coal mining

The Australian Coal Mining Industry


Brief History of the Australian Coal Mining Industry

coal miningCoal mining dates back to the early days of Australian history. The very first mention extends back in 1797, when it was first discovered in South Wales by survivors of a ship wreck. Surgeon Bass confirmed the discovery soon after when he found it south of Point Solander. There was no real attempt to utilize the coal as the area was known to be inaccessible. In 1799, Lieutenant Shortland also discovered coal at Hunter River also known as Coal River. Before long, the deposits were utilized and a settlement developed. The township that sprang up is today the port called Newcastle and is said to be among the biggest coalfields worldwide. In 1908, there was more than 1,929,236 tons of coal worth £ 570,022 produced in the South Coast district. Newcastle as a port in the northern district produced 6,511,002 tons of coal that was valued at £2,625,446.

Coal was discovered in Victoria in 1825 at Cape Patterson. Production of coal in the earlier years cannot be confirmed as there are no records showing any mining activity before, but it is said that the Kalcunda area produced the first coal from Victoria to the Melbourne market. As soon as a settlement was established at Moreton Bay and other districts, coal was discovered to exist in Queensland. Brown coal that was of fair quality was also discovered in South Australia in the year 1889 at a place called Kuntha Hill.


Locations of Coal Mines in Australia

In Australia, coal can be found in each state, but there are some areas that are known to be the most productive. The areas with major coal mining activities are Victoria, Queensland and New South Wales. The Bowen Basin is an area in central Queensland covering 23,000 square miles, and is said to have the largest coal reserves in all of Australia.


The Role of Cole Mining in the Australian economy

In the past 30 years coal mining in Australia has grown to be a major export industry. For both NWS and Queensland, coal is the top export earner. Today the Australian economy still largely depends on accessibility to cheap and reliable electricity-in particular coal power stations.

In 2011-2012, the wider resource economy represented 18 percent of added gross value. The ‘Coal mining economy’ accounted for 3.1 per cent which was worth about $43 billion having risen by 18.25 percent since 2006-2007. The wider ‘coal economy’ that includes demand and supply sides made a total of 4.2 percent of added gross value that was worth close to $60 billion in 2011-2012.

There are a lot of mining jobs in Australia, and coal mining employs a workforce of over 180,000 directly or indirectly in 2011-2012. The economic contribution of coal was $43 billion which is a 20 percent increase within a period of six years.


Current Industry Outlook

Coal is today the main source of electricity in Australia at 85 percent. As one of the world’s largest coal producers, coming fourth after China, USA and India, the country produces much more coal than it actually needs; thus over 250 tons of coal are exported annually.

Australia tops the list as world’s largest coal exporter. Japan imports most of the coal product at 40 percent, Korea imports 16 percent and a good amount of the product is also exported by China, Taiwan and India. Coal is the second biggest export earner only second to iron ore and was worth $47 billion in the year 2011. 

There is really nothing glamorous when it comes to coal. Coal does not shine or sparkle, so it cannot be cut and polished like gold or diamond. Coal is not metallic, conductive or malleable, and so you cannot beat it thin.

Coal is black and sometimes brown in color but typically ugly. Coal resembles a very dark rock and leaves dark smudges everywhere. Coal is not very expensive and to make good profit, coal mining is done on a large scale.

Mining coal is not easy but the major characteristic that makes the mining efforts worthwhile is that it burns very well and yields significant energy that is by far more than the equivalent wood weights. For this reason, humans have throughout history sought coal for fuel purposes. In the Bronze Age, the British used coal in funeral pyres some five thousand years back. There is also evidence that coal was also used by the Aborigines in Australia for hundreds or even thousands of years.

Coal has been used in various ways since the industrial revolution. First it was used as steam engine fuel and sometime later as an electricity source as well as in metal refinement processes.

It is said that black coal reserves should still last some 100 years at the current rate of mining. Brown coal whose reserves are much more extensive, could last up to 500 more years at the current rate of coal mining.

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