The Mount Mulligan Coal Mine disaster, 1921

Bell, Peter Graham (1977) The Mount Mulligan Coal Mine disaster, 1921. Honours thesis, James Cook University of North Queensland.

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Abstract

[Extract] Mount Mulligan, west of Cairns, is an impressive landmark whose underlying coal deposits supported a small mining town for fifty years. On 19 September 1921 a massive coal dust explosion in the mine killed all seventy-five men underground. This disaster was the greatest Queensland has seen; because of the isolation and small size of the community in which it occurred - and perhaps also because of the romantic splendour of its setting - the story of the disaster has become a part of North Queensland folklore.

Despite the strength of this oral tradition, no substantial account of the Mount Mulligan disaster has been written. Occasional commemorative newspaper articles describe the disaster, usually drawing on the more sensational features of the 1921 press reports. Regional histories give Mount Mulligan and the disaster passing mention, treating it as a chance event unconnected with the more coherent passage of human activities, and outside any visible causal pattern.

This thesis treats the disaster as an integral part of North Queensland mining history. The explosion was not a random incomprehensible intrusion into the explicable domain of human affairs, but the logical result of geographic, economic, social, political and technological forces. A random element undoubtedly influenced the immediate initiation of the disaster at that particular time and place, but chance to that extent plays a part in most human activities.

In focusing on a single event, this thesis places itself outside most traditions in Australian historical writing. One recent paper constitutes the entire historical literature on Australian mine disasters, and that paper is as much sociological as historical. 2 There is a large body of work on the sociology of disasters, most of it originating in the U.S.A. after 1950. Some of these writings have been consulted, and have provided useful insights, but much of this literature is highly specific in its application, concerned with methods of enquiry and control in specific disaster-affected communities; and contributes little to the historical study of another event.

A wealth of published contemporary material describes the Mount Mulligan disaster. The Report of the Royal Commission is a valuable source, and a chapter of this thesis is devoted to a critical examination of the Royal Commissions proceedings and findings. Contemporary newspapers gave the disaster wide, although not always accurate, coverage; and archival material exists, concerned largely with administrative problems in the disaster's aftermath.

Interviews with witnesses of the disaster have provided much detail, and wider information of a social nature. The history of Mount Mulligan before and after the disaster relies on three principal types of sources. Historical literature on North Queensland generally, while rarely treating Mount Mulligan at any length, allows the development of the coalmine and the community to be put in context. By the nature of its single industry, Mount Mulligan was always highly susceptible to economic forces affecting the region as a whole. The development of the mine can be traced through publications of the Queensland Mines Department, supplemented by reference to contemporary mining text books. The Mount Mulligan community receives little attention in any written source, and information depends chiefly on interviews with former residents.

Item ID: 37018
Item Type: Thesis (Honours)
Keywords: Chillagoe Company; coal miners; coal mines; coal-mining towns; mine explosions; mining accidents; mining disasters; mining deaths; mining fatalities; Mount Mulligan; Mt Mulligan; North Queensland history; North Queensland (NQ)
Date Deposited: 29 Jun 2016 07:47
FoR Codes: 21 HISTORY AND ARCHAEOLOGY > 2103 Historical Studies > 210303 Australian History (excl Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander History) @ 100%
SEO Codes: 95 CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING > 9505 Understanding Past Societies > 950503 Understanding Australias Past @ 100%
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