Australia’s substantial diamond resources are mostly associated with the world-class Argyle deposit in the Kimberly region of Western Australia. Other smaller resources are associated with small diamond pipes at Ellendale in Western Australia and Merlin in the Northern Territory with each containing about five million carats.
Australia’s diamond exports are worth about $600-700 million a year.
Geoscience Australia provides a range of geoscience data and information to encourage and support exploration for new diamond resources in Australia.
Gem quality diamond is used in jewellery. Lower quality diamonds are used in a wide range of industrial applications, especially in cutting tools and abrasives because diamond is the hardest naturally occurring material. Further information about diamond, its distribution and use are given in the Australian Mines Atlas diamond fact sheet.
Diamond Production and Exports
Australia’s diamond production of about 16 million carats is almost entirely from the Argyle mine in Western Australia. However, Argyle’s output has reduced substantially from 30-40 million carats a year to current levels as production from the open pit winds down and under ground mining ramps up. Despite this Argyle remains to the largest single source of diamonds, supplying about 20 per cent of world natural diamond production. About five per cent of Argyle production is gem, about 45 per cent cheap gem and the remainder of industrial grade. A small amount of diamond totalling about 200 000 carats, including high quality yellow diamonds, is produced from the Ellendale mine. Trial mining is being conducted at the Merlin project. Nearly all Australia diamond production is exported, mostly to India.
Diamonds were discovered in Australia near Bathurst in New South Wales in 1851, about the same time as gold. Scattered alluvial diamond occurrences were subsequently found in all States in the course of alluvial gold and tin mining but not in the Northern Territory. Around 300 000 carats of diamonds were mined from the Copeton, Bingara and Cudgegong alluvial fields in New South Wales, mostly in the period 1867-1922. Large scale mining of diamonds commenced in 1985 at the Argyle pipe in Western Australia, following its discovery in 1979. Production from Argyle established Australia as a major producer of diamonds.
Information on Australia’s mineral production and exports is given in Australia’s Mineral Statistics produced quarterly and Australian Commodities produced twice yearly by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES).
Australia is estimated to have about 16 per cent of the world’s Economic Demonstrated Resources (EDR) of industrial quality diamonds, the third largest after the Democratic Republic of Congo and Botswana. Australia’s gem and near-gem quality diamond resources are similarly large but detailed information on world resources are not available. Australia’s national inventory of diamond resources are updated annually in Australia’s Identified Mineral Resources.
Diamond exploration and discovery
Australia’s large areas of Precambrian cratons are considered prospective for diamond and large areas of the continent have been explored at least at the reconnaissance level during the past 40 years. Current levels of diamond exploration in Australia are low, reflecting a lack of recent success and the difficulties in exploring areas with extensive regolith and sedimentary cover. Most of the exploration is focussed in the Northern Territory, Western Australia and South Australia.
Australia’s continental-scale geophysical data provide an important framework for diamond exploration. The map of Australia’s diamond deposits, kimberlites and related-rocks shows the distribution of kimberlites, lamproites, lamprophyres, carbonatites and other alkaline rocks of deeper mantle origin in relation to continental structure as shown by the total magnetic intensity image of Australia.
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