The Mount Kembla Mine Explosion of 1902: Towards the study of the impact of a disaster on a community

Glenn Mitchell, Stuart Piggin

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2 Citations (Scopus)


The Mount Kembla coal mine, seven miles by road south-west of Wollongong, owned by the Mt. Kembla Coal and Oil Company Ltd., first produced coal in 1883. At about 2 p.m. on Thursday, 31 July 1902, when 261 men in two shifts were in the mine, an explosion, heard nine miles away, blocked the mine's no. 1 Main Haulage Road and the Main Tunnel. A minority of the ninety-six victims, some shockingly mutilated, were killed by the explosion. Most of the victims were asphyxiated. A Royal Commission reported almost twelve months later. The Commissioners concluded that a fall in a thirty-five acre waste drove an inflammable mixture of fire-damp and air into contact with a wheeler's naked light—the resulting explosion starting a succession of explosions of coal-dust.2 Seven weeks after the disaster the mine was re-opened, and it was finally closed in 1970 by Australian Iron and Steel, who had assumed ownership of the mine in 1946. Something of the impact on the Mt. Kembla community of the disaster, which took more lives than any other peace-time land disaster in our history to date, may be inferred from the fact that one-third of the village's male population over fourteen was removed. Thirty-three women were widowed and 120 children lost their fathers. It is believed that almost every home suffered a bereavement.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)52-69
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Australian Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 1977
Externally publishedYes


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