Leigh Creek

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Leigh Creek
South Australia
Leigh Creek is located in South Australia
Leigh Creek
Leigh Creek
Coordinates 30°35′S 138°24′E / 30.583°S 138.400°E / -30.583; 138.400Coordinates: 30°35′S 138°24′E / 30.583°S 138.400°E / -30.583; 138.400
Population 549 (2006 census)[1]
Postcode(s) 5731
Time zone ACST (UTC+9:30)
 • Summer (DST) ACDT (UTC+10:30)
LGA(s) Outback Communities Authority
State electorate(s) Electoral district of Giles
Federal Division(s) Grey

Leigh Creek (formerly Leigh's Creek) is a coal-mining town in eastern central South Australia. At the 2006 census, Leigh Creek had a population of 549.[1]

Situated to the west of the northern Flinders Ranges, the current town is 13 km further south than the original town—it was moved in 1982 to allow the expansion of the mine. As a result, most facilities and buildings in the town are only a little over thirty years old, and with relatively modern designs.

The mine and the railway station are named Telford.


The area was named Leigh's Creek after its first settler, Harry Leigh, in 1856. Coal was discovered and small quantities mined from 1888 (Adelaide Observer 30 April 1892 p. 27 ). The town to support the mine at that time was called Copley, after William Copley, an MP and Commissioner of Crown Lands. However the coal was not mined in a significant commercial manner until 1943 in an effort to make South Australia more self-sufficient for its energy needs, with less dependence on New South Wales. The premier Thomas Playford saw the need to be seen not to rely on interstate energy if he was to attract business to South Australia.

Coal mine[edit]

The open cut mine operation is for low-grade, sub-bituminous black coal[2] which is frequently referred to as hard brown coal[3] or just brown coal.[4] It is transported 250 km by rail to power stations outside Port Augusta on the east side of Spencer Gulf. The coal occurs in several nested bowl-shaped seams, each several metres thick. The coalfield at Leigh Creek is operated by the Alinta Energy and currently produces over 2.5 million tonnes a year of coal. Alinta energy also operates the power stations at Port Augusta which are the only remaining coal-fired generators in South Australia, and the only users of coal from Leigh Creek.

In 1888, John Henry Reid discovered coal-bearing shale during the sinking of a railway dam in the Leigh Creek area (Henry Brown, Government Geologist confirmed the find in his visit to Leigh's Creek in February 1889). This discovery led to a geological examination of the area by a government geologist and the establishment of underground workings. No 1 shaft, sunk by the Leigh Creek Coal Mining Company, was abandoned on striking a heavy flow of water. A new shaft was sunk in 1892 but only small quantities of coal were extracted for experimental purposes and operations ceased in 1894.

It was not until 1940 when coal supplies became critically low because of the Second World War that Leigh Creek coal was considered again. The deposits seemed extensive and extracting the coal by open cut methods was considered feasible. Exploratory boring started in 1941 and plans were made to develop the first open cut mine. Excavation started in 1943 under the control of the Engineering & Water Supply Department. It was apparent that the electricity supply industry would be the largest user of Leigh Creek coal so control of the coalfield was transferred to the Electricity Trust of South Australia (ETSA) in 1948.

ETSA ordered boilers capable of burning Leigh Creek coal for the Osborne Power Station near Port Adelaide and, after thorough investigations, decided to establish a power station at Port Augusta to burn Leigh Creek coal exclusively. The combined A and B plants, with a total generating capacity of 330 megawatts, was named the Thomas Playford Station in recognition of the then South Australian Premier, Sir Thomas Playford.

The use of large excavating machines and efficient mining equipment at Leigh Creek, together with the rebuilding of a railway line between Leigh Creek and Port Augusta by the Commonwealth Railways, resulted in economic production and delivery of coal to the power station. Pacific National provided the coal freight service from 2001.[5]

In the mid 1970s it was decided to build a 500 megawatt station at Port Augusta, called the Northern Power Station. That decision meant enlarging the coalfield using new methods to extract deeper coal, increasing production, building a retention dam to prevent possible flooding of the field and diverting the main highway around the coalfield. The Northern Power Station, alongside Playford A and B, was commissioned in 1985. Because the existing town was located within the coal basin, a new town was built south of the coalfield and the new Leigh Creek became occupied in 1980.

Since the early 1990s, more changes occurred in Leigh Creek. Massive restructuring of mining operations resulted in the reduction of a workforce of over 750 to about 200. The township also became a lot smaller. The population dropped from about 2500 in 1987 to less than 700 today.[when?] The loss of residents also resulted in the loss of many services.[citation needed] Whilst most workers at the coalfields make a good income, the high cost of communication and services drastically reduce the disposable income. Schooling at Leigh Creek has become a bigger problem than ever before. Reasonable education is available for younger students in the primary school. For high school students, the meagre subject choice has made education at the Leigh Creek Area School not the ideal option for many students. Many parents have to send their children away at 13 years old, to get a good education in Adelaide or regional cities like Port Augusta.[citation needed] A simple medical procedure may require a trip to Adelaide, which means a round trip of about 1200 km.

Planned closure[edit]

On 11 June 2015, Alinta Energy announced their intent to not operate the Leigh Creek coal mine beyond March 2018, closing it along with the related Playford B and Northern power stations. All of which may close sooner should business conditions worsen further. [6]

Railway transport of coal[edit]

Coal was originally transported by a 1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in) gauge railway that went needlessly in and out of the Flinders Ranges via Hawker (315m amsl) and Quorn (293m amsl). This was eventually replaced by the more efficient 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) Marree line that stayed on the flat side of those ranges.


The Aroona Sanctuary is one of the best examples of environmental rehabilitation in Australia. By 1985, the lands of the Aroona Sanctuary were badly degraded. Massive numbers of rabbits and feral goats depleted the native vegetation. The vegetation losses led to extensive sheet and gully erosion. Widespread soil erosion also led to rapid silting of Aroona Dam. The lands around Leigh Creek showed serious sign of desertification. Overgrazing and the unrestricted use of 4-wheel vehicles, motorbikes and horses also added to land degradation. For example the local Pony Club occupied an area near Windy Creek. A large number of horses were left grazing uncontrolled and totally destroyed all vegetation. "Dust devils" originating in this area were visible from a long distance. Sand drifts started to occur and rainwater was no longer able to penetrate into the soil layer, because of the talcum powder like structure of the soil surface.[citation needed]

A large-scale environmental rehabilitation project was started in late 1985, under the direction of Beat Odermatt, Environmental Scientist for ETSA. Rehabilitation was done by destroying rabbits and feral goats and by undertaking erosion control works, such as disk pitting and the construction of water velocity reducers. The removal of rabbits and feral goats helped the native vegetation to return. Over 1 million trees and shrubs emerged in the degraded area and silting of waterways and Aroona Dam was drastically reduced.[citation needed]

In 1995, the Government of South Australia declared the area around Aroona Dam a Flora and Fauna Sanctuary. Within less than 10 years, an extremely badly degraded area had recovered to a situation where it could again support a diverse range of native plants and wildlife. The programme provided proof that degraded lands can be rehabilitated. It is one of the best environmental land rehabilitations in arid areas.[citation needed]

In the meantime, a captive breeding programme of Yellow-footed Rock-wallabies at Monarto Zoological Park in South Australia had become too successful. The Royal Zoological Society of South Australia and scientists from the SA Department of Environment and Heritage were looking for a suitable site for the world's first free release of captive Yellow-footed Rock-wallabies. The Aroona Dam Sanctuary was chosen as the best suitable site. Yellow-footed Rock-wallabies once populated the Aroona Dam area. They became extinct in the area because of competition from feral goats and rabbits and predation from feral foxes and cats. Hunting of wallabies by "local yokels" had destroyed the last remaining animals. A programme was initiated to control potential predators such as feral cats and foxes. In 1996, a small number of captive bred Yellow-footed Rock-wallabies was released in the Aroona Sanctuary. The released animals were closely monitored with the help of radio collars and keen volunteers and scientists. Monitoring was undertaken with the help of a large range of people, such as local school students, mine workers and scientists from other many Zoos around Australia and the United States of America.[citation needed]

Various stages of the Aroona Dam Sanctuary project became widely recognized. The project was awarded 3 SA State Landcare Awards and a Mining Industry Award for Environmental Excellency. The project had become one of Australia's most successful and most awarded environmental rehabilitation projects.[citation needed] The Aroona Bio-Diversity Project was also supported by Landcare National Heritage grants from the Commonwealth Government, by active support from adjoining landholders and is currently administered and funded by NRG Flinders.

Land degradation has remained the biggest single environmental problem in Australia. Land degradation is also one of the biggest factors contributing to silting of rivers and creeks in Australia and subsequent water shortages in many areas.


Climate data for Leigh Creek Airport
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 46.3
Average high °C (°F) 35.5
Average low °C (°F) 20.7
Record low °C (°F) 11.0
Average precipitation mm (inches) 20.2
Avg. precipitation days 3.4 3.0 2.7 2.6 4.0 5.1 6.6 4.8 4.8 4.4 4.7 4.1 49.7
Source: [7]

In popular culture[edit]

Leigh Creek Road is referred to in the John Schumann song of the same name on his 1993 album True Believers.


  1. ^ a b Australian Bureau of Statistics (25 October 2007). "Leigh Creek (L) (Urban Centre/Locality)". 2006 Census QuickStats. Retrieved 18 September 2011. 
  2. ^ "The South Australian Coal Industry" submission by Department of Primary Industries and Resources, South Australia, Industry Commission Inquiry into the Australian Black Coal Industry, December 1997; accessed at Productivity Commission website 13 Jan 2014
  3. ^ For example, the website Liz's Open Cut Cafe, accessed 13 Jan 2014, says "The Coal mined at Leigh Creek is Hard Brown Coal".
  4. ^ For example, Beyond Zero Emissions (accessed 13 Jan 2014) talks of "replacing the emissions intensive Northern and Playford B brown coal power plants at Port Augusta with renewable energy"
  5. ^ "Leigh Creek Coalmine". Alinta Energy. Retrieved 11 June 2015. 
  6. ^ "Alinta Energy to close power stations at Port Augusta and coal mine at Leigh Creek". ABC Online. 2015-06-11. Retrieved 2015-06-11. 
  7. ^ http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/averages/tables/cw_017110_All.shtml

Leigh Creek: An Oasis in the Desert, Flinders Ranges Research 1997 (Nic Klaassen) Parliamentary Research Manager, Dr John Weste, March 2011. Leigh Creek Heritage, R Cameron Wilton. Brown, Mines of South Australia, p. 346 Leigh Creek Manager, R Cameron Wilton, 2011-2012, Leigh Creek Town Manager, Robert Stack, 2013-current

External links[edit]