It’s no secret the foundation of the Northern Illawarra has been laid on Coal Mining. Now, there’s a book that details that history throughout the Illawarra and up along the Coal Coast.
According to the book, sailors who had lost their ship in Bass Strait were walking back to Sydney Cove in 1797 when they first spotted the coal. the first mine opened near Wollongong two years later.
Ron Cairns, Graham Pryor and Andy Hubscher are mining executives who have untied to write a book to tell this story and many more about our local history.
Graham was a mine manager at Coalcliff and says the book includes some information about every coal mine and tunnel in the Illawarra and Southern Highlands.
“When a mine was opened it would employ hundreds of men,” says Graham, “so villages sprung up to support the workers. Bakers, butchers and pubs were all opened to service the mining communities. That’s where Clifton came from. It was a town that grew to support the workers from Coalcliff.”
Graham says the book talks about life on the surface, but it also gets to the nitty gritty of the underworld.
The miners worked kilometres below the surface, hand-drilling into the rock walls to create the shot-holes- which is where explosives were placed. “It was hard, physical work right up until WW2,” he says.
The book also touches on the terrifying concept of ‘outbursts’. Coal contains methane and carbon dioxide. When coal is weakened-perhaps by a fault- it can spontaneously explode. This explosion is called an ‘outburst’. Today, much research is done and care is taken to remove the gas from the coal to prevent this happening (the gas is then used in the production of electricity). But that hasn’t always been the case, so there is also a chapter on local mining accidents.
The book will be launched at Thirroul Library on Monday May 22 at 11am.
Copies are available from the Coal Services offices in Woonona, the Southern District Office of the Miners Union and through Destination Wollongong.