The New South Wales mining industry makes a significant contribution to the economy. In 2009-10, the estimated value of mineral production in New South Wales was $17 billion.
Our mineral resources are owned by the State Government on behalf of the people of NSW. A comprehensive process of issuing exploration licenses is managed by Industry and Investment NSW. Proposals for mining are assessed by the Department of Planning and the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water in conjunction with Industry and Investment NSW. All exploration and mining activity in NSW is conducted on titles issued and administered by the State Government in return for royalties.
Mining has been a feature of the Australian environment for more than 40,000 years and was first carried out across the continent by Indigenous Australians. Minerals began to be produced in large quantities from the early days of European settlement and today mining remains an important primary industry. NSW has an abundance of high quality resources that have been commercially mined over the course of the past 200 years. Many locations have historical linkages with mining as they were initially established as mining towns.
Minerals have diverse and vital uses in everyday life, including in electronics, industrial applications, medicine and dentistry and in the making of arts objects and jewellery. NSW has deposits of minerals including gold, copper, silver, lead, zinc and other rarer minerals. Major gold and copper producers in NSW are situated around Orange, Parkes, Cobar and West Wyalong. Silver, lead and zinc continue to be mined at Broken Hill and also at Cobar, for both domestic and export markets.
In 2008-09, NSW produced 158,000 tonnes of copper, with an estimated value of $1.04b. Copper was one of the earliest metals used by humans, with evidence of it being used for tools and weaponry as early as 7000BC. Copper today ranks as the third highest metal consumed after iron and aluminium thanks to its properties of high ductility and malleability and its resistance to corrosion. NSW is considered one of the lowest-cost copper producing regions in the world. Copper is used extensively in power generation and transmission, telecommunications, electrical products and in electronics.
NSW silver production in 2008-09 was 71 tonnes, valued at $39m. Most of NSW silver production occurs as a by-product of the mining of other metals, particularly the base metals lead and zinc. Silver was one of the earliest metals used for coinage, by the Romans in 269BC. Silver is crucial to solar energy in the manufacture of solar cells and on large silver-coated mirrors which reflect and concentrate solar energy onto collectors that are used to run power generators. Silver is also used in energy efficient windows, electrical appliances, prescription eyeglasses, medical equipment as well as the traditional products of silverware and jewellery.
In 2008-09, NSW lead production was 73,000 tonnes, valued at $142m. Lead has been used for well over 7,000 years, notably as a building material, as well as for pipes and ammunition. Lead is currently used extensively in building construction, batteries, medicinal products, x-ray shielding and laboratory equipment for nuclear medicine. It is also a very effective sound insulation material and is used as a non corrosive lining in the manufacture of shipping containers. Australia is a worldleader in the production of lead.
In 2008-09, NSW zinc production was 122,000 t, valued at $228m. Zinc has been used for over 2,000 years as a component of brass (zinc-copper alloy), but is now most widely used as an anti-rust coating for iron and steel in construction, motor vehicle bodies and roof sheeting. Its healing properties have been known for over 2,000 years and zinc is used in both modern and traditional medicine. Zinc is also significant in the manufacture of skin products, plastics and rubber tyres.
Rarer metallic minerals – nickel, cobalt and scandium – are found around Young, Nyngan and Condobolin in western NSW. Nickel is used for making a vast array of modern products such as stainless steel, coinage and magnets. Cobalt is very resistant to corrosion and damage, even at high temperature. Cobalt 60, a radioactive isotope, is used in medicine to destroy cancerous tissue. In industry, it is used to detect flaws in metal parts. Cobalt is also used in the manufacture of jet engines and gas turbine parts, as pigment in pottery, glass enamels and paint.
In 2007-08, NSW produced industrial (non metallic) minerals valued at approximately $211m. NSW has a vast array of industrial minerals such as clays, diatomite, dimension stone, dolomite, feldspar, garnet, gemstones, gypsum, limestone, magnesite, magnetite, mineral sands (including rutile and zircon), serpentinite, silica and zeolites. There are also deposits of barite, prophyllite and vermiculite in NSW which are not currently mined.
In 2007-08, total production in NSW of mineral sand, all of which came from the Ginkgo Mine in the Murray Basin, was 189,000 tonnes. Mineral sands are processed predominantly for rutile and zircon with smaller amounts of ilmenite and monazite. Mineral sands were first mined in Australia in the 1930’s at Byron Bay on the NSW North Coast. Mineral sands production is expanding near Broken Hill in the far west of NSW, which is known to be one of the world’s prime mineral sand provinces. This expansion is contributing to Australia’s status as holding the world’s largest known resources of rutile (50%) and zircon (45%).
Rutile and Ilmenite
Rutile and ilmenite are employed in the manufacturing of titanium pigment which has a range of uses such as in paints, sunscreens, plastics, paper, inks and textiles. Rutile and ilmenite are also used to manufacture titanium metal. With its unique properties of strength, light weight and nontoxicity, titanium metal is ideal for uses in the aviation and aerospace industries as well as for artificial limbs, pacemakers, foodstuffs, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics.
Zircon, which is a hard glassy material, is another derivative of minerals sands. Zircon is used in the manufacture of glazes for ceramic tiles, pottery and dinnerware. Its low toxicity has also led to its use in the manufacture of phosphates for kidney dialysis, in medicines, pharmaceuticals and food products.
Serpentinite is used predominantly as flux in steelmaking, with the Port Kembla Steelworks being a major domestic consumer. There is only one mine that produces serpentinite in NSW, the Somerset mine near Coolac, which in 2007-08 produced 212 tonnes.
There are ten different types of silica including variations of fine silica and coarse silica. Silica sand, a type of fine silica, is used in the manufacturing of cement and glass. Coarse silica is used in steelmaking, as decorative aggregate and as filtration gravels. Quartz, a type of coarse silica, is used as reinforcing filler in paints and electronics.
Most gold mined in Australia today is too small to be seen with the naked eye, quite unlike the gold found by the early fossickers. It is very fine grained and typically has a concentration of less than 5 grams in every tonne of rock mined. Primary gold deposits are formed from gold-bearing fluids at sites where the chemistry and physical characteristics permit gold deposition. Primary deposits are often modified by weathering, but secondary deposits are formed only after the complete breakdown of the host rock has occurred. Liberated gold is concentrated in alluvial (placer) deposits.
NSW is currently Australia’s second largest gold producing state, with significant production coming from Cadia Valley Operations near Orange, Northparkes Mines near Parkes, Peak gold mine at Cobar and Cowal gold mine near West Wyalong. In 2008-09 NSW produced
28 tonnes of gold, valued
Gold has long been a medium of exchange and investment. It is widely used to produce coins such as the Australian Nugget. Governments of most countries include holdings of gold as part of their monetary reserves. Financial institutions and individuals also use gold as a store of wealth. The main uses of gold are jewellery, dentistry and for artistic purposes. In jewellery, gold is often mixed with other metals to produce alloys of different colours. White gold is an alloy of gold with silver, palladium, nickel and copper. Yellow, green and red golds are produced by alloying gold with copper and silver in different proportions. High electrical conductivity, malleability and ductility favour the use of gold in electronic and computer circuitry, radar equipment and satellites. Because of gold’s heat reflecting properties it was used as a film coating on the Apollo 11 lunar module, the vehicle first landed man on the moon.
Industry and Investment NSW