I am a amateur freelance writer from Sydney. My passion is Aboriginal history, Australia and its unusual places. My aim is to share my knowledge to better your experience. Thank you
Published July 11th 2013
Fire In the Mine
Coal production for the Lithgow Valley in 1850 was on the smaller end of the scale and wound up in 1979. There were 17 coal mines operating throughout the years. The largest was here, the State Coal Mine.
Established by the NSW Government in 1916 to produce coal for the railways, specifically the Zig Zag, the mine began in 1921 and was one of the largest employers west of the mountains. Lithgow Mine first coal produced in 1921 and in 1929 they were employing 734 men. A large power station once supplied electricity to the mine itself, Small Arms Factory and the Lithgow Hospital. In 1928, when the Lithgow Power Station was opened, it was converted into a bath house for miners, and now displays vehicles, tools equipment and machinery and a enthralling theatrette.
After a tragic fire in the mine, in 1946 a major flood in the mine forced closure and the site was sealed and sold. The buyers kindly handed this wonderful piece of Australian history back to the City of Lithgow in 1990. Its now a museum with the poppet head and the entrance to the Hillside Underground Mine still visible today.
The State Mine Heritage Park have exhibited this fantastic museum and property in the most enticing way. It's a rare opportunity to step into the shoes of a coal miner in the 1920's to the 1950's. A truly emotional journey as we follow the story of miner Ned Curry, who worked as a wheeler, a horse handler, told by his wife Marion reliving her days from 1946, while watching this automatic operated three dimensional Spectravision display.
Marion relives the tragic fire in the mine in 1953 that took the lives of 27 "of the best horses a man could ever have". A fire broke out underground and today still causes discussions of the cause, which occurred at a time of great uncertainty about the future of the mine. Hear about the heroism of the fire fighters and men who recovered the bodies of the 27 trapped in their stall horses.
Imagine how Ned felt the day he was entering a Lithgow Street Parade. His horse a few days earlier had hit its head on a mine prop. Due to the excitement of going above ground and a mixture of sunlight and the horses injury, we learn the horse suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and Ned was forced to shoot it and return to the mine to find a replacement for the Parade. Snow went on to win the Horse and Skip Competition on the day. The pit horses could pull six together. Horses were common in Lithgow mines and remained underground in stables.
Follow the life of a miner and image the danger looming as they entered underground daily. Imagine the fears of the family for their immediate safety and for a safe return at the end of a shift. Hear the tribulations of occasional accidental deaths, some merely by misunderstanding a single horn blast (hence a miner got crushed under the lift down the mine). Envisage the conditions endured of a miner and rescue operations. Learn about the miners cap :amp is 1.5v lead acid type sealed battery. Self rescuers use a conversion compound called "hocalite" converting toxic carbon monoxide into carbon dioxide. These are still in use today.
I may not be sure of the name of every vehicle that I saw or explored, but I can tell you I can imagine how it works and the sheer size of some of these parts are mind blowing for its era. Jump in and climb on continuous miners and vehicles. Anything not behind glass is hands on.
A typical coal skip was one and a half tonnes and each man underground had to dig and fill eight a day. You can touch the coal - it's incredibly deceiving how light it is. Learn how it's made from coal to oil.
Learn about poppets, the metal frame above the mine that lowers the lift. The poppet here, though not original, has been donated by Newstan Colliery, near Newcastle. It is actually on top of the sealed off original mine shaft which was 270 feet or 82 meters deep, comprised of tunnels 8 miles to the north, 10 miles to the west, 4 miles to the east and 2 miles to the south. Even the lift has north, south, east, west marked on the roof. The mine was sealed 13th October 1964.
Signs are reminders of the conditions faced, including a a re-creation of the clocking off system, with battery charger packs and lights and token boards. Charger pack and token boards are still used today as a extra way of making sure every miner returns to the surface.
Explore the grounds at leisure. Skip gantry and rail vehicles used to transport miners along underground and remains of vehicles are displayed. Continuous mining machines are located in various conditions and places.
Much of the equipment, including a fully-functioning blacksmith and welding workshop, is today used for restoring items. The workshop was constructed in 1920's 70 meters long and has 6 major rooms. Skip rails set in concrete were for bringing the coal carrying skips for repair. Mining of the Lithgow Valley can still be seen visibly here on the surface at least; imagine a labyrinth of tunnels, a whole new world underneath your feet.
Conveyor Belt 1200 feet or 400 metres long built in 1952-53, was a "cross measure drift" that went down the coal seam and ran over the top of the bathhouse to an exchange bin near the office building.
Ray the Caretaker, is currently collaborating a book on Baal Bone Mine.
In the train workshop that is leased is the 1891 Glasgow built 2605 2 6 2 Saddle Tank Steam Locomotive. Worth a look for train enthusiasts
I don't know who enjoyed the day more, my son or myself. Other places of interest include the Blast Furnace Park and Two Bridges of Lithgow.