Until the 1960s hoisting dirt up the shaft of a mine was done by a miner winding a windlass handle.

Once the load was at the base of the shaft, the miner climbed up, and with the aid of a windlass and a strong back, hoisted it to ground level before emptying his load onto the mullock heaps you can still see around the mining shafts today.

John McCabe, 1979

Yorke Hoist

In the early 1960s a few miners made and used a simple kind of powered hoist, which was common in the building industry at the time. A small engine drove a winding drum which could raise or lower a cable and a drum in the shaft. The jib of the hoist could be swung around a pole to move the rope and bucket away from the shaft collar before emptying the dirt out of the bucket.

Dump Hoist

Eric Catterall was a long-time miner who had contracted polio as a child and lost the use of his legs. Around 1960, he invented a tractor-powered dump hoist which he could control from underground by pulling on ropes to send a bucket up the shaft and turn it over to tip the dirt into a chute which fed it into a rumbler.

The design of the dump hoist was refined by Bob Davidson and many ‘self tipper’ hoists were made at his business Rural Welding.

As crude as it was, it was a brilliant concept. It consisted of an outside frame made of three-quarter inch galvanised water piping that was joined together in sections and pinned to the shaft. The ladder continued up out of the mine and rolled over the framework in a high arc, along which the bucket travelled and dumped its load before travelling back down the shaft.

Len Cram, 2004


In 1967 Knud Nexo and Allan Vroom modified the earlier designs to make a fully automatic hoist.

Our design was the first to incorporate the use of a car differential, back axles and braking system. The bang you heard was an old cylinder head we used as a counterweight to return the bucket back over the curved top of the hoist after dumping its load. Once back over the top, its rate of descent was controlled by the changes we made to the braking system on our differential.…Within a few months we had replaced [the cylinder head] with a spring which was much better on the hoist, with very little noise.…We built five hoists using the car differential system, before I went out on my own and developed the slipping belt system, a far superior hoist, which was much easier to handle and move.

Knud Nexo, 2003

The autohoist started a revolution in mining at Lightning Ridge. This machine and others which followed it allowed more dirt to be mined and processed, and more opal was found.

Gary Stone, 2013

Special Purpose Autohoists

Miners who wanted to stockpile material excavated from their mines developed hoists which carried the dirt further away and higher than the first autohoists, which were designed to tip dirt into a truck. David Douglas (born Drago Lipnik) built several ‘big hoists’, known as long throw hoists, in the 1980s, similar to the one he built which now stands in front of the Walk In Mine.

‘Superhoists’ were developed in the 1990s to hoist much larger quantities of dirt than the earlier autohoists. This was to match the capacities of the new diggers and boggers which were bringing much more dirt to the shaft to be hoisted to the surface.