Coalmining Industry Bicentenary
COALMINING INDUSTRY BICENTENARY
Mr NEILLY (Cessnock) [1.32 p.m.]: I move:
Yesterday in the parliamentary foyer an exhibition which detailed the history of the coalmining industry and the history of mining in New South Wales over the past 200 years was opened. The motion is designed to give the Parliament an opportunity to formally recognise the significant contribution that the coalmining industry has made to the fortunes and development of this State. As part and parcel of that development, the establishment of townships across the State should be acknowledged. It is important to realise that the coalmining industry is significant, as is the metalliferous and gemstone mining industry. That fact could not be stated any more clearly than it is in the editorial of the Australian Journal of Mining in September 1995, which stated:
That this House note that the coalmining industry this year celebrates the bicentenary of its involvement in the development and economic prosperity of this State and Australia.
Australia is a mining nation. "Any country that generates nearly 52 percent of its national merchandise export income from a single industry, in this case mining, cannot be perceived in any other way," Mr Alan Broomehead, Chairman of Austmine Ltd, told the Future Directions of the Minerals Industry conference in Australia in Melbourne recently.
Exports of some $31 billion in mineral commodities in 1993-94 underpin his observation. The export of black coal approaching $8 billion; gold in excess of $5.5 billion; iron ore almost $3 billion; alumina $2.8 billion; and a range of other commodities around the $1 billion per year or greater serve to further illustrate this point.
So too the data that, while mining directly supports a work force of some 180,000 Australians, there are a possible six times this number employed providing direct inputs into mining operations proper and as many as 10 times more Australians employed providing auxiliary services to mining related industries.
Just as relevant is the growth in export sales of Australian mining goods and services. In 1993-94 they reached $695 million - a 26 percent growth on the previous year . . .
It is interesting to observe that the resource sector accounts for more than one-third of the total capitalisation of the Australian stock market. The July 1996 edition of MINFO, a quarterly publication of the Department of Mineral Resources, details the history of mining in Australia, particularly New South Wales, with relevance to the northern coal district, the southern coal district and the metalliferous mining industries. Although it is generally agreed that 1997 is the bicentenary of mining in Australia, there is some doubt surrounding the actual beginnings of mining. The matter is covered in the quarterly magazine as follows:
Dr Bruce Hobbs of the CSIRO predicted that the growth in the export of exploration or mining industry related services could account for a further 20 percent of Australia’s entire export earnings by 2020.
The Northern Coalfield . . . was the cradle of Australia’s coal industry, the source of its first mineral exports and the country’s major producer up to the 1960s.
The first discovery of coal in Australia was made in March 1791 by a party of escaping convicts led by William Bryant and his wife Mary, who ultimately became the sole survivor. The way in which she told her story to Captain (later Governor) William Bligh in Timor, suggests that the discovery site was more likely Glenrock Lagoon or even Swansea Heads rather than beneath Fort Scratchley, where mining commenced 10 years later. Subsequent discoveries in Tasmania in 1793, south of Port Stephens, and at Coalcliff and the mouth of the Hunter River in 1797 . . . in September 1800, Captain William Reid was sent by Governor King to obtain the first official cargo of coal from Hunter’s River, although coal gathering from seam outcrops had been carried out for several years prior to this by crews of passing ships.
The reference to 1797 is to the official discovery of coal at Newcastle by Lieutenant Shortland in 1797. In 1801 Governor King declared the region’s coal and timber resources were government property. Part of the development of the coal resource in Australia has been interrelated to the Australian Agricultural Company. The following interesting information appeared in the MINFO article:
Governor King finally decided on Newcastle as the site of the colony’s first mine because its harbour, though shallow, was better than none at all. He despatched a party of convicts, including Platt, under Lt-Col Paterson in June 1801 to commence work at the "Coal River". Trial shipments to India and the Cape of Good Hope in 1801-02 met with limited success.
The efficiency of this mining enterprise was criticised in 1820 by Commissioner JT Bigge, who claimed that output could be increased by a third to a half with better management . . .
That monopoly existed for 31 years and it enabled private property owners to exploit the resources they had. In the 1840s a prominent developer of mines, James Brown, challenged the Australian Agricultural Company’s monopoly. At the subsequent court case Brown did not succeed in his challenge. However, he was fined the sum of only one shilling. The court recognised that the monopoly was unjustly imposed. Consequently the Government rescinded the monopoly, and that led to the coalmining developments that we know in Australia today. My electorate in the Hunter-Cessnock area has played a significant role in the development of the coal
industry. I note that investigations by geologist Professor T. W. E. David in 1886-88 identified the Greta seam - which is 10 metres thick - between Maitland and Cessnock.
In 1901 only two collieries were operating in the Cessnock area. After the coal rush in 1907, 10 mines opened and northern coalfields were producing about one-third of the State’s total output. By 1910 they accounted for half the coal mined in the entire State. In the 20 years up to 1924 the population of Cessnock grew a hundredfold. A few years later it became the third city of New South Wales. At the peak of the coalmining boom in that area in the mid 1920s, 27 collieries operated and employed more than 9,000 men and boys, who cut up to five million tons of coal a year, which was 70 per cent of the State’s coal.
The metalliferous mining industry originated in the 1840s in the Bathurst-Orange district. Of real interest so far as the metalliferous mining industry is concerned was the establishment of the Broken Hill Pty Limited company, the biggest corporation of Australia, at Broken Hill. This Government and the previous Government have been keen to ensure the mining activities in this State continue into the future. The previous Government embarked on Discovery 2000, and this Government has supported that concept. New South Wales has caught up fairly rapidly with South Australia and, surprisingly, it has not yet fully identified the potential of its mining resources. I believe there will be a further mining boom in the future. I hope that our coalmining future will be successful, even though worldwide competition is straining our capacity to be in that marketplace. I congratulate the industry on its 200 years and I hope it prospers well into the future.
Mr J. H. TURNER (Myall Lakes) [1.42 p.m.]: The coalition strongly supports the motion of the honourable member for Cessnock. Being the Opposition spokesman on mineral resources and a former Cessnock boy, I am aware of the rich fabric of the coalmining industry in that area, and am well aware of the tragedies that have taken place in the industry. The coalition feels so strongly about the subject matter of the motion that the Leader of the Opposition had intended to lead for the Opposition in this debate. However because the business of the House was been reorganised, unfortunately he is not able to be in attendance.
The history of mining and the history of New South Wales - and, indeed, Australia - are inextricably linked. In many real and not so obvious ways mining impacts on and contributes to our everyday lives. Mining in New South Wales has developed into a sophisticated global export business, of which coal is the most vital commodity. The wealth generated by these exports underpins our everyday economic prosperity. However, it is not just in material ways that mining impacts on our lives, as mining is one of the foundations on which the institutions and culture that make up modern Australia have been built. Mining was the driving force for the development of our democratic institutions of Parliament, parties and courts.
In a few short years, mining saw us jolted suddenly from an undeveloped government-sponsored penal colony, with a fledgling and precarious pastoral economy, to an embryonic nation based on a bustling resources sector. Mining fuelled our early development in other ways too, providing a rich source of images and anecdotes for our early artists and writers. The history of mining in New South Wales encompasses the broadest scope of human endeavour, from triumph to disaster, from rewards of unimaginable wealth to inconsolable tragedy. It is important that honourable members note that we are marking a history that began with the first organised mining by Europeans 200 years ago. The history of mining on this continent, in its broadest sense, spans a much longer history than 200 years, as the first Australians commenced extracting material from the earth for their use many thousands of years ago.
With the coming of Europeans to this continent, it was coal, not gold, that was the first major mineral discovered and mined. From school we are all taught the colourful history of the discovery of gold over 50 years after settlement. The early discovery of coal is no less worth telling. The first recorded use of coal by Europeans was in 1791 when some escaped convicts found coal by a creek in what is now the Newcastle area, and burned some of it on their fire. Those shivering unfortunates could not know that their simple act to keep away the cold was the prelude to a relationship with the mineral which has grown into a multibillion dollar export industry that today underpins a young nation’s economic wealth.
In 1797 large outcrops of coal were discovered in what are now the Wollongong and Newcastle areas. Mining commenced immediately in Newcastle in 1797, where convicts picked up coal and dug it from the cliff face in the vicinity of Nobbys. Our export coal industry commenced with the first recorded shipment to Bengal a year later, while
records report a major shipment to South Africa in 1801. From then mining proceeded apace, courtesy of convict labour. The horrors and privations of the early convict miners can barely be imagined. At the cliff face coal was mined out at Nobbys and deep shafts were sunk. The shafts were wet, dangerous and poorly ventilated and the convicts had to carry out all work manually while wearing leg irons. Convicts worked 12 hour days and the mines they worked became their gaols.
Mine development proceeded quickly throughout the second half of the nineteenth century in the lower Hunter and the Illawarra. Increasing use of steamships, railways, gas lighting and a booming population accompanying the gold rush created an increasing demand for coal. This boom proved to be limited, however, and a cyclical pattern of demand for coal was quickly established, as was a cyclical demand for labour arising therefrom. While early miners were paid good wages while in work, their length of tenure was not constant and this, combined with resistance to increasing mechanisation in mining, meant that the history of coalmining in New South Wales was destined to be characterised by a rich seam of industrial disputation.
Occasionally these disputes broke out into major confrontations, including a strike in the rich Cessnock coalfield which lasted for more than a year and culminated in the Rothbury riot of December 1929, in which a miner was killed. The miners’ opposition to mechanisation came to a head in 1949 when a general strike saw the drafting of emergency powers legislation which included the gaoling of union officials and the drafting of troops as miners. The second half of this century saw a massive increase in the coal tonnages produced. This was fuelled by the post-war industrialisation of Newcastle and Wollongong, the industrial development of Japan and, more recently, the development of the Asian "Tiger" economies of South Korean and Taiwan. Today, Australia is the world’s largest coal exporter, with New South Wales exporting 62.6 million tonnes and earning $3.3 billion in 1995-96.
Although this motion is about the coal industry it would be wrong, while we are looking at the history of mining, not to touch on other areas of mining. There is a softer aspect to the cultural legacy of goldmining, as the goldfields gave great scope for cultural expression across a range of arts. Let us not forget that the goldfields spawned a generation of artists, from colonial painters such as S. T. Gill through to the impressionists. It also gave us the inspiration for some of our finest early literature. Henry Lawson was born on the goldfields at Grenfell, and our early goldmining history was the inspiration for some of his finest works.
The exciting aspect of our gold history is that there is some chance of a repeat of the great industry it generated, albeit in a far more sober and controlled manner. The Discovery 2000 program, initiated by the coalition when in government, has delivered some promising indications of high-grade mineral resources, particularly gold and copper, in the very same fields as the first rush almost 150 years ago. The State is undergoing a miniboom of exploration across its north-west and the coalition is proud to have played a part in this.
Having looked at mining’s past, I now look to mining’s future, for the challenges are many. While in the early days the problems related to geography, capital, technology and labour, these days they tend to be financial, economic, political and global in nature, and yet no less challenging and exciting. The universal success story of mining has been its environmental performance, particularly in its stewardship of land. In terms of its environmental controls and rehabilitation techniques, the Australian mining industry leads the world, and has developed a lucrative export trade in environmental technology and advice.
It is very easy for us to focus on the environmental mistakes of the past and the occasional regrettable mistakes of the present. However, overall the mining industry has moved ahead in leaps and bounds in its environmental management, and it would be churlish of this House not to recognise it. Another area of the mining industry’s contribution that should be noted is its pioneering work in reconciliation with the Aboriginal community. Across the continent the mining industry has got on with the business of sitting down with Aboriginal communities and, despite plenty of difficulties along the way, usually reached agreements acceptable to all parties. The industry should be congratulated on its sober and reasoned approach to the current Wik debate.
The long-term future of the coal industry looks bright in the face of continuous economic development in the Hunter region, where it has a traditional foothold. In the short-term, however, the future is troubled with low prices combined with the need for better productivity and access to land. In response to the Gretley disaster, it is of paramount importance that everyone works hard to ensure a safer working environment. Possibly the greatest challenge faced by the New South Wales coal
industry is the current debate on the global response to the greenhouse effect. While I do not wish to canvas the subject in debate here, we must all work together to find a solution that recognises the economy’s reliance on coal exports. But we also have a role to play in addressing this important environmental issue. One of the most important contributions that this State Parliament can make is to continue to investigate and encourage the development of energy-efficient technologies and industries. The coalition welcomes the motion as a small recognition of the mining industry’s contribution to the State and looks forward to another 200 prosperous years. The Opposition supports the motion.
Mr MARTIN (Port Stephens - Minister for Mineral Resources, and Minister for Fisheries) [1.50 p.m.]: This week we celebrate 200 years of mining in this State. Yesterday the Premier opened the mining exhibition and spoke to a large group of people who attended the launch of the exhibition. It is fitting that the honourable member for Cessnock should move this motion, because he has had a long association with the mining industry in New South Wales. The name Neilly has been synonymous with the mining industry for two generations. I want to thank all honourable members who will speak in the debate on this motion. Because of the time constraints my contribution will be brief and will focus on the issue of safety. I am passionate about mine safety and I hope that most, if not all, of the problems associated with safety will be fixed during my term as Minister.
For the past 200 years safety has been a major concern in the mining industry. In 1854 the first experienced coal engineer was appointed to examine coalfields and set standards and in 1896 the Coal Mines Regulation Act was enacted, a major move forward for mining in New South Wales. As the coalmines went deeper into the ground, problems with gas, fire and explosions became more serious. In 1886 eight lives were lost at Lithgow Valley colliery in a fire and subsequent recovery operations. Such disasters prompted the adoption of controlled ventilation in collieries; some mines had fires in the bottom of the shaft to get forced ventilation. Despite the precautions, disasters continued and 81 lives were lost in an explosion at Bulli in 1887. Coalmines were not the only operations to experience disasters, and in 1895 nine men were killed in a rock fall at Broken Hill. Approximately one in every 100 miners could expect to be killed each year while engaged in the industry.
Broken Hill faced major problems, and the unions became strong to protect workers and introduce safer working conditions. The 1919 strike by miners was related to mining safety. Because there had been so many disasters resulting from the use of small pillars, major changes in the coalfields in 1889 led to the introduction of bord-and-pillar extraction. Government regulation of the industry increased in conjunction with mechanisation and, from 1896 onwards, mines could be managed only by certified technical mine managers. In the following year the Chief Inspector of Mines improved stability of coalmining by specifying width and height of pillars. In 1896 nine miners died in the Stockton colliery disaster, including members of the rescue party who were involved in the tragedy. Following the Dudley colliery explosion in 1898 it became accepted practice to ventilate collieries continuously.
When I was a young person our next-door neighbour, an old fellow called Hilly Bailey, had to identify his brother’s remains which were bricked up behind the Bellbird wall. That was a traumatic experience and it has stuck in my mind. It indicates how very dangerous conditions can be for miners. On the northern fields mine accident victims numbered approximately 1,600; in Broken Hill, 700; and in the southern fields, 860. Too many people have lost their lives in the mining industry and a great deal needs to be done to improve safety. The Government will continue its attempts to improve mine safety. Honourable members will recall the inquiry into mine safety conducted by Susan Johnston, and also the Gretley inquiry. I thank honourable members for the opportunity to speak in the debate. Although my contribution has been brief I know that my colleagues will make very valuable contributions to this motion celebrating the centenary of mining.
Mr SOURIS (Upper Hunter - Deputy Leader of the National Party) [1.55 p.m.]: The electorate of Upper Hunter and the area of the Hunter Valley from which I come comprise the largest coalmining area in Australia. It could be argued that almost half of Australia’s exports emanate from the Hunter Valley and I believe I am well qualified to advise the House on the relationship that exists between modern coalmining and modern coalmining communities. Approximately 13 large mines operate in the Hunter area, including the Ulan coalmine, and four additional mines are in the planning stages. Approximately 40 million tonnes of coal is mined there. I am pleased to have an opportunity to contribute to the debate and to place on record my
appreciation of the way in which mining is conducted and the relationship between the mining industry and local communities. Mining, by definition, is a decentralised industry and it is therefore important to country New South Wales. Many small towns depend upon the mining industry, directly and indirectly.
They depend on the industry directly for employment and for the flow-on from contractors and other businesses and entities that conduct their activities on mine sites. The flow-on effect extends to contracting firms, and much of the activity associated with mining occurs in the local towns or nearby industrial areas. The cumulative effect of that economic impact benefits the rest of the community, from retail stores all the way through to the service sector - schools and hospitals. I have been privileged to witness many new developments in the Hunter area. The Minister for Mineral Resources referred to the issue of safety. No discussion about 200 years of mining would be complete without reflecting on the history of mining and on the tragedies that have occurred in the industry. Nowadays, however, the mining industry is a model for other industries. Safety is a pre-eminent requirement and feature of every boardroom and every mine management committee in this State. Anyone who visits a coalmine today would be impressed by the emphasis on safety. It is universal throughout the industry.
The mining industry operates its own workers compensation scheme, with exceptionally low premium rates, and the fact that it is a self-funding scheme is to the credit of the industry. The remainder of the workers compensation industry in New South Wales is an absolute disgrace, compared to the mining industry. A number of lessons can be learnt from the mining sector and the mining hierarchy has also kept pace with modern communities. I refer in particular to the establishment of the Joint Coal Board in Singleton. That has been a welcome development, not only because of the impact it has had on the local community, but also because it is co-located with the mining industry, where it should be. In recent years the Hunter Valley Mines Rescue Service has also been established in Singleton. As mining generally has moved up the valley, so too has the infrastructure that goes with it. In the last day or so the Hunter has had very welcome news. Conzinc Riotinto of Australia Limited - more commonly known as Coal and Allied - will establish its New South Wales head office in the upper Hunter. That is an excellent development. I only wish that other industries, such as Macquarie Generation in the power generation industry, would likewise locate their head offices in the Hunter. Those industries should recognise that it is in their interests when their work force and entire business are located in the upper Hunter area.
Mr McMANUS (Bulli) [2.00 p.m.]: I support my colleague the honourable member for Cessnock. The debate today gives me the opportunity to acknowledge the great work done in the coal industry. Not only do I represent in this Parliament the coalmining region of the southern coalfields but I am also the son of a coalminer. This discussion also affords me the opportunity to remind the House of one of the worst mining disasters, which occurred in my electorate. Coal was discovered on the southern coalfields in 1796 at what appears to be Bellambi Cove. Explorers Bass and Flinders recorded that a stratum of coal had been found there among the rocky headlands. Following the shipwreck of the Sydney Cove in 1797 the survivors found coal and made a fire.
As to mining the coal, rugged topography made land access from Sydney difficult and there were no natural harbours. Compared with the easily won coals of the northern coalfields and a harbour with access from the Hunter River, the Illawarra must have seemed most uninviting. A further difficulty to the development of the coalfield was the 30-year monopoly established by the Australian Agricultural Company in 1831 which thwarted attempts to open mines in the years between 1828 and 1839. The monopoly was successfully challenged in 1847 and the first southern coalfield colliery on Mount Keira was finally opened in 1848. Regular coal deliveries to Wollongong soon began. Between 1857 and 1863 mines opened in quick succession. In 1857 Bulli seam coal was trialled in the steamship Illawarra and was so successful that an era of prosperity began for the region. The Illawarra Mercury reported:
One of the Bigge Commission’s recommendations was that the government mines be leased to private enterprise and in 1825 the Australian Agricultural Company (AA Co) suggested to the Colonial Office its willingness to take these over.
The results cannot be surpassed and now we have an export equal, if not superior, to the best coal of the Hunter . . .
That forecast in those early days of Wollongong has certainly come to fruition. The coalmining industry of the Illawarra has been the lifeblood, the main artery, of the Illawarra’s economy today. It is pleasing to be the member representing an area which has met the challenges presented by the coal industry over the years. As I said, I am the son of a coalminer. In 1951 my father immigrated with his family from Scotland. I remember that he regularly left home on Monday, travelled to the Burragorang Valley on a small Velocette motorcycle on unsealed
roads, and returned on Friday. That was how he had to provide for his family under the economic situations of the day. I think emotionally of the work people like my father did in those days in order to be able to raise their families under very adverse conditions.
The other matter I wish to discuss, which has been referred to by the Minister, is the devastation that occurred on 23 March 1887 during what is referred to as the Bulli mine disaster. It was a sad day for the Illawarra and has been claimed historically as the worst mining disaster in the world. Not only were 81 men and boys killed in the Bulli mine disaster but, as a grandson of one of those killed aptly stated, 150 children were orphaned and 50 women became widows in the wake of the explosion. The enormity of the situation is realised when it is understood that mining communities in those days, such as at Bulli in the Illawarra region, were very close-knit. Following the devastation and destruction caused to these families, and without the provision of the dole or any social security, many were left in the cold. I am glad to have the opportunity today to support the honourable member for Cessnock and the Minister for Mineral Resources in their endeavours to promote the coalmining industry.
Mr NEILLY (Cessnock) [2.05 p.m.], in reply: I thank the honourable member for Myall Lakes, the Minister for Mineral Resources, the Deputy Leader of the National Party and the honourable member for Bulli for their contributions to this debate. I will briefly make some additional observations. Since 1984 Australia has been the biggest exporter of coal in the world. Changes have occurred to the production of coal in the international coal industry. Two former major producers of coal, Germany and Japan, are backing out. Germany has commenced a pit closure program with 10 pits to be closed by the year 2005. Employment in the industry in Germany will be reduced from 90,000 to 50,000. It is interesting to note that the German government pays DM9 billion a year to compensate users of domestic coal.
Japan’s coal production was reduced to 6.3 million tonnes in 1995 from a record 55.4 million tonnes in 1961. The industry itself is concerned for its future and how it will compete. Australia has the manpower capacity to produce 6,000 tonnes per man per year, which is above world standards. That gives Australia an edge but emerging coal-producing countries such as Venezuela, Colombia and Indonesia will put a great deal of pressure on Australia to maintain its place in competitive coalmining. Australia has to prepare for that competition, to develop better technology and to research the utilisation of coal and the impact of greenhouse gas emissions. I believe that we have the people in this country with the calibre and talent to rise to the task.
It was interesting to listen to the Minister’s contribution about safety in the coalmining industry now and into the future. In the July edition of Minfo, and before the Gretley disaster, the former Director-General of the Department of Mineral Resources commented on safety issues over almost 200 years of mining in New South Wales and prophetically stated the need to confront the problems of mine safety. He stated:
. . . the Illawarra is now in possession of an article of domestic use and export which will promote commerce and add to our social industry . . .
I commend the motion to the House and once again thank all the participants in the debate.
Motion agreed to.
[Mr Acting-Speaker (Mr Clough) left the chair at 2.08 p.m. The House resumed at 2.15 p.m.]
In this regard, we must be prepared to put aside, if necessary, the trappings of traditional approaches to mine safety, which have their origins in the 19th century, and look for a new paradigm that will take us successfully and safely into the 21st century.