Mining History

Mining is a vital industry in NSW supporting jobs in Sydney and in mining regions.

Mining has played an important role in economic development in NSW for more than 200 years, providing jobs, security and prosperity to the people of the state.

From its convict origins, mining has become a strategically important industry in NSW, supporting thousands of jobs and generating economic activity and taxes and royalties that support the development of government infrastructure and essential services like schools, hospitals and police.

Coal mining in Australia began near Nobbys Head in Newcastle in the 1790s. Coal was first mined by convicts near the mouth of the Hunter river, then called Coal River after the valuable resource located nearby. Coal soon became Australia’s first commodity export with the first coal shipment leaving Newcastle for India in 1799.

Newcastle and Wollongong with their bustling ports, as well as mining towns like Broken Hill, drove the NSW economy from the late 1800s onwards.

Today, Newcastle is the world’s largest coal export port, exporting around 160 million tonnes per year to export markets across Asia.

Mining in the Illawarra

South of Sydney, the Illawarra has been supported for decades by the economic activity generated by mining of the region’s high-grade coking coal, supporting major industries like steel production and manufacturing, since the first mining operation began at Mount Keira in 1848.

The Illawarra remains one of the leading producers of steel and steel products in the South East Asian region, with Port Kembla facilitating coal and steel exports.

Supporting regional communities across NSW

Many NSW regional centres were established with the support of mining including Newcastle, Broken Hill, Wollongong, Cessnock, Maitland, Singleton, Muswellbrook, Lithgow, Orange, Parkes, Gunnedah and Cobar.

Singleton, for example, was first settled in the 1820s but began to thrive when the first mine opened in 1860, ultimately becoming the biggest service town for mining in the Hunter Valley.

Mining in NSW has a strong future ahead as demand for the state’s commodities remains strong.

To this day, there are thousands of NSW businesses that support our mining sector and many of them are headquartered in regional towns.

The NSW Department of Regional NSW – Mining, Exploration and Geoscience has a significant heritage collection of images documenting the activities of the department and the mining industry from the late 1800s to the present. View the website here to find out more and to contact them about accessing their collection.