A NEW generation of volunteers is needed to help keep the Wonthaggi State Coal Mine open for future generations.
The volunteer group, Friends of the State Coal Mine, is comprised of dozens of locals passionate about the history of Wonthaggi, and who work hard to keep the mine operational for tourists.
But with some of the volunteers clocking up more than 30 years of service, they need the next generation to step up and help preserve the coal mining history of Wonthaggi.
The coal mine attraction is run purely on volunteer labour in association with Parks Victoria, and without a new generation of volunteers willing to pitch in and help, the mine risks being lost forever.
“The coal mine is one of the last links to what the town was like and the mining industry, so it’s really important,” volunteer Steve Harrop said.
“We don’t want to lose the history.”
Wonthaggi wouldn’t exist without coal, and Friends of the State Coal Mine volunteers believe it is imperative that the town never loses its connection with the mines.
“If people knew more about the history, I think they’d want to help preserve it,” volunteer Rod McLean said.
“Also not a lot of people know about this site. I had some tourists recently who said to me that this is the best kept secret in Australia.”
Coal was discovered near Cape Paterson in 1826, and the State Coal Mine was established in 1910.
The township of Wonthaggi had humble roots as a tent city, from which thousands of people worked to mine coal for Victoria.
The mine was one of the largest coal mines in Australia, and at its peak in 1926 was producing up to 2472 tons of coal per day.
Coal mined from Wonthaggi and surrounding areas fuelled industry in Victoria, with the Victorian Railways buying 90 per cent of the coal.
In 1928, 60 per cent of Victorian Railways’ coal consumption came from Wonthaggi.
The mine was eventually closed in 1968.
Now the site of the State Coal Mine is kept operational as a tourist attraction, with underground tours and interactive museum displays at the model village giving visitors an insight into life back in the early 20th century.
The volunteers work tirelessly year-round to keep the mine open and functional, from running tours for visitors, gardening, working in the gift shop and café, to working underground in the mines pumping water.
Volunteers range from people with a family link to the mines, to those who have in recent years relocated to Bass Coast and are keen to give back to their local community.
Mr Harrop, who is close to clocking up 30 years of volunteer service with the Friends of the State Coal Mine, said that ideal future volunteers were recent retirees who had an interest in local history, or anyone who has the time and passion to dedicate to the mine.
“Early retirees would be great. We want to look to that next generation of volunteers to help keep the mine going,” he said.
No matter what the task, whether it’s staying back late on a Tuesday night to pump water out of the mine shafts, to showing tourists around the model village, no task is too great for a Friend of the State Coal Mine.
When asked what it was that has kept him volunteering for so many years, Mr Harrop was quick to answer.
“The place has a real magic to it. We always have a good laugh, and it’s really special here,” he said.
“It never gets boring.”
Anyone who is interested in volunteering as a Friend of the State Coal Mine and helping to preserve the future of the heritage site is encouraged to contact the State Coal Mine on 8427 2118.