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Leigh Creek, SA

Coal mining town now in transition.

Leigh Creek is a government-owned town on the edge of the desert (its annual rainfall is 205 mm). It is currently up for sale as its original purpose, to house the workers and their families who provided the labour force for the huge Leigh Creek open cut coal mine 22 km north of the town, ceased to exist when the mine was closed in 2015. At the time Leigh Creek was a modern mining town with a modern shopping centre, a series of neat modern roads and small, attractive plots of land on which standard modern houses had been built. Today it is a town without a purpose. It will be fascinating to see whether the South Australian government can find a new lessee or whether the town, like so many mining communities, simply disappears because its raison d'etre no longer exists.

Location

Leigh Creek is located 556 km north of Adelaide via Port Augusta, 261 km north of Port Augusta and 194 m above sea level.

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Origin of Name

In 1856 a settler named Harry Leigh moved into the area which was subsequently named after him.

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Things to See and Do

Leigh Creek
It is still an inhabited town and, as such, is a fascinating opportunity to see what a purpose-built mining town, long before the days of fly in-fly out, was like. Built in the early 1980s it was designed as a community where the families of miners could live and enjoy a social life enhanced by the considerable pay the workers earned at the coal mine.

Leigh Creek Coal Mine
Visitors cannot enter the coalfields but it is possible, by travelling north from the town and driving east for 3.5 km on the main road to the coal mines, to reach a lookout point where a superb view of the open cut is available. At the lookout point there is an old walking dragline known as a Bucyrus Erie 9W. It began service at Leigh Creek in 1951. It has a 49 m boom and a 7 cubic metre bucket which was, at the time, the largest in Australia. There is also a huge tyre which achieved a world record of 289,215 km and 17,520 hours in service before it was 'retired'. Already the open cut mine is filling with water and it will soon be a vast dam.

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Other Attractions in the Area

Leigh Creek for Sale
In January, 2016 the ABC reported that the whole town, which is owned by the South Australian government, was up for sale. They noted: "It was built by the State Government in 1982 to support the state-owned electricity company. Since then the town has been leased to Alinta Energy, which was running the coal mine and two power stations at Port Augusta that are also set to close. Alinta Energy will hand back the town lease in 2018. There are about 350 houses used by state employees and mine workers, along with stores, a police station, a school and health facilities. The State Government is now open to all ideas." Check out http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-01-22/sa-outback-town-leigh-creek-for-sale/7107922 for the full story.

The Future of Leigh Creek
There is an excellent article in The Guardian outlining some of the possible future scenarios for the region. Check out http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/mar/24/port-augusta-busting-a-gut-to-reinvent-itself-as-a-solar-city-when-coal-fired-power-is-switched-off?.

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History

* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the area around Leigh Creek was inhabited by people from the Kuyani Aboriginal language group.

* In 1856 Harry Leigh moved into the area. The area was subsequently named after him.

* Coal was discovered in 1888 and small quantities were mined. Early mining was thwarted by mine shafts being filled with water which made mining nearly impossible.

* It wasn't until the 1943 that the coal fields began to be commercially exploited. The development was a result of South Australia's total dependence on New South Wales for its coal supply. Thomas Playford, the SA Premier at the time, argued that the state needed to be self-supporting in energy.

* In the mid-1970s  it was decided to move the original Leigh Creek township because the settlement, located 13 km north of the present site, was located on top of the coal seam.

* The new town site was chosen in 1977 and the first houses were occupied in 1980. The entire old town was auctioned off.

* In 1982 the South Australian government built the town to support the state-owned electricity industry.

* By 1986 100 million cubic metres of overburden had been removed from the mine site.

* By 1987 the new town had a population of around 2,500.

* In the summer of 2012-2013, dubbed The Angry Summer by the Climate Commission, the temperature in Leigh Creek reached a new recorded high of 46.3°C.

* On 17 November, 2015 Alinta ceased mining the brown coal in the area.

* Alinta is due to hand back the town to the state government in 2018.

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Visitor Information

There is no visitor information in Leigh Creek. For information Port Augusta Visitor Information Centre, 41 Flinders Terrace, tel: (08) 8641 9194, Open Monday - Friday 9.00 am - 5.30 pm, Saturday and Sunday 10.00 am - 4.00 pm.

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Useful Websites

There is no specific website but the local Caravan Park has a useful site with pertinent information. Check out http://www.leighcreekcaravanpark.com.

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Got something to add?

Have we missed something or got a top tip for this town? Have your say below.

9 suggestions
  • I visited Leigh Creek in October 2015 and stayed for 2 nights in the very comfortable hotel with the other travellers on our Flinders Ranges bus tour. I thought it was a well appointed, well built and designed town with still a lot to offer. Morale was very low among the locals and many businesses were already closed. My fellow travellers and I were emotional and upset when we heard their stories and most had no jobs and no homes to go to when Leigh Creek finally closes. I urge the state government to try harder to give this town a different life, I can’t believe it will just rot and return to the bush when so many enterprising people, many from countries where English is their second language, would love to live there and work there but haven’t been given a chance to begin their new lives in our wonderful country in an area that is only a little more than thirty years old!! Everything there is still in working order just waiting for a new life and new people. Please don’t let this wonderful town go to waste, act now!!!

    Margaret Ellen Grummet
    • I couldn’t agree more. It is a town that is worth maintaining but without the mine up the road it is very hard to think of something/anything that will keep it afloat.

      Bruce Elder
    • I absolutely agree with Margaret. A friend & I camped at the lovely, well-appointed Caravan Park on 26 May 2017 – an unplanned but welcome stopover on the way to Farina. I’d never been to Leigh Creek before and had no idea what to expect – somehow not the neatly curbed cul-de-sacs and lushly planted gardens. What a beautiful little town! It would be a terrible shame to lose both the town, which supplies a much larger area to the north, and the friendly, close-knit community. So I’d also like to urge the government to maintain such a vital hub. There must be a way!

      Sue Cochius
  • I worked there installing carpet and vinyl in the miner’s accommodation in the early 80s. Very sad to see it go to waste. Nice place. Copley was an interesting place as well, oldest bar lady in Australia pulling beers at the time, I believe.

    J lee
    • My mum was best friends with the woman that owned the Copley pub back in the 60’s. My mum was also Matron of the Leigh Creek Hospital for some time in the 60’s

      Jenny
  • Should be employment for rehabilitation of the surrounding mining site. If the hole is filling up with water,could have water sport’s etc. If water is usable for agriculture it could produce specialty crops for overseas markets.

    Richard leach
  • Brown coal and fertiliser? Maybe this could be an new industry for Leigh Creek.

    Jim Donohue
  • I was one of the Electrical Engineers that worked on the design of the new towns buildings back in the late 70’s. Used to fly up there for site meetings in light planes. One day we had a few tech problems with the plane and one of the other contractors on board would not fly the next time. He drove up from Adelaide, hit a cow and never made that meeting. So sad to think of all that work many of us put in, now it will probably end up a ghost town.

    Keith Sadler
    • I’m not sure it will end up a ghost town. There is a great tenacity about the town and it may re-invent itself. Here’s hoping it does. Great place for a huge solar project.

      Bruce Elder