Not mine anymore

This week’s bite of history came about from cataloguing the Quinalow Library Local History Collection. Looking through some of the books I got discussing with Jen which place names were properties, which were towns and which were localities, and that got me thinking about those little towns that don’t technically exist anymore. This naturally made me think of Acland and so I went searching the Queensland Heritage Register for information about the Acland No 2 Colliery (former).

Image: Acland Coal Mine 2006 Source: Qld Heritage Staff

Image: Acland Coal Mine 2006
Source: Qld Heritage Staff

The Former Acland No 2 Colliery is a small underground coalmine close to Oakey on the Darling Downs. It comprises most of the above ground structures associated with the mine together with associated machinery, filled in mine portals and spoil heap.

Coal was one of the first minerals in Queensland to be commercially mined. However, development of the coal mining industry was slow. Until the 1950s, coal was produced to supply the local market only: steamships at first; followed by steam locomotives later in the 19th century.

A symbiotic relationship existed between Queensland Government Railways and the coal industry. Queensland Railways was the coal industry’s largest customer since coal supplies were essential to the functioning of the rail network. At the same time rail transport was essential to the viability of coalmines: a mine could not survive commercially unless it was directly linked to the rail network. In Queensland, development of the coal industry was closely linked to the growth of the rail network.

From the late 1950s, the industry experienced major change owing to the conversion from steam locomotives to diesel locomotives by Queensland Rail, the rapid growth of the export market and the development of large-scale open cut mining. By the end of the 20th century, Queensland was the nation’s largest coal producer and over 90% of the state’s coalmines were open cut.

Coal exploration in the eastern Darling Downs was initially stimulated by demand for coal at the locomotive depot in Chinchilla. After a branch line opened between Oakey and Cooyar in c1913, mining commenced in the Acland region in the vicinity of the railway line. The first coalmines in the district included Sugarloaf Colliery, Kingsthorpe Mine, Balgowan Colliery, Willaroo Mine and the Acland Coal Company Limited Mine. The Acland No 2 Colliery opened in 1929.

Image: Acland Coal Mine Map Source: Qld Heritage Staff

Image: Acland Coal Mine Map
Source: Qld Heritage Staff

Initially at Acland, coal mining utilised manual methods. Coal was excavated from the mine face and loaded into ‘skips’ using hand implements. The skips were moved manually along an underground tramline to the main underground haul road. Here, they were attached to a steam operated cable and pulley system that hauled them to the pithead.

When the skips arrived at the pithead they passed over a weighbridge. Until the 1950s, the miners’ pay was based on the weight of coal that they produced. They used a tag system to identify their skips. The weighbridge and tally desk used for determining the weight of coal each miner excavated survive extant at Acland.

The introduction of electricity in the Oakey area in the late 1940s stimulated increased mechanisation of the area’s coalmines. Conversion to more mechanised methods at Acland commenced in the early 1950s.

In 1951, the gauge of the underground tram rail was increased and the underground tunnels were widened to permit the access of small diesel locomotives. Two Jenbach 15 locomotives were introduced in 1952 together with larger steel skips. Mechanical tipplers (still extant) were installed at the pithead to handle the new steel skips. The tippler was a device for emptying the coal from the skips into the coal processing plant.

In 1953, a new screening plant was installed. Contamination of Acland coal with foreign material had been a source of concern to the mine’s customers. The new plant ensured the production of cleaner, graded coal. The screen has now been removed from the mine site.

The new plant also included two elevators of steel construction and a 30 feet by 4 feet picking belt. The picking belt was used to facilitate the removal, by hand, of rock from the coal. Oversized pieces of coal could also be manually crushed with hammers. Elsewhere, skip haulage and hand-picking became obsolete but at Acland these methods continued to be used until the mine’s closure. The elevators were used to convey the processed coal to the top of the hoppers for loading into train wagons. The picking belt and elevators survive intact at the mine.

The screening plant was driven by seven new electric motors. An electrical switchboard and switching equipment was installed to provide power to the motors.

The haulage system was converted from steam to electricity in 1954 with the installation of a 90 horsepower electric motor winch. The existing steam plant continued to be used for back-up. The steam plant has been removed but the winch room containing the electric winch and associated machinery remains intact.

Further improvements were made between 1955 and the end of the decade. These included installation of a surge bin with a conveyor feed chain under one of the tipplers and a new blacksmith’s shop. The gantry was redecked and its roof was raised.

In 1955 and 1956, a new Jenbach diesel locomotive, a Sampson coal cutter and a Sampson coal loader were introduced. By 1958, the mine had a facility for servicing machinery underground. A Minesmobile Loader was purchased in 1973.

Two Jenbach locomotives and a Sampson coal loader displayed at the site were used in the mine. A coal cutter on the site was assembled from spare parts from elsewhere.

Image: Acland Coal Mine 2006 Source: Qld Heritage Staff

Image: Acland Coal Mine 2006
Source: Qld Heritage Staff

From the late 1950s, the small coal mines in the Acland area began to fall victim to the major changes taking place in the coal industry. The demand for coal to supply Queensland Rail, traditionally a major customer of the small mines, dramatically fell during the 1960s owing to the conversion from steam to diesel locomotives. Another key factor was the shift to more efficient large-scale mining leading to the dominance of open cut mines. By 1971, the Acland No 2 Colliery was the only coalmine left on the Darling Downs.

The mine continued to operate until November 1984, supplying coal to the Toowoomba Hospital. When the mine closed, the mine structures were bought by Kath and John Greenhalgh, the owners of the farm on which the mine was located. The Greenhalghs kept the mine intact and opened it as a museum. In 2000, when the Greenhalghs decided to retire from the land, they sold the mine to the Rosalie Shire Council. It ceased to operate as a museum from that time.

The mine has survived almost completely intact. In addition to the tramway system and most of the coal processing plant, most of the ancilliary buildings survive. These include the workshops, manager’s office, crib room and lamp room complete with battery chargers and miners’ lights, explosives store, ventilation shafts and fan rooms, bathroom, switch room and a miner’s hut.

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