Sunday, July 4, 2010

I can't resist some relic tunnels, railways and whatnot from NSW shale mines, can you?

Well I find it interesting, anyway. Been there twice, once staying overnight near Newnes. Shale oil mining was big business in the late 19th Century until the early 20th and a raft of mines sprung up in NSW. Tunnels, railway relics, oil refinery equipment - you name it, it's all there to be seen. This post is (you guessed it) about that shale mining. Follow the links to more detailed sites with pics.

Brian Ayling's Airly relics
From 1883 to about 1913, Kerosene shale or torbanite was mined in the vicinity of Airly, a small village near Capertee about 120 miles from Sydney. Transport of shale to the nearby railway was initially handled by a system of roads and horse tramways, but with increased production and the establishment of an oil works at Torbane, some spectacular cable haulage inclines were employed to cross Airly Mountain.

The Airly mines closed after shale production was concentrated in Newnes, and today just a few remarkable relics remain, in fairly secluded bushland.
Brian Ayling's Airly relics
Hidden cottages
Small stone dwellings can be found adjacent to the route of a horse tramway that served shale mines along the eastern slopes of Airly Mountain. Careful exploration either side of the tramway formation reveals numerous hidden gems like these, the example at right being neatly concealed beneath an overhanging rock.
Brian Ayling's Airly relics
Oil works site
Reward for a climb to the crest of Airly Mountain is this spectacular view overlooking the Torbane oil works site. Farm house is the original works manager's residence, and the access road approaching from right uses an abandoned standard gauge railway formation.
Dingo Gap Gallery | Airly Cave Houses and Village
When Oil Shale Mining started in 1883 at Mt Airly and Torbane, a small village named Airly sprang up in the valley immediately to the east of Mt Airly.

There was no town planning. Small ramshackle huts were built wherever there was a level bit of ground large enough to support foundations and the chimney.

A tramway for hauling shale from the mines to the refinery at Torbane ran through the village.

Some miners took advantage of rock overhangs and built cave houses, filling in gaps with stones. These houses were very small and cramped.

Not much is left of the village today. There are large open spaces in the valley. Along the old tramway there are the remains of several stone or brick houses and several some cave houses.

A couple of the cave houses are in remarkably good condition.

Mining had ceased by 1914 and most of the population moved away soon after.
The road turns north towards Glen Alice at the intersection with the Glen Davis Road, or you can penetrate even further into the valley by going on into Glen Davis.

This now sleepy village, named after the Davis Gelatine Company was originally known as Green Gully. It was developed as the site of a shale oil industry during WWII which lasted 12 years before closing.
Glen Davis (Photo - Bruce Upton)

The site of the refinery is on private land is only accessible by guided tour starting at the gates at 2pm on a Sunday.
Capertee - New South Wales - Australia - Travel -
The railway arrived from Wallerawang in 1882. Consequently Capertee acquired a school; albeit in the form of a tent, which was replaced by a pre-fab building in 1883.

More importantly, the railway enabled the exploitation of the area's known mineral resources - coal, limestone and oil shale. The latter was discovered on the future site of Glen Davis in 1873. The first mining tunnel at that site was established in 1881 and other mines began to open around Capertee in the 1890s, including one on Blackman's Crown.

Capertee naturally benefited from the economic activity although there was little development other than the opening of a police station, lock-up and courthouse.

Two other small villages soon sprang up around the new mines - Airly Village, about 8km east of Capertee and Torbane which acquired a railway siding. By 1898, about 200 men were working on the Torbane project. It is thought that between 1896 and 1903, 140 000 tons of oil shale were extracted. For shelter the miners used caves formed by erosion in the sandstone cliffs.

However, shale production went into decline around 1903 as it is the nature of oil shale seams to narrow out rapidly from the section of greatest thickness and hence to soon become uneconomical to pursue.

By 1913 work at the mines had virtually ceased. A new company did build an aerial railway to the Torbane siding and established a retort in 1924 but it was a short-lived venture.
Capertee - New South Wales - Australia - Travel -
After the works at Newnes closed down in the early 1920s agitation increased for a reopening of the Capertee works as it was the only source of oil in Australia. A committee was set up in 1933 to investigate the feasibility. Its report in 1934 led to the formation of National Oil Proprietary Ltd (NOP) in 1937. Although the committee recommended re-establishing the Newnes works, the other option was eventually chosen - that being the old oil shale tunnel established in 1881 at the eastern rim of the Capertee Valley (i.e., Glen Davis).

The degree of government assistance and concessions indicate that the enterprise was to be of no great commercial success. Looming war may have increased desire for independent fuel resources but the proposed production levels were not that significant. Nonetheless the works were opened in 1938 and a town of about 2500 people quickly developed around the works which employed 1600 people at their peak in the 1940s. It was named Glen Davis after the Davis Gelatine interests who headed NOP.

Supplies were already running out by 1949 and the end of Chifley's Labor Government meant the end of heavy and on-going assistance from the government. Costs were high, output was low and cheap crude oil was available from the Middle East. Consequently the works closed in 1952. The machinery was stripped in 1953, leaving the ruins which remain today.
Geological Sites - Especially around Sydney
It's off the beaten path a bit, but don't forget to visit Glen Davis - say the tourism promoters. And those who take the trip usually find it an interesting place. The former oil shale mining town lies at the end of the spectacular escarpments of the Capertee Valley, stated to be the largest enclosed valley in the southern hemisphere. Glen Davis has perhaps the largest seam of high grade oil shale in the world. In its heyday about 2,500 people lived in the township. Vertical sandstone cliffs now stand guard over the crumbling vegetation-covered structures lending a surreal impression.

Glen Davis is one of the many known oil shale areas (Torbane, Mt Airly, Glen Alice, Glen Davis, Newnes, Marangaroo, Hartley Vale, Joadja, etc.) that have been exploited for oil distillation from the mineral (torbanite). Glen Davis was the latest and greatest of these limited life enterprises. The shale-to-liquids industry has operated in numerous countries around the world, and its beginnings go back as far as 1694 when shale oil was first produced in Scotland. Today, commercial oil shale industries are active in China, Estonia and Brazil.

In the Sydney Basin, oil shale occurs as high grade torbanite beds. The torbanite yields approximately 300 litres of oil per tonne. Torbanite deposits in the upper part of the Late Permian coal measures have been exploited along the western margin of the Sydney Basin, in the Illawara area, and also in the Gunnedah Basin. The best-known deposits are Joadja in the south, Newnes and Glen Davis in the central west, and Baerami in the southern Gunnedah Basin. Some deposits have also been recorded in the Greta Coal Measures of the Hunter Valley.
Geological Sites - Especially around Sydney
Glen Davis was a follow-on from Newnes. Newnes was one of the larger and more successful of the early oil shale mines and refineries, and it operated from 1906 to 1934. The Newnes oil distillation works was very much an on-off operation. The Newnes works opened and closed repeatedly due to competition from imports, mining difficulties and capital shortages.

After the works at Newnes closed down in the early 1920s agitation increased for a reopening of the Capertee works as it was the only source of oil in Australia. The Federal Government undertook support for the Newnes works from 1931, as both an employment creation measure and as encouragement for domestic oil production. The government supported the new owners, the Shale Oil Development Committee Limited, but by March 1932 this company had failed. A committee was set up in 1933 to investigate the feasibility of continuing operations in the area. The government then called for new tenders in April 1932 but nothing eventuated. Then in May 1936 the Federal Government announced it would take over the Newnes operation and, together with the New South Wales state government, inject new capital into a joint enterprise with private industry. To that end Sir Herbert Gepp, as a consultant acting for the government, approached many industrialists about the scheme, including Mr George Davis (the founder of Davis Gelatine Pty Ltd. Davis).

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