History of Coal in Australia
Modern Australia has been built on the stored energy of coal.
Three-quarters of the electricity which powers present day Australian industry and heats, cools, lights Australian dwellings is derived from coal. This has laid the foundation for a secure and prosperous society.
Australia’s close relationship with coal extends back before Lieutenant Cook arrived on the east coast in HMS Endeavour in 1770. James Cook served his nautical apprenticeship under a ship owner whose vessels worked the North Sea coal trade between northern England and London. The Endeavour began life as a coal transport before being refitted by the Royal Navy for exploration.
It would seem that coal was always going to be in Australia’s destiny.
Colonisers always introduce their culture, and along with that, their favoured technology. With the coal-driven Industrial Revolution picking up steam in their beloved England, the foreign settlers naturally began looking to recreate British conditions, one of which was the use of coal.
Coal was first discovered by Bass and Flinders in the area now known as Wollongong. Soon after, a seam was spotted north of Sydney on what was named Coal River. The resource here proved significant enough to establish a convict settlement in 1804, known as Newcastle on the Hunter River. These days it is the biggest coal export facility in the world.
Not only is coal currently Australia’s biggest export trade, it is the oldest. Sydney began to develop as a port, supplying coal to visiting ships, and in particular whaling ships which needed coal to fuel the boiling down of whale oil during hunting season. Coal had begun fuelling the energy transition.
The coal industry didn’t firmly root until the 1830s. In the fledgling colonies demand was insufficient to sustain mining until the arrival of steam ships bringing the first free settlers, stimulating population growth. Coal-fired steam-driven mining machinery was also introduced, sparking rapid growth.
And so Australia’s first industrial town was born – Newcastle. The coal expansion led to the establishment of salt and lime production, iron, copper, brass, foundries, soap and candle works, cloth and flour mills. The Australian coal industry began to flourish.