FROM THE NEWSPAPERS - 1950 - Landslide at Yallourn North Makes Front Page News

In 1950, the towns of Yallourn and Yallourn North hit the front page of ‘The Age’ (and other national newspapers) when a massive landslide occurred at the open cut. The landslide not only threatened human life but also had the potential to cause catastrophic damage to homes, livestock, personal property and infrastructure.

Three bakery horses were lost, local families were forced to evacuate from the disaster area and the huts of mine workers were also imperilled.

During the calamity, a young girl, Nellie Rowan, was forced to make a dash to safety. Other people mentioned in the press report are: Mr Mills (store owner), Jack Kelso and Arthur Pearson. Arthur was extremely fortunate not be taken in the landfall as the ground slid from under him.

As is so often the case, front page stories are rarely ‘good news’; and this disaster caused great concern and dislocation for the residents at the Yallourn North settlement.

The photographs posted with this article were published in the ‘Newcastle Sun’, ‘Daily News’ (Perth) and the ‘Melbourne Herald.’ The story was ‘big news’ throughout Australia and featured prominently in at least a dozen national newspapers.


Huge Land Slide Causes
Stir at Yallourn
From Our Special Reporter

Tens of thousands of tons of brown coal and clay slid 350 feet into the north open cut at Yallourn yesterday morning.
The area affected forms a small part of the older sections of Yallourn North settlement and is well away from the area now being developed by the Electricity Commission as a permanent township. Operation of the Yallourn North open cut has not been seriously interrupted.
Eleven families with about 30 children were hurriedly evacuated from shops and dwellings above, the fall. Late last night S.E.C. engineers watched anxiously as new fissures in the cliff face widened ominously.

The first fall occurred at 8.40 a.m. Another took place at 8.30 p.m., when a huge block of earth shifted half an inch forward. This ground is expected to fall this morning.
Fifteen-year-old Nellie Rowan was placing a tray of cakes in the window of Meadow’s Bakery when the main fall occurred. She dropped them and dashed from the building. Other residents fled their homes as the earth crashed into the mine.
Immediate emergency measures were taken to evacuate migrant workers from several huts in the nearby North Yallourn hostel.
The main crack appeared 70 feet from the edge of the cut and the fall took fencing material also section of Post Office-place, a road along the top of the cliff.
Fifty S.E.C. men worked continuously all day shifting furniture and personal belongings from doomed houses near the cliff. P.M.G. technicians worked late last night a storing broken telephone lines. Two bowsers were removed from the front of Mr. T. C. Mills’ store. Others had to be left when the ground again showed signs of giving way.

Leap to Safety
The second fall at 8.30 p.m. took several men on watch by surprise. Arthur Pearson, S.E.C. foreman, was standing on the edge when the earth moved, but he managed to leap back to safety.
Another foreman, Jack Kelso, released three bakery cart horses from their stall near the edge. They bolted, and have not been sighted since.

Thousands of tons of clay and coal blocked a railway shunting line at the bottom of the mine, but it is not expected that coal for railway and industrial purposes will suffer. S.E.C. men watched anxiously throughout the night as cracks widened in the earth and nearby buildings.
Some of the families who were evacuated were housed by friends. Others were placed in incomplete prefabricated bungalows a quarter of a mile away. An emergency post office and bank was set up in the Y.M.C.A. hut in the camp.

1. This story echoed throughout Australia. Newspapers in Cairns, Launceston, Warwick (NSW), Broken Hill, Sydney, Ipswich, Echuca, Maryborough (Queensland) and Adelaide were just some of those that reported on the event.
2. Landslides are not rare occurrences in mining operations; and the history of winning coal at the Yallourn mine is dotted with such incidents. In August 1925, ‘The Argus’ reported…
“A landslide of considerable extent occurred on Friday at the Electricity Commission's new open-cut at Yallourn. The Bucyrus steam shovel used in coal-winning operations escaped damage, but a large quantity of overburden was precipitated into the open-cut.” August 17th 1925.
3. In 1927, Yallourn made the news again when a worker at the Yallourn mine died in a landslide…
“LANDSLIDE AT YALLOURN.-With a roar that startled every miner in the coal pit, about 1,000 tons of earth crashed into the pit at the brown coal mine at Yallourn on July 6. Eight men were working in the vicinity, and one was killed, .while the others had remarkable escapes.” Source: ‘The Australasian’ July 9th 1927
4. It is known that the name of the worker who sadly died in the 1927 landslide was Mr. W. Grace.
5. In December 1934, a water conduit tunnel collapsed at the Yallourn power station with severe implications for power generation.
6. A brief news report regarding landslide at the State Coal Mine, at Morwell in 1919, was uncovered during this research…
“Another landslide at Morwell coal mine. Melbourne. Friday. Late last night an earth-slide, being the second within a fortnight, occurred at the state coalmine at Morwell. The storeroom and mill room were wrecked, and traffic on the railway line for trucks was blocked. One man was slightly injured.” Source: ‘The Sun’ (Sydney) September 19th 1919.
7. Unfortunately, despite all the OH&S regulations that now exist in Australian workplaces, the dangers of mining are ever-present. In 2015, it was reported by the ABC, that four miners had died in various accidents in mines in Queensland. Coalmines are subject to fire, flood, landslips and mechanical mishaps and, as former residents of Yallourn know too well, there was nothing worse than an accident at the mine, in the power station or at briquette factory.
8. Some of the other stories, which relate to mine accidents and landslides, can be found on this website at:-
This story is part of a history project entitled ‘From the Newspapers’ and a full list of titles in this series can be obtained by contacting Julie George. The research and writing of this article were completed by Roger Spaull and presented and posted by Julie George for the Virtual Yallourn website in October 2018.
The above extract from the ‘The Age’ has been faithfully reproduced. The only amendments to the original copy are the font style, font size and spacing, to enhance the story for the purposes of posting on the Virtual Yallourn website.