Blackball, New Zealand

Blackball is a small town located on the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand, approximately 29km from Greymouth.

Blackball was named for the Black Ball Shipping Line, which leased land in the area to mine for coal. It was formerly known as Joliffetown and Moonlight Gully.

Blackball is notable as a centre of New Zealand radicalism and workers' militancy. It was the birthplace of the New Zealand Labour Party which followed the 1908 miners 'cribtime' strike, the longest in New Zealand history (at ten weeks).

In the 1913 Great Strike, Blackball miners were the last to return to work (in 1914). During the strike they had picketed out miners in nearby Brunner and had burnt down the secretary of the 'arbitration' (scab) unions home.

In 1925 the headquarters of the Communist Party of New Zealand were moved to Blackball from Wellington.

The pit was closed in 1964.

Local hostelry 'Formerly the Blackball Hilton' was founded in 1910, as the Dominion Hotel, renaming itself after the mine manager, after whom the town's main street is also named. It was forced to change its name after objections from the international hotel chain of the same name.

The current population is 370, and the town is due to become the home of the New Zealand Museum of Working Class History.


Blackball was the terminus of the New Zealand Railways Department's Blackball Branch, a branch line from the Stillwater - Westport Line. The line was approved in 1901, construction began in 1902 under the auspices of the Public Works Department, trains first ran to Blackball in 1909, and it was officially opened on 1 August 1910. Private interests constructed a steep extension from Blackball into the Paparoa Ranges that employed the Fell mountain railway system to aid braking (though this was not a full use of the Fell system like the Rimutaka Incline was). This extension was later taken over by the State Mines Department and was known as the Roa Incline.

Passenger services operated to Blackball until 1940, primarily for the benefit of miners. Coal was the mainstay of the railway, and when tonnages dropped to an unsustainable level, the Roa Incline closed on 25 July 1960. Trains to Blackball became increasingly infrequent, and when a flood destroyed two spans of the line's bridge over the Grey River on 21 February 1966, the Railways Department viewed repairs as unjustifiably expensive and closed the line. Blackball's station building had been destroyed some eleven years previously, when it was consumed by fire in 1955.


Blackball has a unique literary inheritance: for a small town, it has managed to attract more than its share of literary representations. Bill Pearson's "Coal Flat" (1963) is a major New Zealand novel in the dated social realist tradition. Pearson had taught in the town as a probationary teacher in 1942, and also had formed a friendship with the publican's family. His book caused a bit of a storm amongst the locals, as they tried to "spot the character" - who had Pearson based these people on? Bill Pearson died in 2002.

Eric Beardsley's "Blackball '08" is an historical novel published in 1984. Beardsley used the historic 1908 Crib Time strike as the basis for a story that fleshed out the drama of what was a key moment in New Zealand trade union history.

Jeffrey Paparoa Holman's "The Late Great Blackball Bridge Sonnets" published in 2004 contains poems based around the railway bridge which linked the community with the outside world. The poems also mention people and features of the town which Holman recalls from his childhood in Blackball during the 1950s and 1960s.

Paul Maunder - who lives in the town - is a playwright who has written and staged a number of plays about the town and working-class history.


  • Reed, A. W. (2002). The Reed Dictionary of New Zealand Place Names. Auckland: Reed Books. ISBN 0-7900-0761-4.
  • Nolan, Melanie (ed.) (2005). Revolution - The 1913 Great Strike in New Zealand. Canterbury: Canterbury University Press (in association with The Trades Union History Project). ISBN 1-877257-40-0.
  • Beardsley, E. T. (1984). Blackball 08. Auckland: Collins. ISBN 0-0022-2317-1. Historical Novel

Formerly The Blackball Hilton Hotel

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