While the mining records in South Australia cover many pages of history, and at present the copper mining industry is attracting considerable attention, there is a valuable mineral deposit at Mintaro, situated 85 miles north of Adelaide, that has been steadily developed and worked with considerable advantage to the State and profit to that locality in particular for a period of half a century. Although in production the figures do not approach the magnitude attaching to the various metals, the industry is quite deserving a place in history as giving evidence of one of the many good things that South Australia possesses. For a little more than 50 years Mintaro flagstone has enjoyed the reputation of being absolutely the best in Australia, and recent developments prove that if it were put to the test the chances are that it would secure a place second to none in competition with the world. There are two or three stories of the original discovery of this valuable deposit, but that which is given the greatest credence and accepted by the oldest settlers is that, like nearly all important discoveries, it was made quite accidentally.
—The Discovery.—
Some time in the early fifties, when the old Burra Burra Copper Mine was yielding large and payable quantities of copper ore, large numbers of mule teams were employed in carting, the ore to Port Adelaide, and the township of Mintaro became a recognised and favourite halting place and a distributing centre on a small scale in the matter of supplies. Added to farming pursuits, a settling population gradually increased, and the need of a building for religions purposes led to the erection of a Roman Catholic church, the contractor for which was the late Mr. Thompson Priest. In looking around he selected stone suitable for the purpose from one of the late Mr. William Brady’s paddocks. Little stone had been removed when Mr. Priest came upon a fine deposit of blue slate. Following this discovery a quarry was opened up, from which was obtained flagstone that gave existence to an industry that has since produced scores of thousands of tons of stone of a quality that has ever since defied successful competition throughout the southern hemisphere. The late Mr. Thompson Priest exhibited the Mintaro product at the International Exhibition in London in 1802, and secured the signature of Lord Granville (Chairman of Her Majesty’s Commission) to an award by the international jury for class 1. Exhibiting at the South Australian Agricultural and Horticultural Society’s show in Adelaide in 1867 he was the recipient of a silver medal, suitably inscribed (designed and manufactured by J. M. Wendt, of Rundle street), for Mintaro flagging, presented by H.R.H. the Duke of Edinburgh. Again at the International Exhibition held in Sydney in 1879, and at Melbourne in 1880-1, Mr. Priest secured for Mintaro flagstone the first degree of merit and bronze medals.
—The Old Quarry.—
What is known as the old quarry was successfully worked for about 28 years. During this tune an average of over 20 men were continuously employed. The late Mr. Fred Hector was the oldest hand, and it was generally admitted that he had few equals as a skilled stonecutter. On the death of Mr. Thompson Priest the quarry proprietorship came into the possession of his son, the late Mr. Edmund Priest, who, after a short term of ownership, was made a good offer and disposed of the leases to a Victorian Company. The managing director was Mr. H. Gaukooger, of Melbourne, and the late Mr. E. G. Priest received the appointment of local works manager. The new proprietors, however, did not remain in ownership for a long period; and, ostensibly through lack of demand for the stone, operations at the works were suspended.
—The Process of Development.—
Shortly afterwards heavy rains fell, which completely flooded and filled to overflowing the quarry, which had been worked to a depth of about 170 ft., and an industry which had proved a mainstay of the township of Mintaro and source of profit to the prorietors for upwards of 30 years was threatened with an indefinite period of idleness. Realizing the true position, an enterprising local committee, among whom were Messrs, F. H. Weston, H. D. Jolly, George McLeish, W. E. Giles, S. Torr, A. P. Brown, and others, set to work to secure the lease of sections held by the Right Hon. Sir Samuel Way, only separated, from the old workings by a few chains further north. A shaft was at once put down, and the existence and quality of stone were proved. Meetings were held, a locally formed company was the outcome, 2,750 shares paid up to 6/ were issued on payment of 6/ per share. All shares ranked alike, and with a capital of less than £1,000 operations were begun in 1895, with Mr. James Cummins as work ing manager. There was a good demand for flagging right from the start, chiefly on account of the reputation enjoyed by the old company, and this kept the new company in funds for further opening up, developing, and equipping the property in the earlier stages of its existence. Dividends amounting to 1/6 per share were returned to shareholders as the profits of the first five years. A change in the working management was considered advisable in 1900, when in some quarters it was feared that the quality of stone was deteriorating. Mr. Ivern A. Jacobs, of Willunga, was approached, and after making a careful and thorough examination, he was able to give a highly encouraging report regarding future prospects, which led to his accepting the appointment of works manager. Within 18 months of his assuming control further dividends amounting to 1/6 per share were dispersed, and for the past five years dividends amounting to 6/ a share per annum, or equal to 100 per cent, on original share issue, have been regularly paid. To-day the Mintaro Flagstone Company is not only financially stronger than it has ever been, but a plant thoroughly up to date has been gradually installed, out of the profits, that is valued at considerably more money than all the shares cost. The stock of flagstone ready for market is larger than they have ever had, and the stone in sight available for quarrying is estimated at a money value of tens of thousands of pounds in excess of any period of the company’s existence.
—Demand and Durability.—
Paragraphs have recently appeared in the columns of The Register relating to the stones of record size dispatched to Melbourne, and it might be mentioned that Victoria has proved a useful and consistent customer for a great many years. Agencies have now been opened up in all the States. Western Australia has lately been added to the list. The durability of the stone is remarkable. The streets of Adelaide, in the principal thoroughfares, bear testimony to the fact that, with everyday use as a pavement, it has a life of over 30 years. At the residence of Mr. Fred Rolands, of Kensington, a flagstone table top may be seen that has already had a life of usefulness extending over a period of over 45 years. At the Seppeltsfield distillery the experiment of manufacturing wine vats, each with a holding capacity of 1,470 gallons for storage and other purposes, proved so successful that other distilleries in several parts of the State have followed suit, and it is claimed that they are proving eminently satisfactory. Go where one will north, south, east, or west in this State it will be found that cricket clubs have been unable to provide a better pitch than those laid down with flagging. It has been said that Italian flagstone is superior to that of Mintaro, but the reverse has been demonstrated. The secretary of the local company has at his office a sample of the flagstone from Italy, which he is always willing to show any one interested enough to compare it with the local article in order that they may judge for themselves. The present depth of the new quarry is a little over 100 ft. Steam cranes are used to raise the blocks to the surface, which it will he admitted is a matter demanding great care, seeing that many of the blocks in the rough weigh considerably over 5 and 6 tons each. The management has always had a commendable regard for the safety of the workmen, and the immunity from accident is testimony to the fact. The Mintaro Flagstone Company’s shares are not subject to frequent fluctuation. So entire is the confidence of share holders, not only in the property itself, but the management throughout, that it is doubtful if a house-to-house canvass were made in the district a seller would be found at 10 times the original cost of their shares. The distance from the works to the railway station is about six miles, and teamsters are regularly employed carting all the year round. The board of directors is composed of Messrs. F. H. Weston, A. P. Brown, and S. Torr, and the company from its inception were fortunate in securing Mr. W. E. Giles as secretary, a position be still holds.