Mount Garnet, a town of 450 people, is 100 km west of Innisfail and 110 km south-west of Cairns. It is situated in the mineral area known as the Herberton tin field, although copper mining was the industry with which it began. The origin of the name is unrecorded.
In 1883 a copper outcrop was discovered by Albert Vollenweider while searching for horses and he acquired freehold title to the area around the outcrop. John Moffat, the Irvinebank mining entrepreneur, acquired Vollenweider's rights and waited until world copper prices improved. In 1898 Moffat formed the Mount Garnet Freehold Copper and Silver Mining Company and in the months to come test drives and assays gave encouraging results. A reservoir and smelters were installed, in what turned out to be an over-capitalisation. Transport was costly: equipment and coke were brought by camel from Lappa, on the Mareeba to Chillagoe railway. In 1902 a branch line from Lappa to Mount Garnet was opened, mostly before falling prices stopped smelting. Further, the open-cut section of the mine collapsed and a high zinc content in the ore added to the cost of treatment.
Mount Garnet, however, continued, with small scale tin mining and cattle grazing. The post office directory in 1920 recorded a primary school (1901), two hotels, three stores (including one of the Jack and Newell chain), a hospital, several mines and eight pastoral companies. In 1938 Tableland Tin Dredging NL began operation, and several small mining activities along the route of the railway helped to offset the line's running costs. The line closed in 1961.
The postwar years were quite prosperous. Broken Hill, Tableland Tin and the Brownville Battery represented the mining interests; three hotels and a cinema were kept busy, and the Turf Club, the hospital and three churches were maintained (post office directory 1949). The Turf Club continued its annual race meeting in May, and a golf club became an added attraction. Tourists have the choice of a motel, a caravan park or a travellers' park.
The bugbear of the copper smelter in 1903, zinc, has been turned into a major project by Kagara Zinc Ltd in partnership with Korean interests. Heritage-listed mining sites include the Mount Garnet Mine Assay office (1889) and the Nettle Creek tin dredge (1957) 14 km east of the town.
Mount Garnet's census population in 2006 was 458.
Frank Dempsey, Old mining towns of North Queensland, Adelaide, Rigby, 1980
K.H. Kennedy, ed, Readings in north Queensland mining history, vol 1, chap VII, Townsville, History Department, James Cook University, 1980
Memoirs of Mount Garnet: celebrating 100 years of mining, mateship and mirth, 2000