In 1861 the explorers Burke and Wills, the first Europeans in the area, passed through Mary Kathleen on their ill fated expedition to the Gulf of Carpentaria.
By the late 1860's the area had been settled by pastoralists but it wasn't until 1954, when Walton and McConachy discovered uranium, that the township of Mary Kathleen sprang to life.
At the time the uranium at Mary Kathleen was the largest known deposit in Australia and McConachy named the town for his late wife who had died only a couple of weeks earlier.
Britain’s Atomic Energy Authority issued a contract for the supply of the uranium ore which was processed on site and by 1963 over 4500 tonnes had been produced.
A glut of uranium on the world market saw production cease and the site lay dormant for 10 years. In 1974 the mine reopened and the town received a new injection of life but by 1982 the doors were shut for good. It is estimated between 7000 and 9000 tonnes of ore were extracted from the region.
In her day Mary Kathleen was home to around a thousand people and sported churches and civic facilities. An historic police station which had previously resided at the towns of Oona and then Dobbyn was relocated to Mary Kathleen to service the town. It now resides at the Mary Kathleen Memorial Park and Museum in the nearby town of Cloncurry.
In 1983 the buildings in the town site were auctioned, many of them were relocated to Cloncurry and the town was officially abandoned.
Mary Kathleen rests nearly halfway between the towns of Mount Isa and Cloncurry. Footings, house pads and the streets are virtually all that remain.
The terraced, open cut mine pit is accessible and presents a photo opportunity with it's deep blue water.
Fountain Springs overnight camping bay (which gets heavily utilised in season) has been established near the signed gravel road that leads into the old townsite. It has barbecues and toilet facilities and the occasional, Government sponsored, 'Driver Revive' free coffee service.
This section of the Barkly Highway is a picturesque drive with some impressive natural rock formations on either side of the road. The area is worth exploring with various bush tracks and quarries in the adjacent area. Across the Barkly Highway, nearly opposite the camping ground is the East Leichardt Dam, formally the Mary Kathleen Dam, established as an emergency water supply to back up the Corella Dam. It has been stocked with fish and 'Redclaw' and presents a chance for a feed in an unlikely looking spot.
Mary Kathleen or 'Mary K' as she is affectionately known will probably never see a return to her former glory.
The future of uranium mining lies in the hands of state governments and although there are stakeholders with an interest in nearby uranium deposits, nothing is moving as yet.
This article is part of a project to record the history of ghost towns in Australia. If you can contribute any information about any of Australia's abandoned towns please use the 'CONTACTUS' link at the top of the page to send us an email.
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