Picture of Captains Flat

Picture of the Lake George Mine Entrance at Captains Flat

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Captains Flat Tour - Mining Life

I'm sitting in the Crib room
chewing bread and meat
A crib room, as I found out
is where miners eat.

I listen to them talking
About the things they do
And sometimes I wonder
if it's a lead mine or a zoo.

"SAPPER"
Bert Beros

Beginnings
Geology
Diagrammatic
First Boom
Town Boom
Middle Years
On Again
Mining Life
The Mine
All Quiet
Pictorials
Then and Now
Public School


Work underground was quite varied. Tasks to be carried out included drilling, plate laying, timberwork, machinery operating and cleaning up. The mine was cut on different levels, each one numbered. Interestingly, only even numbers were used. Levels which were being mined for ore were called production levels, whereas tunnels being prepared were known as developmental levels.

At the start of each shift, men had to clear away the rubble left behind by the previous shift before they could start their own digging. The ore was scraped out of the working area (the stope) by a dragline and scoop. It was forced through an iron grid (grizzly) into tram trucks, then driven to a loading pocket, tipped into a 5 ton skip and hoisted to the surface.

All the while, miners drilled holes for each firing. Some used existing holes from the previous firing, with grave risk of unexploded dynamite from the previous shift. This was not allowed, but some did take the chance, with sometimes fatal results. A mechanical digger (bogger) was used to expose the ore wall for drilling and to scrape away the waste. A special method of drilling a series of holes with explosives timed in a certain sequence made sure the tunnels were made to the correct size, usually 8 feet by 8 feet. Plate-layers laid track for the trams, so that waste (mullock) could be trucked away. Other workers laid electric cables and air pipes while timbermen shored the walls of the tunnel. The timber was pre-cut above ground so that construction underground was made easier. At the start, the company only used Canadian oregon pine for this, as local Australian hardwoods cracked and collapsed without warning. The oregon pine made creaking noises before giving way, allowing workers time to evacuate before a collapse occurred. The imported timber became too expensive after a time and other more local timbers were used.

Meals were eaten underground in special areas for the purpose (crib cuddys). These had benches, tables and electric urns and men could cook meals using steamers. At the end of each shift, the firing took place. The shift boss loaded the men from the lowest level into the cage at 3.20pm and fired the charges. The firing commenced on the lowest level then on each level to the topmost one. The ventilation system cleared the dust within 40 minutes and the afternoon shift was lowered down the shaft to start the process all over again.

The ore was carried to the surface in a 5 ton skip, where it was dumped into an ore bin. From there it was moved into crushers where it was made into gravel, then stored in 4 large silos each holding 1,000 tons. Vibrators in the silos ensured the ore travelled smoothly onto conveyor belts taking it to ball mills, further reducing the ore to a powdery consistency. After passing through classifiers, the various elements were separated using an oil-flotation method. This process became the standard method for processing ore after its invention in Broken Hill. It worked by mixing certain chemicals with the ore in contact with oil. The chemicals attached themselves to all but one mineral which floated to the top to be skimmed off. First removed was the lead concentrate which yielded lead, gold, silver and copper upon smelting. After the lead concentrates came zinc and lastly, iron pyrites used for making superphosphates and sulphuric acid. Once the minerals had been extracted, the wastes were channelled into large holding dams where the heavier materials sank to the bottom and the water evaporated. Later a different method was used where the water was mostly removed from the sludge first and the solids dumped onto a waste hill.

Mining is a dangerous profession. Men are totally reliant on the structure of the tunnels they create. The more tunnelling which takes place, the less stable the structure becomes. Levels down to 2,600 feet had been dug by 1961 with such serious structural movements on a number of levels, all miners were evacuated from them. At the southern end of the mine ridge, an entire section collapsed prompting the company to post warnings as to the dangers of walking there. Three such collpases happened in that area which was known as Keatings.

The nature of the geological structure of the hills meant that rain leaked through and ran down into the filling passes, further destabilising the drives. At times this water literally poured down the tunnel walls and water hosing to settle dust also made conditions unfavourable. Fallen ore was collected by men in wet weather clothing and boots under the passes and pumps worked to draw the water away.

Waste holding dams collapsed on more than one occasion, seriously polluting the river system and the reservoir. The water from the reservoir was used for mining, drinking underground as well as for workers' showers. Mine managers assured the miners that the water was perfectly safe, but men refused to work until this was proved.

The mine had many serious accidents over its period of operation, with men killed and injured. Statistically, one man died for every year the mines were in operation.



The mine head and poppet in 1959


Men loaded into a cage to go underground


Workers installing equipment underground


Working at the top of the stope


Using a theodolite underground to check levels


Working in the engine room


Tipping ore from a train down a grizzly for loading


Men ate meals underground. These rooms (or cribs) cut from solid rock had hot water, electric lights and a wash trough


An engineer climbs a steel ladder to the top of a stope


Content 2006 Gregory S. Davies
Content: 2006 Captains Flat Community Association
Site: www.captainsflat.org