Over 80 years supporting mining and quarrying workplaces in South Australia

The Silicosis Scheme, The Silicosis Committee and the Mining and Quarrying Occupational Health and Safety Committee

The Mount Lofty Ranges has provided an abundant resource for South Australia since 1837 and continues today marking over 150 years of quarrying on the city fringe.

Utilising the rich local resources, quarrying was an essential industry that enabled our States progressive growth. By 1867, there were 140 operational quarries providing stone for housing, shelters, divisional walls, drains, kerbing and road guttering in the first instance and later crushed for Macadam roads, tram tracks and railway ballast.

Our capital Adelaide is an unmatched beautiful and dignified city,  constructed and built from our abundant spectacular South Australian stone.

The Government and Pioneers of South Australia maximising local quarry resources

South Australia’s earliest recorded commercial quarrying activity is recorded at 1838 with quarrying being one the State’s oldest industries. The Government and pioneers of South Australia in partnership, maximised the identified local quarry resources, quarries provided ideal stone products, including flagstones which were extracted for commercial, residential building and infrastructure projects, creating in part, the many prestigious iconic buildings throughout Adelaide such the Supreme Court, the Adelaide Goal and renowned Churches.

Adelaide’s rich quarry resources provided road, rail and tram infrastructure was very progressive, due to the ease of access to quarry stone, in 1878 Adelaide is noted as Australia’s first city to have a permanent street tramway system, the horse drawn trams encouraged and enabled growth within Adelaide, road and rail development further increased the States growth as the links between outlying and rural areas was established.

Today, evidence of the quarrying industry can be observed through archaeological traces remaining on the landscape. The quarries appear as rough scars on steep slopes and many larger quarries have been preserved within a park environment for future generations. These include the Sleeps Hill Quarries in the Belair Reserve, the Tea Tree Gully Quarry in the Anstey Hill Recreation Park, Tapley’s bluestone quarries in the O’Halloran Hill Recreation Park, the Waterfall Quarry in the Chambers Gully Reserve and the many smaller quarries in parks, such as the Brownhill Creek Recreation Park.

Limestone, found in most areas of Adelaide, North Adelaide and surrounding districts, was located close to the surface and was easily quarried. Many of the earliest stone houses were built of limestone, although it was not strong enough for the construction of large public buildings. Limestone was also a source of lime, a necessary ingredient of mortar.

Bluestone from the quarries of Mitcham, Glen Osmond and Tapley’s Hill became a more popular construction material than limestone and brick and from the 1850s many large buildings and houses were constructed from this fine stone, which now gives the older suburbs of Adelaide their distinctive character. Sandstone was also widely used and highest quality sandstone was required in the construction of public buildings. Both sandstone and bluestone contained the required properties essential for multi-storey construction. These properties were resistance to crushing (i.e. high tensile strength), resistance to fire and permanency (Jack 1923:14). The hard freestone from Tea Tree Gully quarries was selected above all other stone for Adelaide’s most significant public buildings and for ornamental dressings. Known as Mount Lofty quartzite, it was used in the construction of the War Memorial on North Terrace, St Peter’s College (Bundey’s Quarry), St. Peter’s Cathedral (Bundey’s Quarry) the General Post Office (Brown and Thompson’s Quarry), Mitchell Building at the University of Adelaide, Scots Church and the Supreme Court in Victoria Square (Auhl 1993:265; Friends of Anstey Hill 2003 web site; Jack 1923). The slate quarries of Willunga also supplied the other necessary building material for these buildings, slate for roofing tiles (see the chapter From Cornwall to South Australia: The Delabole Quarry and Village this volume).

Early quarrymen  in South Australia

Most quarrymen came from the United Kingdom in the early days of the colony, many of them from Cornwall, a county in England noted for its vast number of quarries that produced stone products that were widely distributed. Monies from the Wakefield system of land sales assisted many of these immigrants with their fare to the new colony of South Australia. The last year of assisted passage for immigrants was 1886 and between 1836 and 1886 approximately 13,700

Cornish immigrants came to South Australia, many with mining experience. Records show that in 1891, 40% of all overseas born were English (Faull 1983:7). Following the increase in European immigration in the early 1900s, however, many other nationalities were also employed in the quarry industry. The men who worked in the quarry were strong and hardworking, physically strong when breaking the stone and agile with strong nerves when traversing the rock face at great heights. They were also able to adapt to the new technological processes over time. They adapted from a handworked quarry system to one that was steam driven and later to a motorised system.

Women in quarries

Interestingly, in England in the 1800s women were employed in the quarrying industry to trim and split slate and load the slate onto ships from drays, for a wage that was 40% less than a man’s wage. Women continued to be employed in quarrying up until the Edwardian era 1901-1910 (Schwartz 2000:122-124). In contrast one of the authors has found no evidence of women working in the quarry industry in South Australia before 1940, when they began working as clerical staff. Minutes of a meeting dated 14 February 1940, list ten female office staff at Quarry Industries and from 1942 to 1948 Mrs Joan Coombe was employed at Stonyfell Quarry as the “typiste and ledger keeper” (Boral Archives, State Library of South Australia).

Dangers of Silicosis

Statistics collected by the Department of Mines in South Australia show just how dangerous it was working in the quarrying industry.

The quartzite rock dust (silica), released while crushing the rock was a particular threat to the men’s health and many contracted the disease of silicosis. Silicosis is a disease of the lungs, particles of the silica causing scarring and decreasing the elasticity in the lungs, making breathing laboured. The shortness of breath weakens the lungs, making them less resistant to diseases such as bronchitis and tuberculosis.

Records from the 1920s (Wells n.d.) show that mining inspections were conducted on quarrying sites throughout the Mount Lofty Ranges, safety equipment was inspected and dust minimisation was addressed. In 1951 the Mines Department purchased meters for the purpose of assessing the dust particles in the air where the crusher men worked. The quarry owners co-operated by installing water sprays and exhaust systems to reduce the dust hazard.

Further minimisation of dust was achieved by spreading the crushing plants further apart and transporting the stone by conveyor belts rather than bucket elevators (Mansfield 1959:10). Silicosis was not confined to quarrymen; miners also succumbed to the disease that was known to them as the ‘black spit’. Blainey states that Australia was slow in combating this disease, despite receiving information on its causes and the associated mortality risk from Cornwall, England. Dr Walter Summons in 1907 for example stated that in Bendigo, ten miners were dying of this disease for every accidental death in the mine (Blainey 1978:301).

An article ‘Compensation for Silicosis’ appeared in the Advertiser, 14 June 1940 and detailed a scheme to be implemented under the Workman’s Compensation Act for employees working in industries where they were exposed to silica dust. From 1 July a fund was set up to compensate for silicosis, to be maintained by both the employer and registered workmen.

From dedicated foundations

The Mining and Quarrying Occupational Health and Safety Committee (MAQOHSC) is uniquely South Australian. Our Committee members continue the dedication and commitment to worker safety in South Australia’s mines and quarries that was instigated with the formation of the Silicosis Scheme in 1938.

The Silicosis Committee diligently contributed to the industry of South Australia and convened monthly to review worker scheme registrations and provide workers compensation payments to workers, the first Silicosis Scheme documented meeting was held on 2 October 1939.

From our Silicosis Scheme and Silicosis Committee foundations under the Workers Compensation Act Amendment Act 1938, the mandated aim to protect workers from occupational dust related diseases, prevent harm, injury and death remains steadfast.

The establishment of MAQOHSC in 1986 represents the continued collective partnership between Government, Employers, Unions, Workers and Industry in the ongoing dedication to workplace safety in all South Australia’s mines and quarries.


The Workmen’s Compensation (Silicosis) Scheme was established under the provisions of the Workers Compensation Act Amendment Act 1938 (SA) as a scheme of compensation under the provisions of this Act (as amended) for workers employed in certain specified industries and processes involving exposure to dust including exposure to crystalline silica. The Workmen’s Compensation (Silicosis) Scheme still operates to satisfy claims lodged by workers who were registered under the scheme, continued under the Workers Compensation Act 1971 (SA) and then under Sub-section 4(1) of the First Schedule of the Workers Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1986 (SA).


The Mining and Quarrying Occupational Health and Safety Committee was established under the Workers Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1986 (SA), The Occupational Health, Safety and Welfare Act 1986 (SA) and continues existence today under the Work Health and Safety Act 2012 (SA).

Return To Work SA administers the Mining and Quarrying Industries Fund pursuant to Schedule 1 of the Return To Work Act 2014 (SA). The Mining and Quarrying Industry fund was originally set up in 1938 under the Workmen’s Compensation (Silicosis) Scheme and was administered by the Silicosis Committee. Interest on the investments is now used to fund MAQOHSC’s initiatives that aim to minimise injury, disease and death by promoting work health and safety best practice in all South Australia’s mining and quarrying workplaces.

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