From tent houses and dongas – the history of Mount Isa homes

Mount Isa has a diverse range of residential homes today, but that wasn’t always the case. If you wanted to live and work in Mount Isa 60 to 100 years ago, chances are you would have been living in what was known as a tent house. You would certainly have been roughing it!

Tent houses

Tent houses were the first residential accommodation for mining workers in Mount Isa. They were the dongas of the day. As the name suggests, tent houses were built out of tent materials. They often had roll-up walls to help residents beat the heat. Tent houses were designed to be cheap and temporary so that they could be relocated as various mines in the area opened and closed. 

About 300 people came to live in Mount Isa in the 1920s when mining work first commenced. Tent houses were the primary accommodation for mining workers for the next four decades. 

The Mount Isa Tent House

During the 1960s, tent houses in Mount Isa began to be progressively demolished and replaced by more and more mining company dongas. The Department of Works and Houses also built more than 200 homes. By 1978, there was only one of the traditional tent houses left – it was bought by the National Trust and is now heritage-listed and open for tourists to visit. It’s known simply as the Mount Isa Tent House. 

It was originally built in 1937 in Camooweal Street, and restored when it was moved to its present Fourth Avenue site in Parkside in 2014. Parkside is Mount Isa’s oldest and largest suburb.

The Casa Grande 

The Casa Grande in Mount Isa is the other heritage-listed residential home in the city. It’s located in Nettle Street and was built in 1949 for the then General Manager of Mount Isa Mines, Julius Kruttschnitt. Casa Grande is Spanish for ‘Big House’. The Casa Grande in Mount Isa is a large, two-storey, u-shaped, villa style house. It has a Spanish design with white exterior walls and terracotta roof styles. It certainly was grand for the era, especially in Mount Isa!

George Fisher (Kruttschnitt’s successor at Mount Isa Mines) also lived at The Casa Grande. The home was heritage-listed in 1999.

Mount Isa residential real estate today

According to the latest Census, there are more than 8,500 private dwellings in Mount Isa today to accommodate a population of nearly 20,000. The city has certainly come a long way. Nearly three-quarters of contemporary Mount Isa homes have three bedrooms or more, and 70% house families.

Where did Mount Isa get its name from?

Mount Isa was named by prospector John Campbell Miles after he discovered lead and silver in the area in 1923. Excited by his find, he named the area Mount Isa after the gold mine in Mount Ida in Western Australia that was well known in the era.

Mining company Mount Isa Mines was formed in 1924, and it bought out the claims of all of the original prospectors in the area. In the late 1940s, a mining boom occurred which significantly boosted the town’s population and infrastructure. The city hasn’t looked back, and Mount Isa Mines is now one of the world’s largest mining operations for copper, zinc, lead and silver.

About Us

Jays Real Estate has been Mount Isa’s premier residential and commercial real estate agency since 1981.  

If you’re thinking about buying, selling, renting or leasing any Mount Isa property, or you need your property managed, contact our team today for an obligation-free chat! We’d be happy to provide you with advice and to answer any questions you have.