Castlemaine Slate & Stone

By on November 27, 2018


Steve Adams, Managing Director for Castlemaine Slate & Stone reports on the development of the quarry.

Castlemaine Slate & Stone has been quarried for more than 75 years, lending its rich earthly glow to many significant buildings.

The quarry outside Castlemaine has been going since 1953, starting as the Maltby family business but changing hands to Yarrabee & Castlemaine in 2005. It is the only site where Castlemaine slate can be sourced. Local quarries such as Mount Granite at Harcourt or the Pyrenees Quarry specialise in other stone.

Castlemaine slate is special, coming from a 35-kilometre-long seam. Geologist Clive Willman says “this was created when molten precursor to the adjacent solid granite pushed its way up from the lower crust. At many hundreds of degrees, it baked everything for a radius of 1.3 kilometres, particularly the mudstone and the sandstone that form the bedrock around Castlemaine, turning the mudrock to the special, hard slate”.

Since taking over the operation of the quarry, we have needed to increase production and efficiencies to meet the demand for this iconic Victorian stone, particularly relating to large scale commercial projects. Not only has demand grown in this sector, but Yarrabee’s pre-existing network of landscape contractors, stone masons and builders have also seized the opportunity to use this previously hard to access material.

The space available within the boundaries of the authorised quarrying area is tight. Maintaining all necessary safety requirements and environmental considerations are paramount and necessitates almost constant earthworks to enable us to access the stone.

And of course, the climate can see things get icy in winter and uncomfortably hot in summer.

Most weeks, Peter Fleming (Quarry Manager) hauls around 30 cubic metres of Castlemaine slate out of the deep quarry where he has worked for 34 years. Sometimes, he strategically drills holes into the ground, deposits explosives, sets the fuse, and retreats to safety. The explosion is more thump than thunder, but the gorgeous rock extracted is a pleasure to behold.

“And it always looks better away from the quarry, when it is laid and cleaned,” Peter says.

Castlemaine Police Station and Castlemaine Slate on display

Castlemaine Police Station and Castlemaine Slate on display

Castlemaine slate, boasting golden earthy hues, is much sought by architects and landscapers, especially those keen on using local products with enormous character. Thirty cubic metres weekly, though, was not enough to cover our normal flow of orders plus material for the new RACV Cape Schanck Resort: builders at the RACV resort needed about 20 cubic metres a week for the drystone walls, plus stone to produce the 1500m2 of paving used on the job, so production was ramped up, bringing out over 1000 cubic metres for this project alone over 14 months.

Yarrabee & Castlemaine’s sales manager, John Hardy, is a huge fan of Castlemaine slate: for many years he has attended world stone fairs and has never seen anything to match the stone, which has workers split into laminates using hammer and chisel, or work into manageable blocks for handmade walls.

While extraction and splitting is a slow process, Hardy’s workers at Taradale splitting yard and the Castlemaine quarry are not afraid of hard work, and some have learnt specialist stonemasonry skills, a craft vastly more common in centuries past. This is evident in Castlemaine where the slate is abundant in walls and patios, but also in recent buildings including the Castlemaine police station.

Some can’t get enough of it, though; with Peter Fleming’s years of hard yakka, you’d think he’d need a rest at weekends. Actually, he’s to be found doing private jobs – using Castlemaine slate.

Castlemaine Slate & Stone have been members of the CMPA since 2007 and is grateful for the support, education and networking opportunities that the association has provided us.

 60 Seconds with a voting member . . .DSC01104 - cropped

What is your name?
Peter Fleming

Who do you work for?
Castlemaine Slate & Stone

How many years have you been nvolved in the Industry?
34 years

What are your hopes for the industry?
To see the art of good stonemasons using Castlemaine Slate and Stone products continue well into the future

What is your role at the company?
Quarry Manager

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