Mining is a big part of Australia’s history, and it continues to shape the country’s economy and position in the world today. The nation is one of the world’s top producers and exporters of resources, with coal, uranium, copper and gold being some of its best-known commodities.
Australia is also a key producer of silver — it was the world’s fifth-largest producer of silver in 2016, putting out 1,400 MT of the metal. Interestingly, the majority of the country’s silver is produced as a by-product at highly mechanized underground lead–zinc and/or copper mines. Refined silver comes mainly from the Port Pirie lead smelter and refinery in South Australia, though silver is also refined at gold refineries in Perth, Kalgoorlie and Melbourne.
But where is silver mined in Australia exactly? While it’s interesting to know what types of deposits the precious metal is found in, many investors want to know what companies are producing silver and where their mines are located geographically. Read on to find the answers to those questions.
Where is silver mined in Australia?
Silver has played a role in Australia since the mid-1800s — Wheal Gawler, Australia’s first metal mine, was a silver-lead mine developed in South Australia in the 1840s. And that’s not Australia’s only early silver-mining operation — the Broken Hill deposit in New South Wales and the Mount Isa deposit in Queensland are two other early Australian silver discoveries.
Broken Hill, a lead-zinc-silver deposit, was discovered in 1883 by German immigrant Charles Rasp, and The Broken Hill Proprietary Company was born in 1885; it ultimately merged in 2001 with another mining giant, Billiton, to form BHP Billiton (ASX:BHP,NYSE:BHP,LSE:BLT). BHP Billiton is no longer involved in Broken Hill, but ore is still being extracted there today.
For its part, Mount Isa was discovered in 1923 by John Campbell Miles, and like Broken Hill is still producing today. It was acquired by Glencore (LSE:GLEN) in 2013 and is also a major producer of zinc.
These major early Australian silver discoveries are not the country’s only sources of silver. The country is also home to the Cannington mine, currently one of the world’s top primary silver producers. It’s a fly-in, fly-out mining and processing operation that’s owned by South32 (ASX:S32,LSE:S32), a diversified resource company spun out from BHP Billiton in 2015. Cannington also produces lead and zinc.
Australia holds the McArthur River mine as well, which opened in 1995 and is owned by Glencore subsidiary McArthur River Mining. The mine is one of the world’s largest zinc-lead silver mines, and is located in Australia’s Northern Territory. Glencore reported total silver concentrate production of 1,409,000 ounces for 2016.
The Century mine, which belongs to MMG (HKEX:1208), shut its doors at the end of 2015, but was a major producer of zinc (and silver) until that time. MMG believes some output from Century will ultimately be replaced by its Dugald River project, but based on the most recent information available, Dugald River looks set to be a much smaller operation.
Independence Group (ASX:IGO) also produces silver, along with copper and zinc, at its Jaguar operation in Western Australia. Gold producer Silver Lake Resources (ASX:SLR) owns some projects with silver reserves as well.
Smaller Australian silver companies
In addition to being home to a slew of large silver mines, Australia also plays host to many companies that are exploring and developing silver projects. Below are a few that have made recent progress.
Argent Minerals (ASX:ARD)
Argent Minerals’ main asset is the Kempfield polymetallic project in New South Wales, which has a mineral resource of 21.8 million tonnes and 52 million ounces of silver equivalent contained metal. It was upgraded to meet JORC standards in May 2014. Earlier this year, Argent announced a 20.3-meter intersection grading 32 g/t silver and 1.1 g/t gold. The company also recently raised $2.28 million via a private placement to support drill programs across three of its projects.
Investigator Resources (ASX:IVR)
Investigator Resources is advancing silver, copper and gold deposits in South Australia. Currently its properties include the Peterlumbo/Paris silver project, the Eyre Peninsula and Stuart Shelf projects and the Northern Yorke Peninsula projects. Drilling has been the main focus for the company in recent months, and it has begun a prefeasibility study for its Paris silver project.
MacPhersons Resources (ASX:MRP)
MacPhersons Resources has a number of advanced gold, silver and zinc exploration projects in close proximity to Kalgoorlie. The company’s focus is on developing its Nimbus-Boorara silver-zinc-gold projects, which are comprised of 205 square kilometers of continuous tenements in the Kanowna-Boorara historic silver- and gold-mining domain.
PNX Metals (ASX:PNX)
PNX Metals acquired 14 mining leases covering the Iron Blow and Mount Bonnie polymetallic deposits in November 2014; they are located in the Northern Territory, and together they make up the Hayes Creek zinc-gold-silver project. Iron Blow has contained metal values of over 125,000 tonnes of zinc, 200,000 ounces of gold and 10.7 million ounces of silver; a resource estimate for Mount Bonnie shows that it holds 1.55 million tonnes at 3.8 percent zinc, 1.34 g/t gold, 127 g/t silver, 1.1 percent lead and 0.2 percent copper. PNX has begun a definitive feasibility study for for Hayes Creek, and is also planning drill programs for the Mount Bonnie and Iron blow deposits.
Silver Mines (ASX:SVL)
Silver Mines bills itself as a leading Australian silver exploration company, and has spent a considerable amount of time acquiring Australian silver projects — those include Malachite Resources’ (ASX:MAR) Conrad project and Kingsgate Consolidated’s (ASX:KCN) Bowdens silver project. While the company’s main focus has been on the Webbs silver project in New South Wales, the Bowdens project represents the largest undeveloped silver project in Australia, and Silver Mines is planning to quickly progress the project through the feasibility, environmental impact statement and permitting stages. It expects a feasibility and environmental impact statement to be complete by early 2018.
This is an updated version of an article originally published on Silver Investing News in 2011. Please let us know in the comments if we’ve forgotten to mention any Australia-focused silver companies! All companies listed had a market cap of at least $5 million at the time of publication.
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Securities Disclosure: I, Sivansh Padhy, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.