The coal mine at Leigh Creek began during World War II, when South Australia needed its own energy supplies. Since then the mine has expanded hugely, and the town grew with it.
Now the town is shrinking as new technology has reduced the workforce and mine closure is projected by 2017.
- It was pure chance that the railway going north over the gibber plains crossed the coal field.
- Carbonaceous shales were revealed when workmen were excavating a railway dam south west of the Leigh Creek railway station in 1888.
- Mining work started slowly, and was interrupted when men quit mining coal at Leigh Creek and headed off to the short-lived gold rush at Angepena (1892-3).
- Private mining at Leigh Creek wasn’t very successful:
- the only deposits known before the 1940s were quite deep (72m)
- South Australian demand for it was small
- the SA government would not offer freight rates cheaper than NSW, so Broken Hill smelters did not use Leigh Creek coal.
- After 1921, the field was deserted and the plant became derelict.
World War II
- Just before World War II the derelict plant was broken up and sold as scrap iron to Japan.
- Early in WWII, coal supplies were scarce in South Australia. Early in WWII, coal supplies were scarce in South Australia. The Premier, Thomas Playford, wanted secure energy supplies for the State and initiated detailed investigation of the Leigh Creek deposits.
- The Government Geologist, Dr Keith Ward, worked out that the main seam should come much closer to the surface a little north of the old main shaft. It did: it was just 18 down rather than 72.
- Leigh Creek itself had to be diverted so that when it flooded it would not fill the new mine. Open cut mining began in 1943.
Port Augusta power station
- Port Augusta power station was designed in the 1950s to use Leigh Creek coal
- As South Australia’s demand for electricity grew, the power station was expanded and then replaced by a much larger plant.
- For years there has been concern about pollution levels caused by the brown coal fuel.
- Future of the station is in doubt as coal mine is projected to close in 5-10 years time.
- Push for solar energy plant at Port Augusta
Railway upgrade 1950s
- The old railway line between Leigh Creek and Port Augusta was upgraded to carry coal.
- Narrow gauge of 3 foot six inches replaced with standard gauge of four feet eight and a half inches.
- At the same time, the route was changed to come all the way up the western side of the Flinders, rather than coming up the east as far as Quorn, and then crossing over via Pichi Richi Pass.
- The new line was opened in 1956.
Leigh Creek town
- Water was a major problem for the growing community.
- For a while it was carted from the Copley Dam
- Then it was piped from Sliding Rock mine site.
- In the 1950s this was no longer enough, and the new Aroona dam was built across Scott Creek.
- As new areas of the Leigh Creek coalfield were opened up, the town was shifted some way south so that coal under the existing town could be mined.
- The first families moved to Leigh Creek south, the new town, in 1981.
- Massive restructuring of mining has reduced the workforce from over 750 to about 200.
- Population dropped from about 2500 in 1987 to 549 in 2006.
- Primary school ok, but many parents send children away to Adelaide or Port Augusta for secondary school.
- Leigh Creek hospital provides accident and emergency services, medical and surgical services and a range of allied health services provided by visiting practitioners.
- Leigh Creek coal is not high grade.
- Coal extraction is planned to end by 2017.
- What is the future of the township?
Resources for Coal and Leigh Creek
Klaassen, Nic 1997. Leigh Creek, an oasis in the desert. Eden Hills, flinders Ranges Research.
Mincham, Hans 1983. The Story of the Flinders Ranges. (3rd ed). Adelaide, Rigby.
Outback Communities Authority 2011 Submission to Standing Committee on Regional Australia. Submission Number 155 Date received 8/12/2011