A brief history of the SCM-Rescue Station Arts Inc.

The State Coal Mine closed in December 1968. The buildings were left unattended and unloved. Today many have gone or are a dilapidated ruin. The Rescue Station is an exception, one of the last remaining intact buildings of our mining history.

In the early 1970s the State Coal Mine Park Project committee was formed and in 1976 Roy Grounds architectural company produced a master plan. The Rescue Station building was to be restored and conserved for future generations.

Much was achieved but with no recurrent funding the Rescue station building was used for the storage of large mining equipment and a high fence was erected around the building.

The Friends of the State Coal Mine funded a new roof for the building. This opened the way for the question to be asked “what could this building be used for?” It was an ideal home for an arts cooperative, in keeping with the miners’ co -operatives established in the early 1900s.

This vision grew as many local artists visited the rescue station building and could see the potential for this large industrial site.

In 2002 -2005 the arts cooperative project resurfaced again under the “Creatively Connecting Communities” project, a partnership between the Bass Coast Shire Council and the Department of Victorian Communities.

A steering committee of 8 members was formed and met regularly to progress the project.

An inaugural fund-raising dinner was held closely followed by a community open day/festival where more than 6oo hundred people attended raising precious funds and great interest in this significant building and in the opportunities for cultural activities.

Shortly after a community workshop was held to define the overall goals of using the Rescue Station as an arts co-operative. This workshop, attended by 30 members of the community and government representatives, delivered the Rescue Station Arts statement of purpose.

2006 The State Coal Mine-Rescue Station Arts Inc. was listed as an Incorporation.

Our vision /mission statement has been revisited on a number of occasions by the committee and the ongoing commitment to vibrancy, sustainability, community accessibility and heritage conservation remains.

The History of the Rescue Station

The State Coal Mine, Rescue Station was built in 1928, the need for it being seen as essential following a fatal mine accident in 1922 (where 2 miners were killed). It is an integral part of the history of the Wonthaggi State Coal Mine. It served as the change rooms for the miners in the McBride Tunnel and stored breathing apparatus in case of underground rescues. A smoke tunnel housed in the back of the building served to facilitate realistic underground rescue training sessions. The Rescue team who trained here used the most modern equipment in Australia at the time and was sought after nationwide. A mining disaster in Tasmania even saw the Wonthaggi Rescue team aboard a specially commissioned voyage across Bass Strait to aid in rescue efforts. Stables for the pit ponies and a canary house were also adjacent to the building, along with many other buildings which have since vanished from the landscape. The remnants of Number 5 brace can also be seen from the Rescue Station.

Pit Ponies and Miners (image from State Library of Victoria)

The State Coal Mine is of historical and scientific importance to the State of Victoria as Australia’s first State-owned coal mine, one of the first with all-electrical operation, one of the largest mines of its era and probably the best able to provide evidence of working conditions.

The worst accident in the State Coal Mine’s history was in 1937, at 20 shaft, with 13 men killed in an underground fire. The perils of underground mining made a unique contribution to defining the character of the Wonthaggi State Coal Mine. Many boys, men and pit ponies toiled, and some paid the ultimate sacrifice, at this mine site.

In its heyday the State Coal Mine at Wonthaggi was a bustling network of underground tunnels filled with men, pit ponies, dust and dim lights. Operating from 1909 to 1968, some 17 million tonnes of coal was extracted from the Wonthaggi mines.

The State Coal Mine Rescue Station Arts Inc acknowledges it is situated on the traditional homelands of the Bunurong/Boonwurrung people and we pay our respects to their Elders – past, present and emerging. 


80 West Area Rd,
Wonthaggi VIC 3995

Call Us

 0408 721 949