Blackball Chimney: working with volunteers to restore an iconic structure

Department of Conservation —  20/06/2021

The community of Blackball, on the West Coast of the South Island has embraced its future by restoring a large piece of its past.

The historic mining town of Blackball today – nestled on a small plateau at the southern end of the Paparoa Range near Greymouth. Credit: Neil Silverwood

Blackball, the only original mining town in New Zealand which is still populated, sits at the southern gateway to the new Paparoa Track, New Zealand’s tenth Great Walk.

The Blackball Coal Mining Company, which opened 1889 and closed in 1964, is famous for the 1908 Crib Time Strike when miners protested long hours and only having a break of 15 minutes to eat their ‘crib’ or lunch, leading to the first strike in New Zealand.

As you walk through the narrow valley of the historic coalmine site, an old boiler chimney built 33 metres up a steep slope above you looms another 18 metres into the air. Most of the mine structures have disappeared with time, and the site has not seen the level of preservation work in other historic mining sites. The mine’s history is important to the culture, character and social fabric of the town and locals are keen to share this with their visitors.

As the Paparoa Track took shape and neared its 2019 opening, locals were eager to take advantage of new opportunities and spruce up the town for an influx of visitors. Businesses offering accommodation, food and transport sprung up and new toilets were installed.

The Blackball community met to discuss priorities for a grant from the Department of Internal Affairs for a community led development programme. Voted as number one priority was the restoration of an important historic asset that had been neglected for many years – the last intact Blackball Coal Mine chimney, built sometime between 1902 and 1909.

Working closely with DOC, the Blackball Residents Association Trust signed a Community Agreement to repair the chimney. The Blackball Coal Mine, 1890: historic site inspection and workplan written in 2011 by  Jim Staton for DOC’s Greymouth Mawheranui office provided good background for this project, and is a fascinating read.

This 1909 photo shows the boiler chimney in the background of the Blackball Coal Mining Company’s storage bins.
Credit: DOC

The chimney repointing repair was begun by the Trust and local refractory bricklayer Carl Sheehan using historic brickwork methods. You can find out details of this and see Carl and the team on the video Blackball Restoration.  The Blackball Community Led Development Programme and Wainwright & Co Stonemasons from Dunedin completed the restoration.

Priority was given to involving volunteers and contractors based in Blackball in the project, with support from local DOC staff. The chimney repair was completed late last year, more than a year after the work began.

The Blackball community are keen to continue working closely with DOC to upgrade local walking tracks and improve interpretive signage around the historic site.

When you next visit Blackball, and see the chimney piercing the sky, give a thought to all the agencies and community volunteers who have worked to save the Blackball Coal Mine boiler chimney for future generations to enjoy.

Lloyd Young working on the very top of the Blackball Chimney.
Credit: Marcus Wainwright.

National Volunteer Week 2021

National Volunteer Week runs from the 20 – 26 June 2021. It’s a chance to celebrate and thank all the volunteers and community groups who take action for conservation. We’ll be sharing stories throughout the week about the amazing work of those volunteers who generously give to ensure Papatūānuku thrives.

One response to Blackball Chimney: working with volunteers to restore an iconic structure

    R Stuart Nicholson 20/06/2021 at 8:41 pm

    Seismically safe?