Blair Athol, a former coal-mining town and now an open cut mine, is 340 km north-west of Rockhampton and 24 km north-west of Clermont. It was named after the head station of James McLaren's Bathhampton pastoral run (1863), Blair Athol having been McLaren's birthplace in Perthshire, Scotland.

Coal was found when a well was sunk within a year of the establishment of the head station, but distance from available markets and McLaren's concentration on pastoral pursuits meant the opportunity was not pursued. The Peak Downs Copper Mining Company, which began operations at Copperfield south of Clermont in 1863, created a demand for Blair Athol coal. By the end of the 1860s the mine's smelters were taking coal, but a collapse in the copper price dampened demand for coal. Demand did not revive until 1890 when copper mining recommenced.

Coal originally had to be hauled out by horse or bullock wagon. Transport was greatly improved with the establishment of a rail link to Clermont (and hence the coast) in 1910. Rail was also important as a source of demand. When copper mining again tailed off in the mid-1890s, Queensland railway operations became the main consumer of local coal.

A school was opened at Blair Athol in 1893, but it took the Clermont rail link and commencement of operations by the Blair Athol Coal and Timber Company at Blair Athol North to provide conditions sufficient for the establishment of a township. A period of short-term prosperity followed. The onset of World War I, and the demand for steaming coal it stimulated, coincided with the discovery of an extremely rich seam, more than 25 metres thick. Coal production in the immediate post-war period was dependent on fitful consumption by the Mount Morgan mines, although the railways remained a dependable customer.

Pit mining gave way to open cut in 1924, but by then Mount Morgan could obtain cheaper coal from state-owned mines. Only a coal miners' strike in New South Wales bolstered demand, and a change to open cut mining at Blair Athol North fortunately coincided with further improved demand in 1936. Subsequent wartime demand also pushed up production.

The history of stop-start coal mining continued in the postwar years, during which CRA and Clutha Development acquired the local coal companies. It was finally the oil shock in the early 1970s that sent global demand for coal soaring, leading to long-term contracts with Japanese power generators in 1979. Additional coal production in the Bowen Basin enabled railway overheads to be shared among producers, and a railway line was constructed from Blair Athol to Dalrymple Bay Coal Terminal near Hay Point in 1983.

By then, the Blair Athol township had ceased to exist (the school closed in 1974). It was known that houses stood in the way of future mining prospects from the time of the CRA/Clutha buy-out, and residences and families were transferred to Clermont in the mid-1970s. The coal mine is operated by Rio Tinto and Japan Coal Development. Its number 3 seam has a very profitable width of 29 metres, about four times the normal width.

At the height of its activity Blair Athol had a hospital, picture show, two hotels, several stores and tradespeople. Blair Athol's census populations were:

Census Date Population
1911 221
1921 808
1947 397
1954 532
1966 240

Today owned by a joint venture including Rio Tinto, Leichhardt Coal Pty Ltd and various Japanese power generators, the Blair Athol Mine is Australia's largest export thermal coal mine. Boosted by the commodities demand of recent years, the open-cut dragline mine produced over 10 million tonnes of saleable coal in 2005 and employed 190 people. Mining is due to end in 2015.

Kerry Killin, Drovers, diggers and draglines: a history of Blair Athol and Clermont, Brisbane, Pacific Coal Pty Ltd for Blair Athol Coal Joint Venturers, 1984

Diane Menghetti, Blair Athol: the life and death of a town, Clermont, Pacific Coal, 1995

Dan O'Donnell, A history of Clermont and district, Clermont, Belyando Shire Council, 1989



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