Since the late 1870’s a German, Frederick Taegtow, living at Williamstown, had been requesting the government to test his theory that vast black coal deposits lay underneath the Werribee plains by sinking a bore. As a result a local group formed “The Williamstown (Taegtow) Coal Prospecting Co. Ltd.” on the 29/9/1881, and sank two bores near the east boundary of Wyndham (Maddox Road, between the Geelong railway and Kororoit Creek Road). They found four thin seams of brown coal but no black coal, so the company went out of existence on January 14, 1884.
In 1891 a syndicate was formed to prospect for coal at Point GelIibrand in Williamstown, and in 1892 formed “The Williamstown and Newport Coal Prospecting Co. Ltd.,” and took out mining options on large areas of Williamstown, Wyndham, Port Melbourne and West Melbourne. After sinking a bore in 1892 and encountering four small seams of brown coal a shaft was commenced near Newport Freezing Works in 1893. In the same year “The Ross Freehold Coalmining Co. N.L.” (No Liability) was formed and commenced sinking a shaft on Ross’s property near the former site of the SEC Coal Depot in Altona North. After sinking the shaft 23 feet deep, serious difficulties with water stopped work and the company went out of existence in 1895.
Meanwhile, another group of businessmen leased Cherry’s Seaford Estate, and plans were made to bring iron ore from near Bacchus Marsh to Altona, and to refine it using Altona coal, but this venture seems to have failed.
In early 1893 Hosie’s syndicate sank a bore at Altona and found brown coal, 29 July 1893. Another bore put down under government supervision in 1894 at the site of the present Kooringal Golf Course, Altona West, found a bed of brown coal 70’4″ thick at a depth of 350’4″.
Late in 1894 Hosie commenced sinking a shaft near the present Wren Street in Altona West and struck a 69 feet thick bed of brown coal 324 feet below the surface. He extracted an unrecorded quantity of coal, but when he attempted to explore deeper by sinking a bore beneath the bed of coal he struck the underlying Port Phillip subartesian basin and the workings were flooded. Soon after this Hosie abandoned mining.
In 1894 the Mines Department put down bores at Newport and in 1902 at Werribee, Altona and Skeleton Creek.
In 1906 a mining group “The Altona and Morwell Coal Development and Option Co. N.L.” put a small shaft down where Harrington Square, Altona West is today, but after some work the company went out of existence in 1908. Later in 1908 the Melbourne and Altona Colliery Company N.L. enlarged this shaft and extracted at least 31,160 tons of brown coal between 1910-19 from a 69 feet thick bed 324 feet below the ground. However, due to marketing difficulties and the SEC decision to develop Morwell in preference to Altona, the mine closed in 1919.
A cairn erected by the Altona Council on behalf of the Altona Laverton Historical Society now marks the site of the mine shaft at Harrington Square, Altona West.
During 1909-10 the railway was extended to the mine to allow transportation of the brown coal out of Altona.
Image above: Melbourne’s last Coal Mine, Altona West, about 1930.
In 1928 the Altona Beach Estate Co . Ltd sank a new shaft west of Maidstone Street, Altona West, but after some work it closed in 1931 due to lack of markets.
The brown coal bed underlies most of Altona and reaches a maximum of 140 feet at the south-west corner of the municipality at Skeleton Creek. The seam is thought to run westward to Bacchus Marsh and south eastward to the Latrobe Valley deposits. Beneath Altona alone it is estimated there lies 200,000,000 tons of brown coal.