Quarrying / Mining Stone (Marble, Granite, Limestone)
Natural stone has been quarried for centuries in many countries around the world. By the late 1800’s in Australia, sandstone was commonly quarried and used in large structures such as bridges and public buildings due to its strength, durability, availability and beauty. This trend continued until the start of World War II, when production declined. The onset of war caused a depression and many quarries stopped operating. Around 40 years later in the late 1980’s stone not only experienced resurgence as a popular, structural building material, but a practical and attractive choice for interiors and furniture.
Over the past 20 years, the popularity of natural stone has continued to grow in Australia, encouraging the resurgence of the quarrying industry. The trend continues today with architects combining the beauty of natural stone with imaginative designs to create magnificent effects both inside and outside.
Australia has significant deposits of natural stone and many operating quarries. The texture, colour and character of each type of stone vary from quarry to quarry depending on the minerals in that area and the physical environment. These differences allow for more variety when designing interiors and choosing stone. Some of the operating quarries in Australia are listed below:
- In Western Australia marble is quarried in Maroonah, granite in the Fraser Ranges, Esperance, Jerramungup, Bruce Rock and Watheroo, limestone in Moore River, Seabird and Postans, sandstone in Donnybrook, Karratha and Mount Jowlaenga, and other stones in the Ord Ranges and Mount Barker.
- In Queensland sandstone is quarried in Helidon, Murphy’s Creek, Warwick and Beaudesert.
- In South Australia granite is quarried in Wallaroo, Streaky Bay and Black Hill, slate in Mintaro and limestone in Waikeri and Ramco. In Victoria granite is quarried in Benambra and sandstone in the Grampians.
- In New South Wales granite is quarried in Tocwal, Dundee and Gosford.
- In the Northern Territory granite is quarried in Tennant Creek. Quarrying methods vary depending on the type of stone being quarried and the equipment available. Quarry operators look for natural joints in the stone, so they can split it and cut it to size. Explosives are often used with great expertise, so blocks can be obtained in required sizes.
In the case of granite, large blocks are removed from the ground using explosives. When quarrying marble, operators must be very careful not to shatter the stone so they use machines that channel through the stone rather than explosives. Sandstone is removed using an excavator or crowbar, or is split using metal rods and plugs. The metal strips are placed in the holes and the plugs are hammered between the strips, which splits the rock.
Once the stone has been removed from the quarry it is transported using heavy duty trucks and machinery to a processing area where it is cut into slabs. The size and thickness that the slab will be cut to will depend on its final use.
After cutting, the slabs are ready for use unless further enhancement is required, such as planing, profiling, texturing, polishing or honing. In this case specialised saws, some incorporating computer technology, are used to create a variety of shapes, designs and surface finishes. Some pieces requiring more detail are crafted by a stonemason.
From the quarry processing site, the stone is then carefully transported to the manufacturer. Natural stone is extremely heavy therefore specialised machinery and vehicles are required for lifting and transport.