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The person who discovered the Blackwater coal deposits was Ludwig Leichhardt. He travelled through the district in 1845 on his way to Port Essington in the Northern Territory. Twenty-seven kilometres from the present site of Blackwater, Leichhardt observed ‘beds of coal indistinguishable from those on the Hunter at Newcastle’.
It wasn’t until the early 1960s that the town really started to develop. In 1959-60 coking coal was found to the south of the town. A mining lease was granted in 1965 and in 1967 the first mine in the area started operating. It is claimed that in 1962 the town’s population was only 25. Twenty years later it had grown to over 8000.
The first attempt to mine coal in the Bowen Basin was in 1892/93 at Tolmies, near Blackwater, but the workings were abandoned in 1900. It was not until the early 1960s that coal exploration was conducted in the Bowen Basin on a large scale.
Following the discovery of significant coking coal reserves, Utah Development Company established the Blackwater open-cut mine in 1967 and subsequently, for the Central Queensland Coal Association (CQCA) joint venture, developed Goonyella, Peak Downs, Saraji and Norwich Park open-cut coal mines and the Hay Point Coal Export Terminal. Mitsubishi Development Corporation had been a foundation member of the CQCA joint venture from 1968, along with Utah Development Company, which became a wholly owned subsidiary of BHP in 1984. In December 2000, the South Blackwater open-cut operations were combined with those of the Blackwater mine to create BMA Blackwater.
The Curragh Mine, 14 kilometres from Blackwater, began operations in 1983 with the first steam coal railed in September that year. The first shipment of coking coal for export was delivered to the Port of Gladstone in March 1984. Jellinbah Mine’s first coal was shipped in 1989.