Coal

The Proprietary Coal Mine, Colliefields

In the first two years of the Collie Coal Mining District around 400 men were employed in numerous small mines.

Extract from interview with Arthur H. Sweeney, coal miner

Miners were paid a tonnage rate to break down coal and load it into underground skips, which were pulled by horses.

Although coal was first discovered in Western Australia in 1846, the major discovery was in the Collie Basin in 1883. The Collie Coal Mining District was declared in 1896 and production began in 1898 when the railway extended to Collie. 

The local market for coal was limited and the small producers at Collie struggled to survive. A local coal industry, however, was vital to the new state’s development, including supporting Western Australia's early rail system.

From 1900 to 1920 coal mining in Western Australia was carried out by various small companies operating mines around Collie.

By 1920, coal mining had increased from 120,000 to 470,000 tonnes. The industry employed over 800 men, yet the small companies struggled to survive. In 1920 Amalgamated Collieries Company of WA Ltd was formed to acquire all existing coal mining companies to establish a monopoly. The state government then awarded them a contract to supply all their coal needs, mainly for the railways. 

Local businessmen, prospectors, and miners established Griffin Coal Mining Ltd in 1927.  It operated as a small company for many years and survived the Depression of the 1930s. From 1930 to 1935 coal prices remained relatively stable, only dropping 25%, while overall production continued at a similar level.

During World War II, the industry rebounded as coal prices rose, however companies struggled to meet the increased demand for coal. Employment in the coal industry peaked in 1955 with nearly 1,400 miners working in the Collie Basin.

The price of coal remained high and the industry was unable to meet demand. In 1960, in an effort to reduce prices, the state government awarded the contract for the supply of coal to Griffin Collieries and Western Collieries.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s improved techniques increased mining productivity and volume of coal extracted. This meant fewer people being employed in the industry. From 1960, underground mining used new techniques, employing scraper loaders and a coal blasting system which shot coal off the coal face.

By the late 1990s, underground mining occurred at depths of 150-500m. The coal seam was reached by vertical shafts or sloping tunnels and coal was extracted using continuous miners or longwall equipment. 

The coal industry in the early 2000s was significant; it directly employed 1200 people and indirectly employed 1000 people in power generation and supply industries. 

Since 2009, Western Australia produces coal from two mines at Collie - Premier and Ewington.  Most of the coal produced is used in Synergy power stations, located at Muja and Collie, and the remainder in industrial processing for resources like mineral sands and bauxite. 

One of the major Western Australian coal producers, Premier (formerly Western Collieries), reported that from 1950 to 2016, the company had produced over 100,000,000 tonnes of coal.

Extract from interview with Bill (Scotty) Jack

After 1945, intensive mechanisation methods were introduced in an attempt to increase productivity. This resulted in the first use of continuous miners: machines that would simultaneously break the coal and load it onto shuttle cars. The use of pit horses to haul men and coal continued in Western Australia until the 1940s.

Western 5 open cut coal mine owned by Western Collieries

In 1950, Western Collieries had opened its first open cut mine near Collie Burn. In open cut mining, soil and rock is removed by excavators, front end loaders and trucks. Once the coal seam is exposed, it is drilled, blasted and mined in strips. The coal is then transported by truck or rail. Open cut mining was cheaper than deep mining and required less skilled workers. This was a source of contention between profit-oriented Amalgamated Collieries and the unions. By 2000, approximately 80% of the coal mined at Collie was extracted from four open cut mines.

Muja Power Station

From 1960 to 2000 there were only two coal mining companies operating in Western Australia: Western Collieries Pty Ltd and Griffin Coal Mining Co Ltd. The coal industry was worth $250 million a year. Coal generated approximately 75% of the State's electricity through the State Energy Commission of Western Australia (SECWA) Muja Power Station.

Final Bid to Avert Dismissals

After state contracts were awarded to Griffin Collieries and Western Collieries, former long-term coal supplier, Amalgamated Collieries, ceased operations and surrendered its lease. Its closure resulted in nearly half of the work force being made redundant and many families leaving Collie.
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