Savage River Iron Ore Deposits

Savage River mine, 1960 (AOT, PH30/1/9057)

The Savage River Iron Ore Deposits were discovered in 1877 but the area's isolation and apparently poor quality magnetite meant no mining resulted. In 1958 the Department of Mines drilled a few exploratory holes into the Precambrian aged mineralised strata sulphide. Results were encouraging, and Roy Hudson of Industrial Mining Investigations was granted a large exploration licence, planning to establish a Tasmanian steel industry using this iron ore and coal from the east coast. Further exploration found large deposits of iron ore, suitable for commercial development. Special legislation enabled its development by an unincorporated joint venture of ten companies, including Pickands Mather and Co International of the USA, who had an agreement to produce 45 megatonnes of iron ore pellets for the Japanese steel industry.

The ore was mined by open cut methods, and concentrated by crushing, grinding and magnetic separation near the mine at Savage River. The concentrate was pumped in slurry form to a pellet plant near Port Latta on the north-west coast. The 85-kilometre pipeline was the longest slurry pipeline in the southern hemisphere. The first shipment of pellets was made in 1968. A town, Savage River, was built to house the workforce of around 375. In 1990, after the initial contract was completed, production was reduced from 2.5 megatonnes a year to 1.3, but this increased from 1999 under new owners, Australian Bulk Minerals. In partnership with the state government, the new owners are rehabilitating the degraded site.

Further reading: K Pink, The west coast story, Zeehan, 1984.

Carol Bacon and Greg Dickens