Mt Kembla - Australia's worst industrial disaster, 1902

Published: 28 Jul 2017

31 July is the anniversary of Australia's worst industrial disaster, in 1902, when 96 miners lost their lives in an explosion at Mt Kembla Colliery in NSW.

There were 280 workers underground at the time of the explosion, including young boys. The explosion was so massive it could be heard 11 kilometres away in Wollongong. Recovery of the bodies took several days, and all but one were recovered in a courageous rescue operation. The NSW Parliament suspended sittings, such was the shock felt in the broader population.

A Royal Commission of Inquiry followed. The mine owners attempted to establish a theory that the disaster had been caused by a "fall of ground" and not be the presence of dangerous gas levels. However evidence presented refuted that theory. Not only was gas present in dangerous quantities but the mine managers were aware of that fact.

Recommendations from the inquiry included more testing for gas, better ventilation, improved shot firing practices and the abolition of naked flame lights. It was not until 1925 that the ventilation system at Mt Kembla was replaced, and it was years before naked lights were finally banned. Mt Kembla colliery closed in 1970.

We must never forget the human price paid for coal. R.I.P.

You can read a more in depth record of the disaster in the Illawarra Mercury: