Brunner Bridge

Image: Shellie Evans | ©

Introduction

Ramble round the ruins of the old Blackball Coal Mine site make for an evocative industrial heritage experience, or visit the restored Brunner Bridge. The Brunner Mine Site combines fascinating history, extensive mining ruins, a great natural setting.

Highlights

Notice: The Blackball Coal Mine site is closed to the public while restoration work is carried out on the Blackball Chimney.

First published 5 March 2019.

Brunner Bridge

The Brunner Bridge is clearly visible from the road. It never closes and can be accessed from either side via State Highway 7 and Taylorville-Blackball Road, and by rail via Brunner Station. 

A walk through the restored box girder is an experience that will excite most visitors - something they will photograph and recommend to friends.

The bridge defines and differentiates the Brunner site and helps to trigger visitors to stop and explore. It also provides an essential link between parts of the site on opposite banks of the river and a great viewpoint to help with interpretation. Added to this, coal trains laden with Paparoa coal still pass through several times daily.

The Brunner Mine Historic Area combines fascinating history, extensive mining ruins, a great natural setting, and attracts some 30,000 visitors annually.

2004 restoration

The 2004 bridge restoration project has significantly increased cultural heritage values by strengthening interpretation and landmark aspects. The Brunner Industrial Site Co-ordinating Committee resolved that the bridge should be retained at all costs. In fact a restored bridge, as a landmark, would rejuvenate the cultural status of the site.

A conservation plan was developed for the site (Kelly 2000) and then a more specific conservation plan developed for the bridge (Kelly 2002). The bridge, already in its fifth reincarnation, still retained most of its original form, a ‘evolving heritage’ approach was acceptable and a full reconstruction of the 1887 bridge was decided.

The engineering design and cost estimates were undertaken by Montgomery Watson Harza, Consulting Engineers of Greymouth. The task of fundraising got under way and the major contributors were: Grey District Council, Historic Places Trust, Department of Conservation, Solid Energy

Further reading

2004: The Heritage and Environment of Coal Gorge and the Brunner Suspension Bridge; Brian Wood, Greymouth
2002: Brunner Bridge Conservation Plan; M. Kelly, BISCC
2000: Brunner Mine Concept Plan; M Kelly, DOC.
1998: Disaster at Brunner; Brian Wood, Greymouth

Coal Gorge and the Brunner Suspension Bridge

Brunner Bridge factsheet (PDF, 117K)

Brunner Mine Site

The Brunner Mine explosion of 1896 is New Zealand’s greatest work place disaster. Sixty-five men, virtually everybody underground, died when gas ignited. The impact on West Coast families lasted for generations.

A significant memorial commemorating the disaster greets the visitor to the Taylorville side of the complex. The area is important for its social history, in particular its long and vigorous history of trade unionism.

The Brunner Mine had the greatest coal production in New Zealand. At its peak over 300 men and boys were employed there, and a range of industries made up the wider complex. In 1891 the borough of Brunnerton had 2231 people. Even though it had passed its heyday by 1900 it remained a centre of great industrial activity until the late 1930s - nearly 80 years of industry in this narrow valley.

Alongside the extraordinary output of coal, coke and bricks were produced in large volumes. Brunner firebricks, in particular, were famous products in their own right and established the reputation of Brunnerton, as it was generally known in the 19th century.

The intervention of the Historic Places Trust to save the deteriorating complex in 1978 represents one of the earliest efforts to conserve (and interpret to the public) this country’s industrial heritage on a large scale.

Explore the area on the Brunner Mine Site Walk.

Blackball Coal Mine

Have lunch in the old West Coast coal mining town, birthplace of the modern kiwi lunch break.

Heritage value

Blackball deserves a spot on the NZ Monopoly board as the town where the modern lunch break began. Unhappy with their 15 minute lunch break, the town’s coalminers went on strike for three months in 1908 demanding the right to a half hour break for lunch.

The miners won and Blackball won fame as a crusading town for New Zealand workers’ conditions. West Coasters still remember the judge telling the miners their demands were unreasonable, then taking a 90-minute lunch break for himself and the lawyers. Lunch breaks matter. Blackball today is a proud old coal mining town with loads of character. It is significant as the only mine site in New Zealand with its town still living.

Why visit

No need to sit on a plank in a miner’s tunnel to eat your pie today. You can enjoy a two-hour “Judges lunch” at the famed West Coast hotel ‘Formerly The Blackball Hilton’ or another local watering hole before exploring the historic Blackball mine right next to the township. A ramble round the ruins of the old mine site make for an evocative industrial heritage experience.

No ghost town, Blackball offers echoes of an edgy history along with the classic West Coast pub, the turreted old mine manager’s house (said to be haunted), miners’ cottages and the prizewinning Blackball Salami Shop.

Conservation work

The Blackball community worked with DOC to clear the overgrown mine site. Future plans are to stabilise the ruins and to provide on-site interpretation. Visitors can follow the story of the strike on outdoor panels at the town’s new memorial installed by the local community.

Getting there

Blackball is 22 km inland from Greymouth following the road along the north bank of the Grey River.

Further reading

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