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Leigh Creek History

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Leigh Creek
Leigh Creek Info
  > Legend of Yulu
  > Coal Mining
  > Milestones
  > Coalfield / Operation

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Leigh Creek - Cities, Towns and Localities
Leigh Creek and surrounding region offers the visitor an insight into its past starting from 'The Legend of Yulu’s Charcoal' dreamtime story of the original Aboriginal inhabitants, through to the history and development of the coal mining industry, that continues today.
The Legend of Yulu’s Charcoal
Long before white men came to this country, the Aboriginal people called coal deposits at Leigh Creek “Yulu’s Charcoal”...

The Aborigines believed that giant semi-human creatures created at the beginning of the world were responsible for all the creeks, hills, gorges and mountains ranges in Australia.

In the distant past, a Wild Turkey Man persuaded the Aborigines to initiate one of the young men of the tribe at the place now known as Wilpena Pound. The news of such an important event spread right over the countryside and finally reaching the ears of a gruff old Kingfisher Man called Yulu Yuluru, who lived in the desert country west of what is now the Leigh Creek Coalfield.

For a while the Kingfisher Man was not interested in the doings at Wilpena Pound, but when he heard that the Wild Turkey Man was to be leader he decided to attend the ceremony, hunt the Wild Turkey Man away and initiate the boy in his own way.

He went to Leigh Creek lighting huge fires to announce his coming. These were so large and burnt up so many trees that the charcoal remaining behind formed the present coal deposit at Leigh Creek and at other places along the Ranges. They called it Yulu’s charcoal long before the coming of white man into their country.

When the Kingfisher Man was passing through Brachina Gorge on his way to the ceremony he saw two lareg snakes travelling in the same direction. These so scared him that he crept behind some low hills so that he could not be seen.

These manoeuvres so delayed Yulu that by the time he reached Wilpena Pound the ceremony was well under way and the Wild Turkey Man was just about to initiate the boy by burning him with a fire-stick. Yulu rushed in, knocked the fire-stick from the hand of the Wild Turkey Man, and carried out the ceremony in a much kindlier manner.

The action please the assembled people but unfortunately, just as the ceremony was at its height, the two snakes that Yulu had seen in Brachina Gorge burst upon the scene and consumed all but the initiate, the Wild Turkey Man and the Kingfisher Man. The two later fled south quarrelling loudly, while the youth escaped to the north, only to be transformed into a stony hill near Wirrealpa Station.

After the great snakes had their meal of human flesh they stretched themselves out, one along the northern and one along the southern side of the ceremonial ground with heads almost touching. They then willed themselves to death and their bodies were changed into the steep precipitous cliffs that now form the outer walls of Wilpena Pound. The space between the two heads is the gorge through which the water empties into the open plain and is the only entrance into the beautiful Pound.

Source: Adapted from ‘Leigh Creek’ by C.C. Poole, 1946 and NRG Flinders brochure

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Coal Mining in Leigh Creek
The most southerly of creeks in the Lake Eyre Basin is Leigh’s Creek. It was Edward John Eyre, who was the first white man to see this creek, when crossing it on his way north in 1840. The creek was named after Harry Leigh who was employed on the nearby Leigh’s Creek Pastoral Run, which was first leased in 1857.

The railway arrived in 1881, with Leigh’s Creek Station being built just south of where the line crossed the creek. Copley at that time was originally a rail siding for the Old Ghan train named Leigh’s Creek.

The story of coal mining in the Leigh Creek region began when coal-bearing shale was discovered west of the station during the sinking of a railway dam in 1888 by John Henry Reid. A year later, after the visit and examination of the area by the government Geologist H. Y. L Brown, there was the establishment of underground workings. However, the No 1 shaft, sunk by the Leigh Creek Coal Mining Company was abandoned on striking a heavy flow of water.

In 1891, the then Leigh Creek was renamed to Copley, after the then Commissioner of Crown Lands, William Copley MP.

In 1892 a new shaft was sunk in the area, but only small quantities of coal were extracted and operations ceased in 1894. It wasn’t until 1940, when the State’s coal supplies became precarious as a result of the Second World War, that any further consideration was given to the Leigh Creek deposits.

During that time the name of Leigh Creek was applied to the railway station, post office, and later the hotel, in the renamed town of Copley. It wasn’t until 1916 that the name Copley was given to the station and post office, with only the local hotel stilling bearing the original name to this day.

It wasn’t until the late 1940s before large scale mining was underway and by 1967 annual output of coal exceeded 2m. tonnes for the first time.

Because the existing town was located within the coal basin, it was decided to build a new town. In 1976, the Electricity Trust of South Australia (ETSA) had selected a location south of the coalfield. Landscaping was established in 1977. Construction started in 1979 and the first house occupied in 1980. 1981 saw the construction of a new airport and by 1984 the town of Leigh Creek was completed.

Click here to view information about Leigh Creek - Coalfield and Operation

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Leigh Creek Milestones
1888 — Coal-bearing shale discovered near Copley Dam.
1889 — Survey of the area by Government geologist.
1890 — Exploration by shaft sinking and drilling. First shaft abandoned due to flooding.
1892 — Second shaft sunk.
1894 — Mind closed down.
1906 — Lease passed to the Tasmanian Copper Company. 12,600 tonnes of coal were mined for testing. Exploratory drilling continued until 1919 and then ceased.
1908 — The Tasmanian Copper Company abandoned its properties in SA. The Government withdrew the coalfield from the operation of the Mining Act.
1917 — The old main shaft was dewatered. 720 tonnes of coal were tested in Adelaide. Exploratory drilling continued until 1919 and then ceased.
1941 — Drilling to search for shallow coal started.
1943 — The Engineering and Water Supply department took over the operation of the field for coal production.
1948 — Management of the coalfield transferred to ETSA.
1955 — Aroona Dam completed.
1956 — Standard gauge railway completed from Pt Augusta.
1961 — A 132,000 volt line from the State transmission system to supply power to the coalfield was commissioned.
1967 — Annual output of coal exceeded 2m. tonnes for the first time.
1973 — Completion of 25 years’ operation by ETSA, 28 million tonnes of coal were produced in the period.
1978 — Construction of new Leigh Creek township, coalfield retention dam and diversion of main highway started.
1981 — New airport constructed.
1984 — Town completed.
1986 — 100 million m3 overburden removed since shovel/truck operation started.
1990 — Won SA Business Landcare Award.
1993 — Won Greening Australia Landcare Award.
1996 — Achievement of 1m. bank cubic metres mined - a world record. A 5-star rating for safety management systems was received from the National Safety Council of Australia.
1997 — Formation of Flinders Power. Railway ownership passed to Flinders Power.
1999 — Coal plant upgraded to handle 240-tonne trucks. Train is longest coal train in Australia.
2000 — Coalfield purchased by NRG Flinders and 100-year lease obtained for township and railway.
2001 — From a peak workforce of about 700, the operation now employs about 200.
2003 — Achievement of 1.8m bank cubic metres mined in month.
2005 — Achievement of 1.97m bank cubic metres mined for month of August.

Click here to view information about Leigh Creek - Coalfield and Operation

Source: NRG Flinders brochure

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