Mt Isa in Queensland is not an old town but a fascinating one. Lead was discovered here in 1923, so there aren’t the heritage buildings and traditional outback pubs that define other towns. Surprisingly the City of Mt Isa actually includes the ‘suburb’ of Camooweal, 188 kilometres away. The road connecting the two towns is locally known as the “longest main street in the world.” The mine provides a dramatic backdrop to the city and the view of the city lights from the lookout is a treat at sunset.
We spend the morning driving around Mt Isa’s residential streets looking at the housing. Most houses are metal clad with little or no garden. Those with a good garden are a veritable oasis. Water is short but artesian water is available. We hear regular warnings on the radio warning people to leave their shoes and pets outside and to wash their hands after gardening and handling pets, because of the danger of lead poisoning. I doubt that I’d garden here either.
The government housing appears to have been designed by someone with little or no experience of the outback. Each house has a small slanted porch over the front door. For heaven’s sake these people need a big wide veranda that shades the house and gives them somewhere to sit and contemplate on a hot evening.
We visit the underground hospital which the miners tunnelled into the hillside during the war. With bare rock walls and an earthen floor it was used as an air raid shelter for the patients and staff in the event of an attack. Attached to the underground hospital is a hospital museum full of frightening equipment and next door is Mt Isa’s last Tent House. Tent houses were built from canvas and made more permanent with the addition of corrugated iron walls and roofs.
It’s easy to spend a few days mooching around Mt Isa especially when the rodeo comes to town.