On Tailings and Apple's 30th Anniversary

Just to make sure there are no confused people out there, the giant iPod space advert is actually a tailings storage facility; part of an active goldmine in Paddington, West Australia.

It’s not really a giant iPod; and no, there was no high-stakes poker game between Kerry Packer and Steve Jobs, I made that bit up.

Space really does “begin” at 100Km high, so the dam really could be visible, but is most likely indistinguisable.

What’s also true is that it’s Apple‘s 30th Anniversary on April 1st 2006 – and in Australia it already is April 1st, ’cause Brisbane is 10 hours ahead of GMT, so although this server’s time zone tells me it’s still 31/3, I have no doubt Dad is (probably at this very moment) attaching an exploding cork to someone’s hat and hiding a plastic novelty spider under a toilet seat.

See it in Google Earth (Free Mac & PC versions available here).


If you believed; if you wanted to believe, or if you blogged it or reported it, thanks!, it was fun to watch a small April fool that was intended for a few family and friends as it went global!

Getting mentioned in Engadget, Gizmodo, the Grauniad, CNN Money and InternetNews was great. There are too many others and I’ve not had time to see them all yet.

A special mention is also due to Leon who kindly contacted me and put me straight thus:

I already read this somewhere, I cant remember where but when I saw this and read that it was an exclusive story; I have to correct you, it isn’t, I already read it and that it was aquired in a poker match, and saw it on google maps, sorry mate.

Having someone believe the story so much that they let me down gently about not being an exclusive, especially highlighting the bit about the poker; that made my week.

Thanks are also due to Apple afficionado Steve Woolley for proof reading the original article and also to the people kind enough to point out that the structure is a tailings dam (there were remarkably few of you). I didn’t know this when I made up the story, but assumed there was some kind of evaporation happening because of the pattern.


So you may well ask: since it’s not an iPod, what is a tailings dam?

There are an estimated 300 tailings dams in Australia, but fewer than 100 are in operation.

The exact content of a tailings dam depends on the geological composition of the ore that is being mined and any chemicals (explosives, corrosives and catalysts) that are employed in the mining and extraction process.

Paddington is actually a gold mine (not a disused mineral mine at all, I made that up too), so the tailings will be commensurate with a gold extraction process. Close up, the (highly acidic) tailings dam in Paddington looks like this.

The general cosensus is that tailings dams are among the most toxic man made areas on Earth. As liquids are absorbed into bedrock or evaporate, the dessiccated tailings can become airbourne, leading to long-term widespread pollution of the area surrounding a tailings facility.

Discovering the iPod

Several people have asked how I came across the thing in the first place, and that’s down to the fact that searching for locations in Google Earth is sometimes a bit hit and miss. I was looking for Paddington, a residential area of Sydney which I now know is about 2.5K SSE of Sydney Opera House.

I tried entering “Paddington, Sydney, Australia” into the GE search bar and it came back with no match. So then I tried “Paddington, Australia“.

If you have GE installed, give it a go, you basically land slap bang on top of the Paddington gold mine with the iPod (tailings dam) in full view.


So there you have it. Sadly there’s no gargantuan iPod, but we can at least be happy that Apple make lovely looking machines, and have contributed immensely to the public understanding that Human-Computer Interaction should have a strong emphasis on the “Human” side of the equation, so thanks and happy 30th anniversary to everyone at Apple, past and present.

I wonder what they’re really going to announce.

22 thoughts on “On Tailings and Apple's 30th Anniversary

  1. As one of the ‘family & friends’, may I say a welcome to all the other people who came along for the ride !

    You always were a good April Fooler, Rich, and you haven’t lost your touch.

    Nice one!

  2. Great April Fool’s joke! Dumb question – how did you create the text? I’m using Google Earth on the Mac, and it appears that when I right click one of the letters, it tells me I can “edit path”. But I’m not sure what a path is, or how to create [or edit, for that matter!] one.

    Thanks and great joke!


  3. Hi Vince, it’s a perfectly sensible question :) Path creation (and I think editing) is a capability that only becomes enabled when you upgrade to Google Earth Plus (which currently costs $20 annually). It bascially means you can create simple “fences” (which is what I used write the “April Fool!” text) and simple polygon structures, so you can make rudimentary building models (for an example see my article on the Penyrheol School Fire). Google recently acquired a company called SketchUp whose simple 3d editor can export to Googel Earth, so if they follow their normal behaviour there will be a free multi-platform version before too long.

  4. Thanks for the explanation, Rich! Much appreciated. I’ve tried out the SketchUp demo before on OS X, and it is pretty nice. I didn’t realize Google purchased them; I hope you’re right and this feature is offered to Mac users too [even if i have to pay $20/yr, it’s a good deal still].

    The SketchUp site has some pretty cool demos of their exporter – the one for IAD airport is sweet; can’t wait to see Google use this in the future…


  5. it was fun to watch a small April fool that was intended for a few family and friends as it went global!

    Not to spoil the fun but it wasn’t an April fool’s, as you released it before April 1st.. didnt ya? So, it was just a regular all-year round hoax…

  6. I thought it was perfectly timed to happen as the first glimmers of April 1st occurred in the first place in the world ???
    This should qualify as a true April Fooler … Let’s not get too parochial about things!

  7. Philipp you are always more than welcome to call it anything you like! Some are referring to it as a hoax, some say april fool, one bloke called it “the birth of an urban legend”; some people are still convinced it’s real and some people just call it a tailings dam and wonder what the fuss is about. It’s whatever you want it to be.

  8. thought u might like this.

    The best online joke was ours of course, but I also liked the imagery linked to in a post entitled “iPod Image Seen from Space” on March 26th. I know it was a few days early but the image from GoogleMaps depicts a large structure that looks quit like an iPod, click-wheel ‘n’all reader Arthur points out that this is most likely an image of two evaporation basins side by side, one nearly full and one partially drained. I like the iPod ads from space better.

    – Dave Caolo in the 8th TUAW podcast.

  9. April Fool jokes are pathetic, lame, transparent, and just not funny. Thank you. You accomplished a true joke worthy of a spot in the All Fools Hall of Fame. Well thought out, the right amounts of truth and fabrication, the poker game to add a little bravado. Then the topper, returning later to find the message. Magnificent. We are not worth.

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