Prior to European settlement and up until the 1860s, the Wanaruah people lived along the river flats and in the lightly timbered hill country in Muswellbrook, Denman, Jerrys Plains, Sandy hollow and Singleton (Muswellbrook Council).
European settlement followed in the wake of John Howe's expedition to the Singleton district in 1820 and Henry Dangar's pursuit of the Hunter further north in 1824. That year Dangar reserved a village site at the junction of the Hunter and the creek at the southern end of the present townsite which he named Muscle Brook because of the large number of freshwater mussel shells he found on the banks of the creek, having been heaped up along the banks by the Aboriginal groups, the Wanaruah and possibly the Kamilaroi, who inhabited the area (at the time 'muscle' was an accepted alternative spelling of mussel).
The rich soils surveyed by Dangar resulted in Muswellbrook being established as a farming centre. The first railway was completed in 1869 and the town experienced significant expansion during this period (Muswellbrook Council).
The 1890s brought coal mining to the Muswellbrook area, however truly large-scale mining didn't get under way here until more recent times.
A brief timeline of the major developments in the coal mining industry in the Hunter region is provided in the Hunter Valley Research Foundation report, Newcastle and the Hunter Region 2008-2009:
Initially coal was used for domestic heating and cooking, then in the late nineteenth century, to fuel steamships. By the beginning of the twentieth century it was used for producing gas to light cities and towns. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 1908 production from the Northern District, of which Newcastle is the port, amounted to 6,511,002 tons, and was valued at £2,625,446 (HVRF, 2008).
While a number of mines closed during the Great Depression of the 1930s, they were re-opened during World War II. The 1950s saw the rise of mechanisation within the mining industry and the demise of the use of horses to cart coal. By the 1960s most of the coal mines around Newcastle were closed, however, they were replaced by others further inland in the Hunter Valley. Longwall mining was introduced in 1963, allowing for easier extraction of coal by removing an entire seam in blocks. By the 1970s the introduction of new technologies and growing markets began to highlight the profitable nature of the coal industry (HVRF, 2008).
In 2006, 8,449 people were employed in the mining sector in the Hunter, which amounts to 3.4% of all regional employment (HVRF, 2008).
Today coal mining is a major industry in the Muswellbrook area, with collieries at Glendon Brook, Liddell, Ravensworth, Kayuga, Overton, Roxburgh, Muscle Creek, Numndah, Rix's Creek, Ovingham, Broke, and Jerry's Plains.
The Hunter region produces around 80% of New South Wales' coal, 35% of Australia's aluminium, and 40% of NSW's electricity. Demand for coal from Asia has seen Newcastle become the world's largest coal export port, shipping more than 80 million tonnes in 2005-06 worth $6 billion dollars (Hunter Economic Development Corporation).