are the sounds of nature; birds singing, the wind rustling the branches of the trees and all around the buzz of insects. There is a fading grandeur to this tower that speaks of the transitory character of any human endeavour in this world.

Upon this spot on this ridge, for a few short years, there was a great deal of human endeavour.

Every single one of those men who worked beside the heat of the furnace are long dead and what we have to remember them are these ruins, these bricks, this stone and this mortar.

Through ruins a window is opened to another life, another time and another world - perhaps it is because they require some imagination that the experience is much more intimate and personal than watching a documentary, reading a history book or visiting an intact building; through their ruination we are required to take an active part in their interpretation and understanding.

The effects of time and weather on these man-made structures has added depth and meaning to them.

They are quite different now to what they were in those hot and sweaty years in the 1870s. Ruins tell us that everything passes; feuds, friendships and feelings. Everything personal dissolves and disintegrates. Our lives must be lived on a human scale.

A scale that reminds us that much came before us and there will be so much more after we are gone.

What binds us to the past and the future and places us into something larger is the steady roll of time.

Time has rolled on since those roaring years in the 1870s when this verdant valley and its creek with a funny name were alive with the sounds of pick axes in the mines, the steady hum of the furnace here in the smelter and the clamorous voices of hundreds of men.

That silence that fell over these ruins well over a century ago continues as nature takes back its hold, but in their silence they say so much more than can ever be said.

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