Okay, so we've all heard about the booming coal industry on the news and in the papers and we all know that it generates millions of dollars into the economy every year but it is hardly something you would associate with a weekend outing now is it?
Well before you write the idea off totally, let's consider a few simple little facts; it was in Newcastle that the first coal ever found in Australia was discovered back in 1797 near Glenrock Lagoon. The original settlement of the area of Newcastle in 1801 was named Kingstown then changed to Coal River before finally being renamed Newcastle in 1804 after England's famous coal port and today Newcastle's coal terminal actually exports the largest volume of coal off shore not only in Australia but in the entire world. So it is safe to say that although it was once known as the steel city, Newcastle has since forged a reputation as being the coal capital of the world.
Words or pictures can't quite grasp the scale and magnitude of the of the coal industry in and around the Newcastle/ Hunter region. It is something that has to be seen to be believed. Think really big, think really expensive, times that by ten and now you're starting to get close. So if you haven't already, then maybe it's time you took a look at what all the fuss is about.
The best place to start is, well, at the start. A coal mine. This is where the coal is of course extracted from the ground. However getting on to a mine site just to have a sticky beak is not quite as easy as it sounds. There are companies that can organise guided tours of mine sites such as the CIC Coal Industry Centre. However there are plenty of vantage points around a lot of the mine sites that allow you to get a good grasp of what goes on without having to step foot on the property. In essence an open cut coal mine is after all, just a very big hole in the ground and they aren't the easiest things to conceal from the public.
Hunter Valley Operations, one of the biggest mining operations in the area has a public viewing platform where its main coaling operations can be viewed of Lemmington Road between Singleton and Muswellbrook and there are many vantage points of several different mines along this road, the Golden Highway and the New England Highway. Most of these are open cut mines and many more underground mines can be found in the Lake Macquarie area.
The coal is washed and graded at the mine coal handling preparation plants (CHPP) and sent to either the power stations that have been built in close vicinity to the mines for ease of transportation (either on conveyor systems or by trucks using private haul roads) or loaded on trains and sent into the coal terminals at Newcastle for export to overseas countries including Japan and China where it is used in the manufacture of steel products and thermal power stations.
Coal train movements between the Hunter Valley and Newcastle are phenomenal transporting hundreds of thousands of tonnes per day. The coal rail system is currently being expanded as coal mines increase their production to keep up with demand for coal in the overseas markets. All roads (or tracks) lead to the port of Newcastle. Carrington and Kooragang Island Coal Loaders.
This is of course where the coal is unloaded from the train, stockpiled and then loaded onto ships for export. Port Waratah Coal Services run the loaders and the Kooragang Coal Terminal being the bigger of the two is capable of loading ships at 10500 tonnes per hour and can hold four ships at a time. Anyone that has ever visited a Newcastle beach before will have no doubt remembered the costal horizon being occupied by coal ships sometimes as far as the eye can see. It's almost iconic of this city. Sometimes a little too close for comfort as in the June 2007 storms when the coal ship Pasha Bulker ran ashore at Nobbys Beach.
And while no one can dispute the environmental impacts that mining has on the planet on the bright side Newcastle owes its existence to the fact that the area is rich in the natural mineral resource that started its existence as plants and developed over millions of years into coal. So it's great to take the time out to look around and discover your city's heritage.