Copper was first discovered in the area west of Gympie in the 1870s, at a time when it was selling for up to £95 a ton. The value of the ore more than compensated for the remote location and difficult terrain, and several mines and smelters were quickly established around the base of Mount Clara.
But after such a successful beginning, the mines were closed by the end of the decade and the hundreds of men employed by the companies had moved on.
All that remains to show for their effort is a hand built stone chimney surrounded by the ruins of a smelter which once processed ore from the mines. Thought to be one of the first of its kind and also the oldest surviving mining chimney in Queensland, it is now listed on the state’s Heritage Register.
Built in 1872, the Mount Clara smelter chimney was constructed of local bluestone and mortar made with sand from Fraser Island. The skill of the stonemasons is evident in the intricacy of their work, with stones of varying shapes and sizes neatly placed together. Iron bands, although rusted with age, still provide support for the chimney’s walls.
Did the stonemasons work with the stones in their natural state, building the chimney as if they were assembling a puzzle? Or did they deliberately create the unusual shapes to give extra strength to the structure?
We’ll never know.