Historical information

Brown Coal is typically found as rocks. During formation the Brown Coal starts as peats, which is an acidic brown deposit resembling soil, and over time when subjected to pressure and heat these peats form the Coal. Brown Coal is the lowest rank of coal as it has a low carbon (energy) content, and a high moisture content. This high moisture content makes Brown Coal unsuitable for overseas exports.

This particular specimen was recovered from the Yallourn Mine in Latrobe Valley, Victoria as part of the geological survey of Victoria being carried out by Alfred Selwyn. Otherwise known as the 'Yallourn Power Station', the Yallourn Mine is Australia's second largest mine. Yallourn Mine was first built in 1920, and since then it has been providing over 1 billion tonnes of Brown Coal to Australia every year. The Yallourn Mine is responsible for 22% of Victoria's electricity and 8% of Australia's electricity. As of 2021 the mine employs around 500 people.

Due to ongoing maintenance issues and Australia's move to cleaner energy, the Yallourn Mine intends to shut down permanently as of 2028.

Soon after gold was discovered in 1851, Victoria’s Governor La Trobe wrote to the Colonial Office in London, urging ‘the propriety of selecting and appointing as Mineral Surveyor for this Colony a gentleman possessed of the requisite qualifications and acquaintance with geological science and phenomena’. Alfred Selwyn was appointed geological surveyor in Australia in 1852 which began the Geological Survey of Victoria. In 1853-69 the Geological Survey issued under Selwyn's direction sixty-one geological maps and numerous reports; they were of such high standard that a writer in the Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London bracketed the survey with that of the United States of America as the best in the world. During his years spent in Australia, Selwyn collected numerous significant geological specimens, examples of which are held in collections such as the Burke Museum.


Brown coal is considered to be an essential rock to Australia's energy consumption. Although plentiful in sources, Brown Coal is not able to be exported overseas due to its high moisture content. As Australia moves towards cleaner energy, Brown Coal is going become less used.

This specimen is part of a larger collection of geological and mineral specimens collected from around Australia (and some parts of the world) and donated to the Burke Museum between 1868-1880. A large percentage of these specimens were collected in Victoria as part of the Geological Survey of Victoria that begun in 1852 (in response to the Gold Rush) to study and map the geology of Victoria. Collecting geological specimens was an important part of mapping and understanding the scientific makeup of the earth. Many of these specimens were sent to research and collecting organisations across Australia, including the Burke Museum, to educate and encourage further study.

Physical description

A solid hand-sized sedimentary rock that is a dark shade of brown.

Inscriptions & markings

13 /
BROWN COAL / Showing Woody
structure / Locality: Yallourn, Vic. |
Label probably / correct but / can't
find reference / no. 13 to match in /
registers. / C Willman / 15/4/21