Blackball is a small town on the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand, approximately 29 km from Greymouth.
Blackball was named after 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 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, at ten weeks the longest in New Zealand history.
In the 1913 Great Strike, Blackball miners were the last to return to work, in 1914. During the strike they had picketed miners in nearby Brunner and had burnt down the secretary of the 'arbitration' (scab) union's home.
In 1925 the headquarters of the Communist Party of New Zealand moved to Blackball from Wellington.
The pit was closed in 1964.
The Blackball Museum of Working Class History opened in the town on 1 May 2010, in order to "celebrate the role working people have played in creating the infrastructure and wealth of a nation, [and] the part working people have played in creating society".
The '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 330.
An annual cycle race, the Blackball Working Men's Cycling Classic, was held in the town in January for three years: 2010–12. Cyclists raced between Blackball and the nearby settlement of Atarau (Moonlight).
Blackball Workingmens Club is one of the few old community organisations left in the town. Both the Oddfellows Lodge and the Buffaloes Lodge closed long ago. In its heyday Blackball had a Lodge of the Oddfellows Order. The Oddfellows Lodge played a major role in community life offering financial aid and self-improvement in the age before TV and State Social Security. The Oddfellows Hall was a major center of community activity and social life.
The Blackball lodge of the United Ancient Order of Druids was formed originally in 1906 and like most other organisations of its day have ceased to exist in Blackball. While most businesses and organisations have shut down in the town of Blackball, the hotel once named "The Blackball Hilton" still lives on. Though now known as "Formerly the Blackball Hilton" due to a lawsuit by the Hilton hotel chain, the historic hotel remains in business as a place to sleep and symbol of the towns historic background.
On 7 June 1941 the Blackball Lodge No 80 of the Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes was opened In the Oddfellows Lodge Hall by the Provincial Grand Primo of the West Coast Bro. T.J.Preston KoM. The founders of the lodge were Bro. T.Durkin C.P. and Bro. T Nicolson C.P. both of whom would cycle 35 Miles every fortnight just to attend lodge meetings of Blackball Lodge and thus fulfill their duties as Founders. The first officers of the Blackball Lodge No 80 were Bro. Durkin C.P.(Worthy Primo) Bro. Nicholson C.P. (Alderman of Benevolence) Bro. R. Cooke (City Chamberlain) Bro. J Moore (City Marshall) Bro. Reid (City Tyler) Bro. R Duggan (City Registrar) Bro. R Mountford (City Constable) Bro. A Ross (City Waiter) Bro. Johnston (City Minstrel) Bro. J Barry (City Treasurer) and Bro. M O'Flaherty (City Secretary)
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 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. 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 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 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? He 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. He published his biography Sliding down the Hypotenuse in 2011.
Jeffrey Paparoa Holman's "The Late Great Blackball Bridge Sonnets" published in 2004 contains poems based around the railway bridge that 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.