Mica mining at Harts Range, Central Australia, 1880s-1960
: a study of ethnicity and the impact of isolation

  • David Frederick Hugo

    Student thesis: Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) - CDU


    The Harts Range is about two hundred kilometres north-east of Alice Springs. The area was known to be rich in minerals from the time of the first explorers. From the 1880s until the close of the industry in 1960, almost all Australian mica came from this area in the Northern Territory.

    Most miners were Italian who were without a mining background and who began arriving on the Field in the years following the First World War. During this period they were sponsored by their countrymen already in Central Australia. After 1945 increased numbers came to the Centre escaping post-war Italy and encouraged by Australia's immigration policies. Many of the post-war migrants brought families with them to the Field. The thesis contends that many wives worked alongside their husbands and fathers; and that as with other early settlement areas throughout Australia, women played a pivotal role. It further contends that without the use of oral evidence the social history of these Italians could not have been successfully documented.

    This thesis establishes that the relationship between the miners and local Aboriginal groups was atypical in the history of Central Australia. The miners utilised local Aboriginal knowledge and labour. Descendants of these Aborigines still live in the area, many at the Atitjere Community.

    The mining literature indicates that mining activity and settlement was concentrated in the Central Harts Range District (the study area). Remaining evidence of activity is distinctive for the aggregation of the responses of the miners to the extreme isolation and to economic deprivation.

    The thesis concludes that mica mining in the Harts Range sustained an interest in Central Australia from the early years of this century until 1960. Developments in transport services, such as the Plenty Highway, and the attraction of Italians to the area (who formed the basis of Central Australia's present-day Italian community) are a direct result of this activity.
    Date of AwardNov 1995
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorDavid Carment (Supervisor) & Alan Powell (Supervisor)

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