Brunner is situated on the banks of the Grey River, in Westland, inland about 5 miles east from the sea. The residential portions of the borough occupy mainly narrow river flats and terraces between the Paparoa Range on the north and steeply rising hill country on the south. The borough boundaries of Brunner enclose also the separate townships of Stillwater (1½ miles east), Wallsend (almost adjoining on the west), Dobson (1 mile south-west), and Taylorville, opposite, on the north bank of the Grey River. The Reefton-Greymouth section of main highway and the Otira-Greymouth section of railway pass through Brunner along the south bank of the Grey River. By road Brunner is 7 miles east of Greymouth (8 miles by rail).
Farming is unimportant in the district and comprises a few scattered dairy farms. The main primary industry is coal mining, which is now concentrated on the colliery at Dobson. Indigenous timber is milled in the eastern parts of the district. There is a hydro-electric dam and power station on the Arnold River near Kaimata (about 8 miles south-east) and a coal-fired plant near Dobson. Brunner and its components constitute a small social, market, and accommodation centre for a coal-mining community. (It has been estimated that more than 90 per cent of the borough's male population is employed in the coal-mining industry.)
Thomas Brunner, during an intensive exploration of the West Coast, travelled with Maoris up the Grey River by canoe on 26 January 1848 and camped at Motutapu Island near Brunner. He discovered the coal seam, subsequently named after him, on the north bank. In 1857 Captain John Peter Oakes and his brothers Thomas and Joseph, who entered the Grey River in the schooner Emerald Isle, found Brunner's coal seam and thought they were the first to discover it. Other visitors to the locality included J. Mackay in 1857, the squatter G. W. H. Lee in 1858, and surveyor John Rochfort in 1859. James Mackay passed through the locality to complete the purchase of the West Coast in 1860. Reuben Waite, of Greymouth, was the first to exploit Brunner coal commercially. He shipped 40 tons, mined by Matthew Batty, to the Nelson provincial authorities. Various changes in mining ownership occurred until the old mine closed in 1906. In the meantime other local areas of the same field were opened up, but Dobson is the only colliery being worked today. On 26 March 1896 the Brunner mine exploded and killed the 65 men then working in it. Thirty years later an explosion at the Dobson Mine killed nine miners. The railway from Greymouth was built in 1876 to serve the Brunner coalfield. It was extended to Reefton in 1894 and to Otira in 1900. These lines were opened throughout to Christchurch in 1923 and to Westport in 1942. Brunner was constituted a borough in 1887. The original name of the town, which commemorates Thomas Brunner, was Brunnerton. Dobson was named after George Dobson, a surveyor, who was murdered there on 24 May 1866 by a member of the Sullivan, Kelly, Burgess, and Levy gang in mistake for a bank official carrying gold from the Ahaura diggings. Taylorville was named after Joseph Taylor, a pioneer resident. Wallsend was named after the town in Northumberland. Stillwater is a descriptive name.
POPULATION: 1951 census, 1,113; 1956 census, 1,144; 1961 census, 1,072.
by Brian Newton Davis, M.A., Vicar, St. Philips, Karori West, Wellington and Edward Stewart Dollimore, Research Officer, Department of Lands and Survey, Wellington.