A History of the Greta Coal Measures: Preamble

NB: This preamble was written by David Wells, the former Curator of the Newcastle Regional Museum in 1998 when the site was first published at http://hosting.collectionsaustralia.net/newcastle/greta/background.html. The site has since been archived by the National Library of Australia and may be viewed at http://pandora.nla.gov.au/pan/100781/20090610-1630/hosting.collectionsaustralia.net/newcastle/greta/frames.html

The Greta Coal Measures are a Permian (245 million year old) coal bed located in the state of New South Wales on the east coast of the continent of Australia. The Greta Coal Measures have been one of the most intensely worked coal-fields in the country. Yet most people today associate the region around Maitland, Cessnock and Greta with wine-making rather than coal production, as the collieries have all but disappeared.

At their peak in 1925 these collieries employed 10,519 staff and produced 5.48 million tons of high quality low-ash coal (40% of the State’s production)¹ from two major sources - the Greta and Homeville seams. This coal is part of a continuous band running from the Illawarra to Southern Queensland. Around the Greta-Cessnock district it uplifts dramatically and is relatively close to the surface - therefore proving economical to extract.

Mining commenced in 1862 not far from the town of Greta. By 1886 the Government Surveyor, T.W. Edgeworth David, had mapped the entire coal-field. These mines spawned the towns of Telarah, East Greta, Heddon Greta, Stanford Merthyr, Pelaw Main, Kurri Kurri, Weston, Abermain, Neath, Kearsley, Abernethy, Kitchener, Aberdare, Paxton, Pelton and Bellbird. Only Cessnock had existed before the field was opened and it, in turn, quickly grew to accommodate the burgeoning mining population.

The coal was used both within Australia and exported to overseas markets including Japan, Chile and the United States. Tonnages peaked during the 1920s but the 1930s depression caused a downturn in production and high unemployment. The Second World War temporarily halted this decline with increased production for the war effort. By the mid-1960s, however, there was less demand for coal and technological advances in other mines made the coal-field less competitive. Ellalong No. 2 shaft, the last mine operating in the area, appears likely to close at the time or writing.

John Delaney has assembled a unique manuscript which describes in minute detail the work, the people and the society of each of the sixty-six collieries that operated on the Greta Coal Measures between 1861 and 1995. Individual mine histories are complemented, where possible, with historic images and plans that show the layout of each mine at its time of closure.

The information contained within this presentation will be of considerable interest to both the casual and serious researcher as well as representatives from the coal industry.

David Wells
Curator, Newcastle Regional Museum, April, 1998

¹ E. Davies & E.E. Tonks, ‘The Development of the Greta Coal Measures of New South Wales’, in, Proceedings of The AusIMM Centenary Conference, Adelaide, 30 March - 4 April 1993, pp 353-365.