March 25, 2013

Grant to discover history of mining

Kandos Museum volunteer Leanne Wicks has won a $5000 fellowship to research the history of coal mining in the Kandos area.

Each year, the Powerhouse Museum awards the Movable Heritage Fellowship to one tertiary student in Australia to work with a community museum on a research project.

Ms Wicks, who is working towards a postgraduate diploma in Museum Studies, is only the second Macquarie University student to be awarded the year-long fellowship, which includes a week’s internship at the Powerhouse Museum.

Ms Wicks began thinking about the region’s mining history when Bylong Public School had an excursion to the museum to learn about coal.

Her own background lies on the environmental side of the coal question, but she acknowledged that without the coal in the mountain, there would have been no cement works and so no Kandos.

After seeing the rehabilitation work done by Environment and Community Officer Matt Gray at Charbon Colliery, she realised there were positive aspects to the other side of the story that she didn’t know about.

Through her fellowship, Ms Wicks will record details of the museum’s coal industry artefacts and assess their historical significance.

So far, she has identified around 50 objects from the three separate collieries that serviced the Kandos cement works, ranging from the large coal loader in the museum yard down to an old cloth hat with a metal front to hold a candle.

Research suggests that coal was mined from the area that would become Kandos as far back as 1890, and well before the establishment of the cement works and the town.

The coal in the mountain was one of the qualities that made the area attractive for industry, with a steelworks proposed before the cement works eventually claimed the site.

Ms Wicks said the Kandos colliery was seen as a model mine for the rest of the country to follow, pioneering technology such as Australia’s first continuous miner, which scraped coal from the seam and dumps it into a container.

She said photos showed the progression of mining, from shovels, picks and pit ponies at the founding of the cement works in 1913, to the rail system and later conveyer belts.

“We’ve got this wonderful progression of technology in one mountain, so that fascinated me,” Ms Wicks said.

She hopes to organise a day on which she would invite people to visit the museum and share stories of coal mining in the Kandos area, or allow her to see and document any mining artefacts they have.

When the coal-related items in the collection have been assessed, Ms Wicks hopes to exhibit them in the museum’s new gallery space.

Ms Wicks said she was inspired by American museum consultant Elaine Gurian’s description of museums as “safe places for unsafe ideas”, making an exhibition in the Kandos Museum the ideal location for the controversial conversation about coal mining.

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