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
  • 20131017-141256.jpg

  • 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 .

    An Observation

    Travelling through the Outback gives us an opportunity to relax, observe, take part in activities and IMHO to learn about this land that we call home.

    I am sitting here, about 50km north west of Mount Isa, at a roadside stop commemorating the building of a highway between the Isa and Darwin during World War II. The road was built to enable supplies to move north.

    But I digress from the main purpose if this post. I think back on my history lessons many years ago, I can remember the names of Burke and Wills, Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson and Charles Sturt .
    But I cannot recall being taught about John McKinlay, who led a party in search of Burke and Wills, or William Landsborough who also led a search for Burke and Wills. Landsborough and bushman Nat Buchanan explored the areas around what is now Aramac and Barcaldine.
    No doubt there are many others that we do not learn about until we go travelling.
    My question then is why?

    I struggle to think of a reason . I find the history of this country fascinating and believe that more needs to be done to teach our children a full history.

    I would be interested in your thoughts.
    Please leave a comment.