100 years since Mount Mulligan mine explosion claimed 75 lives

Published: 17 Sep 2021

On 19 September 1921 a massive explosion killed 75 mineworkers at Mount Mulligan. It was Queensland's biggest industrial disaster.

Mount Mulligan is 170kms west of Cairns. Coal mining supported the town from 1914 to 1958. Until then, the town did not even have a cemetery.

A rescue effort which began immediately after the explosion and continued for 5 days was fruitless.

The cause of the explosion was never determined beyond doubt, despite a Royal Commission. However, of several theories advanced it seems likely that the firing of an explosive on top of a block of machine cut coal, not placed in a shot hole, initiated the disaster. It is also recorded that dust levels were extremely high, providing a highly combustible atmosphere. Procedures for handling of explosives at the mine were lax, there was little in the way of stone dusting and watering, and it had been over 5 months since the last inspection by the Mines Department.

The Mt Mulligan disaster paved the way for a separate Coal Mining Act in Queensland. The 1925 Act provided for:
    •    the appointment of Mines Inspectors who must have practical mining experience
    •    the recording of mine deputy safety inspections in individual reports
    •    specifically designed and “permitted” explosives and rules for their use in coal mines
    •    the use of safety lamps or electric camp lamps for lighting for individual miners and the banning of naked lights
    •    rules for the application of stone dust
    •    the establishment of Mines Rescue Stations in all mining districts
    •    rules for air flow and the use of ventilation fans.

This year, on Sunday 19 September, a special tribute will be held at Mount Mulligan to commemorate the miners who were killed. You can find more details about the event via this Facebook Link.

Here is a short film from the Mine Accidents Youtube channel: