William Brownlee came to Australia as a young man, settled in the Tongarra.  Brownlee found coal seams outcropping on the property, and in 1893, drove a tunnel into the Tongarra seam. The coal he mined was used by the Tongarra Creamery. Brownlee received visits from officials of the Australian Coke Making Company who had erected a Coke Ovens Plant at Unanderra, and Thomas Bertram who had plans   to erect Coke Ovens in the Corrimal area, and were both interested in a supply of coal for those Plants.

William Brownlee a the entrance to Tongarra Coal Mine c1900
Courtesy Shellharbour City Museum 000967

In 1903 Henry Owen and his family took the mine over from Brownlee and drove a second tunnel into the outcrop of the Tongarra seam, to mine coal for the Yuoll Company, who were associated with the Corrimal Colliery.

By 1904 the tunnel had advanced some 100 metres from the surface, and funding was made available for the construction of a railway line, from the mine to the Seaboard at Shellharbour. Whilst the construction of the railway rail never eventuated, a survey of the proposed route of the line was completed. In 1904, the Department of Mines Annual Report of that year, noted that the mine had closed, and was later reopened, and four men had been employed, at the mine. In November of 1904, the NSW Mines Department Geologist L.F Harper, visited the mine property to report on the Geology of the Tongarra area, coal samples were taken for analysis, and Harper visited the site again, in 1905.[1]

Henry Owen continued his mining of the Tongarra and drove a second tunnel in a westerly direction, from the inner workings of the mine, in an attempt to intersect coal of an acceptable quality, under the main mountain range to the West.

Owen later ceased the families mining, using the original tunnel entry and drove a tunnel from the seam outcrop on the surface, South of the original tunnel entry driven by William Brownlee. This tunnel intersected a Dyke intrusion in the seam and Owen sought the advice of L.F Harper. Harper inspected the site and prepared a Plan, that set out the position of the above exploration tunnels, and the locations of where he had taken coal samples. This information was included in Harpers 1915 Report, on the Geology of the Southern Coalfields 

Whilst Owen continued his development of the mine, in 1909 he appointed Mr. M. Brownlee as the Mine Manager and ten men were employed to work at the mine.

In December 1909, a severe Bush fire swept across the mine site, destroying much of the mine plant, and ironically, flooded the mine workings.

Following another Bush fire, in July 1910, Owen lodged an application to the Mining Wardens Court, for the suspension of the labour conditions attached to some of the Leases assigned to him.

Percy Owen, the son of Henry became involved in the operation of the mine and  provided a graphic account to the Wardens Court, of his, and the Mine Managers experience during the Bush Fire, and their having been forced to take shelter in the mine, as the Bushfires raged over the site. He stated that capital funding was being sought to replace the surface Plant, and plans were being made to develop the mine as a large-scale operation.

In 1911 two men were recorded as being employed, at the mine and applications were made to the Wardens Court, to suspend the current labour conditions. Other submission followed, relating to the problems involved in continuing mining, and in 1914, the mine was closed.

The mine was reopened in 1932 as the Tongarra Colliery, and whilst  no records exist of this matter, it was claimed by people living in the aera, that the mine had been opened by Sir Henry Parkes, and the mine became known locally, as “Parkes Tongarra”. The mine closed in 1933.

In 1938 the mine was reopened, under the ownership of Messrs. C.E and A.J. Gillard, and R. Reynolds. In 1940 following several more changes of mine ownership, the Mining Leases were transferred to Owens Tongarra Colliery P/L, and in 1943, the Mining Leases were taken over by the Excelsior Collieries Company. Whilst the Tongarra seam was developed to the South and to the West, and some Pillars were extracted, the mine ceasing operations in 1955.

Prior to 1948, there was no electric power supply, to the mine site, and the ventilation of the mine workings was provided by a Furnace shaft, that was later replaced by a mechanical Mine Fan. Water flowing in stream nearby the mine, was used to drive a Pelton Wheel, attached to a small electric generator, to supply the electric power required, to supply the drive motor, attached to the Mine Ventilation Fan. A Steam Boiler was installed adjacent to the Mine tunnel mouth, to provide the steam required to drive the steam engine driven, Endless rope coal haulage system.

A small capacity electricity generating set, was installed on the surface of the mine to charge the Miners Cap lamps, and supply electric power to the Weighbridge, and other surface Plant.

In the late 1940’s plans were prepared by the mine Owners to replace the Contract system of mining at the Colliery, with the Mechanised mining system, and orders were placed for the supply of two Joy 6SC shuttle Cars, a coal Cutter and a coal Loader. Up to this point in time, the mining operations at the Colliery, had been confined to the Tongarra Seam, and in October 1948, an overhead power line was linked to the mine site, and a 25 KVA capacity Transformer was installed.

In 1948 the then Mine Manager, G. Roberts, was able to demonstrate his successful mining of the Wongawilli seam, located some 20 metres above the Tongarra seam.

Tongarra Mine Coal Loader at Tongarra Museum
Courtesy Shellharbour City Museum 000594

This led to the drilling of a surface to seam Borehole in the Robertson area, West of the mountain Range, to confirm the presence of the Wongawilli Seam, to the West of the mine site, and the future mining of that seam. The Wongawilli seam became the principally mined seam at the Colliery, and the Tongarra Seam workings, whilst abandoned, were maintained, on a care and maintenance basis.

View of the Surface Area – Tongarra Colliery ca 1958
Courtesy Shellharbour City Museum 001694

Following the delivery to the mine, of the shuttle Cars, coal Cutters and coal Loaders, originally planned for the mechanisation of the Tongarra seam, this Plant was installed in the Wongawilli Seam. The coal produced from this seam was delivered by road, to two principal Customers, the Tallawarra Power Station and the AIS Port Kembla Steelworks.

Workers at Tongarra Mine, 1950’s
Courtesy Shellharbour City Museum 003173

In 1954 ownership of the mine changed, and Continuous Miners and Shuttle Cars were installed. Mining was carried out on one shift each day, and production from the mine reached 1000 tons per day. The coal was delivered to the surface by conveyor belt where it was Screened, and Sized, and delivered by road to the above two principal Customers.

The mine ceased production in 1965, following the closure of the Tallawarra Power Station.

The mine site was cleared of all Plant following the closing of the mine and the surface area rehabilitated.

[1] Department of Mines Annual Report -1905 pp. 152,153,154,155,156.