The City of Mount Isa is ideally and comfortably situated in the Gulf Country region of Queensland, Australia. It is located 1,829 kilometres from Brisbane – the Queensland State Capital – and 883 kilometres from Townsville, the closest major city. Mount Isa acts as the administrative, commercial and industrial centre for the state’s vast north-western region.
The city covers an area of over 43,310 square-kilometres, making it geographically the second largest city in Australia, next to Kalgoorlie-Boulder, WA. With a population of approximately 23,500, Mount Isa is a major service centre for North West Queensland, and is well-equipped to meet the residential, business and industrial needs of residents and tourists alike.
Unique and thriving
Being – and remaining – a modern, progressive mining city in the middle of the Queensland and the Australian Outback is one of the many things that make Mount Isa unique. Located in the middle of cattle country, Mount Isa has enjoyed longevity unheard of when it comes to communities typically dependent on mining. “We have a city, which next year will celebrate its 90th birthday, that is rather unique for a mining community,” says Mayor Tony McGrady. “The normal life of a mining community is about 30 years. All the indications show we will go on for many, many years to come.”
Following the Second World War, Mount Isa experienced a massive influx of people from Europe – England, Ireland, Italy and Germany – many of whom came and settled in Mount Isa. The resulting multi-cultural demographics also make the city unique. It’s a “thriving industrial community with people from 52 different nationalities all living and working free from racial strife,” Mayor McGrady says.
Many of Mount Isa’s residents left the comforts of city living and have taken a gamble to live in a remote community, he adds. “In many cases, they’ve left their families and loved ones on the coast and come here to make a life for themselves. Today it’s a modern, progressive city.”
Workers in Mount Isa – particularly those in the city’s prominent mining sector – also have the advantage of knowing they are making a difference. “The resources sector has carried this state and nation for many, many years,” Mayor McGrady says. “At the end of the day, we realise that contributions we’re making to the economy of Australia and Queensland is all there to see.”
“When you’ve finished work, you know you’ve made a contribution,” he adds. “We work hard, we play hard and we enjoy life.”
People choose to reside in Mount Isa because of its uniqueness and abundant educational, job and housing opportunities. All of the shops and services that one would expect to find in a modern city can also be found in Mount Isa. “All the things you take for granted in the city, we have here. They come for a good lifestyle for their families. Once they arrive, they soon settle in,” Mayor McGrady says.
While tourism may not have a significant impact on their economy, people do come through Mount Isa on their way to the northern states. Increasingly, more people are staying an extra day or two while in the city, however. One of the reasons is the Mount Isa Rodeo, which is world-renowned. They also have a mining expo, regarded as one of the best in Queensland, possibly Australia, McGrady says.
“There is a special friendship among countrymen you don’t always get in the city,” he adds. “In recent years, we’ve beautified the area, so now you have this magnificent lake with lots of area for people to relax with on weekends or whenever they have time off.”
When the current Council was elected in May, it signalled the official start of the city’s efforts to boost the Mount Isa economy through new business investment. “On our second day, we had signs erected outside the administration centre saying we’re open for business again,” Mayor McGrady says. The Council actively promotes new businesses to everyone, and the Mayor’s door is open all the time, he says. “We’re more than happy to offer any assistance we can.”
Currently, Mount Isa’s Council is negotiating with Legend Mining for a phosphorous fertilization plant, which would create hundreds of new jobs. Sealing the deal with Legend is one of the top development priorities for Mount Isa. “We will do all that we can to encourage them,” says Mayor McGrady.
Since mining is their number one industry, the Council particularly encourages people to set up businesses to support mining. They have other mines in the process of opening, and if the Queensland Government reverses its policy on uranium mining, the opportunities will increase exponentially Mayor McGrady says. “If State Government changes its policy, the explorers come in, search for other deposits of uranium and in the process they find other deposits such as zinc.”
The Council is also soliciting expressions of interest from companies to build 400 new homes in a proposed affordable housing development in Mount Isa known as ‘the Gliderport’.
An environmental need
While being an environmentally-friendly sustainable city is important, Mayor MGrady says that the city has reached a point where too much emphasis is being placed on being green, taking away some of the focus on their economy. At the end of the day, the Mayor’s priority is jobs. “This country needs more and more jobs. If we don’t secure more jobs, we will go down the same path as Greece and Spain,” he says.
While there is always a need for a strong environmental policy from governments, Mayor McGrady doesn’t believe environmentalists should be dictating policy. “They have a role to play, but certainly not at the expense of economic development. We’ve got to find a happy medium somewhere down the line,” he says. “Because of that we’ve now seen projects that should have been started, now delayed and delayed.”
A liveable future
In the long term, Mayor McGrady envisions Mount Isa maintaining their status as the ‘Premier Mining City of Australia.’ One of his chief aims will be to encourage more people to come, settle down, and live. He’s totally opposed to the concept of “fly-in, fly-out.”
“We have a liveable city here,” he says. “It’s up to councils and governments to make mining communities more liveable and encourage people to come and live here. That’s the aim of my council – to make this a more liveable city for this generation and future generations to come.”