Step back in time at the State Coal Mine
Over forty years ago, a changing world finally caught up with the Wonthaggi State Coal Mine. When it opened in 1909 it was a vital part of the state’s infrastructure. The mine supplied coal for Victoria’s steam-driven railways and was so important that the town of Wonthaggi was built to house its workers.
At its peak in 1929-30, over 1800 men were employed in mining 660,000 tonnes of coal. By the late 1960's, however, it was apparent that diesel would fuel the railways of the future and the State Coal Mine was closed. The miners dropped their picks, the ponies were put out to pasture, the fine black dust settled.
But that’s not the end of the story.
Wonthaggi is still a thriving industrial hub, and it’s also popular with tourists, many of whom visit to walk through the re-opened mine shaft and experience the life of a miner almost 100 years ago. The tunnel entrances have been replaced for safety reasons but from that point on, visitors can walk through almost two kilometres of original working that leads 60 metres below the surface.
“Every time I walk underground, I’m in awe of what these men did,” says Braxton Laine, Manager of the mine. “And it’s even more amazing when you consider they excavated the whole thing with picks and shovels and a bit of explosive and some horses to drag the stone and coal out of the way.”
Also amazing for Braxton has been the community spirit that’s saw the mine reopened for visitors. “We’ve had tremendous support from local businesses and from the people of Wonthaggi,” he says. “The volunteers are incredible.” Almost all of the restoration work on the mine was done by volunteers.
Guided tours run twice a day seven days a week, and last about an hour. Visitors need to wear closed-toe shoes. The guides are experienced Parks Victoria staff and volunteers with fascinating stories about the glory days of the mine and the lives of the miners.
Underground, there are original coal faces of the shiny, black high-quality coal Wonthaggi was famous for, and tools, equipment and lights left from when the mine was operational.
Above ground, there’s plenty to see and do with a typical Wonthaggi miner’s cottage exactly as it would have been in the mine’s heyday, complete with veggie patch and chickens. There’s a barbecue area with three barbecues, a pizza oven and outdoor seating, and even a community hall. The visitor centre has ample seating, a theatrette showing a short film on the mine’s history, and a café.
Wonthaggi is 132km southeast of Melbourne. The State Coal Mine is in Garden Street, off Billson Street in Wonthaggi.
For opening times and tour details visit the State Coal Mine.