NSW mining history
Mining has been part of NSW for more than 200 years, providing jobs, independence and wealth. No state has played a more prominent role in the history of Australian mining than NSW. Coal mining in Australia began near Nobbys Head in Newcastle in the 1790s, with the first coal shipment leaving Newcastle in 1799. This was Australia’s first commodity export. Newcastle and Wollongong and their bustling ports, as well as towns like Broken Hill, drove the NSW economy from the late 1800s onwards. Now, Newcastle is the world’s largest coal export port.
South of Sydney, the Illawarra has flourished on the back of the region’s high grade coking coal, supporting major industries like steel production and manufacturing, since the first mining operation began at Mount Keira in 1848. The Illawarra remains one of the leading producer of steel and steel products in the South East Asian region, with Port Kembla facilitating coal and steel exports.
While coal accounts for much of our industry today, other minerals have played a big role in the NSW mining story. Gold was discovered near Orange in 1851, sparking a gold rush. Gold and copper mining operations began at Cadia Hill in 1870, which is now the site of one of the largest gold mines in Australia.
Many regional centres across NSW were established through mining and continue to thrive, including Newcastle, Broken Hill, Wollongong, Cessnock, Muswellbrook, Lithgow, Orange, Gunnedah and Cobar. Singleton, for example, was first settled in the 1820s, but took off when the first mine opened in 1860, ultimately becoming the biggest service town for the Hunter Valley. To this day, there are hundreds of businesses that rely on mining, small and medium-sized firms supplying the mining industry and supporting the local economy.
It is not only regional centres that grew and prospered through mining: the historic inner-Sydney suburbs of Balmain and Glebe were built on early coal mining. The state’s capital continues to benefit from mining, with many businesses in Sydney supplying our mines. Learn more about mining’s history in NSW and Sydney.
From its convict origins, mining has become a strategically important industry in NSW. Mining has been and will continue to be a vital source of prosperity for the state.