Cessnock mines for a future away from coal, as the city's last colliery closes

REMEMBERING: Former mineworker and Cessnock councillor Allan Stapleford outside the Austar mine. Pictures: Simone De Peak
 REMEMBERING: Former mineworker and Cessnock councillor Allan Stapleford outside the Austar mine. Pictures: Simone De Peak

For 18 years until 1993, Allan Stapleford worked in this mine as a fitter, heading underground, as part of a team digging into the rich Greta coal seam.

"There are six or eight people in a group that you depend on for your life, and they depend on you," he explained. "People become very close when you work in that environment.

"You really miss the comradeship, that's the one thing you miss, the good blokes you work with."

The days spent underground are long gone for Allan Stapleford, who is now a Cessnock City councillor. But in Cessnock, coal mining will soon be a memory not just for Cr Stapleford.

Austar is the last coal mine close to Cessnock. For the past year, the colliery has been on hold, in "care and maintenance". However, Yancoal, the company that owns the mine, has announced the operation is to be closed.

"In evaluating Austar's future, Yancoal did review the re-commencement of production, but considered closure was the best option given the level of remaining resources at Austar and the costs required to mine this resource," a company spokesperson said in a written statement.

The closure will eventually affect the 43 employees still at the mine. The company has said there will be work at the site, transforming it for "post-mining use", for up to 10 years. But, for now, no more coal will be coming out of the mine, which has existed in one form or another, and under various names, since 1916.

"It's sad, it's something that's been here that long, an unbelievable number of people have worked here," said Allan Stapleford, who was a third-generation coal miner. "It's the last of them."

The closure of Austar also closes a chapter in the history of Cessnock, a city that was built on coal.