Camping in a Ghost Town
Experience | camping | history | North West | Queensland

Camping in a Ghost Town

Mary Kathleen mine site

by Susie Baber  |  29 July 2022

When you plan a big trip like our Queensland adventure you visit a lot of things that you are expecting to see, many places already familiar from the photos you have seen while researching. But every now and then something takes you by surprise. The drive from Cloncurry to Mt Isa was unexpectedly spectacular.

I had never heard of the Selwyn Ranges before this trip, and they were stunning. The road was good (a rare treat in outback Queensland) as it twisted and turned between the rugged peaks. It was hard to get photos that gave justice to the view, as spots to pull off the road were few and far between. When there was somewhere to stop the view was not at its best – they really need to put rest stops at the top of hills with lookouts instead of at the bottom of the hills.

We were heading for Mt Isa, with no firm plans about where we would end up for the night, when we passed a small sign for the turn off to Mary Kathleen. I remembered seeing Instagram shots of the stunning blue water in the abandoned mine and we made a last-minute decision to stop and explore. The road into the mine was 7km of very rough dirt track passing the old town on the way. If we had known then, what we know now, we would have dropped the van off in the old town and driven out to the mine without it. The road is not well signposted, and the mine site would have been much harder to find without the Hema GPS. It was late by the time we got to the mine pit and the water was in shadow so the blue of the lake was not as intense as it could be. But the open cut mine is still an awesome sight, the largest deposit of uranium in Australia of its time.

The township of Mary Kathleen was once a thriving mining community with a population of up to 1200. Houses were constructed at a rate of one a day and the town boasted a post office, cinema, sports ovals, a school, banks, two churches and a store. After the mine closed for the final time in 1982, the buildings were sold and relocated to other towns in the surrounding area. All that remains today are the foundations of a bustling village. Concrete slabs mark where houses once stood and in the centre of town you can see the remnants of shops and the fountain in the town square. There is an information board with the history of Mary Kathleen and a map of the town as it once was. This site is now private property, campers are welcome but asked to leave it as they find it, you need to be self-contained as there are no facilities. If you would like to stay overnight just pull up on one of the old housing slabs, where else do you get a perfect level campsite for free?

Share this story