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A history of technological change in Kalgoorlie gold metallurgy 1895-1915

Hartley, Richard G. (1998) A history of technological change in Kalgoorlie gold metallurgy 1895-1915. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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Because of the peculiar characteristics of the Kalgoorlie goldfield's environment and geology, its metallurgy developed largely independently of other major gold mining centres. Its engineers and metallurgists borrowed ideas from a variety of sources to develop new equipment such as the filter press and the tube mill and new procedures such as the 'Australian method' of treating ores by fine crushing, sliming and filtration. By 1905 Kalgoorlie was the leading centre for gold metallurgical development in the world, and equipment and techniques developed there were adopted with remarkable rapidity around the world. From 1910 the impetus for innovation in Kalgoorlie declined and further improvements were limited to those gained by increased scale of production and rationalisation through company amalgamations.

This thesis focuses on the evolution of the metallurgical changes which took place in the very productive mines on the Kalgoorlie Golden Mile during the twenty years from 1895 in response to problems in ore treatment and the need to reduce production costs to enable lower grades of ore to be processed. The principal developments were: the early adoption of the cyanide process; the introduction of the filter press to enable rich slimes to be cyanided; the temporary expedient of treating very rich sulphide ores and concentrates by smelting; the development of the two main processes for treating the sulphotelluride ore, the dry crush and roast process and the bromocyanide or Diehl process; and the introduction of the automatic, continuous flow, vacuum filter.

The inter-relationship between international technological transfer and increased local inventiveness, stimulated by the rapid changes in technology, is the main theme explored in the thesis. Others include the opportunities and limitations experienced by Australian metallurgical inventers in the 1900s and the occupational hazards and pollution problems associated with the new technologies.

The history of Kalgoorlie metallurgy reflects the difficulties of developing on a rational basis foreign-owned mines that were acquired largely for speculative purposes, and of maintaining a technological lead in an industry which was subjected to long term fluctuations in profitability and hence lack of continuity in process development.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Division of Social Sciences, Humanities and Education
Notes: Note to the author: If you would like to make your thesis openly available on Murdoch University Library's Research Repository, please contact: Thank you.
Supervisor(s): Layman, Lenore
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