Wonthaggi and State Coal Mine or The Evolution of Fuel

We are housesitting for good friends in Inverloch, Victoria. Inverloch is best known as a seaside town on the Gippsland coastline offering surf beaches, quiet swimming beaches and boating opportunities. They tell me that the fishing from the beach is also good. We have spent our time here exploring the area and the history of the region. The closest large town is Wonthaggi. This town is best recently known as the site of Victoria’s Desalination Plant.

The weather at this time of year is cold, wet and windy and occasionally there are days where the sun shines and it is a pleasure to be out and about. On this particular Sunday we decided to explore the closed Wonthaggi State Coal Mine. This site is managed  by Parks Victoria  and restored by the local community ( Friends of Wonthaggi State Coal Mine) for the enjoyment of future generations.

For me the interest is the history which we did not learn at school. In spite of this sounding like a history lesson, I will try to put this in perspective of the current arguments on fossil fuel and Climate Change.

Back in 1826 William Hovell ( of Hume and Hovell fame) discovered  black coal near Cape Paterson only seven kilometres from Wonthaggi. The Victorian Coal Company dug out 2000 tonne from a workable seam. This coal needed to be transported by whale boat to to larger ships anchored offshore, proving both dangerous and costly and soon any mining activity was curtailed.

Black coal, with its low moisture content, was regarded as the premier fuel for household heating, industry, and railways.



The Victorian Railways at at the turn of the century sourced all its black coal from New South Wales. In 1909 as a result of a protracted miners strike in New South Wales saw the Victorian Government very quickly develop The State Coal Mines at Wonthaggi to supply coal to the railways. Opening on November 22, 1909 the mine dispatched its first consignment just three days later with coal transported to the port and Inverloch by bullock wagon.  Coal production peaked in 1929 at 662,159 tonnes.


The Nyora/Woolamai Railway was extended 22km to Wonthaggi and built in 10 weeks. ( I would like it see that happen today!)

In the 1930s, production started to decline as the large seams were worked outing the mine was hit by industrial strife and profitability declined.  In 1937 disaster struck in Shaft 20. Thirteen men lost their lives.

Disaster at Shaft 20

Disaster at Shaft 20

In order to maintain a coal supply for its locomotives Victorian Railways subsided the mine until the last regular stream locomotive operations ceased.




I started to think and a couple of things came to mind. As stated above black coal is a very efficient energy source, so I questioned why we now use brown coal. One of the volunteers at the State Mine explained that black coal strata were quite narrow in comparison to brown coal, so the only way to remove it from the ground was by underground mining. Brown Coal strata are in excess of 150 metres thick and this allowed open cut mining.

So how does this relate to the current arguments. My take on it as one energy source proves unsatisfactory for what ever reason, it needs to be replaced. As black coal became more difficult and expensive to mine, it was shut down and energy needs were taken up by brown coal. Now, Victoria is blessed with an abundance of fossil fuel, so alternatives could well be more expensive however our climate is changing due to emissions  of carbon and other things into the atmosphere. It must be time to shut this industry down and replace it with renewables.

We have an abundance of sunshine in this country so the obvious thing is to utilise the sun to provide our power needs. Sure there will be pain felt by those that work in the coal industry, but why is this different from closing down the black coal industry or going back further in history the Industrial Revolution where there was a transition from an agrarian base.


What is in a name?

In general, the early explorers where financed by governments, royalty and private benefactors. These explorers often felt that the names of places they found should bear the name of their benefactor of his wife. There are numerous examples a distill leave it to you to look the up. Suffice to say the the NSW / Queensland border town of Texas did not fit into this category.

The McDougall Brothers originally settled on the land where Texas Station is now situated around 1840. The property was abandoned during the1850’s when the brothers tried their luck on the goldfields.
On their return they found that the land had been taken by another settler and it was some time before they were able to establish their prior claim.
In 1836 Texas (America) was at war with Mexico,fighting for their independence. The McDougalls called their property Texas due to the similarity of the dispute.

There is a current link between the two cities. On 10 September 1988 the people of Texas USA planted and donated the Pecan Trees in the town park ( oddly named Pecan Park) as a sign of friendship and goodwill.

The Artesian Time Tunnel – Cunnamulla.

At the Cunnamulla Fell Centre there is a display that transports you back in time 100 million years. As well as the time dinosaurs roamed the earth, it was also the time that water became trapped in sedimentary rock layers, only surfacing through mound springs, the natural pressure relief valves of the artesian basin. The importance of this water source to the outback cannot be underestimated. The work of the Great Artesian Basin Coordinating Committee can be found at gabcc.org.au .

Here are some facts

  • the Great Artesian Basin covers an area as large as 1,711,000 square kilometres or approx 1/5 of the Australian continent
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  • The Artesian basin starts at the tip of Queensland and underlies parts of New South Wales, South Australia and Northern Territory
  • The age of the water is estimated to be 2 million years old and dates back to the ‘Ice Age’
  • The Aboriginal people have been utilising the Artesian water,through mound springs, for many years prior to European Settlement. Mound springs are places where the artesian aquifers naturally flow to the surface.
  • The first ever bore to be sunk was in1878 on ‘Kallara’ station (north west of Tilpa,NSW.
  • The first bore to be sunk in Queensland was 100km South East of Cunnamulla on a property by the name ‘Noorama’ in 1887.
  • The average temperature of the water from the Basin is 30 – 50 degree and a maximum of 100 degrees in some places.
  • In 1999 the Commonwealth and State Governments established what is called the Great Artesian Basin Sustainability Initiative – GABSI. This is a joint initiative between property owners and the government to conserve water through the capping of flowing bores and installation of piping to reduce the amount of water wastage and evaporation that occurs through the use of bore drains in properties.
  • To date GABSI has saved more than 18,538 Mega litres and has involved 306 properties
  • A DVD presentation explained the formation the Basin and it’s importance to the outback communities it serves. However it did leave unanswered questions about the effect of Coal Seam Gas drilling on the Great Artesian Basin. There is a lot of CSG mining in this area of Queensland and some communities are protesting loudly. It seems to me that mines are being developed where food should be produced. I am also not sure that drilling through the aquifers in the basin is not affecting the quality and amount do water available.
    I hope that further studies are done to ensure the safety of drinking water from the Basin .

    The Underground Hospital – Mount Isa

    Tuesday 13/08/2013

    Mount Isa rose out of the desert in north west Queensland in the 1920s. Today 90 years on it is a booming mining town. In 1942 however it was on a war footing.

    The Japanese had bombed Darwin in February, resulting in heavy casualties and it was feared that Mount Isa could be the nex target. With this in mind the Mount Isa Hospital Board decided that an underground hospital was needed to care for patients and handle casualties In the event of attack. The site chosen was the hill next to the existing hospital. And who was better qualified to build such an establishment an the miners from Mount Isa Mines? When the proposition was put by hospital medical superintendent Dr E J Ryan, there was no shortage of volunteers and the Mount Isa Mines management was quick to supply the necessary materials.

    A H shaped underground bunker was dug out of the solid rock over a sixteen week period.The underground hospital was completed quickly,with surgical, medical and maternity facilities, and even an outpatients department and operating theatres.
    Fortunately, it was nurses on night shift as well as being a storehouse for the above ground hospital.

    It fell into disuse and in e early1950s the entrances were covered win earth. This facility was completely forgotten until 1977 when workers ‘rediscovered’ the tunnels when looking for a reason for subsidence in the area.

    Not surprisingly the hospital was found to be in disrepair, with the roof partially collapsed in the main ward area, debris scattered throughout and wooden fittings white-ant eaten.

    In 1999 a restoration of the site was begun. Photographs of the original hospital were used to restore the facility as faithfully to the original as possible.

    Today it stands as a monument to the community spirit of the people of Mount Isa.

    The (Little) White Bull

    Aramac 22/7/2013

    About 70 kilometres from Barcaldine is the small town of Aramac. Originally named Marathon, it was renamed Aramac, a corruption of R R Mac, the letters carved into a tree in the area by an early explorer and future Premier of Queensland Robert Ramsay McKenzie in the1850s. The tree was found by explorer William Landsborough in 1859 and he used the initials to name the creek on which the town lies.

    Many of you will remember the 1959 Tommy Steele song about ” The Little White Bull”

    but in early outback history a white bull was the undoing of cattle duffer Henry ‘ Harry’ Redford ( better known as Captain Starlight).
    In 1870 Redford had managed to steal over 1000 head of cattle from the property known as Bowen Downs ( 1.75 million acres and 70,000 head of cattle) . He hid these cattle in stockyard he built in outlying areas of the property.The cattle were all branded and, knowing that the brands would be easily recognised, could not be sold in Queensland. Redford decided to drive the mob down the Thompson, Barcoo and Cooper Rivers on route to Adelaide.
    Redford and his men walked the mob over some of the harshest and largely unexplored country in Australia without losing a single head. Only ten years earlier Burke and Wills had set out to cross the continent along the same track and died in the attempt.
    The mob included a distinctive white pedigree stud bull that had been imported from England.

    Aramac-white-bullThree months and 1,287 km (800 mi) later he exchanged two cows and a white bull for rations at Artracoona Native Well near Wallelderdine Station. Workers at Bowen Downs eventually discovered the yards, and the tracks heading south. A party of stockmen and Aboriginal trackers set out on the trail, many weeks behind Readford. They eventually reached Artracoona where they recognized the white bull.
    Redford was apprehended in Sydney in 1872, and faced trial in Roma, Queensland. However, the jury members were so impressed by his achievements that they found him not guilty, whereupon the judge is said to have remarked, “Thank God, gentlemen, that verdict is yours and not mine!” In response to the verdict, the Government shut down the Roma District Court for eight months.

    An interesting piece of Australian history , that is re enacted around Aramac each year as the Harry Redford Cattle Drive.

    A Day at the (Goat) Races

    Saturday 20/07/2013

    One of the reasons to visit Barcaldine is the annual Goat Races. Other reasons could include the Tree of Knowledge and the Australian Workers Heritage Museum. We had previously visited Bacaldine last year and visited the historical points of interest, this time we had come at the right time to view the races.

    Until today we had thought that goats were only a source of meat, like sheep, but we were soon to learn that in years gone by goats were used in a manner similar to pack horses eg carrying water and supplies.

    In 2012 a reporter from the ABC had an opportunity to take part in the event. The article contains a video of the race from a drivers perspective and also contains some links to photos .

    The day started with heats to decide which goats would be racing in the finals later in the day. Linda and I got into the spirit and became ” horny” for the day as the photos below attest.











    Apart the serious side of racing, there were also a series of novelty events such as the man versus goat race, hobby goat races and races to show the future goat jockeys.
    I have posted below a video of one of the faces.

    All in all we had a great day.

    Lockhart, The Rock, Chinese Crossing – Yerong Creek

    We spent a week after the Stone the Crows festival parked at Wilkes Park, on the outskirts of Wagga Wagga. On Monday morning it was time to move on. During the festival several people had mentioned the the small township of Lockhart. By going there we would not be backtracking along the Olympic Highway to Albury. By going through Lockhart we could travel to Corowa or we could head further into the Riverina to Hay and Griffith.

    The decisions one needs to make when on the road.

    Lockhart is known as the Verandah town. All along the Main Street the shop have verandas. They own also holds a festival each October , The Spirit of the Land . There is a sculpture competition where all the entries are made using old bits of farm machinery. Previous winners are found around town.


    We also wanted to travel to The Rock. It is an intriguing name, but the town name reflects the main feature of the countryside. The Rock is six kilometres from township. This landform towers above the surrounding landscape.

    The Rock was known as Kengal by the Wiradjuri people and this importancehasbeenrecognisedby the dedication as Kengal Aboriginal Place. the Rock is significant as a ‘place of male initiation’ and this is recognised in the name Yerong, which is used as the name of the creek to the south.
    Charles Sturt first saw The Rock in 1829 and the area was settled in1874. The landform was known as ‘Hanging Rock’ as the east face had a spectacular overhang . A rockfall in 1874 altered the profile considerably and thus caused a name change.

    Chinese-CrossingWhile we were in the area we travelled the fifteen kilometres to Yerong Creek. A sign pointing to “Chinese Crossing” sounded interesting. Disappointingly there was no sign at the crossing describing how it came about. The following explanation from a geo-caching site provides a good explanation.


    Noske’s Chinese Crossing situated along Noske’s Lane is a rare remaining example of functional stone work carried out by Chinese migrants.
    The “crossing” serves as a carriageway across Yerong Creek and it still serves that purpose today. The construction method is unique to this area, and perhaps the State, in that it is made from rocks cut from a nearby quarry and dry laid to form a structural wall.
    The crossing was built in the early 1880s as a dam wall to accumulate water for the growing of vegetables and opium, used by the Chinese. This caused some conflict with the other local inhabitants.
    About 200m to the East is the quarry where the stone was obtained.
    The concrete roadway was put in place in 1958 as the crossing, being stone, was very rough. Back in the early times the Creek had water in it about 70% of the time.


    We drove Terry back to Lockhart caravan park where we would spend two nights.

    Junee – Licorice and Chocolate Factory

    While still camped at Wagga Wagga we decided to take a trip to Junee. The beauty of having Terry! Easy to unhitch and easy to to get around town.

    Junee is an easy 35km drive, and is larger than what we imagined. There is new development happening on the outskirts of town. It seems unusual as the prices of houses in town do not seem overly expensive. But as a fellow traveller said to me ” it is easy to buy into a country town but a lot harder to get out.

    I digress. Our main reason for this excursion was to visit the Licorice and Chocolate Factory.  The Factory is located in the restored Junee Flour Mill.

    Junee Flour MillThe flour Mill was built in 1934-35, not only was the mill a town landmark, it was also a major player in the town’s industrial progress following the Great Depression.

    The Mill employed 25 workers and ran around the clock producing 5.6 million bushels of flour per year. A lot of money in todays terms.

    The mill took up 9,600 square feet of floor space, was powered by 160 horsepower semi-sdiesel motor and was recognised as one of the most efficient mills in Australia. The tour tells the story of how the mill ended up in the current ownership of Green Grove Organic Farm.

    I have a taste for licorice and Linda has a taste for chocolate. This place gave us both a reason to continue eating both.

    According to information at the factory licorice is a medicinal herb that dates back over 4000 years. Ancient tablets describe licorice as the “elixir of life” for its cure-all characteristics.

    Research suggests that licorice may be an aid in the following areas:

    • Boosts the immune system
    • Is a mild natural pain reliever
    • Aids endurance
    • Activates the liver
    • Rejuvenates the pancreas
    • Strengthens the respiratory system
    • Aids digestion
    • Cures ulcers
    • Fights tooth decay

    Of course on top of this it tastes good. Modern methods have managed to substitute synthetic materials and consequently the therapeutic benefits are diminished unless you eat traditional licorice.

    But wait there is more. An article in ABC Health Minutes based on an article in The Lancet . makes the following observations.

    You’ll no doubt be delighted to hear that licorice has been given a qualified all clear when – if you’ll pardon the expression – it comes to men with a low libido.

    Before I go on, I should say that licorice isn’t just another bit of confectionery. For many years it’s been known to have significant effects on different bits of the body. It’s a weak treatment for stomach ulcers, and affects the production of the stress hormone cortisone.

    Now the way it does this is by slowing down the action of an enzyme which helps convert the raw material for cortisone to the active chemical.

    This enzyme is very similar to an enzyme in the testes, which helps the production for testosterone.

    A couple of years ago, a study found significant reductions in testosterone levels in men consuming licorice, and the suggestion was that men complaining of low libido should be asked about whether they eat a lot of licorice and certainly told to avoid it.

    I don’t know many licorice-addicted men – do you? So you do wonder about the public health import of the study. Mind you, I wouldn’t have a clue about their libidos either.

    Anyway if you’re a bloke and like gnawing on a stick of sticky black stuff between meals, you can relax. Because a group in Texas – where clearly libidos are so big among the cowboys, you could ride all day and never get to the end of one – has done its own research into licorice and testosterone, and found no significant reduction.

    So chew away boys. but just don’t show your tongue. that’s something guaranteed to reduce anyone’s libido.

    But Chocolate is also good for you. Chocolate was an ancient health tonic. It was once described as the ‘food of the gods ‘ and prescribed by doctors as a stimulant and a soothing balm. Aztec Warriors were given chocolate as an energy booster.

    Modern research shows that chocolate contains theobromine. Literally meaning “God’s drink”, but more importantly theobromine stimulates the kidneys and the central nervous system and boosts immune system. A more recent study found that theobromine was more effective in treating coughs than codeine. Maybe a doctor’s advice should be  ” Take two chocolates and call me in the morning.”

    Some other chocolate facts are shown in the following photos.


    There was one more thing that makes this tour interesting . A game of vertical licorice bowling.  The idea of the game id to throw a ball of licorice up a flip flop chute and knocking down the bowling pins over non the way back down.