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McConachy, Norman Gilbert (1914–1976)

by Diane Menghetti

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

Norman Gilbert McConachy (1914-1976), prospector, was born on 25 April 1914 at Longreach, Queensland, eldest of three sons of Australian-born parents Norman Charles McConachy, drover, and his wife Annie May, née Gilbert. Educated at the local state school, he began work as a clerk. In the mid-1920s his father took over as manager of Buckingham Downs, a sheep station 96 miles (154 km) south of Mount Isa; about ten years later he moved 46 miles (74 km) north to Ashover station, a property which was to remain in the family. Young Norman became a pastoral worker.

On 20 August 1938 at the Presbyterian Church, Mount Isa, McConachy married Mary Kathleen Brown. The couple ran a café at Longreach until the mid-1940s, then shifted to Mount Isa. Norman was employed by Mount Isa Mines Ltd as an underground timberman. His wife died of meningitis in June 1954, leaving a young family. Increasingly absorbed in prospecting for minerals, McConachy bought a Geiger counter. His brother-in-law and two other men joined him in forming a syndicate with Clem Walton (a taxi driver) and his three partners. In July McConachy's party met with spectacular success when they discovered a huge uranium deposit 35 miles (56 km) east of Mount Isa. They quickly pegged the area.

Lacking sufficient capital to develop a mine, the syndicate offered the site for sale as the Mary Kathleen uranium field. By late July 1954 Australasian Oil Exploration Ltd had tendered £250,000 (plus a royalty on all the ore extracted), until then the highest price paid for an untested Australian mine. A British mining company, Rio Tinto Co. Ltd, acquired a controlling interest and took responsibility—through its Australian subsidiary—for managing the project. The open-cut Mary Kathleen mine, complete with a model company town which housed up to 1200 workers and their families, began production in 1958 and contributed to an Australian mining boom.

McConachy's initial share of the purchase price allowed him to place his children in boarding schools and to buy a hotel at Townsville. Some years later he retired to live there. A stocky, clean-shaven man of less than middle height, he had been a keen amateur boxer in his youth. Although he never enjoyed another successful 'find', his careful husbanding of the Mary Kathleen windfall ensured his prosperity. Unlike many prospectors, he abhorred gambling and other financial 'waste'. The only indulgences he allowed himself were a trip around the world in his retirement and an annual visit to Ashover station. He died of cancer on 3 March 1976 in Brisbane and was buried beside his wife in Mount Isa cemetery. Two of his three daughters survived him; his son Malcolm had been killed (1969) in the Vietnam War at the age of 21. McConachy's estate was sworn for probate at $342,597.

Select Bibliography

  • Mount Isa City Council, Discover Mount Isa (Mount Isa, Qld, nd, 1944?)
  • G. Blainey, Mines in the Spinifex (Syd, 1960)
  • C. Hooper, Angor to Zillmanton (Brisb, 1993)
  • Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton), 23, 28 July 1954
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 5 Mar 1976
  • private information.

Citation details

Diane Menghetti, 'McConachy, Norman Gilbert (1914–1976)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/mcconachy-norman-gilbert-10915/text19389, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 17 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

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