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An Unofficial History of Coal Mining in the Illawarra

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Mt. Keira mine,
later renamed Kemira

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Kemira Colliery
(Albert Mine, Osborne Wallsend Colliery,  Mt. Keira Colliery)
1857 - 1991

The Albert Coal Mine, the first mine in the Illawarra, produced coal from both the Wongawilli and Balgownie coal seams was abandoned in 1856. A new mine was opened just a short distance away, higher on the slopes of Mt. Keira, in the Bulli seam in 1857. This was to become one of the oldest producing mines in Australia.

Owned by Henry Osborne, the Osborne Wallsend Colliery was opened in April, 1857, working the Bulli seam for the first time on record.

On April 16th, 1857, 3.5 tons of coal was delivered to the wharf at Belmore Basin by bullock team, for trial in the S.S. Illawarra , which sailed to Sydney the following day.

Initial workings were by the Welsh bord method, drilled by hand and blasted. Forked into approximately 1 ton capacity wooden skips and hauled from the face by horse.

Progress included the installation of a Main and Tail Rope Haulage to the surface, a weighbridge and screens at the tunnel mouth and a self acting skip incline to the foot where bullocks and horses hauled the skips to the harbour.

Eventually a tramway was constructed to Belmore Basin, opening in May, 1861.

Several coke ovens were erected near Wollongong in 1876 utilising slack coal.

The first steam locomotives (Keira No.1 and Keira No.2) to work on the South Coast replaced the horse teams hauling coal to the wharf in 1878 only ceasing to run in November, 1954 when the line was closed.

On the 8th November, 1899, the colliery was purchased by Mr. Ebenezer Vickery and Sons.

Mt. Keira Colliery
around 1905

During the early part of the 1900s the daily average output was some 600 to 700 tons, however in the 1930s coal contracts were difficult to come by and production days slumped to a minimum of 23 days worked in 1932.

Mt. Pleasant Colliery, on the northern side of Osborne Wallsend Colliery, was acquired by E. Vickery and Sons in 1935, changing its name to Keira Pleasant Tunnels.

Production had fallen to 450 tons per day in 1936 and on 26th January, 1937, The BHP Company Ltd. purchased the Osborne Wallsend Colliery to supply coal to its' rapidly expanding steelworks at Port Kembla.

A power house, previously built at Mt. Pleasant Colliery, was refurbished and commenced supplying power to the Osborne Wallsend Colliery in November, 1938.

A "Samson Coal Cutter" was introduced as the first step in mechanisation, commencing to cut coal on 25th November, 1938, in the 5 Left Machine District, followed by another coal cutter, a scraper loader and a 9X Sullivan Track Cutter placed in No.3 Right District in July, 1939.

On the 4th March, 1940, power generated at the steelworks was connected to the mine.

Mechanisation continued with the introduction in 1940 of Jeffrey L400 Loaders (triggering a 4 week strike), and an Atlas battery powered electric loco.

In 1942, transportation of the men in and out of the pit was by rail track using the first diesel powered loco to operate underground in Australia.

In 1946 operations were commenced in the Wongawilli seam, using cutters, loaders, an Atlas loco and 6 ton skips. After advancing some 125 metres from the portal, roof conditions deteriorated and water accumulation became a problem.

On the 6th September, 1950, operations ceased in the Wongawilli seam, conditions having become untenable.

Equipment was transferred to the Mt. Pleasant site, producing coal from the 16th December,1950 to the 30th September, 1955, when the available coal was exhausted. Operations at the Mt. Pleasant Colliery site then ceased.

Incorporated into the modernisation programme was a tunnel, 4.8 kms in length, driven from the escarpment and intersecting with the workings to give direct access to the companies private railway line to the steelworks.

Called the Kemira Tunnel, it was commenced on 1st October, 1948 and holed into the colliery workings on the 30th August, 1954. On the 8th November, 1954, this tunnel became the haulage road for the mines output and also allowed a rearrangement of the collieries ventilation system.

On the 7th February, 1955, the colliery changed its name from Osborne Wallsend (known locally as Mt. Keira) to Kemira Colliery. (a combination of Kembla & Keira).

Five Joy 1CM3 Continuous Miners were introduced over a period commencing in December, 1955, to January, 1960, operating in both development and pillar extraction panels.

189 employees (60% of the workforce) were
handed their retrenchment notices
on 29th October, 1982. This was followed
by a protest in the form of an
underground "sit-in" by 30 employees
lasting 16 days 

Fletcher Roof Bolters were introduced in January and Joy 10SC Shuttle Cars in September, 1958.

1960 saw the introduction of Joy 11BU and 14BU loaders and an Anderson Boyes Trackless Cutter.

The mid 1960s saw the introduction of the first successful application of mechanised longwall mining in New South Wales with seven longwalls of varying length being extracted from the 7 Right District, with completion of LW #8 (#7 was not extracted due to geological conditions) in February, 1972.

In order to transport coal from the company's mines to the west, down the 305 m escarpment, an underground Belt Drift was constructed from O'Brien's Gap to the foot of the escarpment. Housing a 1,707 m conveyor belt, the Drift commenced operations on 9th May, 1966.

A trial of "shortwall" during 1971 failed to reach its potential and was consequently withdrawn.

Due to a shortage of #3 seam (Wongawilli) coal required for the steelworks at Port Kembla, development in the Wongawilli seam was trialled with production commencing in W1 panel on 14th March, 1977.

Between August 1981 and September 1982, a 1,200 ton storage bin was constructed by raising a staple shaft between the Kemira Tunnel and the Wongawilli seam workings. The bin was commissioned on the 9th April, 1984.

Due to the deterioration of the market for steel, reductions in coal requirements followed with the inevitable reduction in labour requirements resulting in 189 employees (60% of the workforce) were handed their retrenchment notices on 29th October, 1982. A protest in the form of an underground "sit-in" by 30 employees for some 16 days was undertaken, however to no avail and the retrenchment notices remained.

Bord and pillar development of the Wongawilli seam continued using Jeffrey Model 120H Heliminers.

Longwall mining was reintroduced to Kemira in 1988 but was unable to prevent the final closure of the colliery on Friday, September 27th, 1991.

Spires, Robert, 1984. History of Kemira Colliery, 1857 - 1984.




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