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(Reproduced from the Illawarra Mercury, Saturday August 12, 2000 - written by Anne Bransdon, Photograph by Ken Robertson)

An Illawarra web site for you to mine

It has taken only 200 years for the Illawarra to become known as a Black Diamond district but with that title comes sacrifice as well as prosperity.

Although libraries are filled with books dedicated to coal and the Illawarra, the history is now being recorded on the World Wide Web as an educational source for the national and international community.

Brian Sheldon, the principal research coordinator of www.illawarracoal.com, the home of Illawarra Coal - the unofficial history - has more than 40 years' experience in the industry.

Now a director of Sheldrill, a company specialising in methane drainage, drilling and outburst management, Mr Sheldon started his research in 1997.

But it was the drawers full of coalmining snippets that had been collected over the years that revealed the real treasure.

"I have been a hoarder over the years and accumulated bits and pieces of data," he said.

He linked up with Mark McShane, a mine surveyor with 20 years experience, and the proprietor of inTouch Web Services. The duo knew they had tapped into an untouched market.

The authors recognised there were many books on the subject but there was also an opportunity to put that information on the World Wide Web.

"This is certainly better than writing a book about it because it is an ongoing thing. We will never complete it," Mr Sheldon said.

The faces behind www.illawarracoal.com
Brian Sheldon (front) and Mark McShane.

The site is "dedicated to the miners who have laboured long and hard over nearly 200 years in the Illawarra, especially those who have lost their lives to coalmining".

"It is for everyone who worked in the mines," Mr McShane said. "It is not only for people interested in the historical significance of mining in the Illawarra but for everyone who has been involved in the mining industry," he said.

"I think it is of interest to the Illawarra coalmining community and further worldwide communities. The one thing that struck us was the lack of information on the web about coalmining in the Illawarra," Mr McShane said.

The duo defined the Illawarra coal district as Helensburgh in the north, to Durras Lake in the south and regional areas including Bowral, Moss Vale and Mittagong in the west.

The site includes locality maps and timelines, a minebase (including details such as opening and closing dates and other quick facts), mining company lists, pioneers and disasters.

They have also drawn the support of the Mineral Resources Department, with permission to use the NSW department's extensive and historic photographic collection on the site.

"We have every chance of using photos on this site that have never been published before," Mr McShane said.

And, as the site develops, they hope tales that have not been told will also be added, with an internal link for visitors to tell their own stories.

With the site's evolving nature, Mr Sheldon and Mr McShane are aware this project will never have a final chapter, one of the reasons why the information never made it into a book.

"The beauty of the web is that all good sites are regularly updated and people should be able to come back more than once and see something new," Mr McShane said.

The two now are looking for community support so the site can become one of the region's living treasures.

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