Mary Kathleen is probably one of the strangest names for a town you’ve ever heard but it was once a bustling mining centre in north-western Queensland, Australia. It was located between the towns of Mount Isa and Cloncurry. Now, however, the population has moved on and the town has been demolished.
The town was first settled in the 1860s and in 1954, a significant deposit of uranium was found on the site. Mary Kathleen was the late wife of Norm McConachy, one of those who discovered the uranium deposit. The rights to prospect and mine the uranium were sold to Rio Tinto, one of the world’s largest mining companies, and the first uranium was extracted in late 1956. The town of Mary Kathleen grew quickly to service the mine and a dam was built on the nearby Corella River.
Between 1958 and 1963, 4,080 tonnes of uranium oxide were extracted from the mine at Mary Kathleen. By this time, the contract to supply had been satisfied ahead of schedule and the mine was closed down. Mary Kathleen entered a state of decline as workers began to move on. The mine remained abandoned for 10 years thereafter.
During the 1970s, the oil crisis saw new contracts coming from Japan, Germany and the USA. The mine at Mary Kathleen reopened in 1974 and by time it closed again in 1982, a further 4,802 tonnes of uranium oxide had been extracted, at which point it was deemed to be exhausted. It has been closed ever since.
The town of Mary Kathleen was located six kilometres from the mine and had amenities such as a post office, cinema, school, shops and sporting facilities. By 1961, about 1000 people lived in the town but when the mine closed 2 years later, numbers declined rapidly with only 80 remaining during the 10 years the mine lay idle. As it reopened again in 1974, the town grew again and peaked at 1200 in 1981.
When the mine closed for the second time, the town was also closed. The last inhabitants left in 1984 and a major rehabilitation project was undertaken. The town was entirely demolished. Artifacts can be seen in the Cloncurry/Mary Kathleen Memorial Park and Museum in Cloncurry.