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image icon Lionel asbestos mine, Nullagine, 1926

Lionel asbestos mine, Nullagine, 1926
John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library


This is a black-and-white photograph of Lionel asbestos mine, north-west of Nullagine in the east Pilbarra region of Western Australia in 1926. A group of men is standing beside three motor cars, against a background of conveyor belts and other mining infrastructure. A wheelbarrow, a crate and several wooden buildings are in the foreground, while a bare, flat-topped hill can be seen in the distance.

Educational value

This resource is useful because it:

  • This asset shows the main industry of the Nullagine area in 1926 - apart from the asbestos mine, 27 miles (43.4 km) away, the town of Nullagine consisted only of a hotel, a police station, a telegraph station and about three houses; just three children lived in the locality, suggesting the isolation and hardships of life in this remote area of Western Australia in the 1920s.
  • This asset shows members of a WA Government ministerial party on a fact-finding mission - led by Minister for Works Alex McCallum (1877-1937), the party toured the north-west of Australia and the Kimberley region in June and July 1926; the tour was prompted by an Australian Government offer to take over the development and administration of the north and north-west of the state, a suggestion vehemently rejected by the WA Government.
  • This asset shows the motor vehicles that transported the ministerial party - travel by car in the remote areas of WA was not an easy or common event in 1926; it was often slow and arduous, and the distances to be covered were great; after leaving Perth, the group travelled 900 miles (1,448 km) by rail, 2,900 miles (4,666 km) by motor car, and 1,300 miles (2,092 km) by boat, visiting Meekatharra, Nullagine, Port Hedland, Broome, Derby, Fitzroy, Halls Creek, Wyndham, Ord River Station and points in between; the vehicles used were two Dodges and a Rugby.
  • This asset indicates that asbestos was being mined in WA in the 1920s – since asbestos mining began in Australia, the main mining centres have been the crocidolite (blue asbestos) deposits of the Hamersley Ranges in WA, and the chrysotile (white asbestos) deposits at Baryulgil and Barrabain New South Wales, and at Lionel and Nunyerrie in WA; crocidolite dominated asbestos production from the 1940s until the closure of the Wittenoom mine (WA) in 1966.
  • This asset suggests that asbestos mining was a profitable enterprise - the reinforcement, thermal and electrical insulation and heat-resistance properties of asbestos have made the fibre useful for centuries in the manufacture of many products, including asbestos-cement articles, yarn cord and fabric, joint and millboard, friction materials and gaskets; however, serious health problems among those employed in the industry and others who inhaled dust from the mining and milling of asbestos, particularly blue asbestos fibres, led to the closure of asbestos mines in Australia from the 1960s and 1970s.