The State has a significant present and past tin history. It started with the Mt Bischoff tin mine discovered in the late 1800s, for instance. Tin at the time was the metal of choice. The riches from that mine alone underpinned the rise of Launceston from a provincial town to a city and that’s why the tin symbol is still contained in the city’s Coat of Arms.
The Mt Bischoff mine has been on Care and Maintenance since 2011. It is owned by Bluestone Mines Tasmania Joint Venture, which also owns the underground West Coast Renison tin mine. The Renison mine first opened in 1890 and these days it employs over 300 people and is one of Tasmania’s main mines with its tin exported to China.
Renison remains the only major tin project in production in Australia and one of the few publicly held tin projects in the world. There appears to be a sense of optimism for the tin potential of Renison and Mt Bischoff and there is exploration underway.
“While the mine remains on care and maintenance, significant resources remain at depth and numerous historically mined areas remain under-explored,” Renison mine half-owner Metals X Limited said in its 2012-13 annual report.
This is no surprise considering that Tasmania’s West and North West Coast is regarded as one of the most highly mineralised areas in the world for its size. The fact that this area includes the vast Tarkine, a region that covers some seven per cent of the Tasmanian land mass, has been creating problems in projects progressing.
The former Federal Environment Minister rejected a blanket world heritage listing of the Tarkine region in 2012 and it was understood that even if all the proposed mines proceeded, it would be no more than one per cent of the Tarkine region. Despite this, the delays in approved mines getting off the ground have never stopped, courtesy of the green movement that have discovered that you can use the Federal Court system to delay approved projects in the hope that the proponents go broke or otherwise abandon the project.
Venture Minerals, for example, have three planned mines in the Tarkine, including the Riley project, Mount Lindsay and Livingstone, which are all at various stages in the approval process. The Riley project obtained EPA approval in May 2013, for example, but has been help up in court since then.
Despite this, it is important to note that there are a number of projects in the pipeline and confident of getting off the ground. Stellar Resources, for instance, plans to start the production of the Heemskirk tin mine near Zeehan on the West Coast in 2017. They have sourced the findings from the German Federal Institute of Geosciences and Natural Resources which predicts a severe tin shortage by 2020 due to declining supply.
Another one, Elementos Ltd, is aiming to start recovering tin and copper from tailings near an old underground tin mine near Luina, North West Tasmania. They hope that this will lead to open pit mining and underground tin mining. This is one of the few mines that the extreme environmental group, the Tarkine National Coalition, have given their nod off approval.
Tin is certainly not the only Tasmanian mineral on the cusp of providing new industry action. Zeehan’s Avebury Nickel mine, which has been on care and maintenance since 2009, is well on track to start production in the first half of this year and provide over 200 jobs.
The King Island Scheelite mine is confident of re-opening production of tungsten mining in 2016.
And the Australian Bauxite Ltd’s Bald Hill project in the State’s north, the first new bauxite mine in 30 years, has recently opened and is expected to provide 180 jobs.
After a tough 2014, the Tasmanian mining industry is hopeful of a better year and that projects in various stages of development are able to come fruition.
Image: Mount Bischoff mine