Austar mine celebrates 100 years since mining started at Pelton

Austar Coal Mine held a special event on Friday to celebrate 100 years since mining began at Pelton.

The event recognised the contribution of the thousands of men and women who have worked at the mine, while providing an insight into the changing face of the local resources sector.

Surface operations commenced at the Pelton Colliery (now part of the Austar Coal Mine) in April 1916, and the mine became a key employer of the South Maitland Coalfields.

Underground mining commenced at nearby Ellalong in 1978, and ceased at Pelton 12 years later.

An open cut mine operated at Pelton from 1995, entering rehabilitation phase after three years.

In 1998, the Pelton and Ellalong collieries amalgamated with Bellbird South and were renamed Southland Colliery.

After an underground fire in 2003, the mine went into care-and-maintenance mode until it was bought by Yancoal the following year and renamed Austar.

It is the last remaining coal-producing mine in the Cessnock area and currently employs 240 people.

“Throughout its many owners and operators, the Austar Coal Mine has been an important part of the history of Cessnock and the surrounding region, providing employment and training opportunities for entire generations of local families,” Austar operations manager Brian Wesley said.

“Austar has seen its share of highs and lows throughout the various coal cycles and we are very proud to be playing our part in its continuing legacy.”

The centenary event was held at Cessnock Leagues Club, attended by a number of current and former mine managers, Yancoal Australia CEO Reinhold Schmidt and Cessnock mayor Bob Pynsent.

Former manager John McKendry, who started working at the mine in 1961, recalled the tough times of the 1950 and ‘60s, when about 20 coal mines in the Cessnock area were closed – but Pelton continued to thrive.

The mine has pioneered technology throughout its time – Ellalong had the first longwall in the South Maitland Coalfields in 1983, and Yancoal introduced longwall top coal caving technology to Australia at Austar in 2006.

Greig Duncan was the first general manager at Austar under Yancoal from 2004 to 2008.

He said the mine is a complex site which took a “fair bit of fine tuning” to get up and running again, and praised the workers for their efforts in his time there.

“I couldn’t speak highly enough of the people who worked there,” Mr Duncan said.

Mr Wesley, who started at Austar in 2015, said while there’s no doubt the mine will have its challenges in the future, it also has a lot of opportunities.

“We have got a good and motivated workforce who want to make the mine a success and move it forward,” he said.

Mr Wesley said Austar is proud to be part of the local community and support local initiatives like Cessnock City Council’s Youth Employment Project and Mayoral Academic Scholarships.

A pictorial booklet documenting the mine’s history was produced for the occasion and will be available at Cessnock Library.

See some of the photos from the mine’s history and the centenary event in the gallery above.

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