1. Colonisation and the 1800s
Newcastle is discovered; John Platt - our first miner; John Bigge recommends mines be privatised; the Australian Agricultural Company monopoly; British miners recruited; coal market starts to grow; the struggle between miners and owners begins; the Illawarra and Lithgow areas start to develop; Queensland’s early coal history; regulation of mining begins; the birth of the coal mining union movement; a bitter dispute wrecks the union; new companies Scottish and Waratah enter; Newcastle producers combine to form the first vend; Lithgow vend commences; Newcastle vend collapses; AACo fails to destroy the district union; Bulli – Australia’s first major coal disaster; new Act takes years to pass; major disputes followed by the 1890s depression.
2. Federation to World War One
The industry at the turn of the century; Sydney’s dependence on coal; a growing coal export trade; Newcastle a bustling mining and port city; Ipswich coalfield dominant in Queensland; Wollongong and Lithgow: coal towns; safety standards were poor and mining technology was primitive; a decade of growth begins; the Mt Kembla Disaster; gas and naked lamps a potent combination; the Mt Kembla inquiries; mine manager becomes the target; chief inspector’s efforts bear fruit; the South Maitland coalfield starts to boom; the Newcastle mines experience tough times; Queensland mechanisation begins; industrial relations enters a new era; strikes become political; Queensland miners’ union finally gets set; the Vend: the infamous northern district coal selling cartel; nationalisation and state-owned mines; Queensland Labor’s agenda starts in earnest; Minmi – an early enterprise bargaining agreement; the Commonwealth becomes a coal industry regulator; birth of Australia’s steel industry.
3. The Lost Years: between the wars
The 1919 Royal Commission; Commonwealth passes new industrial legislation; Bellbird disaster and the 1926 Royal Commission; Queensland State mines – one failure, but also some progress; the Northern lockout; Davidson Royal Commission; Great Depression devastates the nation; Queensland moves to regulate the industry; the union war to oppose mechanisation fails; the new guard at the Miners’ Federation; the curse of intermittency; national strike of 1938; Royal Commission on safety and health; companies go backwards.
4. World War Two: the Industry Fails to Meet the Challenge
Union’s big wins on compulsory retirement and miners’ pensions; Menzies meets the striking miners; first national coal board; Japan now a direct threat to Australia; Government strengthens controls on the industry; Curtin rejects Federation proposals.
5. The Industry at the End of World War Two
The mines and companies; housing and mining communities; miners’ health was poor; contract mining system a blight on the industry; a brief profile of some of the larger mines; working arrangements.
6. The Joint Coal Board and Queensland Coal Board Era Commences
Davidson Inquiry finds an industry in crisis; mixed reactions to the Davidson report; Chifley Government rejects the Davidson model; Joint Coal Board’s strong powers; the Joint Coal Board makes its presence felt; Queensland goes its own way; expert review of Queensland industry; Blair Athol report stimulates interest in Queensland.
7. Post War Industrial Relations
Miners win gains in wages and conditions; a strike like no other; Queensland dispute level better than NSW; the psychology of the striking miners.
8. Mechanisation the Catchcry: the 1950s
Mechanisation in NSW now full steam ahead; industry mission looks at mechanisation overseas; Queensland Coal Board maps the way forward; pillar extraction breakthrough achieved; industrial relations improve; JCB and CIT have a positive impact; impact of incentive schemes and mechanisation also positive; Queensland mechanisation proceeds slowly; Australia forced to import coal; coal prices, subsidies, taxes and profits; Menzies and McEwen open trade relations with Japan; Australian coal industry grows while Japan’s falters; Japan steel companies now look to Australian coal; the coal crisis - the decline of the Greta seam mines; Queensland underground job losses and quotas; power station plans give hope to the NSW industry; mine workers’ health gets greater attention; minesite amenities improve.
9. The Queensland Giant Comes Alive
Sir Leslie Thiess - Queensland coal pioneer; Utah explores the Bowen Basin; Utah begins to mine; Utah’s massive Goonyella and Peak Downs contracts; other Bowen Basin developments also taking shape; pressure on NSW to nationalise the industry; NSW ports prove a major bottleneck; Queensland Government exits coal mining; Coal and Allied Industries is born; US billionaire bursts onto the scene; NSW industry starts a reorientation to the export market; Wonthaggi colliery finally closes; Miners’ Federation open cut ban lifted; continuous miners spread, early longwall trials fail; Queensland underground mechanises, many mines close; concerns emerge over export prices to Japan; coal regions – some grow, some struggle; the next 50 years.
Denis Porter was CEO of the NSW Minerals Council (1998 to 2001) and a senior staff member of the Council and the NSW Coal Association (1989 to 1998). He was also Joint Executive Director of the Australian Coal Association (1998 to 2001). Denis had an ongoing association with the coal industry after he left the Council, for several years as a consultant, and also as a trustee director of the industry superannuation fund, Mine Super, and as a director of Mine Super Services.