More than 30 years ago, there was uproar in the small coal mining town of Collinsville, 85km west of Bowen in Queensland's Whitsundays region.
The mine's owners had decided that the last of a generation of faithful pit ponies that had toiled down below since the 1920s could go... and to the knackery.
What they hadn't counted on, however, was the anger of the miners who considered the horses their "workmates".
No way, they said. But they had to think quickly and in a breathtaking display of ingenuity they had the pit ponies made members of the coal miners union - the Queensland Collieries Employees Union - and thus subject to the laws of seniority.
The fact that the horses had been working in the mines for longer than two-thirds of the miners gave them seniority and they couldn't be laid off before two-thirds of the workforce.
The company gave in and the horses worked the mine for two more years. Finally, with the arrival of a new sympathetic mine manager, the last remaining ponies, Wharrier and Mr Ed, were retired in 1991 and moved to a local farm to spend their last years in the paddocks.
Collinsville's horses were well treated, says information and tourism officer Brett Murphy, and formed strong bonds with their handlers and other workers.
Unlike the pit ponies of the coal mines of Scotland, Wales and England, here they only worked underground during the day and retired to their paddocks at night.
The name pit pony originated in the UK because they used small ponies, usually Shetlands, as the coal seams were very low. With seams of coal in Australian mines much higher, Clydesdales, renowned for their intelligence and strength, were used instead.
That intelligence was on show, all day, every day, Brett said. "They always knew if an extra skip or two had been added to their load. They wouldn't move, no matter how hard the miners tried. Once the extra skip was unhooked off they'd go."
They had proved lifesavers many times. "If the miner's light went out they'd find the horse, grab its tail and say 'let's go mate' and the horse would instinctively find its way back to the crib camp."
An indoor display, the Coalface Museum Experience, looks at life underground, from the brutal working conditions of the early hand-mining days to the first mechanisation.
Each year Miners Memorial Day is held on October 13 to honour the 26 men who have lost their lives in Collinsville's mines. The worst disaster happened on that day in 1954 when seven lives were lost during a gas outburst at the No 1 State Mine.
Opal Ridge Motel is an owner-operated family business. Furnished in contemporary style, it has 28 premium rooms and a fine dining as well as a more casual restaurant.
Collinsville is a RV-friendly town where you can park near the showgrounds free for 72 hours and take advantage of a range of facilities.
Large and tasty meals are on offer at the Pit Pony Tavern. Owner Janet Lobegeier is one of the pit pony's greatest admirers. A poem, The Mine Horses Farewell by Stanley Hathaway, takes pride of place on one wall, next to old harnesses and other memorabilia. The hotel's walls are adorned with historic photos of the intelligent and hard-working animals.
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Sue Preston was a guest of Tourism Whitsundays
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