Ballara Mining Heritage Trail

Fountain Springs | Ballara Mining Heritage Trail

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Fountain Springs is a picturesque waterhole perfect for swimming and a bbq or picnic lunch. The spring is a welcome oasis at the end of the 23 kilometre Ballara Mining Heritage Trail, a 4WD track which showcases the mining history in the early 1900s. Rich with history and the incredible natural beauty that is the Argylla Ranges, the trail is a must do as you travel on the Overlander’s Way between Mount Isa and Cloncurry.

It was purely by chance we met Mark Van Ryt the secretary of Mount Isa Landcare Group on our way to do the trail. Mark also on his way to the trail with some members of his family kindly invited Daryl and I to join them.

Over the next few hours Mark graciously told us about the terrific work Mount Isa Landcare have done and are continuing to do to preserve the history of mining communities of the past. He also shared the stories of the people that worked in the mines and lived in the mining towns. His family, long time residents of Mount Isa shared their memories and stories. It was a fascinating and informative day! 

Same as the gorgeous Copperfield Gorge which we also visited recently, the Ballara Mining Heritage Trail and all its sites including Fountain Springs is dog friendly.

Where Is It Ballara Mining Heritage Trail

The start of the trail is on the south side of the Overlanders Way (Barkly Highway) almost exactly mid way between Cloncurry and Mount Isa. Approximately 60 kilometres from each town the landmark to look for is the Fountain Springs Rest Area. The trail entrance from the rest area is about 200 metres back towards Cloncurry on the opposite side of the road. It is signposted so you shouldn’t miss it.

Ballara Mining Heritage Trail

Trail Conditions

Currently there is a sign at the beginning of the track with the distances to each of the sites along the way, this is accurate. It also states the track is four wheel drive only. This is no longer strictly true.

Entry Ballara Mining Heritage Trail
Ballara Heritage Trail Entry

Historically the Ballara Mining Heritage Trail has been a rough 4WD track and it would take 2 hours of careful driving to get to Fountain Springs. More recently some funding granted for flood repairs has been used to improve the track and make it accessible to all vehicles including 2WD. This is still a dirt road and thus conditions can change especially after a weather event such as heavy rainfall. Use your own discretion when deciding whether to drive it in 2WD.

That said the track to Rosebud cemetery and another to Hightville Tunnel are rough especially the latter and require a 4WD.

The Stunning Argylla Ranges

The Landscape and Natural Beauty

The Argylla Ranges through which the Ballara Mining Heritage Trail travels is a landscape of remarkable natural beauty. The landscape of mountains sparsely wood and abundantly covered in clumps of spinifex and other grasses as well as rock formations millions of years in the making is like nowhere else.

Black Mountain Mount Isa
Beautiful landscapes

The beauty of the ranges is enhanced by the contrast of the rocky terrain and rich red dirt against the subtle green hues of the trees and grasses which somehow manage to grow here.

It is hot here. The rocky ground, red dirt and little tree coverage means it can get real hot real quick. So be sure to look after yourself. Take plenty of water to drink and don’t spend too long in the sun.

Basic Etiquette on the Trail

These rules really are simple rules to follow while on the trail:

* Open a gate. Shut the gate.
* No entry sign. Stay out.
* Take it in with you. Take it back out.
* Drive only on the tracks. You’re not a trail blazer.
* Be respectful. Do no damage.

The Historic Sites and Fountain Springs

The Ballara Mining area started in 1905 when copper ore was found. And it all ended just 15 years later at the end of WW1 when the price of copper plummeted making it no longer feasible to mine the ore. In those 15 years a number of mines were operational and three towns were established – Bulonga, Ballara and Hightville. Between them there were houses, a hotel, shops, a hospital, a post office and schools.

Along the trail are covered information signs and on each sign has a map depicting the layout and features of each town as well as a written summary of its history.

Covered Information Sign

Bulonga

One of the original towns long since gone is now marked with an interpretative sign with information known about its history. Bulonga was built in 1905 but was only inhabited for a few years.

Rosebud Cemetery

Rosebud Cemetery

To get to the Rosebud Cemetery there is a short side track unmarked on the left side of the trail after the Bulonga site, just look for the tyre tracks. It is then a short drive to the cemetery which is marked by a sign and barriers.

The story goes that the cemetery was known about for a long time but its exact whereabouts was lost. The pastoral owner shared his knowledge from his father that there had once been graves in a particular gully and that they rumoured to be decorated with sea shells. It took three years for the unmarked graves to be found and extensive research to determine who is buried at the site.

A sign stating the each of the deceased names, place of birth, aged at death stands at the cemetery in their memory. However since the sign was made more information has come to light and some of the information is inaccurate. This is true of all the cemetery signs on the trail so plans by Landcare are to have new ones made and installed in the near future.

Rosebud Weir

Rosebud Weir

The trail to Rosebud Weir is signposted and is a short diversion from the main trail off to the right.

The weir was built in 1914 to prevent the Corella River flooding the Rosebud Mine after heavy rainfall and to provide Bulonga with a water source.  No longer functional due to major damage, the hope is that one day it can be restored and be a functional water source for the cattle in area as well as preserve more of the local history.

A wonderful spot with shade and a grassy area next to the weir. Have a picnic or go for a stroll. It is very likely you will see cattle hanging around. They may be curious but will keep their distance. On the day we visited the river bed was dry and the few puddles we saw were from rain the previous day.

Ballara Cemetery

This is the second of three cemeteries along the trail. Again marked by a sign and barriers.

Train Platform | Old Ballara Town Ruins

Old Ballara Town Ruins

On the roadside marked by one of the covered information sign is the Ballara Town Ruins. Very briefly Ballara was built when it became clear that the train needed to transport the copper ore wouldn’t be able to physically reach Hightville up in the hills.

There are ruins on both sides of the road. Look for the gate and path mark with rocks on the other side of the road. Within the fenced area is the foundations of past buildings and a train platform.

Fountain Springs Mount Isa
Fountain Springs Waterhole

Fountain Springs

Fountain Springs is awesome. At the end of hot dusty drive checking out the historical sites, the waterhole is a welcome oasis. The only permanent water source in the area Fountain Springs is fed by an underground water table up through a fault line.

Actually the scenery surrounding the springs is pretty spectacular. A towering rock face of quartzite with a split through its middle (fault line) visible as you drive towards it and long before you reach the waterhole, points to the location of the waterhole. On the traditional country of the Kalkadoon People it is a place that must huge cultural and spiritual significance dating back tens of thousands of years.

A popular swimming and picnic spot it also famously featured in the Crocodile Dundee movie. Remember the scene with those swimmers, the water bottle and the grabby croc? Fountain Springs is where that scene was filmed.

In our opinion this is one of the best waterholes in Queensland! And while you’re there you may want to have a go on the rope swing.

It is worth noting that because this is the only permanent source of water, animals and birds rely on it including cattle. The cattle you will hear coming as their hooves walk over the gravel and rocks. General advice is be quiet around them, let them drink and they will leave soon enough. Don’t go trying to scare them away.

Hightville Tunnel Track

This track off the Ballara Mining Heritage Trail takes you past the old Ore Transfer Stage, to the Hightville Cemetery and to the heritage listed MacGregor Mine Rail, Rail Tunnel (the official name of the Hightville Tunnel). It is as stated at the beginning is only suitable for 4WD vehicles.

The track from its start to the cemetery is rocky with some rutting. It’s a bit rough but still easy enough even for a novice.

What to do in Mount Isa
Follow the Red Pickets to Hightville Tunnel

From the cemetery to the tunnel there are red painted pickets to follow. It is 900 metres of very rough track and at one short section where your vehicle will lean to one side about 20 degrees. We did it without any issues is our un-lifted Prado. Some people chose to walk from here and there is a cleared area to the side where you can park safely.

Things to do near Mount Isa
Ore Transfer Stage

Ore Transfer Stage

The Ore Transfer Stage looks somewhat like a train platform only significantly higher. It was where ore was transferred or loaded into open top containers or tubs on freight trains to be transported.

The stage is still in good repair given its age.

Hightville Cemetery

Ballara Mining Heritage Trail is about the mining history of the region and it is also about the people that lived and worked in
the mines and the towns. People came from Ireland, New York, Afghanistan and all over the world to this place in Savannah Gulf in far north Queensland. Makes you wonder how they even heard of such a place!

One such person was a man named Thomas Tame. Thomas worked in the mines and was a fiddle player known to entertain guests and customers at the Hightville Hotel. Sadly Thomas died on 15 February 1912 in a mine explosion. His body was brought out of the mine by his work mates, they spent a day digging Thomas a grave in the hard rocky ground and seering heat. The men also collected together £90 to buy a marble headstone. All so their fallen comrade could laid to rest with dignity.

As it goes some times, his family were unaware of his whereabouts and had assumed he had abandoned them, returning overseas. This continued to be what his ancestors believed for generations.

Then Landcare in researching the area, its history and residents came across an interview where one of the men told the story of Thomas’s death and burial. In addition, the grave site was relocated. His descendants now know the true story.

Unfortunately and very disappointingly the marble headstone was stolen. This means part of Thomas’s and his work mates legacy is missing and possibly gone forever. In its place, donated by a local priest is a cross from the old Mary Kathleen Church. If you have or know the whereabouts of the marble headstone I know that its return would be greatly appreciated.

What to do in Cloncurry
Wee MacGregor Rail Tunnel

Wee MacGregor Rail Tunnel aka Hightville Tunnel

About 50 metres before the tunnel entrance is an information sign and this is the place to park your car if you drove all the way. The tunnel is 77 metres long cut through MacGregor Hill. You can walk through the tunnel and enjoy views out the far side.

You may also encounter Fairy Bats. As their name suggests they are only small and very flighty so sightings are often only brief. For the best chance of seeing them take a torch or allow a few moments for your eyes to adjust.

Camping Near the Trail

There is no official camping on or along the trail itself although people do do it in caravans, campers or tents. The most popular spots are the Rosebud Weir and Fountain Springs. If you do please be respectful of where you are and if asked to move on do so.

There are official campgrounds near to the trail. All mentioned below are free camping and have no power. For caravan parks and powered sites there are options in Mount Isa and Cloncurry.

Fountain Springs Rest Area
Fountain Springs Rest Area

Fountain Springs Rest Area

Fountain Springs Rest Area on the Barkly Highway exactly midway between Mount Isa and Cloncurry. The actual camping area is well off the road and this helps to reduce the road noise.

This rest area only allows camping for one night. It is also only 200 metres from the start of the trail. Here you will also see an information board with a mud map of the trail.

General Information:
⏲️ 20 hour limit
🆓 Free
❎ No power sites
🐕 Dog friendly
🚻 Flushing toilets (no lights)
✅ Suitable all size rigs
🍽️ Picnic tables
🌳 Shade
🚮 Bins
📱 Telstra reception
🚱 No drinking water

Address: Barkly Highway – 60 km east of Mount Isa and 60 km west of Cloncurry

Clem Walton Park

Clem Walton Park is well signposted on the Barkly Highway. To get the Clem Watson Park you will need to drive through two gates (shut both as it Timberu Station property). After driving through the second gate is 1.5 kilometre drive along a gravel road to the Corella Creek. The road is uneven in some spots but everything from coaches to caravans to mini vans make it.

Campsites are waterfront along the creek. There are lots of sites but not an endless amount and with people coming and going regularly it is usually possible to get a spot.

Swimming, kayaking and fishing are popular in the creek. Birdlife is also abundant here.

General Information:
🆓 Free
❎ No power sites
🐕 Dog friendly
🚻 Flushing toilets
✅ Suitable all size rigs
🌿 Nice Scenery
🏊 Swimming
🍽️ Picnic tables
🌳 Shade
🚮 Bins
❎ No phone reception
⚡ Generators allowed
🚱 No drinking water
🔥 Campfires permitted

Address: Barkly Highway – 68 km east of Mount Isa and 52 km west of Cloncurry

Corella Dam Campground

Corella Dam Campground shares an entrance with Clem Walton Park. Look for signs for Clem Walton Park and drive through the first gate remembering to shut it behind you.

This is a very large camping area. Follow the gravel road around to the right; not through the second gate. Soon the road will divide with a Clem Walton Rd and Boat Ramp signs. Both will take you to camping areas and further along the Clem Walton Rd you will drive over a spillway. At the spillway there is a track on the right to another large camp area down near the dam. Alternatively drive over the spillway to another camping area.

Some spots are waterfront on the dam edge and some have shade. It’s a good idea to wander around a bit to find a spot you like.

The dam is beautiful with lots of birdlife and mountains in the background. It is popular for swimming, boating and fishing as well as watching sunsets.

This is where we stayed, in a spot a bit back from the water’s edge in the shade of some ghost gums. We came for a couple of days and stayed for a week!

General Information:
🆓 Free
❎ No power sites
🐕 Dog friendly
❎ No toilets
✅ Suitable all size rigs
🌿 Nice Scenery
🏊 Swimming
🚣‍♀️ Boat ramp
🌳 Shade
🚮 Bins
📱 Minimum Telstra reception
⚡ Generators allowed
🚱 No drinking water
🔥 Campfires permitted

Address: Barkly Highway – 68 km east of Mount Isa and 52 km west of Cloncurry

Mary Kathleen Town Campground

Mary Kathleen was the town built to house and provide services for the workers at Mary Kathleen Uranium Mine (now a tourist site). The town operated for two periods between 1956 – 1982. Today there are remains of Mary Kathleen including many foundations of the old buildings and the streets.

The entire area is now a free camp. It is a very large area with plenty of space to spread out. If you camp here be sure to check out the remaining features and information about the town.

General Information:
🆓 Free
❎ No power sites
🐕 Dog friendly
❎ No toilets
✅ Suitable all size rigs
🌿 Nice scenery
🌳 Shade
🚮 Bins
📱 Telstra reception
⚡ Generators allowed
🚱 No drinking water
🔥 Campfires permitted

Address: Barkly Highway – 57 km east of Mount Isa and 63 km west of Cloncurry


We have fallen in love with the landscape here, the history and the stories of the people both past and present. Hopefully you enjoy the Ballara Mining Heritage Trail and the Argylla Ranges as much as we did. Let us know if you do.

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