The silver lining of a prospector’s magnet
Van Diemen’s Land Company explorer Henry Hellyer named the Magnet Range because it interfered with his compass. The suspicion that it contained a mineral lode was confirmed by the prospector
WR Bell six decades later when he uncapped a lode of silver-lead.
For four decades the almost vertical lode sustained a town while a 500-metre shaft, 16 horizontal drives and an open cut tapped its treasure. Magnet was no Broken Hill, but it was as steady a producer as the best Zeehan mines.
William Robert Bell
The Unveiling of the Restored Headstone in Wivenhoe Cemetery Tasmania.
The town was attached to the outside world -Waratah, that is -by a two-feet-gauge tramway so circuitous that it turned six kilometres as the crow flew into sixteen, spread over 142 bends.
The tough little locomotive, with its shuddering boiler and screeching smokestack, hauled the ore out and all necessities in - food, explosives, firewood and loved ones.
On Sunday, when the tram rested, families would pack a picnic lunch, borrow a fettler’s trolley and go berry-picking along the tramline, returning with the makings of jams and pies to sustain them through the snowy winter. Children borne on their fathers’ shoulders grabbed red and black currants, gooseberries and raspberries along the steeper foot track to Waratah.
Prominent figures about town included the Syrian hawker Antonio Shady, and his son Bill, who later operated the general store.
Tasmania’s longest-serving premier, ‘Electric Eric’ Reece, joined the workforce at Magnet, the local-lad-made-good award goes to his long-time deputy and Attorney-General Roy Fagan, whose parents kept the hotel.
Poet Marie Pitt, married to a miner, was another to call Magnet home. She wrote A satirical poem on the Boer War, ‘Ode to the Fat Man’, was published in the Bulletin in 1900 under the pseudonym ‘Magnet’
By 1930, increasing costs, dwindling ore reserves and low metal prices had mortally wounded the mine. A decade later the whole kit and caboodle was auctioned, sparing Magnet the lingering death of many mining towns. Steps without stoops, blackberried yards and discarded boilers barely qualify it as a ‘ghost town’, the only students likely to linger on the old school site being botanists attracted by its spectacular fungi.
The workings which produced 38,000 tonnes of lead and 227 tonnes of silver are blocked and forgotten
Undated postcard of the Magnet mine (Tasmaniana Library, SLT)
Building of the second Magnet Dam (c1917)
Rev Thomas Woodward
Methodist Church, Magnet
Grosser Family in attendance
Workers on the Bagging floor at Magnet mine