Site Name:Mount Keira- Kemira Colliery
Address:No 450 Mt Keira Road Mt Keira ( Tourist Road 1 )
GPS Coordinates:H 302696 E 6190344 HSL 200 Metres
Site Access:Site in private ownership.
Mount Keira Incline and Screening Plant ca 1900
University of Wollongong collection

The Mt Keira (later Kemira) Colliery is of major importance in the history of mining in the Illawarra – both for the fact that it was the first commercial mine in the Illawarra, and because over its 143 years of operation it was a prime example of the major changes which occurred in the organisation of work, coal mining equipment, and the transport of coal over that period.  For example, in 1965 the first successful fully mechanised retreat longwall mining system in Australia was installed at this mine – introducing a method now standard throughout the industry.  Its story started over one hundred and seventy years ago.

Mt Keira, 2019

The Albert Mine and Early Ownership

In 1848 Mr James Shoobert, a retired sea captain and the local Justice of the Peace, opened the Albert mine with tunnels in the outcropping Balgownie and Wongawilli seams, on the slopes of Mount Keira.  Access to the Balgownie seam outcrop was noted as being across a steep gully, and north of the Wongawilli seam access. A rough track was cleared down through the bush, to transport the coal from the mine in carts drawn by oxen.  The first coal transported down the mountain from the mine, joined a street procession attended by townsfolk and dignitaries, to mark the occasion. James Shoobert was held in high esteem by the community, and his opening of the first coal mine in the area was considered a very significant event that would benefit the future commercial development and wellbeing of the area.  On arrival at the Wollongong Harbour the coal was filled into hessian sacks and loaded on to the steamer William the Fourth for transport to Sydney.

Shoobert was considered by others to have lacked the finances needed to develop the mine, and in 1848 he placed the Albert mine, along with his “Mt. Keira House” and extensive land holdings, up for sale by auction.  This resulted in all items offered for auction being purchased by Henry Osborne, a wealthy landowner also with extensive holdings in the area. Captain Shoobert departed the area soon after (following his attendance at several testimonial dinners held in his honour by the local community) moving to Sydney where he died in May 1876. 

The Osborne Wallsend Colliery

In 1857, Henry Osborne, with the assistance of William Robson, opened a mine in the Bulli seam, higher up the mountain slope from the Albert mine, and named it the Osborne Wallsend Colliery.  The method and route taken to transport the coal from this mine was by oxen-drawn carts as before, along the track made by Shoobert, to deliver the coal to a depot (thought to have been located at the junction of the present Hurt Street and Mount Keira Road) and thence to the harbour for shipment.

Whilst the coal from the mine found a ready market with steamships, millers and manufacturers in both the local and Sydney area, its delivery to the markets was limited by the availability of the William the Fourth to transport product, from the Harbour.  In September 1855 a newspaper report noted that little work was being carried out at the Albert mine.  Mining of the Wongawilli seam had ceased, and the height of the Balgownie seam (4ft) had made it difficult to explore that seam beyond the coal face in the roadway/s that had been driven.  In 1857 the Albert mine was abandoned by Osborne, and a new mine opened in the No1 Bulli seam, further up the slope from the Albert mine site.  

This mine was opened by William Robson on behalf of Henry Osborne and named the Osborne Wallsend Colliery.  Soon after mining commenced, a 3.5ton sample of coal from the Bulli seam was delivered to Wollongong Harbour for trial on the steamship Illawarra.  The trial proved to be very successful, and positive comments by the colliery manager on the future of the mine were duly recorded in an article published in the Illawarra Mercury in 1856.

Soon after the mine was opened a furnace ventilation shaft was sunk nearby.  A screening plant with an integral weighbridge was erected at the mine portal, to separate the large and small coal, record the weight of the large coal, and discard the small coal as a waste product.  The large coal was loaded into rail wagons which were hauled by horse from the portal to the top of the incline and then attached to the incline haulage.

The mine roadway from the portal was driven in a southwesterly direction in the 2.5 metre Bulli seam, with roadways branching off to the northwest and the south east.  These were to create mine working areas with those to the south east opening out areas close to the outcrop of the Bulli seam. 

The Pillar and Stall (Bord and Pillar) system of mining was chosen and a series of headings (Bords), with cross connecting roadways (cut-throughs) were driven at intervals, to form coal pillars.   As the areas being mined increased, rope haulages were installed to deliver the coal skips from and back to a horse drawn main haulage system. This haulage system was later replaced by a steam driven Main and Tail rope haulage located on the surface.  Self-acting “jig haulages” were installed underground in some of the working areas to haul the coal skips in and out of areas where steep grades were encountered in the seam 

Mt Keira Horse Paddock, Pratt’s Tunnel ca 1910  
P08127 From the collections of the Wollongong City Library and the Illawarra Historical Society

Coal Haulage

In 1859, a three-rail self-acting incline rope haulage, with a four rail mid-point passing shunt was installed on the incline to lower the wagons from the pit top to the bottom of the incline (and draw back up empty wagons).  There the coal was loaded into carts and hauled by horse teams to the harbour. 

Mt Keira Incline ca 1880
P02224 From the collections of the Wollongong City Library and the Illawarra Historical Society

As the quantity of coal delivered to the harbour from the mine increased, Henry Osborne requested the government to grant him permission to build a tramway from the base of the incline to the harbour.  While permission was granted, it only enabled a tramway of 3ft 8½ -inch gauge to be constructed, to terminate 250 metres west of the Wollongong to Bulli road. This was not what Henry Osborne had planned.  It meant that the loaded wagons were hauled by horse from the bottom of the incline to the end of the tramway, there to be unloaded and coal reloaded into carts to be hauled by horse teams to the harbour. 

Following Henry Osborne’s death in 1859, the Osborne Wallsend Coal Company was formed by Messrs Robson, Jackson, Nixon and Tulip, and a 25-year lease of the mine granted to that company by the Osborne Family.  

In 1860 a second request was made to the government for a tramway to the harbour, resulting in the “Mount Keira Tramroad Act” being enacted, granting permission to extend the earlier Tramway.  In May 1861 a 3ft 8½ inch gauge tramway reaching from the bottom of the incline, to the harbour was completed. That line was converted to a gauge of 4ft 8½ inch in 1878. At the same time steam locomotives were installed to haul the rail wagons from a screening plant erected at the bottom of the incline to and from the harbour.

In 1874 a steam driven Main and Tail rope haulage was installed at the mine portal, to haul the full and empty coal skips in and out of the mine.  A building was erected at the portal, to house the haulage engine and boiler plant.

Mine Portal  1875 – Main and Tail Rope Haulage
AusIMM History of Coal Mining in Australia p 236

In 1885 a steam driven endless rope haulage system of increased haulage capacity was installed on the surface north of the mine portal, complete with an inclined brick flume and a chimney 30 metres in height.  This haulage replaced both the Main and Tail and the gravity powered incline haulages. It was designed to deliver the small capacity coal skips filled at the coal face to the surface and down the incline to the screening plant, and return the empty skips back up the incline, and into the mine.

The incline portion of the endless rope haulage initially included mechanical components from the abandoned self-acting incline haulage.  This arrangement created problems in the routing of the incline haulage ropes, and the handling of the skips passing through a change in direction of the trackwork part way down the incline. These problems were to remain until the mine was purchased by AIS in 1937, and an engineering review of the reeving of the haulage ropes at the pit top and on the incline, was carried out by AIS.  Changes were made including the replacement of the steam engine drive system with an electric motor drive, and variations to the roping and reeving of the full and empty haulage ropes at the pit top, and on the incline.

One interesting feature of this haulage system was the permanent stationing of two ‘rope clipper boys’ in a shed located at the change in direction of the incline noted above.  These ‘boys’ were responsible for checking that the rope clip attached to every descending full skip was tightly located on the haulage rope to avoid a damaging full skip ‘run-away’ on the incline.

Other changes that followed the purchase of the mine by AIS were made at the screening plant at the base of the incline where the coal was loaded into wagons.  These wagons were now to be hauled by the original colliery steam locomotives to an elevated gantry erected part way along the original colliery rail line to the harbour adjacent to Gilmour Street/Wisemans Park.  The coal from the above wagons was unloaded on the gantry into large capacity rail wagons below and hauled by an AIS locomotive to a rail junction with the South Coast rail line, and on to the Port Kembla Steelworks.

In 1954 the endless rope haulage systems ceased operating following the commissioning of the Kemira Tunnel coal haulage system and the coal handling plant in the Kemira Valley.  The incline haulage, along with the screening plant and attached buildings at the base of the incline, and the gantry noted above were all dismantled and removed.

Mount Keira Incline 1954
(From the  J.L.N Southern collection )

Mine Ownership

In 1899 the Osborne Wallsend Colliery was purchased by Ebenezer Vickery and Sons.  Mr. John McGeachie was appointed as Colliery Manager in 1901, and the original practice of using forks to load coal into skips ceased.  (Using forks meant that fine coal generated in coal extraction was not removed from the mine.) A weighbridge was installed at the pit top to weigh each skip on its way to the incline.  Now the weight of coal in each skip was recorded against a numbered leather token, attached to the skip by the miner when the skip was filled. Mr. McGeachie resigned in 1905 and Mr. Jacob Carlos Jones was appointed as the Colliery Manager.

The Contract Mining System:  Some Terms

In this system of work the miners worked in pairs, and were paid a rate per ton for the coal they mined and loaded into each skip using a fork, with the small coal thrown aside.  Additional payments were made for the ‘yardage’ driven in the working place to mine the coal, and the number of wooden roof support bars and props erected as the coal face was advanced.  “Consideration payments” as they were known were paid to the miners for their mining in a working place that impeded the mining of coal, such as through stone in the coal seam or on the floor, or water in the working place. 

The miners provided their own pick and fork (later shovel) to mine and load the coal into each skip, along with his manually operated coal face boring machine, and the drill used to drill his shot holes in the coal face.  These shot holes were initially loaded with explosives and an open flame fuse wire was used to detonate the charge and “shoot the face”. This method was later replaced by an electric detonator inserted in the explosive charge and connected to a shot firing cable.  A pulse of electricity generated by a device carried by a mine deputy/ shotfirer was used to activate the detonator and explosives in the shot hole. The cost of the explosives used by the miners was deducted from their pay. In the year 1900 the rate paid to the miner for the clean coal loaded into a 1.5 ton capacity coal skip was 2/9d (two shillings and nine pence) per ton.

The empty and full skips were delivered to and from the miners’ working place by the “wheeler” and his pit pony.  The empty skips were returned underground from the surface “clipped” to the mine endless rope haulage system. ‘Clipper boys’ unclipped the empty skips from the haulage rope at a “clipping flat” located on the haulage roadway.  The wheeler and his pit pony delivered these empty skips to the miners’ working place and hauled the full skips back to the clipping flat to be attached to the rope haulage for delivery to the surface. A ‘darg’ was imposed by the Miners’ Union, limiting to ten the number of skips the miner could fill per day.  On completing that task, the miners would cease work and make their way out of the mine.

Mine Ventilation

As the miners advanced their working place in the seam, an impregnated cloth sheeting (‘brattice’) was nailed to the roof support props, to create an enclosed airway between the roof and the floor on one side of the working place. This ‘airway’ directed ventilating air into the miners’ working place, from the district ventilation system.  As the mine workings to be ventilated throughout the mine increased, furnace shafts were sunk from the surface to the coal seam to increase the quantity of air circulating throughout the mine. One furnace shaft was located adjacent to the Mount Keira Road, near the present exit to the Scouts’ Camp. (‘Furnace shafts’ were vertical shafts from the mine workings to the surface, equipped with a furnace at the base, the heat from which drove convective airflow up the shaft – hence drawing fresh air into the mine from other openings to the surface.)

At this mine the outcrop of the Bulli seam was exposed south west of the mine portal, and provided the opportunity to drive roadways from within the mine out to the surface.  These ‘daylight tunnels’, as they became known, provided a source of natural ventilation of the mine workings by capturing the prevailing north-east breezes sweeping the area throughout the day.  

The tunnels were given the surnames of miners who had built their family homes nearby, hence the names Pratt’s Tunnel, Porter’s Tunnel, Ring’s Tunnel and McGoldrick’s Tunnel.  These tunnels enabled some miners to enter and leave the mine each working day. The grassed area adjacent to Pratt’s Tunnel was used as a pit pony rest area, and a lamp cabin and a workshop were erected at the site. 

In 1887, work commenced on the sinking of the No1 ventilation shaft, adjacent to the north eastern reaches of the Goondarun Creek west of Mount Keira.  On completion of this sinking a steam driven Walker design mine fan capable of producing 100,000 cubic feet of ventilating air per minute was installed to replace the furnace ventilation shafts.  A steam engine driven shaft winder was also installed, together with the erection of a residence for the attendant responsible for the operation of the steam engine. The shaft winder provided a means of access to and from underground for men, materials and statutory shaft inspections of the shaft and winder.

No1 Shaft Site circa 1980
(From the Mineral Heritage Collection)

In 1937 both the Osborne Wallsend and the Mount Pleasant Tunnels Collieries were purchased by Australian Iron and Steel Company (AIS) from Ebenezer Vickery and Sons who had purchased the Osborne Wallsend Colliery in 1899, and the Mount Pleasant Colliery in 1934.  Following the purchase of the Mount Pleasant Colliery, Ebenezer Vickery, made some changes to the lease areas of that mine, and changed the name of the Mount Pleasant Colliery to the Keira Pleasant Tunnels Colliery. When AIS purchased the Osborne Wallsend Colliery in 1937, it was in a rundown state.  The daily production from the mine was 450 tons, and no supply of electricity was available at the mine.

In 1938 AIS launched a programme designed to progressively abandon the Contract system, and adopt mechanised mining at the colliery.  The Mount Pleasant Colliery powerhouse, standing idle at that time, was rehabilitated to provide an interim source of electric power to the Mount Keira Colliery.  A high capacity collieries power supply system, was then under construction from the AIS Port Kembla Steelworks, and reached the mine in 1940. The interim power supply was used to provide electric power to the mine pit top, and an overland power line erected to supply power to the No1 Shaft site.  This power supply enabled the existing steam engine driven mine fan to be replaced with an electric motor driven ‘Aeroto’ design, axial flow mine fan capable of moving 250,000 cubic feet per minute of ventilating air. 

Mechanised Mining

Mechanised mining commenced at the colliery in 1938 when a coal cutting machine and a stand-alone conveyor was installed; in 1940 a Jeffrey Manufacturing L400 coal loader, 29L coal cutter, and battery locomotives were installed, along with five-ton carrying capacity drop bottom wagons.  These were all designed to operate on a 3ft 6in gauge rail track. The Jeffrey Manufacturing mining plant installed at this mine and in the other AIS collieries was manufactured in the AIS Port Kembla and the BHP Newcastle Steelworks by agreement with Jeffrey Manufacuring USA. As the need for this plant coincided with World War 2, shipment of plant from the USA to Australia at that time was out of the question.  Early development of areas in the mine chosen for mechanised mining enabled the new plant to be placed in service as it was delivered to the mine. 

F:\29L Jeffrey Coal Cutter Nebo.JPG
Jeffrey 29L Coal Cutter –
AIS Nebo Colliery Photos.

At this time, the surface to underground roadways from the Mount Keira mine pit top to the underground workings were not really suited (in their width and height), to deliver major items of mining plant in to the mine and to transport men and the materials to and from underground.  This problem was addressed by engaging experienced contractors to carry out over a period of several years

  • extension of the existing roadways and driving of new roadways,
  • ‘brushing’ of the floor and the roof of roadways, 
  • correcting the direction of others, and 
  • laying 3ft 6 inch gauge trackwork, from the surface to the underground.
  • Jeffrey L400 Coal Loader
    AIS Nebo Colliery Photos.

The Miners’ Federation and Mechanised Mining

The introduction of mechanised mining created major industrial disputes and strike action by members of the Miners’ Federation and members of other unions involved in the coal industry. The Miners’ Federation was of the very firm opinion that job losses of their members would follow the adoption of mechanised mining, and they argued for nationalisation of the coal industry.  At the Mount Keira Colliery an initial stoppage of 4 weeks duration took place, followed by an 11-week district stoppage related to the conditions of work and rates of pay attached to mechanised mining. 

In the meantime improvements were made at the colliery and these included the erection of a lamp cabin and timekeepers’ offices, the provision of Under Manager/Deputies, , and improvements to the mine bathroom and the mine workshop.

The Kemira Tunnel 

In 1948 the most notable item in the adoption of mechanised mining at the colliery, was the decision by AIS to drive a cross measures roadway into the mine from the Kemira Valley, located to the south east, between Mount Keira and Mount Kembla.  This roadway became known as the Kemira Tunnel and was designed to be 5.0 metres by 3.0 metres in cross section, and driven on a rising grade of 1:375, to intersect the Bulli seam 4.8 km from surface entry. 

Work on the driving of this tunnel was commenced in October 1948 by contractors Farley and Lewers who had been awarded a contract for this work by AIS.  The employees of the contractor were members of the Australian Workers Union (AWU), and the Miners Federation (MF) insisted that these employees become members of the MF while carrying out this work.  This was rejected by both AIS and the AWU members of the contractor, and led to state-wide strike action in the coal industry by members of the MF. In the year 1949 the loss of production as a result of these strikes amounted to 1,880,000 tons, affecting many industries and the NSW and Victorian railways.  The strike was accompanied by some nasty incidents, involving members of the MFU and the AWU, the police force, and the Mount Kembla community.

While the contractor’s employees continued, to drive the tunnel during these strikes, Justice Kelly of the State Industrial Commission was appointed by the Federal and state governments as Arbitrator to hand down a decision on the matter.  Using the authority provided to him, the Kemira Tunnel Arbitration Act No 55 was gazetted in 1949, authorising the work to be carried out by members of the AWU. The decision made by Justice Kelly, was not well received by the MF, and while the driving of the tunnel continued, black bans were placed on the site and hindered the work of the AWU members.  The driving of the Kemira Tunnel was completed in 1954, when the Bulli seam was intersected underground by the tunnel.

The mechanised mining operations at the colliery were carried out in two areas of the mine, the 7 Right and the Main West districts, that were separated from each other by a geological disturbance in the Bulli seam.  The Main West district extended to the west of the mine property and the 7 Right district to the south-west of the No1 Shaft area. Within these two areas individual mining ‘panels’ as they were named, were created, with the mining of the coal carried out in a group of working places, in each of these panels.  Replacement panels were developed as part of the mining operations to accommodate the other panels as they were mined out. 

The coal face in each working place was cut by the coal cutter, then drilled and shot with explosives.  The coal was loaded off the floor of the working place by the coal loader, into the 7.5-ton capacity rail-mounted drop-bottom mine cars hauled by a battery locomotive.  The battery locomotives (two in each panel) hauled the loaded mine car from the coal face to the panel rail shunt, returning to the coal face with an empty car to be filled.  In the 7Right area of the mine the full cars were hauled from the rail shunt by battery locomotive, and dumped into a 250-ton capacity storage bin excavated between the Bulli seam and the Kemira Tunnel below.  The coal in this bin was later loaded into 10-ton capacity mine cars in the Kemira Tunnel, and hauled to the Kemira surface coal handling plant. 

At a later stage in the development of mechanised mining at the colliery the 5 -ton capacity drop-bottom wagons were replaced with 10 ton capacity mine cars, and a rotary dumper was installed at the 7Rt storage bin to unload the 10 ton mine cars. 

The 10 ton capacity mine cars loaded in the Main West area mining panels were hauled to Full and Empty Shunts created at the intersection of the Kemira Tunnel with the Bulli seam.  The full cars from this area were hauled by 25 ton diesel locomotive, along with mine cars loaded from the bottom of the 7Right coal bin, through the Kemira Tunnel to the surface coal handling plant to be rotary dumped and hauled back underground to the locations noted above.  The site chosen in the Kemira Valley to drive the Kemira Tunnel and erect the coal handling plant and rail storage bins provided a direct access to the AIS private railway line for rail haulage to the Port Kembla Steelworks.

While the mechanised mining of coal commenced in 1940, the Contract mining system remained in service in other areas of the mine until 1949.  The termination of that system then ended 92 years of Contract mining at the Mount Keira Colliery.

The National Coal Strike 

In 1949 a strike was called by the Miners’ Federation, seeking improved award conditions and long service leave payments for mine workers.  The strike lasted for seven weeks, and resulted in a major loss of coal production that was to affect both industry and railway services in NSW and Victoria.   Prime Minister Ben Chifley’s response to this strike was to direct armed forces personnel to work the open-cut mines, jail the leaders of the Miners’ Federation union, and freeze the funds of the Miners’ Federation and other unions supporting the strike.  This strike had a profound effect on both the miners and the leadership of the Miners’ Federation. Soon after the strike was settled, a group of new leaders was appointed by the MFU membership.  

The author M. H. Ellis in his book “A Saga of Coal”, noted on page 237, “The power of the disruptors was broken…..”.  Following the strike long service leave award payments were granted to mine workers.

Soon after the 1949 strike a change in the Federal Government took place and Robert Menzies became Prime Minister.  In 1950 the Chairman of the Joint Coal Board that had been established in 1947 resigned, and was replaced by Mr. S. F. Cochrane, who had been Chairman of the Queensland Electricity Board for a number of years.  Mr. Cochrane had a reputation as a brilliant organiser, and was considered well suited to leading the JCB.

Slack Coal and Coke Ovens

Earlier in these notes mention was made of the small coal (the “slack”) being separated by the screens installed at the pit top and discarded as a waste product to the ‘slack heap’.  At that time, there was considered to be no market for small coal. Whilst small quantities of coke had been made from this coal as early as 1875, these were small operations comprised of a few coke ovens, located near the Wollongong Harbour.

In 1888, Mr H. A. Pringle arrived from England as the Manager of the Southern Coal Company (SCC), to oversee the development of a coal mine in the Bulli Seam at Mount Kembla.  Pringle had experience in coke making in England, and was astounded at the amount of small coal being thrown to one side at the mines, as he considered this to be “..waste of a national wealth.”  Whilst his primary reason for being in Australia was to develop a coal mine, soon after his arrival, he laid out a coke making plant of 20 coke ovens at Unanderra and established the Australian Coke Making Company, with SCC a shareholder. 

The erection of coke oven plants at several mines along the escarpment and elsewhere in the Illawarra followed, using the small coal lying in slack heaps at the mines, as the market for coke increased both n Australia and overseas.

Slack Coal Heap – Mount Keira Colliery

In 1952 AIS set out to recover the slack heap at the Osborne Wallsend colliery.  A scraper rope winch and bucket system was used to gather and load this coal into road trucks for delivery to the steelworks, where it was used as a boiler fuel.  It has been estimated that around 106,000 tons of slack coal was recovered over the 3-year period that this facility remained in operation.    

In 1954 the extraction of coal pillars using mechanical equipment was approved after a long period of objection to it by the Miners’ Federation.  The name Kemira (deriving from Kem(bla) and (Ke)ira) was officially adopted for the complex on 7 February 1955. 

In 1955 two ventilation shafts were sunk adjacent to Goondarin Creek behind Mount Keira using the Calyx Drilling Rig. On completion of the sinking of these 2.0 metre diameter shafts, mine ventilation fans capable of exhausting 200,000 cubic feet of air per minute were installed on each shaft, to effect improvements to the ventilation of the 7Right district of the mine. 

F:\Calyx Drill Rig c.1952.jpg
The Calyx Drill Rig.

No2 Shaft

In 1957 a No2 Shaft was sunk using the conventional means of shaft sinking of that era 4 km to the west of the No1 shaft, on the south eastern side of the Mount Keira-Wilton Road.  The mine fan on the No1 Shaft was removed and installed on the No2 Shaft, and the No1 Shaft was modified at surface level to serve as an intake airway. The sinking of this shaft and the installation of a mine ventilation fan was to increase the ventilation needs of the Main West or Bottom Side area of the mine as it was also known.

Continuous Miners and Shuttle Cars

In 1955 the first Joy continuous miner was installed at the colliery and was soon followed by the Joy rubber-tyred, cable reel shuttle car.  The caterpillar-mounted continuous miner combined the roles of both the coal cutter and coal loader in to one machine, and eliminated the need to cut, drill and shoot the coal face.

The Joy Continuous Miner
Courtesy Joy Global Inc

The rubber-tyred shuttle cars that followed were assigned in pairs to each continuous miner panel, and replaced the on-track mine cars and battery locomotive haulage from and to the coal face.

Joy 10SC Shuttle Car
Courtesy Joy Global Inc

In 1959 more continuous miners were purchased and placed in service in four panels in 7Right and one panel in the Main West.  Seven of the original coal cutter and loader units remained in service in the 7Right and the Main West areas of the mine, and were progressively taken out of further service as the daily production from the mine increased, following the introduction of the continuous miner.

Roof Bolting

The supporting of the mine roof using split and wedge anchor type roof bolts was practiced at the mine from 1950.  Compressed air jack hammers mounted on a telescopic leg were used to wet drill the bolt hole in the roof and set the split wedge design bolt anchor and roof plate.

In 1958 a self-contained Fletcher USA rubber-tyred self-propelled mobile roof bolting machine was installed at the mine.  This machine was supplied with electric power from a trailing cable, and was designed to dry drill the roof and collect and capture the dry drill cuttings from a rotary drilling rig attached to a sliding boom mounted across the rear end of the machine.  This latter feature enabled the drilling rig to be moved along the sliding boom, to drill and set the required number of roof bolts holes in the roof over the mine roadway. This machine was extensively used in supporting the roof of the intake and return air roadways of the mine.

Power Supply No1 Shaft   

In 1959 the AIS 33kV collieries power supply system was extended to the No1 Shaft site.  This enabled the 6.6kV power supply to the underground workings being supplied at that time from the mine pit top area to be replaced by a 6.6kV power cable suspended in the shaft, and supplied from the No1 Shaft 33/6.6 kV surface substation. 

Conveyor Belts

In 1961 conveyor belts were installed in the 7Right and Main West areas of the mine.  Coal loaded at the face from the continuous miner was loaded into a shuttle car to be transported to, and quickly unloaded into, a belt feeder located at the boot end of the panel belt.  The belt feeder was designed to accept the coal being rapidly unloaded from the shuttle car to enable the car to return back to the coal face for another load, with the belt feeder discharging the coal on to the panel conveyor belt at that belt’s rated load carrying capacity. 

In the 7Right district the belt conveyor in each panel unloaded the coal on to a trunk belt conveyor that delivered this coal into the 7Right storage bin linked to the Kemira Tunnel below.  Coal from this bin was loaded into 10 ton capacity mine cars in the Kemira Tunnel and hauled by diesel powered locomotives to the Kemira coal handling plant. 

Kemira/Corrimal Collieries Coal Haulage System

In 1964 AIS purchased the Corrimal colliery and a 500 ton capacity coal storage bin was excavated above the Bulli seam, on the adjoining lease boundaries of the Kemira and Corrimal collieries.  This bin enabled the coal mined in Corrimal to be transferred into the storage bin by Corrimal’s conveyor belt haulage system, and be fed from the bin on to the Kemira Colliery trunk belt conveyor system and Kemira Tunnel coal haulage system for delivery to the Kemira surface coal handling plant. 

In 1960 the roof conditions in the 7Right area of the mine had deteriorated to a point where roof bolting was required to support the roof in every working place prior to the continuous miner making the next cut.  An increase in the development of mine by working two shifts of production each day was considered by management as the best option, however this was opposed by the MF. The matter was referred to the Local Coal Authority (LCA) and resulted in the LCA permitting the working of two production shifts in two panels in the 7Right district of the mine.

Longwall Mining 

The adverse roof conditions encountered in the of Bulli seam in 1960, and the adoption of two shift operations led the colliery and AIS senior management to express an interest in the Retreat Longwall mining system.  Whilst this system had been attempted at the Coalcliff Colliery in 1963, and again in 1964 without success, it warranted serious consideration as an option for the future mining operations at the Colliery. Overseas visits were made by officers of the company to research  this system of mining and this led to the placing of an order with a UK manufacturer for a Longwall Retreat mining equipment package.

This equipment was delivered to the mine in May 1965, and by mid-June the equipment had been assembled at the pit top, and powered up for a dry run on the surface.  This was done to familiarise colliery management, the longwall face operators and the maintenance staff with the operation of the longwall equipment when installed and in operation on the coal face.  On completion of this, the plant was dismantled and made ready for transport and reassembly underground. This proved to be a formable task as it involved the transport of some 550 tons of equipment from the surface to the chosen longwall mining site undergound.

300 ton capacity Roof Support included in Longwall Package1965

The first operation of the longwall mining system commenced in June 1965, and the extraction of the No1 Longwall (LW1) block was considered by management to have justified the decision, to adopt this system of mining.  The mining of the LW1 did however reveal problems with mechanical items of the plant that required modification, together with the procedures adopted to shear the coal off the face and operate the powered roof supports.  Industrial issues were also raised by the mine workers and the MF, and these required attention before the mining of LW2 commenced.

In 1965 a similar longwall mining plant package was installed at the South Bulli Colliery, and in 1969 a longwall package was installed at the Appin Colliery.  Following the installation and operation of the longwall at Kemira, the Joy continuous miners at the mine were employed to develop future longwall panels in the 7Rt district, and to extract pillars in the K Panel area of the  Main West district

A total of seven longwall block extractions  followed over a period of seven years and each was accompanied by further plant modifications and component replacements all requiring great patience and persistence by all concerned to fully realise the potential of the longwall mining system.  Over the period 1965 to 1972 a total of 7 longwall blocks were mined and resulted in the production of some 2 million tons of coal. The longwall installation at the Kemira Colliery can rightly claim to have been the first successful installation of mechanised Retreat Longwall mining in Australia.  The performance of this first longwall installation in Australia was closely watched by others in the coal industry. Manning levels at Kemira reached a maximum at 497 men in 1969. 

In 1971 the level of production from the mine had however reached an uneconomic level. The work force was made aware of this situation and advised, that in the absence of some improvement in the daily output from the mine, the Company would have to seriously consider the mines future.  No improvement in the daily production followed these discussions and led to the mining operations being reduced from four to two operating continuous miner panels. In February 1972, 114 employees were made redundant, notices being issued terminating their employment.

In the 1975/6 period the Joy continuous miners that had been in service for some twenty years, were replaced by Jeffrey “Heliminer” continuous miners of modern design and increased production capacity.  In 1976 the decision was made to commence the mining of the Wongawilli seam lying beneath the Bulli seam at the colliery.  Access to this seam was made at the intersection of the Wongawilli seam with the Kemira Tunnel, and a decline access tunnel roadway was driven to link the Bulli and Wongawilli seams in the 7Right District area of the mine.  Output from Kemira reached its peak of 770,684 tonnes of coal in the year to November 1979. 

The ‘Sit-in Strike

In 1982 a worldwide downturn in the market for steel had its effect on the AIS Port Kembla Steelworks and its coal mines.  The production of coal at the Kemira Colliery mine was reduced to one continuous miner unit and this resulted in 189 employees (two thirds of the workforce) being made redundant.  Termination of employment notices were issued, to these employees on the 1st of October, to be effective on the 29th October 1982.

A ‘sit-in’ strike followed, and resulted in thirty of the mine’s employees refusing to leave the mine.  This strike created local and nationwide newspaper and television attention and had support from coal miners locally and in other mining areas. The Ladies Auxiliary of the Miners Federation set up a soup kitchen at the mine portal, and two thousand miners along with the leaders of the MF stormed Parliament House in Canberra protesting the issue of these termination notices without any significant result.

The matter was referred to the Coal Industry Tribunal (CIT) by the MF seeking to have the dismissal notices withdrawn.  Whilst the CIT suggested minor changes be made to the conditions of termination of the employees, these were not adopted by the Company.  On the 29th October the thirty stay-in strikers came out of the mine and the termination of the redundant employees was enacted by the Company.

C:\Users\Ron\Pictures\Coal Miners\Miners Sit in Kemira 1982 A.jpg
Underground Site of Sit-in Strike Workers, 1982

The mining of the Wongawilli seam at the colliery resumed following the end of the sit-in strike until the mine closed as the oldest operating coal mine in Australia in 1992, bringing to an end 140 years of mining at the Mount Keira/Kemira Colliery.

Wongawilli Seam Operations at Kemira Colliery

In 1946, a suitable site for a mine to be developed in the outcrop of the (No3) Wongawilli Seam was prospected in the Mount Keira mine pit top area. Whilst several sites were found  to be unsuitable, a site was chosen, adjacent to the Mt Keira Road. Mining commenced in the outcrop of the seam at that site in April 1946 using a Jeffrey 29L coal Cutter, and L400 coal Loader, and a Battery Locomotive. A train of 6-tonne capacity drop bottom waggons were used to haul the coal mined to the surface and dumped into a 300-tonne capacity storage Bin. The coal from this bin was loaded in road trucks and delivered to the Wongawilli Colliery Washing Plant, where it was washed and mixed with the coal produced at the Wongawilli Colliery.

A second Loader and Cutter was installed in October 1946. The mine workings had by that time advanced some 125 metres from the Portal and were encountering deteriorating roof conditions and surface water entering the workings. After advancing some 870 metres from the surface, the continuing bad roof conditions and ingress of water, led to further mining being abandoned, and the mine closed in September 1950.

The underground mining plant was removed, and the surface Coal storeage Bins was dismantled and along with the mining equipment, transferred to and installed at the abandoned Mount Pleasant Colliery mine site.

The Coal storeage Bin was re-erected, and a Cutter and Loader mining unit commenced mining in the outcrop of the Wongawilli Seam at the Mount Pleasant Colliery in 1951/2. The coal mined was hauled to the surface in waggons by Battery locomotives and dumped into the Coal Bin.

The coal from the mine was loaded in to road trucks and transported to the AI&S Port Kembla Steelworks. This mining operation at Mount Pleasant ceased in 1956, and the reusable equipment and plant transferred to the then Kemira Colliery with the remaining items scrapped.

In 1976, a proposal to mine the No. 3 Seam at Kemira Colliery was adopted to supply Wongawilli Seam coal to the Port Kembla Steelworks, to support the production of Coke for the steel making operations at that plant.

The development of the Wongawilli Seam was commenced by driving an exploratory entry in to that seam, from the existing Kemira Drift roadway where it intersected the Wongawilli Seam some 507 metres inbye of the existing Bulli Seam coal loading Bin. This entry enabled the coal mine during the initial development of the Wongawilli Seam, to be hauled to the Surface Coal Handling Plant using the existing underground to surface Diesel locomotive coal haulage system.

Prior to the commencement of this development, Bulli Seam workings in abandoned Mount Kembla Colliery above were drained of accumulated water. This water was initially directed into the adjacent Mount Pleasant Colliery abandoned workings, and later through a pipeline installed in the Kemira Tunnel to be treated and discharged on the surface.

In 1977/78 two development entry roadways were driven in an area of the Wongawilli seam lying adjacent to the intersection of that seam, with the Kemira Tunnel. A Staple shaft was raised up from the Wongawilli seam to the Bulli seam workings above in the Kemira colliery, to provide for the ventilation of the planned mining operations in the Wongawilli seam.

The development roadways were initially driven using a Joy 1CM3 Continuous Miner, chosen for its ability to the drive roadways, in heavy roof conditions, and later replaced by a Jeffrey Heleminer, a modern fixed head Continuous miner. A small capacity storeage Bin was excavated above the Kemira tunnel to allow the coal mined to be discharged into 10-ton mine cars and hauled through the Kemira Tunnel to the Surface Coal Handling Plant.

The two headings mining layout was chosen to provide a rail track and a return airway, for the installation of a conveyor belt and to provide an intake ventilation air. These roadways were driven to a location, chosen to drive a Cross-Measures Drift roadway, on a rising grade of 1 in 25 and 220 metres in length, from the Wongawilli seam to the Bulli seam above using a Alpine AM50 model Road Heading machine. This roadway intersected the existing Kemira Colliery Transport road and provided a Men and Materials access to the Wongawilli seam, and an intake airway, for the planned Bord and Pillar and Longwall mining operations. The driving of this Drift commenced in June 1980 and was completed in October of that year,  using colliery employees.

A 1200-tonne capacity Wongawilli seam coal storage Bin was excavated above the Kemira Tunnel, approximately 200 metres outbye of the existing Kemira Colliery 7 Right Area Coal Loading Bin in the Kemira Tunnel. A contract to construct the above Bin was awarded to Coya Constructions Pty. Ltd., who commenced the excavation of the Bin in August 1981, and completed the work in September 1982.This Bin was linked to the Bord and Pillar and later the Longwall Panels by a Belt Conveyor.

To provide the required quantity of ventilating air for the longwall mining operations, modifications were made to the Ventilation Fan mounted on the surface at the Calyx Shaft, to increased its ventilating capacity, and a 4.5 metre diameter Staple Shaft was driven underground to link the Wongawilli seam to the overlying Bulli Seam.1

Mining commenced in the Wongawilli seam in 1977 and five (5) Bord and Pillar Panels were developed, followed by the extraction of the pillars, using the Wongawilli System of pillar extraction.

Coal from the 1200 tonne storeage Bin was loaded into 10-ton mine cars and hauled by Diesel locomotive to the Surface Coal Handling Plant. A Conveyor belt was later installed in the Kemira Tunnel to replace the rail haulage system delivering the coal to the above Plant. Whilst the belt conveyor system of coal haulage eliminated the need for rail haulage, the trackwork in the Tunnel was retained, for men and materials transport.

Longwall mining followed and 5 five longwall blocks were extracted.

In 1982 a downturn in the coal and steel industries, resulted in the mining operations being reduced, along with major reductions in the mines workforce.                             

These changes led to a 16 day stay- in strike, by members of the Kemira mining unions, an industrial event, that attracted nationwide attention.

Whilst some four million tonnes of coal had been extracted after some seven years of mining the Wongawilli Seam mining ceased on the 9th September 1991. Whilst a final Longwall block (LW6), had been developed for extraction, prior to the mining of the seam being terminated, this block was not extracted, as a decision was made by management, to remove the longwall equipment and transfer it to the Tower Colliery.

Rehabilitation of the Mine Site 

An extensive rehabilitation of the pit top and adjacent surface areas of the mine followed the closing of the mine. 

C:\Users\Ron\Pictures\Sunrise from Kemira Colliery 2010_12_22\IMG_1996.JPG
Mine Portal
From the D.McBeath Collection.
F:\View of completed  rehabilitation Mt Keira Mine Site.jpg
Mine surface area
BHP Illawarra Coal – Mine Site Records

The information required to prepare this information has been gathered, in the main, from History of the Kemira Colliery 1857-1984 (Author Mr Robert Spires – Colliery Clerk, Kemira Colliery)  


A Timeline – Mt Keira Mine


Australian Agricultural Company coal monopoly in NSW relinquished: other parties now able to develop mines.
James Shoobert opens a tunnel in the No 3 Wongawilli Seam at Mt Keira, having tried unsuccessfully to open mines further north
Shoobert opens the Albert mine in the No2 Balgownie Seam, the first mine in the Illawarra.
First commercial Illawarra coal shipment from Shoobert’s Albert mine loaded on to the paddle steamer William the Fourth in Wollongong Harbour


Shoobert Mt Keira property and mine purchased at auction by Osborne and Robson (August)
Osborne and Robson open Osborne Wallsend mine in the No 1 Bulli Seam above the Albert Mine
A self-acting wide gauge inclinehaulage constructed from the mine portal to the base of Mt Keira (Gooyong Street)


Mount Keira Tramway Act promulgation 23rd May
Tramway completed to Wollongong Harbour from base of incline with wagons drawn initially by horse to the harbour.


The self-acting incline haulage replaced with a narrow gauge endless rope haulage and small coal skips.
Rail system upgraded for steam loco haulage and further facilities erected at base of the incline including screening plant and locomotive service buildings.


NSW Government Rail (NSWGR) purchases section of Mt Keira line from the GR rail level crossing (Beaton Park area) to the Harbour.


Mr Keira rail line connected to NSWGR rail line by a loop line
Osborne family sells Mt Keira Mine to Ebenezer Vickery and Son


Vickery family sells Mt Keira mine to Australian Iron and Steel (AIS) together with the Mt Pleasant Colliery.
AIS restores Mt Pleasant Power House to provide electricity supply by overhead line to the Mt Keira pit top, the No1 shaft ventilation fan and man shaft winder.


Mt Keira connected to a high capacity electric power system supplied by overhead power line from AIS Steelworks.
Abortive attempt made to mine No3 Wongawilli Seam from outcrop of seam at Mt Keira pit top. Mining conditions proved to be extremely difficult.
Driving commenced of haulage tunnel (Kemira Drift) 4.6 km long from Kemira Valley to meet Bulli Seam in Mt Keira mine. Major inter-union dispute over work.
Kemira Tunnel dispute with bans and limitations resolved in favour of AWU over Miners’Federation when Kemira Tunnel Arbitration Act was proclaimed
Contract mining system ended as result of progressive use of mechanised mining using coal cutting and coal loading machines, mine cars and battery locomotives.


1946 attempt to mine No 3 Wongawilli seam had continuing problems with roof support and surface water entry flooding mine workings and was abandoned.
Slack coal dumped over bank at pit top as part of earlier mining practice recovered by AIS and taken to Port Kembla Steelworks for use as a boiler fuel (through to 1955).
Major upgrade of mine ventilation commenced with several new ventilation shafts sunk and additional mine ventilation fans installed over the following three years.
Kemira Tunnel completed, surface coal handling facilities erected, and in-mine rail coal transport system with 25t diesel locos and 10t mine cars from underground
Caterpillar mounted continuous miners and rubber tyred cable reel shuttle cars progressively installed replacing track-mounted coal cutting, and loading machines.
Name of Mt Keira mine changed to “Kemira” from Kem(bla) and (Ke)ira.


Coal transport in mine and from underground to surface tunnel using diesel locos and mine cars replaced by panel and mine wide trunk belt conveyor systems.
First successful fully mechanised longwall retreat mining operation in Australia commenced at Kemira mine.


Longwall mining ceased after the equipment had completed the extraction of eight longwall mining panels producing 1.2 million tons of coal (Feb).


Inclined access roadway driven from the Bulli Seam in the No1 Shaft/7Right area to access and mine the Wongawilli seam. Above seam coal bins and belt roadways excavated adjacent to the Kemira Drift. Project hindered by reductions in employees, 1982 sit in and planned mine closure in 1991 .
Economic downturn. Two thirds of workforce retrenched, and a sixteen day sit-in by 30 miners attracted national attention (Oct).


Final closure of Kemira pit top with removal of plant at Mount Keira and the Kemira Tunnel area and the sealing of entries at both sites (Sept).


Major rehabilitation of the mine site on Mt Keira completed.