Adamstown Mechanics’ Institute

In researching the history of Adamstown Council I discovered that the first council meeting was held in the Adamstown Mechanics’ Institute building on Wednesday 10th March 1886. Newcastle Library has undated photo of the institute building, but there was no immediate information on where this building was located.

Adamstown Mechanics Institute. Photo by Ralph Snowball. Hunter Region Library.

After consulting my index of historical real estate maps I found a 1921 map that shows that the building was on the west side of Union St, just to the south of Victoria Street. (Union St was the early name of the section of Brunker Rd south of Glebe Rd.)

Location of Adamstown Mechanics’ Institute, from a 1921 real estate map. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.

The Adamstown Mechanic’s Institute started in August 1879, making use of rented rooms in Mrs Fennessy’s house. A year later, at the first annual meeting, the institute was still renting premises, but plans were afoot to erect their own building. These plans came to fruition the following year, and the new wooden building on Union Street was officially opened on 6th August 1881. The building measured 66 by 165 feet, with the inner hall being 40 x 20 feet, and was erected at a cost of about £120, in the short contract time of twelve weeks.

The wooden Mechanics Institute building was removed in 1928, as part of the widening of Union Street, and a new brick building was erected on the same site, and officially opened on 25th August 1928.

Many grand speeches were made that day expressing high hopes for the future of the Mechanics Institute, hopes that were soon dashed. Within eight years, dwindling of membership meant that the institute was unable to meet the repayments on the loan for the building. In 1936 the trustees appealed to Adamstown Council to take over the institute, but the impending Greater Newcastle Council scheme stalled negotiations.

The Greater Newcastle Council which came into being in 1938 was uninterested in assisting the Adamstown Mechanics Institute, and by April 1939 it was clear that there was no hope for the future. “Unable to carry on through lack of finance the committee of Adamstown Mechanics’ Institute has decided to advise the trustees of the institution’s inability to meet liabilities.” The committee thus recommended “that the creditor bank be invited to foreclose and dispose of the property.”

Subsequently the Adamstown RSL purchased the building in April 1942, and was officially opened as RSL club room by the State Secretary of the RSL (Mr A. R. Cutler, VC) on Saturday 18th July 1942.

The Adamstown Mechanics’ Institute building is officially opened as the Adamstown RSL club room by A.R. Cutler, VC. Newcastle Morning Herald, 20 July 1942.

The 1928 Mechanics’ Institute building, photographed July 2017.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
2 Aug 1879"Mechanics' Institute, Adamstown. We are glad to announce that the above institution is now fairly started. The committee have secured excellent rooms, and their carvass for subscriptions has been liberally responded to. The roll now numbers sixty members, and the institution will be formally opened on Monday next."
20 Aug 1880First yearly meeting. The institute is still renting premises, but is looking to erect their own building.
9 Aug 1881
6 Aug 1881
Official opening of the new wooden building for the Adamstown Mechanics' Institute.
12 Mar 1886The Mechanics' Institute is also known as the "School of Arts".
25 Aug 1927"Plans and specifications of the proposed new institute have been approved, and immediately sanction has been obtained the present building will be removed to fall into line with the widening scheme of Union-street."
5 Sep 1927Adamstown Council grants the building application for the new Mechanics' Institute building.
25 Oct 1927"Union-street, Adamstown, is nearly normal again after the widening operations. An important improvement to the street will be the new Mechanics' Institute, which the committee hopes to erect as soon as details have been finalised."
2 Feb 1928A new Mechanics' Institute building "is to be erected at a cost of £2220."
24 May 1928"The secretary of Adamstown Mechanics' Institute wrote the local council last night, agreeing to the removal of portions of the Institute."
"It was decided that the council should approach the Main Roads Board for £30 compensation for the land given by the Institute for the improvement of Union-street roadway."
2 Aug 1928
31 Jul 1928
Annual meeting of the Adamstown Mechanics' Institute - "now the new institute was nearing completion the membership was increasing."
"The chairman said the new building would be ready for occupation in a few weeks. The opening was fixed for Saturday, August 25."
27 Aug 1928
25 Aug 1928
Official opening of the new building for the Adamstown Mechanics' Institute/School of Arts.
20 Aug 1936"A special meeting of Adamstown Council will be held to consider a proposal by the trustees of the Adamstown Mechanics' Institute that the council should take over the institute and accept responsibility for the £1600 owing on the building."
The President of the Institute (Mr. H. P. Townsend) said "the days of mechanics' institutes as previously constituted had passed."
6 Apr 1939"Unable to carry on through lack of finance the committee of Adamstown Mechanics' Institute has decided to advise the trustees of the institution's inability to meet liabilities." A recommendation will be made "that the creditor bank be invited to foreclose and dispose of the property."
14 May 1942
30 Apr 1942
Report that the Adamstown Sub-branch of the Returned Soldiers' League "had taken possession of the School of Arts on April 30 and documents had been completed for the final transfer."

Update, Aug 2017

Paul Zuljan sent me a photograph of an old photo from his family that shows a large number of people posing in front of the Mechanics’ Institute building, The date and the occasion is unknown, but I have a suspicion that it may be the occasion of the opening of the new brick building in 1928.

Adamstown Mechanics’ Institute. Photo supplied by P. Zuljan.

The drain explain

DryBack in 2014 a change of residence meant that my bicycle commute to work changed to a route that took me alongside long stretches of the concrete drains that spider across the low lying Newcastle suburbs. For 85% of my commute to work I am within 200 metres of one of the concrete drains, or Throsby Creek.

In a recent conversation with a friend when I mentioned this, they responded with some expression of sympathy and sadness that I had to endure such an ugly travelling companion. As I reflected on this Dsc04477areaction I realised that although the drains are not exactly the most aesthetic feature of our city, there are a number of positives.Firstly, cycling alongside the drains offers relative serenity, in comparison to busy roads. Secondly, the drains often attract a variety of bird life – ducks, ibises, some other kinds of birds, the black and white ones, the fast darting ones, as well as those little fluttery ones. (As much as I like birds, you might correctly guess I’m no ornithologist!)

In thinking about the concrete drains I’ve also been pondering their principal purpose – to drain away water. In the downpours of January 2016 I saw this fully in action, and recorded this video of the drain in Broadmeadow near the rescue helicopter base.

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It got me thinking. How much water was being carried away each second? Stepping through the frames on the video I was able to see that it took 2.94 seconds for the flow to pass from one concrete seam in the drain to the next. A visit to the drain a few weeks later (when it was dry) to take some measurements revealed the following.

Distance between cracks: 9.1m
Average width of drain: 13.4m
Average depth of drain: 1.6m
Cross sectional area: 21.44m2
Water velocity: 3.1 m/s
Flow volume (cubic metres per sec): 66.4 m3/s

That’s 66 thousand litres per second. Impressive. Or to put it another way, since a standard size Olympic swimming pool contains 2.5 million litres, the waterway at this point is capable of draining an Olympic sized swimming pool every 38 seconds.

Drain dimensions

Broadmeadow drain measurements.

[ Note that all these measurements and calculations are ‘back of the envelope’, ‘ballpark figures’ for the purpose of gaining a broad sense of the capabilities of the drain, and not a precise hydrological survey. ]

I’ve also been pondering the economic benefit of these drains. Prior to their construction from 1895 onwards, the lowlands of Newcastle were regularly turned into a useless boggy swampland. A 1892 description of Broadmeadow states that:

“When there are heavy rains the water comes down in such a way as to flood the streets and property, the water being sometimes 12 and 18 inches deep on the streets.”

Premier Hotel, Broadmeadow, 1892. Photo by Ralph Snowball. University of Newcastle Cultural Collections.

Premier Hotel in Broadmeadow surrounded by flood waters in 1892. Photo by Ralph Snowball. University of Newcastle Cultural Collections.

The 1897 Ralph Snowball photograph below looking from Glebe Rd Merewether across to Hamilton graphically illustrates the large plain of unused and unusable land, and with the roads suffering significant water erosion.

The Newcastle lowlands. 1897. Photo taken from intersection of Beaumont St and Glebe Rd looking north towards Hamilton. University of Newcastle Cultural Collections.

The Newcastle lowlands, 1897. Photo taken from intersection of Beaumont St and Glebe Rd looking north towards Hamilton. University of Newcastle Cultural Collections.

Even as construction was progressing the economic benefit of drainage was clear to see, with an 1897 newspaper report on the extension of the system into Adamstown noting that:

“Its construction will prove a great boon to those residing on the lowlands, and should increase the value of property materially.”

Drain construction workers at Broadmeadow, NSW, 6 April 1900

Drain construction workers at Broadmeadow, NSW, 6 April 1900. University of Newcastle Cultural Collections.

The question then is what is the area of the “lowlands” that are emptied by the drainage system? Browsing the altitude data in Google Earth, and observing the landscape around town, 15 metres above sea level seems to be the inflection point where a gradual rise in elevation across the plains changes to a steeper inclinaton of the surrounding hills and ridges. Using Google Earth I marked with yellow lines the concrete drains, and mapped out in blue the area of the drainage basin that is 15m or less above sea level. This area totalled approximately 1850 hectares. [ KML file viewable in Google Earth ]

[ Note, as before, this mapping is a rough approximation for the purpose of gaining a broad sense of the capabilities of the drainage system, and not a precise hydrological survey. ]

Newcastle concrete drain system. Area shaded blue is 15m or less above sea level.

Newcastle concrete drain system. Area shaded blue is 15m or less above sea level.

As an aside, when I first viewed the map of the drains against the shaded lowlands, it immediately struck me that there is a large area centred on Hamilton that has no open concrete drains, and my recollection is that in the June 2007 Pasha Bulker storm, Hamilton was one of the main areas of flooding. Coincidence or not? I don’t know, as I keep reminding you, I’m not a hydrologist.

Nor am I an economist. With that final disclaimer out of the way I can now ask, how much is all that land worth? What is the monetary value of the land made productive by the open concrete drain system? As an example of land values, the NSW Valuer General shows that in 2015 a 424 m2 area of land in Hamilton North had a value of $327,000. This equates to $771 per square meter, or $7.7 million per hectare.  If we assume that only 75% of the 1850 hectares is usable (allowing for roads, creeks, etc) then the total land value of the lowlands shaded in the map above is … 10.7 billion dollars!

So the next time you pass one of those ‘ugly’ concrete drains … give a bit of respect.


For more drain related musings, check out Mark Maclean’s Hamilton North blog.