Site Name:Mount Kembla Mine
Address:Harry Graham Drive Mt Kembla Heights
GPS Coordinates:HSL 205 metres H 299601 E 618774
Site Access:Site in public access.
Mt Kembla Colliery 1910
(From the collections of the Wollongong City Library and the
Illawarra Historical Society)

After Pioneer Kerosene

Mt Kembla colliery, set on the Illawarra escarpment in the village of Mount Kembla, opened in 1883. The development of the colliery followed the demise of the Pioneer Kerosene Works formed in 1865.

The New Mine and Coal Transport

In 1877 moves were made to establish a major coal mine at Mount Kembla and build a railway from the mine to a bay at Five Islands (Port Kembla) where a jetty, capable of berthing ocean going vessels, was to be built. The State Government granted authority for the company to construct the jetty and the railway line from the mine, with both being placed in service in February 1883. When the State Government built the eastern breakwater to form the new Port Kembla harbour in about 1900, it resumed the Mount Kembla jetty and portion of the railway line, and then leased them back to the Mount Kembla colliery.


In 1902 an explosion occurred in the mine, and was subsequently determined to have been the result of a gas and coal dust explosion triggered by the use of naked lights in the mine. The explosion resulted in the loss of 96 men and boys (including two men who lost their lives in rescue attempts), devastating the village and leaving many widows and children. This explosion remains today as the greatest ever loss of life in an industrial accident in Australia, and is described in detail here.

Ironically the explosion occurred on the day an arbitration hearing into the mine’s safety was being held in Wollongong. The formal inquiry into the explosion found that the explosion was caused by ”.. an explosion of fire damp ignited by naked lights in use in the mine and accelerated by a series of coal dust explosions…”. Evidence was presented that the existence of gas in the mine had been known before the disaster. The use of naked lights in the mine was not abandoned until the 1940s.

The funeral procession
(From the collections of the Wollongong City Library and the
Illawarra Historical Society)

The Mine

The mine itself was quite modern, with the mining practices and plant and in 1903 installing the most up-to-date electrical supply plant. This enabled the main haulage rope roads, the engine house, workshops, offices and all the outbuildings at the mouth of the tunnel to be fitted out with lighting which at night was said to present ‘’..a brilliant aspect’’. This steam powered, electric generating plant located on the surface provided both 2200Volt and 250Volt alternating current electric power for both underground and surface plant.

Miners lived in nearby townships. It was not uncommon for miners to live near the mine (in small huts or baches) during the work week, and return home for the weekend.

Miners’ Baches on Pit Track, Mt Kembla
From the collection of Ron Cairns

Bord and Pillar to Longwall

The No1 Bulli Seam was mined using the Welsh Bord and Bord and Pillar systems of mining. A thinning of the Bulli Seam in the southern area of the mine leases led to the adoption of the longwall advancing method of mining in that area.

Coal from within the mine was delivered to the surface in small skips by endless rope haulage to be weighed, dumped and screened before being loaded in to wide gauge rail wagons and lowered down an incline to rail sidings. The gravity powered incline haulage was manually operated, hauling an empty wagon to the pit top as it lowered a full wagon to the rail sidings at the bottom for further haulage by steam locomotive.

Incline haulage drum and brakes, Mt Kembla Mine
From the collection of Ron Cairns

The haulage system was controlled by a brakeman who operated brakes on the dual winch arrangement  which raised and lowered wagons in a system which required no motive power to transport the coal.  This system is shown here. Another operator switched rail points as required. The diagram and description are the work of Fred Kirkwood, a former Mt Kembla miner and active in documenting the history of the mine and village.

Australian Iron and Steel Take Over

The colliery and the railway line were acquired by Australian Iron and Steel (AIS) in 1946. The contract system of mining employing coal skips and pit ponies endured at the mine until 1968 when an unsuccessful attempt to adopt a mechanised system of mining led to the mine closing in 1970, ending 87 years of operation and the production of over 14 million tons of coal. The railway from the mine continued to operate following the change of ownership in 1946 and remains in service to this day. Initially it was used to haul coal to the AIS Port Kembla Steelworks from the now closed Nebo and Kemira collieries. At the present time it is used to deliver coal from the Dendrobium colliery to the Port Kembla Harbour and the BlueScope Steel steelworks as required.

Mt Kembla Mine Layout and Surrounds
from Heritage Study