What is significant?
At the beginning of the twentieth century black coal powered the State's railway system. There was also an insatiable demand for black coal from Melbourne's engineering works, agricultural processing plants, gas works, and food and drink factories. The source of this coal was New South Wales. In 1909 a prolonged strike on the New South Wales coalfields threatened Victoria's economic credibility, and the Victorian Government sought to end its dependence by mining its own, poorer-quality coal deposits in East Gippsland (which had been known since 1825). In 1909 drilling operations commenced at Wonthaggi which at the time was sparsely settled and possessing no transport links with Melbourne. The first Government mining shafts were sunk in the Central Area in the same year, the coal raised by small oil engines was dispatched by bullock teams to Inverloch and thence by ship to Melbourne. The Wonthaggi State Coal developed into a huge mining complex which operated until 1968. Working underground at Wonthaggi was very dangerous and there was a high level of mine accidents resulting in men dying in explosions, under roof collapses, or ripped apart after becoming entangled in the rope haulage system. The 1937 shaft explosion at No.20 shaft was the worst accident in the mine's history with thirteen men dying underground. The No.20 shaft explosion occurred during a period when the mine was spiralling into decline: to be profitable the mine had to produce 500,000 tons per annum, and it had not been able to produce this amount since 1934. The underground disaster contributed to the mine producing only half the required yield in 1937 and led to the relationship between the Miners Union and management reaching an all time low.
How is it significant?
The Wonthaggi State Coal mine is of historical and scientific importance to the State of Victoria.
Why is it significant?
The Wonthaggi State Coal Mine Northern Precinct is historically significant as the site of the worst accident in the State Coal Mine's history. Particularly when viewed alongside contemporary documents, the mine site commemorates the perils of underground mining at Wonthaggi and makes a unique contribution to defining the character of the Wonthaggi State Coal Mine. The place also has the potential to yield significant archaeological evidence of the technological development of coal mining in Victoria.