The development of Queensland’s biggest gold mine and a new wave of investment is set to put the historic gold mining towns of Ravenswood and Charters Towers back on the map.

Ravenswood Gold is pushing full steam ahead with its recommencement of open pit mining next month (December) in the historic Ravenswood mining district, about 130km south of Townsville.

The upgraded and expanded Ravenswood Gold Mine will rejuvenate the old mining town through the creation of 400 new jobs: 250 permanent staff and another 150 workers through the construction phase.

It will involve an initial investment of at least $300m with $200m in capital expenditure, to be spent on upgrading the processing plant and development of a tailings dam, as well as $100m on fleet purchasing to be spent over the next 18 months.

Ravenswood Gold CEO Brett Fletcher said the operation’s vision is to build and operate Queensland’s largest gold mine.

Mr Fletcher said the project centered on a new and expanded open pit mine at Buck Reef and a cutback of the existing Sarsfield/Nolans open pit.

He said it would involve mining about 120 Mbcm over a 14-year period to produce more than 2.6moz of gold with a targeted production of 120,000oz next year, before ramping up to 250,000oz over the next few years.

The venture has drawn huge positive interest from the region with more than 2000 applications received for mine operator roles.

Major contracts have been issued to local companies Towers Concrete for construction concrete supply, and Wulguru Steel for supply and construction of steelworks associated with the fixed plant upgrade.

Design projects have been awarded to three Queensland-based consulting teams: Australian Mine Design and Development (AMDAD) for mine optimisation work, ATC Williams for tailings dam design, and Ausenco for the processing plant upgrade design.

Hitachi’s newest model of dash-7 mining excavator, the EX3600-7, has arrived at the mine site for its Australian debut.

Mr Fletcher said the exploration and resources team had “been extremely busy” since Ravenswood Gold, a joint venture between EMR Capital (EMR) and SGX-listed Golden Energy and Resources, bought the operation from Resolute Mining in April.

“Despite the fact that Ravenswood is a mature exploration area, the team are excited by the great number of near-mine and regional targets that have potential,” Mr Fletcher said.

“A number of targets haven’t been looked at for 20 years, when the gold price was only $500, and there are geochemical, geophysical and structural targets plus lines of old workings that have yet to be drill tested.”

The geology team is using the latest mining software to optimise Reverse Circulation drill hole planning while modelling and validating dilution and grade control.

“The survey and mining technical team at Ravenwood uses the cutting-edge survey, fleet management and drone software to ensure mining is undertaken safely and efficiently and to check compliance to design,” Mr Fletcher said.

“Mining of the pit will be planned by our technical services team using the state-of-the- art mine planning software to design, schedule and monitor mining operations at Ravenswood.”

Mining in North Queensland will receive a boost through the Port of Townsville’s $1.6b Port Expansion Project.

Mr Fletcher said Ravenswood had partnered with industry leaders to ensure “world-class” blasting, which would be carefully designed to minimise the impact on the community.

The township of Ravenswood was founded in 1868 when gold was first discovered in the area, and has been through several mining booms and busts through the late 1800s and early 1900s.

While the modern mine has been operating in the town since 1987, Mr Fletcher said the Ravenswood Gold bigger, long life, low cost expanded operation would rejuvenate the town, bring numerous additional employment opportunities to the local region and further support the proud mining township of Ravenswood.

Over the years the mine has supported the local community through projects, sponsorships, donations, provision of medical services and collaboration.

Most recently, the mine funded the relocation of the local primary school to a new state-of-the-art facility and is currently working with the Charters Towers Regional Council and local stakeholders on upgrading town facilities.

Pajingo 2.0

Minjar Gold has declared 2020 the “year of the drill bit” at its Pajingo operation, located about 75km south of Charters Towers.

Pajingo Gold Mine general manager Dale Oram said the plan was to explore for the continuation and extension of the current underground ore lodes while also looking for open pit resources.

“2020 has seen the biggest drilling campaign at Pajingo for many years with Minjar confident of the operation’s potential,” he said.

“Extensive exploration and resource development drilling programs during the year indicate that open pit resources may become available for mining and milling in 2022 while also increasing the underground resource base.”

Pajingo has produced about 4.76moz since 1986, when it achieved first gold production with nine open pits and 26 underground zones mined or defined for future mining since then.

The mine is expected to produce about 60,000oz this year before ramping up to 75,000oz next year as it returns to fulltime milling in the second quarter of 2021.

Mr Oram said a new style of mining was in place in one of the underground areas where a thin skin of remnant ore is being extracted against the backfilled stopes of previously mined ore lodes.

A new underground operation named Lynne was commenced late 2019 with a box cut put in place a short distance from the current Vera Nancy decline.

“Ore production is scheduled from Lynne late in 2020 and is the start of the future for Pajingo which has been coined Pajingo 2.0,” Mr Oram said.

He said Charters Towers in its early days was the premier gold mining centre of Australia, producing more gold than the gold mining hubs in WA and Victoria.

“It is a gold camp meaning it is a proven gold producing area and with new exploration techniques and increased activity there is always the potential for further discovery,” he said.

“There is great potential so the future could hold some exciting times for mining in the district and put Charters Towers back on the list as a premier gold mining centre.”

Minjar Gold has declared 2020 the “year of the drill bit” at its Pajingo operation.

Pajingo provides work for 232 employees and 161 contractors.

“We support and spend in Charters Towers with 32 goods and service supply contractors,” Mr Oram said.

“Minjar has several substantial long-standing relationships with specialised contract workforces providing ongoing support in mining related services such as underground mining, supply of explosives, assay and metallurgical services and specialist equipment repair.”

New economy metals

Townsville City Council Mayor Jenny Hill said the mining sector in Queensland’s northern region created 2500 jobs and generated $290m in wages in 2018-2019.

She said while the region was well known for producing gold, copper, zinc and lead, there was also a lot of new money being invested in the region in the hunt for rare earth elements like vanadium and “new economy” metals for the technological age.

Australian Mines’ Sconi project near Greenvale, west of Townsville, will be a leading supplier of cobalt and nickel for high-grade advanced battery materials.

Ms Hill supported CopperString 2.0, a high voltage transmission line that will connect the North West Minerals Province to the national electricity grid near Townsville.

“It’s about bringing affordable energy into the mining sector, it should have happened 10 years ago when it was first mooted,” Ms Hill said.

“The main advantage is reliable power at a known price and allows us to inject renewables into the system which means many of these mines can seek a green accreditation as we move into the 21st century.”

Ms Hill was excited by new investment in the region such as Multicom Resources’ flagship Saint Elmo vanadium project near Julia Creek in the North West Minerals Province.

Multicom CEO Shaun McCarthy said the NWMP is a world-renowned mineral-rich region in which there has been more recent focus towards extracting ‘’the new generation of critical minerals for their intended use in clean energy and new technologies’’.

‘’The project proposes to take advantage of the increasing supply gap associated with high-strength steel production, the growth market of vanadium batteries and the emergence of vanadium-based compounds as a revolutionary metal in new technologies,’’ he said.

‘’There is an increasing global demand for lighter weight and higher strength steels as well as an increasing global demand for renewable and reliable energy, making vanadium a valuable resource.’’

The project has received Major Project Status from the Federal Government, Prescribed Project Status from the Queensland Government and has been recognised as a Project of Regional Significance.

The project Definitive Feasibility Study has considered an initial target production of 4300tpa of vanadium pentoxide for a 30-year mine life.

The company has progressed its permits and approvals on the basis the project could grow to 20,000tpa during that period subject to demand.

Final approval of the Environmental Authority is anticipated for January 2021.

Port expansion 

Mining in North Queensland will be one of the big winners from a massive transformation of the Port of Townsville.

The $1.6b Port Expansion Project, which will add a new outer harbour, six new berths and associated infrastructure, is on track to dramatically change the future of region and the economy.

The project will expand the Port’s total land area by almost 60% and increase its handling capacity five-fold from about 8mt to 40mt per year.

The Port’s general manager business strategy and sustainability Claudia Brumme-Smith said the expansion was a vital step in the Port’s goal to be ‘’Australia’s Port for the Future’’, and to ensure that the Port is well-equipped to accommodate projected three-fold trade growth over the next 30 years.