Dr. Jane Frew’s QUEENSLAND POST OFFICES 1842-1980 and RECEIVING OFFICES 1869-1927, published 1981, describes DUCHESS on pp. 257 as a copper mining town 32 miles from Djarra b. 40′. The Duchess Mine receiving office opened about November 1906 (Devoncourt closed) and was elevated to the DUCHESS post office in June 1910. The railway opened October 21, 1912 and the post office moved to the station soon after. It left the railway March 1916/ 17 when it became official. Was made unofficial again in 1935. The postmark for Duchess is shown on the green ½d KGV Head stamp is shown as DUCHESS/ 18 NO 18/ QUEENSLAND (Figure 1).
Duchess, a former mining town, is a hamlet on the railway line between Cloncurry and Mount Isa, 130 km from the former and 90 km from the latter. Duchess is in the Cloncurry Shire.
The Duchess ore body, a jutting outcrop of green rock, was discovered in 1897 by Alexander Kennedy, pioneer pastoralist and, incidentally, the first passenger on the first Qantas flight from Cloncurry. Kennedy chose the name ‘Duchess’ in memory of a black woman who had arrived unexpectedly at his station homestead some time before. She had been the black mistress of a supposedly aristocratic Englishman known as ‘the Duke’.
The Duchess mine was financed by Kennedy, Ernest Henry (the first discoverer of Cloncurry copper) and Melbourne mining interests. It was the richest copper mine in the Cloncurry district with serious production beginning in 1907. In 1912 Duchess was linked by railway to Cloncurry, enabling fuel to be brought in for the Duchess smelter. Wartime copper prices were buoyant, and it was estimated that about 1000 people resided at Duchess in 1917, compared with 74 in the 1911 census. Pugh’s Queensland Directory (1918) recorded three drapers, four hotels, two market gardeners, two motor garages, a picture theatre and a school (1911).
By 1920 copper prices had collapsed. The smelter closed and the population dwindled; the 1921 census count was 344 and 135 in 1933, both of which appear giant against the current population of three. The Queensland Mining Guide, 1932, stated that the Duchess was a deep mine, the lode was large, and the ore was rich and easy to smelt. But it was idle, probably because of water encountered at a shallow depth. There were other copper lodes in the vicinity, nearer the surface and more readily mined.
Phosphate discoveries in the 1960s kept the Duchess Hotel, general store and primary school going. The settlement was also a pastoral supply point. The school closed in 1983 although the hotel remains, a landmark to inland travellers, as is the remaining brick smokestack from the old smelter.
A map of the outback region of Queensland is seen with Duchess shown at the red arrow. The vertical dot/dash black line separates Queensland from the Northern Territory (Figure 2).
Addendum (November 2010): On 29 October 1966, banner headlines on the front page of The Australian, The Courier Mail and the Adelaide Advertiser proclaimed the discovery of Australia’s first major phosphate deposit. Located 50 km SE of Duchess in NW Queensland, it was of comparable grade to Nauru (the world’s richest phosphate deposit) but much greater in size covering 25 sq km with near-surface and outcropping beds of phosphorite averaging 13m in thickness, Subsequently Broken Hill South reported total reserves exceeding 2000 Mt (Mega tons)at a an average grade of 17% P2O5 in 10 separate deposits of which Duchess was the largest.
This discovery, now a major mine operated by Incitec-Pivot, was the result of a methodical and systematic search by Mines Exploration Pty Ltd a wholly-owned subsidiary of Broken Hill South Ltd.