Flashback to dark days of coal crisis
ON AUGUST 2, 1949 Australia's coal miners were striking and the Daily Mercury's front-page reported Prime Minister Ben Chifley was threatening to send soldiers into the mines to re-start production.
They were dark days for the nation as the widespread strike, which began escalating in May, brought Australia's energy producers to their knees.
In Mackay drastic measures were already in place as the coal shortage bit. Mackay City Council employees were mining coal in the creeks around Nebo, eventually digging out 1067 tons to power the city.
In July the council lighting committee's engineering manager reported no coal had been delivered from Collinsville or Ogmore mines for the month.
"On Tuesday, July 19 Messers Wilmoth, Pollock, Murray and the writer proceeded to Bee Creek, Nebo to investigate an outcrop of coal, which was pointed out to us by A. Ross of Kemmis Creek Station," the committee minutes read.
On July 20 a team was sent to build an open cut mine and the coal was transported to Mackay where it was found to be "satisfactory" for the furnace. As they dug deeper the coal quality improved.
The Bowen Basin had been discovered but not yet exploited, so coal deposits were not hard to find, or mine.
Jack Maclean, a Nebo resident at the time, worked on the site as a truck driver. delivering coal to the Hume Street power station.
Mackay historian Terry Hayes recorded some of Mr Maclean's story for the publication 'I Remember Nebo'.
"During the 1949 coal strike I was one of the truck drivers who carted coal from Bee Creek to the Mackay powerhouse to help keep Mackay supplied with electricity," Mr Maclean said. "Ian Wood was the mayor of Mackay at the time and it was his idea that Bee Creek coal would keep the Mackay powerhouse going.
"The work was supervised by engineers from Mackay and the coal was shovelled straight from the deposits in the creek bank into our trucks by council workmen."
Getting the coal out of the creek bank was the easiest part, according to Mr Maclean.
"There was no bitumen as far down as Walkerston and on the whole road there were only two bridges - over Denison Creek at The Retreat and at Dry Creek at the foot of the Eton Range.
"Every other creek and gully had to be forded and getting out of some of them took some doing.
"So it was a big job to drive a truckload of coal to Mackay and in the first week I 'did' two new tyres.
"Although I helped to keep the lights on in Mackay, I did not make any money out of it."
According to the Mackay City Council minutes from July to September 1949, the council struck hurdles of its own maintaining supply to the Hume Street power station.
In August and September there were considerable delays in stripping back the overburden - the crew had to remove 31 feet of overburden to access the coal deposits - but there was a steady stream of coal being delivered from the Bee Creek site. In July, 84 tonnes was delivered, in August 913 tonnes, and in September 90 tonnes.
"The removal of overburden has been a much longer and more difficult job that had been anticipated," the report stated.
The coal strike ended on August 13, but on September 19 still no coal had been allocated to Mackay. The council decided to close the mine, as supply was expected to return to normal, but when the first shipments arrived from Ogmore just 56 tonnes remained.