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Collie’s underground miners celebrate their past

May 29, 2024

Underground mining played an important role in Collie’s coal industry from 1952 to 1994, when the last underground mines closed in favour of open cut mining.

To mark 30 years since the last underground mines in Collie – Western Collieries 6 and 7 mines – stopped operating, the MEU and Collie Retired Miners’ Association organised a reunion so old workmates could get together and talk about old times.

Two hundred people gathered at the Mineworkers Institute Hall on Saturday 25th May.

Retired Miners Association President Ron Guilfoyle worked underground for 16 years, before moving to the open cut when the underground mines closed.

Like many of the Collie miners, Ron was grateful to be able to continue his employment but preferred his years underground.

“I liked the comradeship,” said Ron. “We worked as a team to manage the dangers and we had a good time at crib, playing euchre.”

Frank Battista worked in Collie’s underground mines for 30 years. “I do miss the comradeship,” he said. “Those men are friends for life and many still live in the same town, that’s the best part. The reunion is a real surprise. I thought once the underground was finished, no-one would be interested any more, it’s a really great idea.”

To coincide with the reunion, the Collie Art Gallery held a special exhibition of photos.

Back in 1994, Collie teacher and photography enthusiast John Bylund knew the impending closure of the remaining underground coal mines was a momentous event.

He asked the managers of Western Collieries’ 6 and 7 mines if he could go underground to capture pit life in their final weeks of operation.

John’s stunning collection of black and white photos sat at home mostly unviewed until – with the support of the MEU WA District – they were developed into a book and exhibition, both titled Ghosts of the Underground.

The photos depict mineworkers going about their jobs roof-bolting, operating continuous miners, navigating vehicles in tight underground spaces and playing cards at crib. The coal miners’ camaraderie and hard work shines through.

Although the underground coal mines closed, coal mining continues in Collie at Premier Coal and Griffith Coal mines.

As Frank Battista said: “Collie coal mining has been a very faithful servant of the state for over 100 years and it’s still serving the state.”

With further change on the horizon, the Collie community is doing a great job in remembering the town’s proud history.

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