Julius Haast and James Burnett first discovered coal at the plateau of the Papahaua Range in 1860.
A detailed survey in 1862 established millions of tonnes of extractable coal.
It took Robert Denniston to spark an interest in mining this resource and building of the ‚Incline‘ started in 1878.
In 1880 the first consignment went down the Denniston Incline, fondly referred to by the locals as:
‚the Eight’s Wonder of the World‘.
Rapid development culminated in the establishment of a number of settlements with a total population of about 1500 people during the time of peak productivity of the mines .
The decline in mining on the Plateau started during the Great Depression in the 30’s and ended when it was decided to concentrate on the Stockton open cast mining operation in 1995.
Today there are just 7 houses left.
In a race against time volunteers set up the ‚Friends of the Hill‘ charitable trust and are trying to preserve as much as possible of the true West Coast Heritage.
It has a small museum with restored relics of the past and a wealth of documentation.
When Gary and Sylvia James moved into their house on Denniston for no other reason than that it suited their life style they never anticipated how this would change their lives and that of many others.
Either driven by love or hate, but always with a passion, old residents and their families kept returning to the rapidly deteriorating physical remains of their past to reminisce times gone by and share their memories with anybody prepared to listen.
The emotional attachment touched a nerve with Sylvia and Gary and after a suggestion to ex Burnett’s Face residents Billy Andrews and Bob Stephens on the 13th of July 1993 the „Friends of the Hill Soc.“ was formed.
A base needed to be found and the old High School on Denniston was not yet beyond restoration.
Solid Energy which owns the land and building actively supports the Society and for a peppercorn rental the Friends of the Hill now have a meeting place and their own museum and information centre.
Volunteers completely restored the old school with the help of generous donations of materials and free or heavily discounted professional help.