Mining History

Since the earliest days of European settlement in the Southern Highlands, there has been exploration for useable resources, and the mining of those resources.

In 1833, Surveyor Jacques discovered iron-bearing ore near Mittagong. Plans to begin building a railway from Sydney prompted the need to make iron from these deposits and in 1848 the first iron was smelted in Australia at Mittagong. However, if iron was to be produced in greater quantities to supply the railway, the works would need a cheaper, local source of coal. In 1854 coal from a mine at Black Bob’s Creek, close to Berrima, was used at what would become the Fitz Roy Iron and Coal Mining Co.

The Black Bob’s Creek mine was the first of many official and unofficial mines developed to support iron making and supply the railways with coal for steam locomotives. One such example is the Erith Mine at Bundanoon, now a popular tourist attraction in the National Park. Coal has also been an essential input resource for the continuous operation of the Berrima cement industry from 1926 to the present day.

Coal has far from been the only focus of mineral explorers in the Highlands. In the 1880s gold and diamond fossickers scoured the Nepean River. From 1886 to 1986, the Bowral trachyte quarries supplied Sydney with hard rock to replace crumbling sandstone kerbs and for major city buildings like Challis House in Martin Place, the Queen Victoria Building in George Street and the ANZAC Memorial in Hyde Park.


While coal can exist in many areas, an economic coal resource can only be identified through exploration. To do this the New South Wales Government issues an exploration licence. The successful applicant for this licence must identify the quality, quantity and location of the resource to be developed on behalf of the people of the state, who own all coal and mineral resources. This exploration involves spending millions of dollars on the drilling of geophysical survey holes similar to those required for water bores. This takes many years and requires extensive geological and scientific analysis before a mining plan can be developed.

What is generally misunderstood is that modern landowner private property rights do not include the ownership of coal or other minerals below ground. These rights are the property of the state and are developed for the benefit of all the residents of New South Wales. Hume Coal is the only company with the right to explore for coal in the area.

In the Southern Highlands, coal exploration licenses were granted in 1956 and the license now held by Hume Coal is a portion of the original granted area. Whilst the exploration area (Authorisation 349) covers an area of approx. 89 sq. km, the proposed underground mining area is far less.

History of Modern-Day Coal Exploration

1956 to 1958 Illawarra Coke Company drilled 8 exploration holes
1958 Southern Portland Cement (Blue Circle Southern Cement), a subsidiary of BHP, completed 7 boreholes
1968 to 1971 Bellambi Coal Company, owned by Shell Coal, completed a further 57 when the metallurgical coal market was booming
1970 to 1971 Austen and Butta Limited explored the central area completing 73 boreholes
1985 Austen and Butta Limited becomes a Joint Venture partner with neighbouring Bellambi Coal Company
1985 Authorisation 349 formally granted to Bellambi Coal Company Ltd and Austen and Butta Limited
1986 Austen and Butta complete a 14 hole drilling program
2001 Anglo Coal Australia Pty Ltd acquires Sutton Forest as part of its takeover of Shell Coal
2010 A Joint Venture between POSCO and Cockatoo Coal (known as Hume Coal) acquires Authorisation 349. Further exploration is undertaken
2013 Full ownership of Authorisation 349 transferred to POSCO Australia