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An Unofficial History of Coal Mining in the Illawarra

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Huntley Colliery
Workshop 1960
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Huntley Colliery 1946 1989

Located below the escarpment at Avondale, west of Dapto, Huntley Colliery was first opened as a small hand worked mine from the outcrop in the Tongarra seam of the Illawarra Coal Measures by the Waugh Bros. (Phil, Frank and William) in 1946.

woll0152.jpg (71517 bytes)Originally named Huntly, as the family had an affiliation with Huntly in New Zealand, it was purchased by the Joint Coal Board on 27th July, 1951 and by the Electricity Commission of NSW on 15th June, 1955 to service the requirements of the newly constructed Tallawarra Power Station on the western shores of Lake Illawarra.

Mr. M.(Mick) N. Nielsen was appointed the first Mine Manager in October 1951.

The power station came on stream with No. 1 Unit going on full load on the 6th September 1954. Other units progressively came on stream up to 1961 when the commissioning of No. 6 Unit gave the station a total capacity of 320 MW. Coal was transported to the power station some 7.5 km by road.

The mine continued to expand and with the increasing world demand for coking coal, both domestic (Australian Iron and Steel - AI&S) and export (Japanese) markets were sourced.

In December 1985 it was reported in the Illawarra Mercury that an unusually high rate of a rare form of cancer had been diagnosed amongst the miners at Huntley Colliery.

By 1966 the mines production peaked at 1,037,829 tons (weighed) - the first to exceed a million tons in a year in Australia - and remained near this level for 14 years with a maximum of 488 employees.

bs16.jpg (80119 bytes)In January, 1967 a dense media washery was commissioned to produce a high fluidity coking coal.

As rail was not available, coking coal was transported to the BHP Port Kembla steel works or coal loader by road, approximately 20 kms from the washery site.

Additional leases were sought and granted, by an extension southerly to Macquarie Pass.

In June 1982, a decline in the world demand for high quality coking coal and a downturn in power generation requirements led to a sequence of rationalisation to cope with the reduced demand. This coincided with the conclusion of Huntleys contract with AI&S.

On 17/01/1983, the adjacent Avondale Colliery closed and was purchased by Huntley, incorporating it into their leasehold.

In 1983 Huntley was limited to a reduced capacity of 450,000 tons/annum to supply Tallawarra Power Station (itself operating out of priority) and/or for local or export consumption. A system of natural attrition was introduced reducing the workforce by 91 to 349.

bs4.jpg (53957 bytes)Modifications to the coal beneficiation system were added in 1983/84 by way of a dry screening plant prior to the washery, virtually eliminating the production of tailings.

In December 1985 it was reported in the Illawarra Mercury that an unusually high rate of a rare form of cancer had been diagnosed amongst the miners at Huntley Colliery. Seven men were currently unable to work, diagnosed with lymphoma (out of a workforce of 400) and two others had died from lymphoma during the 1960s.

A major investigation was approved in February 1986, funded by the Federal Government and headed by Dr. Steve Corbett of the South Coast Workers Medical Centre (who raised the alarm initially) and Dr. Barry ONeill, a Wollongong Hospital haematologist. A comprehensive workplace environment survey was undertaken at the colliery by a combined group of selected persons becoming known as the Lymphoma Committee.

As the cause of non-Hodgekins lymphoma was unknown, tests were conducted relating to oil mist, airborne dust, radon levels, electrostatic and electromagnetic fields, the presence of particular substances in the atmosphere and any unusual levels of certain chemicals, herbicides, pesticides and PCBs.

bs17.jpg (75202 bytes)Nothing was identified as being especially different and the investigation concluded the incident was simply a statistical anomaly. However the investigation prompted the commencement of a cancer register to assist in tracking down the incidence of all cancers among Southern Districts coal miners.

Meanwhile, in 1987, further manning reductions were found to be necessary and  a Voluntary Retrenchment Scheme was introduced, reducing the workforce by a further 120 to 229, with coal delivered to Tallawarra being restricted to a maximum of 280,000 tonnes/annum.

In 1989, discussions surrounding the proposed plans to expand Tallawarra Power Station by the addition of 2 x 660 MW generators (C station) were revived and lifted expectations at the mine and within the local community. However, the decision was made not to proceed. This subsequently led to the demise and closure of Huntley Colliery.

On 14th June 1989 the Chairman of the Electricity Commission of NSW announced the closure of Tallawarra Power Station and Huntley Colliery. On 17th July 1989 the total workforce of Huntley was retrenched.

The closure was completed on the 12th, 13th and 14th of August 1989, when an auction was held on site of all the collierys remaining equipment including;

  • 5 x 5012N Marietta continuous miners,

  • 1 x AM50 Alpine continuous miners,

  • 15 x HE 10-50 shuttle cars,

  • 4 x 24 seat Gemco Battery man cars,

  • 2 x 25 tonne Gemco Battery locomotives,

  • 1 x Baldwin diesel locomotive,

  • 2 x Mine fans (162 & 96),

  • 10 x auxiliary underground fans,

  • 15 drive heads and 21 km of conveyor belt,

  • 30 km of Victaulic pipe,

  • 1 x 400 t/hr dense media washing plant,

  • 6 x motor vehicles, etc etc.

On the 6th September 1989, after allegations that toxic material had being dumped underground in the 1960s, a committee was set up under Mr. R. Burbidge QC and a further inquiry related to the lymphoma concerns was instigated.

After taking evidence in both Sydney and Wollongong Courts, adjourning for several weeks to permit additional testing, the final hearing was on 16th March 1990.

Mr. Burbidge QC, in his executive summary of the inquiry report stated in part;

The Committee concludes that there has been established no identifiable circumstance peculiar to Huntley Colliery likely to increase the risk of persons contracting cancer. Dated 9th April, 1990.

bs3.jpg (27526 bytes)During the majority of its lifetime Huntley Colliery worked both the Wongawilli and Tongarra seams simultaneously. A bord and pillar mine, utilising pillar extraction, the underground workings were serviced by rail and rubber tyred equipment. Rubber tyred self propelled vehicles loaded with supplies were piggybacked by flattops from the surface to within approximately 1 kilometre of the working faces. In the main the Tongarra seam was serviced only by rubber tyred vehicles.

Access was by adits directly into the outcrop, a 1:17 drift from the Tongarra seam up to the Wongawilli seam with all coal exiting the mine via the Tongarra seam after passing though a 1000 tonne inter-seam bin from the Wongawilli seam. A Bradford Breaker was installed at seam level prior to a crushing plant from where it descended by overland conveyor to the coal preparation plant at the base of the foothills. Coking and fuel coal products were transported by road to either Pt. Kembla or Tallawarra Power Station, the rejects being transported by conveyor and then truck to one of several stockpiling areas or utilised in the making of tailings dams on site.

bs7.jpg (32700 bytes)Ventilation of the Wongawilli seam was by means of a 280 metre upcast shaft and a 162 Hi Flow centrifugal fan drawing 150 m3/sec and serving 6 continuous miner panels.

The Tongarra seam was ventilated independently by a 96 Richardson axial flow fan situated at the seam outcrop, drawing some 70 m3/sec and serving 2 continuous miner panels.

Typical roadway support during the mid 1980s was:-

  • Wongawilli seam 4.7 m wide with 4.5 m purlins or straps at 1.5 m centres. 2.7 m x 25 mm chemically anchored roof bolts (2 per strap with a centre bolt when required). Continuous rib strapping using 1 m bolts at 1.5 m centres.

  • Tongarra seam 4.3 m wide with 4 hole x 4 m W straps at 1 m centres. 2.1 x 25 mm chemically anchored roof bolts (4 per strap at 1.2 m centres) Continuous rib strapping retained by 1 m bolts at 1.5 m centres.

The transition to longwall extraction was the subject of several studies but did not get beyond the feasibility stage.

bs8.jpg (18241 bytes)The leasehold is dissected by numerous WNW-ESE trending dykes, (approximately 6 per square km), a large area of the Tongarra seam cindered and the Wongawilli seam has been intruded by major silling (one borehole indicating > 20 metres thick), all contributing to difficulties in mine development layout.

Indicated recoverable reserves (>2.0m section) remaining in the Wongawilli and Tongarra seams upon closure was in excess of 70 million tonnes.

Mine Managers have included:-

M. N. Nielsen  Oct. 1951 Jan. 1961

Daniel Hanrahan  Jan.1961 Apr. 1964

Harold Sharp  Apr. 1964 Apr. 1965

Roger Marshall  Apr. 1965 Apr. 1968

Don Eager  Apr. 1968 Aug. 1980

Rod Burston (Dep. Man.  Nov. 1979);  Mine Manager Aug. 1980 closure.

Typical Coal Specifications 1989

Washery Feed
(Wongawilli/Tongarra coal ratio 65/35%)


Wongawilli seam coal

Tongarra seam coal

Ash% (a.d.)



V.M.% (a.d.)



Spec. En. (Mj/kg)



S (total)%



M (inherent)%




Washery Product


Fuel coal to Power Station

Coking coal

Ash% (a.d.)



V.M.% (a.d.)



Spec. En. (Mj/kg)



M (total)% (a.s.)







38 x 0.5 mm

16 x 0 mm




Ash Fusion (deg C)






Gray King



Max. Fluidity  (ddm)



Max. Mean Reflect.