We were driving through the delightfully-named Wonthaggi and stumbled upon what turned out to be a hidden gem: the State Coal Mine. The mine operated from 1909 to 1968, and thanks to the work of volunteers, it is now open to the public. For 10 bucks, I figured a tour would be a good distraction for an hour, so I donned a hairnet and hardhat and followed our guide, Kevin Guthrie, down below.
The tour was absolutely fascinating. We took numerous twists and turns, while learning about the primitive work conditions. This recess in the wall… a good place to tuck yourself when setting off explosives, so the debris flies past you (hopefully). Need to use the toilet? It’s a wooden box… give it a kick before you open it, to scare off any rats. The old cliche of the “canary in the coal mine” was employed here- each morning the manager would hold a canary up to the ceiling to test for gas, before work commenced. Nowadays, volunteers (many of them former mine workers) do safety and restoration work one night a week.
Much of my enjoyment was thanks to our guide. Kevin has that combo you always hope for in a guide: knowledge, enthusiasm, and a sense of humor. His father worked at the mine for decades. Each worker had a tag that was used to identify coal he extracted (with payment awarded accordingly). After the tour, Kevin pointed out a case full of tags, each one an echo of the past, once hung there by blackened fingers after a day of back-breaking work. Kevin pointed to the one in the bottom corner: the one labelled Maurice Guthrie, his father.
If you ever find yourself in Wonthaggi, follow the signs to State Coal Mine and take a step (downward) into the past.