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Kurri Kurri, in the Lower Hunter Valley around 145 kilometres from Sydney, was once the centre of the South Maitland Coalfields. The town itself was founded in 1902 to service the local Stanford Merthyr and Pelaw Main mining communities. The first town lots were sold in January 1903, providing miners with much sought after the opportunity to gain freehold title.
Mining at the South Maitland Coalfields began at East Greta in 1891, after an 1886 exploration by Sir Edgeworth David, a government geological surveyor, uncovered the potential of the Greta coal seam.
More mines were opened in the early 1900s, at a time when the Newcastle coal mines were quickly becoming exhausted. Conditions in the mines were dangerous and there were a number of accidents including the death of six miners at the Stanford Merthyr Mine in 1905, which is commemorated by a monument in the Kurri Kurri cemetery.
Kurri Kurri grew to house a population of 5885 residents by 1911. The Richmond Main mine, also in the Kurri Kurri vicinity, was once the Southern Hemisphere's largest shaft mine.
Coal mining was at its height in the mid-1920s but by the 1960s the industry had almost come to a halt. The Stanford Main mine closed in 1957, Pelaw Main in 1962 and Richmond Main finally shut down in 1967.
Reminders of the mining era can be seen in the numerous small miners' cottages throughout Kurri Kurri and its neighbouring towns. The Kurri Kurri Hotel (1904) is one of several pubs built during the era of mining prosperity in the early 20th century. It is an impressive three storey building featuring prominent verandahs with cast iron lacework. The Empire Tavern is another large hotel built during this era.
Surrounding wineries and the town's aluminium smelter are now the town's economic mainstays.