Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Tongarra Mine Memories

In 1893 William Brownlee of Tongarra started mining a coal seam on hisproperty.The Albion Park Butter Factory had opened inCalderwood Road and in 1894 William sold his coal to the factory for their machinery operations. William built a cottage of local sandstone for his family which still stands today.
The coal at Tongarra was regarded as being of the best quality and was put on par with Newcastle. William Brownlee was able to sell the coal to operate the machinery at the creamery.
After years of traveling to the mine atop the coal trucks, the miners demanded a bus. WJ Harris who ran a car hire service in town, put ona bus for them in 1945. Claude Harris (WJ Harris’ son) drove the 52 miners every morning from 1945-1960. It was a wild road up to the mine and there wasn’t any room to pass coal trucks coming down. Claude would often have to back the bus all the way down to the bottom of the bank to let the trucks pass. Claude would leave the bus up at the mine and ride a Norton motorbike back down again. He would ride back up to the mine on the bike to pick up the miners again. He would leave his motorbike in one of the mine tunnels overnight. He has fond recollections of the mine -
The Miners
Contract miners were paid by the amount of coal they produced. Miners worked in pairs with a small lamp on their cap to see what they were doing. Coal was dug out with picks and shovelled into wooden skips. A small pony would pull the skip along the rails to ‘The Flat’ where it was attached to a steel cable and pulled to the surface by a winch.
Billy Break
The miners would open the boiler and stick in the Billy to boil the water. When it was boiled they would add tea leaves and then put in back in the boiler to brew.
Blasting the Coal
The coal seam was only 4’6’’ high and the miners could not stand upright. The men would come out of the mine at the end of the day holding their backs. At times, coal was blasted out. Shots were fired into hard sections of the wall by drilling holes, ramming in the powder, hiding around the corner and then firing the shots with the detonator.
Smoking was a little bit common in the mines in those days but it was very illegal. Then there’d be a scare! The management would be waiting for the miners to walk out of the pit and there would be a smoke and matches search.
Snakes were up there everywhere. Bill Thomas used to travel on the bus to the mine and used to feed a pet diamond python in the bathroom every morning. Jack Brownlee used to catch snakes up there - black ones, brown ones and diamond snakes. The men would bring these home on the bus.
‘Tongarra Mine since 1945’ Claude Harris in ‘A Short History of Tongarra Mine’ The Tongarra Heritage Society, 1996

Tongarra Mine Site 1958.
Shellharbour Images, Shellharbour City Libraries.

Tongarra Mine Storeroom after a landslide c.1955.
Shellharbour Images, Shellharbour City Libraries.

Tongarra Mine Workers in the 1950s.
J Noon, O Timbs, C Dawes.
Shellharbour Images, Shellharbour City Libraries.


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