The Coal Miner

Australian Workers Film Guide


Loosely told through the eyes of a fictional coalminer, this government film promotes the modernisation of Australia’s coal mines in New South Wales in the 1950s. The film contains some unique footage of pick and shovel mining as well as early mechanisation. 

Over footage of miners descending into the mine, the narrator explains how both his father and grandfather were miners on the coal, working as contract miners with primitive pick and shovel methods. There is some impressive footage of a miner working in dark narrow seams, picking coal and loading it into a single skip, which is then dragged by a pit pony through the mine.

To meet the growing demand of industry, mechanisation was introduced into the mines. The dirty work of contract mining is superseded by technical skills and a different kind of worker, as well dressed workers in white shirts sit in a medical waiting room before undergoing a medical exam. Health is strictly monitored and miners have to undergo a medical examination at the Joint Coal Board’s medical bureau every three years.

As miners enter a tunnel on a transport vehicle, the narrator explains that mechanisation has brought changes in working conditions, such as the spraying of limestone to prevent coal dust explosions. Miners now work regular hours Monday to Friday. A team of miners is seen operating a coal cutting machine, followed by a scene in which a driller makes a hole and an explosive charge is inserted by the shotfirer and detonated. The miners eat their lunch in an underground crib room, where they also enjoy playing dominoes and darts.

Back at the coal face, the team operates a loader, which loads coal into a shuttle car. On soft seams a continuous miner operates without the need for blasting, the cutter and the loader. The shuttle car transports the coal to the conveyor belt. The narrator notes that the latest equipment is used in mines in the Newcastle area, the south coast and the western fields of New South Wales. 

The miners exit the mine, wash in the bath house, and then head home or to a range of leisure activities. Many of the younger men sail on Lake Macquarie. There are fifty bowling clubs in the Newcastle area, where the managers and the men bowl together. Living conditions have also been modernised, the old miners’ row replaced by modern cottages. The film finishes by underscoring the importance of coal for industry and electricity generation, showing imagery of power generation, a steel works and petrol chemical plant.

Special Notes/Achievements

Produced by the Department of the Interior Film Division for the Australian National Film Board.

Author: J Bird, 2023

Duration: 10 mins 31 secs

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