The Truth about the Chrome Mines
5 February 1895 The Gundagai Times and Tumut, Adelong and Murrumbidgee District Advertiser
Some Sensational Statements
Chrome mining and cricket are the only subjects which appeal just now to the conversational powers of the people in this town and district.
Interest in cricket we share with the entire population of Australia but chrome is a subject peculiarly our own.
There is no chrome language in Sydney, in Melbourne, or in Brisbane. It belongs solely to Gundagai.
Mr. Travers Jones, M. P., paid a flying visit to the mines some days back, however, and it will not be his fault if the chrome question does not overshadow every other question in Parliament when the House meets, and fall like a bombshell into the Mines Department.
A representative of the Gundagai Times had a conversation a day or two ago with Mr. F. Roberts (of John Earner and Co. of Sydney), and with the manager of one of the most important mines.
Mr. Roberts has been a buyer of chrome for many years. H has been over the mines in New Caledonia and in other countries, and he spent about two weeks collecting information upon the chrome resources of this district.
He came here also with the intention of investing money, but he thinks those whom he approached either regarded him as an "orphan," or displayed too much confidence in their properties.
Mr. Roberts, however, does not think the chrome mines offer big inducements to capitalists.
"It will not pay companies," he said, "but it will pay private individuals.
It will pay the intermediate miner to raise the chrome and sell it in Sydney.
I should say 300 men could find employment in this way, and make at least £3 a week.
Two or three men could raise the stuff, and find, a ready market for it.
There is a belt of serpentine here, thirty-five miles long and about a mile and a half wide.
In any part of this belt the men would find chrome, but the bodies are not sufficiently large to induce capitalists to go in for it."
"The total output has however, been large?" I remarked.
"Yes; if one could credit the wild reports," Mr. Roberts replied.
"Now what are the facts?
The Excelsior mine at Coolac sent away in '94, 1000 tons; Quilters' mine at Mount Helens, 1200 tons inside '94, which, by the way, averaged about 51 per cent, and Quilters' Mount Mary mine 600 tons, averaging 50 per cent.
Owen's mine, which is considered the best in the district, sent 700 tons away before Christmas; and within the past four weeks, under new management they have sent away 400 tons; and the Black Mountain, Welsh and Springthorpe's, sent 90 tons away in '94. That averaged 54 per cent."
"Under 50 per cent, it will not of course pay ?"
"No," he said,"it would be hard to dispose of chrome that falls below that average; although 48 per cent. has been taken."
"What is chrome at 50 per cent, worth in Sydney?"
"It is bought at 70/- a ton.
The carriage is as follows:- 12/7 a ton for 120 tons a week; over 120 to 180, 11/7 a ton; and over 180, 10/7. I may tell you that some of the mines will not pay."
During further conversation, it was remarked that Mr. Jones regarded the mines us dangerous.
"The mines have been worked dangerously," said Mr. Roberts. (The mining manager strongly emphasised that opinion).
"The mines have been worked by men who knew nothing about mining, and it is only a miracle that they were not killed.
Even at the present time I would not take £10 an hour and sit in one of them. With the exception of Owen's mine, there is not a stick of timber in any of them.
"Owen's mine, they stated, has been timbered up only during the past three weeks.
It is a scandalous shame that no inspector has been near the place,' the mining manager said.
"I am sure he would knock off every man. There is no doubt about the danger to life in the majority of cases, and if they were miners they would not go near the mines."
Thirty-one men are engaged at Owen's mine.
They are working night and day, and keeping thirty teams going.
A train-load of chrome was sent away last week, and over 200 tons are now stacked at the railway station at Gundagai.
Mines can be taken up by a permit, leasehold, or by conditional purchase.
Owen's have secured a new mine at Spring Creek, about nine miles from the mine at Kangaroo Mount.
"What do you think of the industry on the whole?'' I asked the mine manager.
"It is likely to go ahead for a time, if properly worked," he replied, "but it has been fairly crippled by the way it has been worked."
"What are your suggestions, then?"
"Well, we want good managers. Internal bickering has done more than anything else to delay the industry. It must be worked with the least possible expense. No big ideas will do."
"Regarding the timber in the country- "
"It is very scanty. We must cart it five or six miles."
"And the sinking ?"
"Of course I sink; but the others have been taking the chrome out any way - in the best way they could, in fact.
As soon as they got their hands under ground they got frightened."
''How far down have you got?"
"Fifty feet, with good chrome all the way. I have also a good face."
Mr. Roberts remarked that chrome is found in all parts of New South Wales, but these are the only mines.
"Our Knowendoe Station, on the Manning, fifty miles from Grafton, the largest chrome bodies I know in the world may be found. Bat us the mines are far away, they cannot be worked at present."
Mr. Roberts left in the evening for Sydney, but he will within three or four weeks pay another visit to Gundagai.