Prospector John Campbell Miles (left) in 1924 with Walter John Davidson (Minister Stewart’s Great Grandfather), Will Purdy, S Boyce, and EC Saint-Smith

February 2023 marks 100 years since John Campbell Miles stumbled upon one of the world’s richest deposits of copper, silver and zinc – in a location now known as Mount Isa.

Queensland Resources Minister, Scott Stewart, congratulated all past and present residents of Mount Isa on the important milestone.

“When Miles stumbled upon this rich deposit of copper, he convinced my great grandfather, Walter John Davidson, to move from Duchess to Isa to help him set up this claim,” Mr Stewart said.

“This discovery was a turning point in Queensland’s history and left a legacy which is felt to this day.

“For a century Mount Isa has been a symbol of Queensland’s mining heritage and a testament to the resilience, ingenuity and hard work of those who have called the city home.”

Mr Stewart said going hand-in-glove with Mount Isa’s growth has been the evolution of copper; from an important building material to playing a key role in the world’s renewable energy transition and Queensland Government’s Energy and Jobs Plan.

“As the global demand for renewable energy continues to increase, the role of other lesser-known critical minerals in the region like vanadium, cobalt and rare earth elements will continue to grow, securing future jobs and continued growth for the North West, and the whole of Queensland.

“Here’s to the next 100 years of growth and prosperity and the enduring spirit of determination that Miles and my great-grandfather embodied.”

After observing the mineralised rocky outcrops all those years ago, Miles collected samples using a horse-shoeing hammer and lodged them with the government assayer at Cloncurry on 23 February, the date now honoured as Mount Isa day.

Over two months, Miles pegged out the ‘Racecourse’ lease in the area surrounding the outcrops. He named the larger outcrop ‘Mount Isa’ which is understood to be inspired by the Western Australian gold mining town of Mount Isa.

Due to its remote location, it was not until the government geologist, E.C. Saint Smith, visited the field in September 1923 and returned with high praise that more prospectors made their way to Mount Isa.

Miles established Mount Isa Mines on 19 January 1924 – Australia’s most distant mine from a coalfield or seaport. Miles gradually sold off his shares in the company to sustain his prospecting endeavours in Lawn Hill – about 300km northwest of Mount Isa.

22 years after Miles had sold the last of his shares, Mount Isa Mines had grown to become the largest mining company in Australia and the nation’s largest single creator of export income.

Miles died in Melbourne on 4 December 1965 aged 82. In 1968 his ashes were brought back to Mount Isa and buried under the clock tower which now stands in the centre of the street named after him.

Feature image: Prospector John Campbell Miles (left) in 1924 with Walter John Davidson, Will Purdy, S Boyce, and EC Saint-Smith. Image: The Queensland Government.

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