Coal was first discovered north of the Clutha River Mouth in 1840 and the first mine opened in the Kaitangata region in 1869. The Kaitangata Mine was opened in 1873 and was worked by various companies and syndicates until 1956 when it was taken over by State Coal. In 1879 34 men died after a fire damp explosion at the mine. The findings of the Commission of Enquiry – that the explosion was caused by a naked flame within the mine – led to the Mines Regulation Bill. The mine closed in 1959 and operations were transferred to the newly opened Lockington Mine, which was worked until 1970.
The Wangaloa Opencast Mine opened in 1948 and was worked by the Public Works Department on behalf of State Coal, which took over operations in 1956, until the mine closed in 1989.
At Ohai in Southland coal was discovered in the 1870s. The Nightcaps Coal Company was formed in 1879, consolidating previous workings in the Ohai area. Mossbank Mine opened in 1909 and operated until 1952, having been bought by State Coal in 1944. The first Wairaki Underground Mine began production in 1915, was bought by State Coal in 1945, but closed in 1971 due to a fire. The State bought Linton Mine in 1949, which operated from 1920 to 1979. Morley Mine opened at Ohai in 1952. In 1973 the age of mechanised mining was heralded at Ohai by the introduction of a roadheading machine at Morley. An opencast mine opened in 1959 and 1960 operating until 1980 and 1981, while the Beaumont Mine, using mechanised board and pillar techniques was worked from 1979 to 1984. A further opencast was operated between 1980 and 1987.
The Mataura Opencast Mine began in 1951, and the right to work the mine was acquired by Solid Energy in 1996 but closed in 2000 with the closure of its sole customer, the adjacent Mataura papermill. Solid Energy’s Wairaki underground mine, which opened at Ohai in 1982, closed in late 2003, and has been replaced by Ohai Opencast Mine.