Voices from the coal face

WOLLONGONG City Gallery is calling on the Illawarra community to submit any photos or family memorabilia associated with coal mining in the region to form part of its “Voices from the coal face” exhibition – designed to highlight the impact coal mining has had on the Illawarra and the contribution miners have made to the region.

Angie Tomlinson

“The coal industry has shaped who we are in this region. Through personal stories we can get a sense of how important the coal industry has been to the Illawarra region,” gallery deputy director John Monteleone told International Longwall News.

The gallery has asked people from the local community, or those with a family history in the Illawarra region, to look through family albums for members of their family who have worked in the coal industry.

The history of coal mining in the Illawarra region dates back to 1790, when coal deposits were first discovered near Coalcliff by George Bass. The first coal mine in the region was opened 52 years later.

Since then it has been a major industry and paved the way for the development of the steelworks and various associated industries. The industry also helped add to the ethnic diversity of the region as immigrants came to work in the mines and associated industries.

Monteleone said the gallery would select about 50 works, which will be scanned, printed, framed and displayed, with the rest to be used in a slide-show presentation. Of the selected displayed works, contributors will be asked to tell the story behind the photo.

The images will then be submitted to Wollongong City Library's local history collection as reference material.

The gallery has already had tremendous success with similar social, historical exhibitions – including A Century of Weddings in 2001 and War and Remembrance: A Century of Service in 2003. Monteleone said for both exhibitions there was a huge response from the community with more than 600 photos submitted for consideration.

BHP Billiton Illawarra Coal will act as the corporate sponsor of the exhibition.

Illawarra residents who have a photograph of themselves, a parent, a grandparent, or a relative who has worked in the Illawarra’s mining industry are invited to bring their images unframed to Wollongong City Gallery between 10am and 5pm on April 18-21. Images can be in the form of a formal or informal portrait, or a photograph taken onsite.

“Voices from the coal face” runs June 10 to August 13.