Miners’ Strike of 1896

Lambton Park has been used for many events in both tranquil and troubled times. This month’s photograph from 1896 captures a key moment in a turbulent year for miners and their families.

Steadily rising demand for coal had caused the selling price to reach a peak of 10 shillings per ton in 1890. However, economic depression in 1892-93 combined with increasing production, nearly halved the price by 1896. In February, the proprietors of Lambton mine announced the pit would close unless wages were cut. The miners, believing the company was using this as an excuse to increase profits at their expense, downed tools and called for a district wide meeting.

Nearly 2000 miners gathered at Lambton Park on 29 February 1896, and resolved that unless wages were increased, they would hold a ballot for a general strike. No increase was granted, and in March a majority voted to cease work. Negotiations continued into April, but …

Easter dawns upon us with anything but a happy outlook. The district is threatened with a great industrial strike, which is calculated to bring privation upon many poor families. Already the shopkeepers are complaining about a falling off in business, the housewives evidently buying only the bare necessaries of life.

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 2 April 1896.

With no settlement reached, on 27 April 1896 …

the strike began in real earnest, no less than 3500 miners and others refusing to continue working under the existing conditions.

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 28 April 1896.

The economy suffered …

The grocers cannot give credit, and the housewives have little or no ready cash to spend.

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate

Families were displaced …

Men who have managed to save a little money are leaving the district for Western Australia, New Zealand, Victoria, and Wollongong.

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate

After 11 weeks it was clear that the coal prices would not increase, and wages could not be raised. On 16 July 1896 the men returned to work, at a lower hewing rate than before. Summing up the futility of the strike, a newspaper editorial stated …

Undoubtedly, when the history of this miserable struggle has to be more fully written, the best feature of it will be declaring it ‘off’.

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 13 July 1896.
Miners voting for industrial action at an aggregate meeting in Lambton Park, 29 February 1896. Photo by Ralph Snowball. Living Histories, Newcastle University.
Lambton Park in happier times. Christmas Carols, 18 December 2022. Photo by Thomas Freeman.

The article above was first published in the February 2023 edition of The Local.


Additional Information

In the article I talk about ‘the selling price’ of coal. This is a simplification as there was no single value, but the selling price differed between large and small coal, it differed from one colliery to another depending on quality, and it could differ according to contracts agreed between collieries and buyers.

To track the trend in coal prices, I extracted from the Department of Mines annual reports, the quantity and value of coal sold by the Lambton Colliery for each year from 1875 to 1903. From this the average price of coal per ton for each year can be calculated. The trend shows that the price remained close to 10s per ton from 1885 to 1890. However, the following years saw a steady decline to a low of 6.24 shillings per ton in 1896, the year of the miners’ general strike.

Year Employees Quantity
(tons)
Value
(pounds)

Avg per ton
(shillings)

1875 280 148573 94096 12.67
1876 391 160990 103304 12.83
1877 421 164267 not specified ?
1878 436 213332 119881 11.24
1879 440 225788 144088 12.76
1880 453 239234 107655 9.00
1881 269 120563 42416 7.04
1882 358 236168 107238 9.08
1883 416 252044 123857 9.83
1884 446 267096 126842 9.50
1885 460 223030 111515 10.00
1886 510 113972 56416 9.90
1887 400 167355 83677 10.00
1888 469 164048 80304 9.79
1889 505 243256 120134 9.88
1890 440 139375 69751 10.01
1891 480 189382 94024 9.93
1892 480 224498 101373 9.03
1893 435 159100 69840 8.78
1894 412 178495 60584 6.79
1895 304 112368 35092 6.25
1896 173 47505 14813 6.24
1897 210 86340 27378 6.34
1898 208 105219 32602 6.20
1899 196 85932 31650 7.37
1900 196 92145 34383 7.46
1901 197 80945 41437 10.24
1902 190 62419 29175 9.35
1903 170 79663 33699 8.46

Lambton colliery was leased to Charles Noble on 3 November 1904, and the annual reports do not contain data on coal output from Lambton after this change.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
14 Jun 1890"The Associated Colliery Proprietors are considering the advisability of reducing the selling price of coal … from 11s to 9s per ton … Under their mutual agreement the coal from the associated mines is sold at 11s per ton, and each mine has a stipulated output or vend for the year. No such agreement, however, exists among the other companies, many of which are now selling their coal at a price in some instances as low as 9s per ton. That this is the main reason why a reduction is mooted there can be no doubt. The majority of the larger collieries, and nearly all the older ones, belong to the association, and at present they raise about 70 per cent. of the total district output, but new mines are opening constantly, and, so far, none of them have shown any inclination to become parties to the Associated Proprietors agreement. "
22 Feb 1896
21 Feb 1896
"A special meeting of the delegate board of the Miners' Association was held at the Trades Hall for the purpose of considering principally the position of the Lambton miners. It was also decided to hold an aggregate meeting on pay-Saturday, the 29th instant, at the Lambton Park, at 11 a.m. , to discuss the whole situation as it affects the miners."
22 Feb 1896"Mr. Thomas Croudace, the general manager of the Scottish-Australian Mining Company, says it will be impossible for him to re-open the Lambton pit while he has to paying a hewing rate altogether out of proportion to the selling price of the coal … the miners hold a very different view from Mr. Croudace. They contend that the action has been decided upon solely for the purpose of reducing wages"
28 Feb 1896Letter from Amalgamated Miners' Association to miners … " it has been resolved to hold an aggregate meeting of miners in the Lambton Park on Saturday, 29th instant, to consider the advisability of seeking an advance in the hewing rates. It is needless to remind you of the successive reductions in wages during a period extending over two years, and the imposition of the most exacting and degrading conditions it has been possible to impose at many collieries."
28 Feb 1896"There is no movement with regard to the Lambton Colliery and no apparent prospect of work being resumed. Of the 182 miners who cameout against the reduction in the yardage rates 96 have either succeeded in obtain work at neighbouring collieries, or have left for Western Australia, some 20 having sailed for that colony, leaving 86 still without employment, although some of those remaining are also making preparations for going west. This pleasing result, after barely two weeks' idleness, is hailed with satisfaction in the town, not unmixed, however, with regret that the bone and sinew of the place should be driven from their homes to seek scope for their energies elsewhere."
29 Feb 1896"The result of the aggregate meeting of miners at Lambton Park is anxiously looked forward to by all in the coal trade. It is anticipated that the principal resolutions will be in favour of a ballot being taken as to whether a general strike shall take place or not. Very unpleasant rumours now fill the air.”
1 Mar 1896
29 Feb 1896
Report on the aggregate meeting, where about 2000 persons were present. Two resolutions were moved and passed unanimously.
  1. Demand for hewing rate of 3s 6d per ton
  2. "That in the event of a refusal for the advance in terms of the foregoing resolution within one week from March 9 by the proprietors, a ballot be taken as early as possible after March 16 as to whether 14 days' notice shall be given to cease work until such advance is agreed to.
2 Mar 1896
29 Feb 1896
Detailed report on the miners' aggregate meeting in Lambton Park.
2 Mar 1896Lengthy editorial report on the miners’ aggregate meeting. "Every representation that can be made will not restore a nearly-worked-out mine to its pristine condition, neither will it raise the price of coal in the markets of the world, in which we are now competitors. While we admit the ruinous undercutting of the selling price which has been going on for some time past, the broad fact stares us in the face that any attempt to remedy that state of affairs by the mutual action of the proprietors or their co-operation with the miners has proved ineffectual."
14 Mar 1896"The [Lambton] mine still remains closed down, with no apparent signs of a resumption of work. Consequently, matters are very gloomy in the town. It is, however, gratifying to learn that out of a total of 182 miners thrown out of employment 120 have succeeded in securing work elsewhere in the district, or have left for Western Australia."
16 Mar 1896"The members of the Miners' Association will be asked to ballot for or against a strike, and on this point even the non-unionist miners in the district are to be invited to express an opinion. The history of past struggles of a like kind is of so depressing a character that it is hoped men will not commit themselves to another of a similar nature without giving ample consideration to all the surroundings of the case."
18 Mar 1896"The time having expired for the colliery proprietors to reply to the demand made upon them by the miners for a hewing rate of 3s 6d per ton … the situation is, therefore, now before the miners themselves, who are to be asked to decide by ballot whether there should be a general strike. To bring about this end it will be necessary to have a two-thirds majority of the votes of every miner, whether unionist or non-unionist. Ballot papers are now being distributed throughout the whole of the district."
25 Mar 1896"The question of a general strike, will be placed before the delegate board of the Miners' Association today. In deciding upon this great and serious question they will have before them not only the result of the ballot, but also all the letters sent by the proprietors ... Mr. Thomas Croudace, for instance, suggests an eleventh hour attempt at a conference."
26 Mar 1896
25 Mar 1896
Result of the ballot: 2624 for a strike; 587 against a strike. Miners called to hand in their 14 days notice on 6 April. An invitiation is extended to the mine proprietors to meet the miners in conference before 2 April, in order to avert a strike.
2 Apr 1896"Easter dawns upon us with, unfortunately, anything but a happy outlook. The district is threatened with a great industrial strike, which is calculated to bring privation upon many poor families. Already the shopkeepers are complaining about a falling off in business, the housewives evidently buying only the bare necessaries of life."
4 Apr 1896
2 Apr 1896
Conference between the miners assoication and the colliery proprietors, in an effort to avert a general strike. The conference was relatively amicable, but in the end of little consequence, owing to the absence of proprietors from three of the large coal companies.
8 Apr 1896Miners at 15 collieries have now handed in their 14 days notice to cease work. "If the notices sent in should be carried into effect after Saturday week, there will be something like 4000 miners on strike."
11 Apr 1896"From all the information procurable on the local mining situation every thing points to the strong likelihood of a cessation of work at many collieries in this district on Saturday, 18th inst."
14 Apr 1896"The proposal unanimously adopted was that the members of the [municipal] conference, accompanied by the members for the district, meet the Premier to-night on his arrival at Newcastle en route from Queensland for the purpose of representing to him the advisableness of appointing without delay a court of arbitration in relation to the matters now in dispute."
15 Apr 1896"The miners had given in 14 days' notice on a ballot of a five to one majority to strike." The Premier (George Reid) is asked by alderman of Newcastle Council to intervene to avert the strike.
15 Apr 1896"The fervent hope expressed by many is that at this late hour a strike may be averted; but to suggest means to that end is a difficult matter, as so many of the proprietors refuse to meet the miners' representatives in conference as requested by them."
28 Apr 1896
27 Apr 1896
"The strike began in real earnest yesterday, no less than 3500 miners and others refusing to continue working under the existing conditions. "
16 May 1896"With the exception of some Sea Pit miners, the majority of the strikers seem more than ever determined to stand out. Old residents who have grown weary of strikes in this district declare that they have seldom, if ever, witnessed a more stubborn resistance between capital and labour."
13 Jul 1896"A moderate estimate of the loss of wages alone is £100,000, without taking into consideration the indirect effects of the stoppage to the general community, which is therefore poorer by the above amount than it would have been if there had been no strike … Undoubtedly, when the history of this miserable struggle has to be more fully written, the best feature of it will be declaring it 'off'."
17 Jul 1896Lengthy editorial reflecting on the lessons of the strike … "The principal lesson taught by the result of the strike is one which is not a personal matter between employer and employed. It is the fact that if consumers cannot give a higher price to those having coal to sell, the latter are unable to increase the earnings of those who have the work of winning it."

Broadmeadow planes and plans

Broadmeadow has been in the news recently, with the Department of Planning and Environment releasing their “Hunter Regional Plan 2041”.  The document flags Broadmeadow as a “regionally significant growth area” and promises to make it “a destination of choice for entertainment, housing, recreation and discovery.”

This is not the first time the area has been subject to great change, as the photos this month demonstrate. A 2016 aerial photo shows the area bounded by Griffith Rd, Turton Rd, Broadmeadow Rd and the stormwater drain, filled with sporting grounds, trotting track, entertainment facilities, commercial and residential buildings. In contrast, seven decades years earlier it was an empty paddock, the site of District Park Aerodrome.

Originally a swampy lowland, the completion of a large concrete stormwater channel in 1899 allowed the surrounding area to be developed for recreation. The government reserved a portion for aviation purposes in 1923 and in 1928 the Newcastle Aero Club formed and began using the aerodrome.  However, the combination of increasing aircraft movements and residential development posed a very real danger to the public.

On 20 January 1953, 70 years ago this month, newly qualified solo pilot Alan Kerle was practicing landings in an aero club Tiger Moth. As he landed, the plane bounced, was caught by a cross wind and carried across Turton-road where it brushed a rooftop, plunged into the back yard of Cedric Jenkins and burst into flames. Just minutes beforehand four children had been playing in the yard. Despite the damage the pilot walked away uninjured. Between 1931 and 1954 the newspapers reported 13 plane crashes at or near the aerodrome. The suitability of the site was increasingly questioned.  In 1961 the Department of Civil Aviation gave notice to the Aero Club to vacate the Broadmeadow airfield, and they soon relocated to Rutherford. The government’s grand plans for aviation in District Park had proved unworkable. Let’s hope their grand plans for Broadmeadow in 2041 prove to be of long-lasting value.

District Park aerodrome, 1954. The site of the 20 January 1953 Tiger Moth crash is circled in red. NSW Historical Imagery
The same area of Broadmeadow in 2016. NSW Historical Imagery
Excerpt from page 105 of the “Hunter Regional Plan 2041”, stating some of the state government’s plans for “Hunter Park” in Broadmeadow.

The article above was first published in the January 2023 edition of The Local.


Broadmeadow Aerodrome

Further information about the history of the Broadmeadow Aerodrome can be found in my August 2019 article on the crash of a C47 aircraft in 1944.

Map showing the aerodrome area, gazetted for aviation purposes 25 May 1923. Historical Land Records Viewer.
Grouped about the Aero Club, ‘planes at District Park this afternoon, parties of school children have the theory of aviation explained to them. The inspection was part of the club’s programme this week to mark its tenth anniversary. The Newcastle Sun 12 October 1938.

The 1953 Tiger Moth crash

The Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate report of the January 1953 Tiger Moth crash states that the plane crashed into the backyard of Mr C Jenkins, in Turton Road New Lambton. It also states that the Goodbun family lived in the neighbouring property. Title deeds in the Historical Land Records Viewer site show that in 1953 the Goodbun’s owned Lot A of DP19321 (Vol-Fol 5630-190), and Cedric Jenkins owned Lot 5 of DP19321 (Vol-Fol 5230-223). This corresponds to 267 and 269 Turton Road, New Lambton.

Wreckage of the Tiger Moth that crashed near Broadmeadow Aerodrome on 20 January 1956. The Daily Telegraph.
The wreckage of a Tiger Moth aircraft which crashed into the backyard of a home at Newcastle on 20 Juanuary 1953. The Sydney Morning Herald.
The scene in the backyard of a house in Turton road, New Lambton, after an Aero Club plane had crashed last evening. The fowlyard of the home in the foreground, with the plane lying across the back garden. Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate.

Other Broadmeadow aeorodrome crashes

The following table summarises airplane accidents that occurred at or near the Broadmeadow (District Park) aerodrome that were reported in the newspapers. This is not a comprehensive list of all incidents that occurred. For example, the report on 12 August 1944 notes that the stormwater drain has caused “7 crashes in 2 years”, however only two of those crashed seem to have been reported in the papers.

DatePlaneNotes
8/3/1931De Havilland Moth, “Sky Hawk”The plane fell into a spin at an altitude of 2000 feet and crashed into a paddock adjoining the aerodrome. Pilot (E Buck) and passenger (G Lynch) uninjured.
18/8/1935Tiger Moth, “Halcyon”The propeller caught in street lighting wires while the machine was making a forced landing. The pilot, Captain H. S. Preston, was uninjured, but the machine was severely damaged.
26/9/1935Westland WidgeonTwo accidents in 2 days! Damage to the undercarriage in 26/9/1935, and then the following day “the ‘plane struck some rough ground at the south-eastern end and pitched forward on to its nose. The fuselage, undercarriage, and propeller were damaged, and Mr. Hall received lacerations to an ankle.”
28/11/1935Monospar, “City of Grafton”Wheel collapsed on landing.
7/9/1936High wing monoplane, “Sky Baby”Forced down with engine trouble. Crashed in Lindsay Street Hamilton after hitting an electric light pole. Pilot Frank Cook pulled unconscious from the wreckage, and treated at hospital for abrasions and contusions to the face, lacerations, slight concussion, and shock.
11/9/1943Beaufort bomberEngine trouble, with white smoke issuing from the
Beaufort bomber. The plane made a right hand turn, to land at Broadmeadow aerodrome, hit some trees in District Park and immediately burst into flames. The plane then hit the side of a deep stormwater drain, skidded on to the tramline, and came to rest in Lambton-road, Broadmeadow. Flight Sergeant William Milton Trengove, 34, navigator, of Spalding, South Australia, died later in Newcastle Hospital.
?/?/1944Boomerang fighter“An R.A.A.F, man was injured when a Boomerang fighter struck the channel early this year”
10/8/1944C47 DouglasA U.S. Army transport plane, making a forced landing in a storm at Newcastle, crashed into a stormwater channel at Broadmeadow aerodrome. In the past 10 months two other planes have crashed into the stormwater drain while trying to land at Broadmeadow. Two U.S. airmen were injured in the crash. The pilot suffered a broken nose and abrasions, and the radio operator head injuries.
4/8/1947Wackett trainerA Wackett trainer belonging to the Newcastle Aero Club,
took off from the Broadmeadow aerodrome.The engine cut out at 150 to 200 feet, and the pilot brought it down in a paddock, narrowly missing two people walking along a track. The pilot (Dick Gilford, 22, of Carrington Parade, New Lambton), and passenger (Mr. A. Gilford) were uninjured.
16/4/1950Wackett trainerAfter engine failure, the pilot Jack Stone crash landed the Wackett trainer on rough, undulating ground off Turton-road near District Park aerodrome. The plane was damaged, but the pilot was uninjured.
8/12/1951Ryan monoplaneTwo men scrambled unhurt from the cockpit of a Ryan
monoplane which crashed on a narrow vacant allotment near Broadmeadow aerodrome. They are Louis Plumstead of Beresfield, an instructor employed at the Newcastle Aero Club, and his pupil, Victor Boyce, of Maitland.
20/1/1953Tiger MothA Tiger Moth plane partly unroofed a house, crashed into a fence, and burst into flames. The pilot, Alan Roger Kerle, 24, of Boyce Street, Taree. climbed from the wreckage unhurt.
27/7/1954De Havilland Hornet bi-planeThe undercarriage of the aircraft collapsed when the plane was landing. The plane slewed wildly across the runway and
its port wings ploughed into the ground.
1960Cessna 172“badly damaged soon after arrival in an unfortunate accident”
Crash of a Wackett trainer aircraft near Broadmeadow aerodrome.
Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 16 April 1950.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
25 Mar 1923Portion of District Park gazetted "for public recreation and aviation purposes."
9 Mar 1931
8 Mar 1931
Mr. E. Buck's "Sky Hawk," a De Havilland Moth 'plane, at District Park, yesterday with one passenger aboard (Mr. G. Lynch, of Waratah) fell into a spin at an altitude of 2000 feet and crashed into a paddock adjoining the aerodrome."
19 Aug 1935
18 Aug 1935
"Newcastle Aero Club's new Tiger Moth biplane, the Halcyon, crashed at District Park late yesterday afternoon. The pilot, Captain H. S. Preston, was uninjured, but the machine was severely damaged."
27 Sep 1935
26 Sep 1935
"THE Westland-Widgeon 'plane, which was involved in a sensational crash at the District Park Aerodrome last evening, wrecking the undercarriage, figured in another accident this afternoon. AFTER repairs had been effected to the landing gear, the owner, Mr. Hall, made a preliminary flight prior to leaving for Sydney. When returning to the 'drome, however, the 'plane struck some rough ground at the south-eastern end and pitched forward on to its nose. The fuselage, undercarriage, and propeller were damaged, and Mr. Hall received lacerations to an ankle."
28 Nov 1935"Five passengers in the airliner 'City of Grafton' had remarkable escapes this morning when a wheel collapsed after the big 'plane had landed at District Park aerodrome, throwing the 'plane on to its side."
13 Dec 1935"The discovery of four slashes in the fabric underneath the wing of an aeroplane shortly before it was due to take off caused a stir at District Park Aerodrome this morning. Mr. Henry said that the incident illustrated the need for public hangars at all important aerodromes."
8 Sep 1936
7 Sep 1936
"The small high wing monoplane Sky Baby crashed in one of Newcastle's most thickly populated suburban thoroughfares, Lindsay-street, Hamilton, shortly after 5 p.m. to-day. The right wing struck an electric light pole and was torn off. The machine finished partly on the footpath."
6 Oct 1943
11 Sep 1943
Inquest into the death of Flight Sergeant William Milton Trengove, who died in a plane crash at Broadmeadow on 11 September 1943.
2 Jun 1944Calls to improve Broadmeadow aerodrome … "The present aerodrome is entirely inadequate for the future needs of a city the size of Newcastle,' said Mr. Cavalier, "Further, it is in its present size a danger to certain types of aircraft."
11 Aug 1944
10 Aug 1944
"A U.S. Army transport plane, making a forced landing in a storm at Newcastle yesterday, crashed into a stormwater channel at Broadmeadow aerodrome. Two U.S. airmen were injured."
4 Aug 1947"A pilot, with his father as passenger, crashed in an emergency landing at East Lambton today. Neither was injured. The pilot is Dick Gilford, 22, of Carrington Parade, New Lambton, the passenger is Mr. A. Gilford, of the same address. The plane, a Wackett trainer belonging to the Newcastle Aero Club, had taken off from the Broadmeadow aerodrome. The engine cut out at 150 to 200 feet, and the pilot brought it down in a paddock, narrowly missing two people walking along a track."
17 Apr 1950
16 Apr 1950
"The pilot of a Wackett trainer plane escaped injury when he crash landed on rough, undulating ground off Turton-road near District Park aerodrome yesterday afternoon."
9 Dec 1951
8 Dec 1951
"Two men scrambled unhurt from the cockpit of a Ryan monoplane which crashed on a narrow vacant allotment near Broadmeadow aerodrome this afternoon. The engine cut out soon after the plane took off from the aerodrome."
21 Jan 1953
20 Jan 1953
"When a Tiger Moth plane crashed today it partly unroofed a house, crashed into a fence, and burst into flames. The pilot climbed from the wreckage unhurt. As flames reached the petrol tank a bus driver put them out with an extinguisher from his bus. The pilot of the plane is Alan Roger Kerle, 24, of Boyce Street, Taree. He is a student pilot of Newcastle Aero Club. The crash occurred as he was landing the plane on Newcastle aerodrome." (The Daily Telegraph)
21 Jan 1953
20 Jan 1953
"When a Tiger Moth aircraft crashed into the backyard of a home in Turton Road, Waratah, a suburb of Newcastle, shortly before 5.30 p.m. to-day it missed a woman and four children by four feet. The sole occupant, Alan Roger Kerle, 24, of Boyce-Street, Taree, was not injured." (The Sydney Morning Herald.)
21 Jan 1953
20 Jan 1953
"A Tiger Moth plane owned by Newcastle Aero Club crashed in the backyard of Mr. C. Jenkins's property in Turton road, New Lambton, late yesterday afternoon. The plane was extensively damaged but the pilot, Alan Roger Kerle, 24, of Taree, who had made his first solo flight on Sunday, climbed uninjured from the cockpit. A wing hits the edge of a fernery in a house adjoining and caught fire. The plane dropped on to its nose, pivoted, and then landed on its wheels." (Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate.)
28 Jul 1954
27 Jul 1954
"A De Havilland Hornet bi-plane, crashed on landing at Broadmeadow about 5 p.m. today. Crew of the plane, Mr. J. Neal, of Tamworth (pilot) and Capt. R. Hall, of East. West Airlines (navigator) were uninjured in the crash. The undercarriage of the air craft collapsed when the plane was landing. The plane slewed wildly across the runway and its port wings ploughed into the ground."

Newcastle to Sydney telephone line

Prior to 1860, communication between Newcastle and Sydney required either a sea voyage or an arduous road journey.  It could take days or weeks to receive a reply to a message. That situation changed radically in January 1860 when the electric telegraph service to Newcastle was inaugurated. The telegraph line was erected along the Great North Road, running through Wisemans Ferry, Wollombi and Maitland, and enabled short messages to be instantly transmitted using Morse code.

In 1883 Newcastle’s first telephone exchange opened with 25 private and commercial subscribers. The local telephone network gradually expanded and in 1896 the government allocated funds to provide a trunk connection between Newcastle and Sydney.  Arthur Espley of Hamilton won the tender to supply 3000 ironbark poles, and John Elder was contracted to install the poles and wiring along the rail line from Milson’s Point to Newcastle. Construction commenced in March 1897 and by September had reached Gosford.

While constructing the northern part of the line, Elder’s workmen set up camp for four months at Adamstown near the railway level crossing. Ralph Snowball photographed the camp on 30 December 1897, four days before the service commenced on 3 January 1898. The Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate reported that “Mr. Arthur Fenwick was the first person to use the new telephone line …  the gentleman spoken to in Sydney could not at first believe that a resident of Newcastle was speaking to him.” Calls to Sydney could only be made by attending the telegraph office in Hunter Street Newcastle, and just one person could use the line at any time. At a cost of 3 shillings for a 3 minute conversation, and with miners earning 6 shillings a day at that time, it is somewhat astonishing to consider that a phone call to Sydney cost half a day’s wages! Amid our current inflationary pressures, it’s worth remembering how ridiculously cheap phone calls are today compared to 125 years ago.

Telephone line contractors camp adjacent to the rail line at Adamstown, 30 December 1897. Photo by Ralph Snowball. Living Histories, Newcastle University.
The same location 125 years later, when phone calls to Sydney are 125,000 times cheaper.

The article above was first published in the December 2022 edition of The Local.


Additional Information

Ralph Snowball, on his negative listing for Box 158, incorrectly labelled the photo as the “telegraph” camp when it was the telephone wiring contractors camp.University of Newcastle, Special Collections.
Advertisement for the opening of the Sydney to Newcastle telephone line. Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 1 January 1898.

The cost of phone calls

In the article I wrote that a three minute phone call from Newcastle to Sydney 125 years ago cost half a day’s wages, and that today the same phone call is 125,000 times cheaper.

In considering the average wage in Newcastle 125 years ago I chose the occupation of miner, as this was the dominant employment at the time. The average wage of miners could differ considerably depending on the mine being worked, the various kinds of mining jobs, and the productivity of the individual miner, as noted in this article from 1896 showing daily earnings of a miner as low as 3s 10d per day, and up to 13s per day. Despite this spread of earnings, report on strike action by miners during 1896 consistently mention a push for earnings around the 6s per day mark. Thus a 3s phone call to Sydney would have been half a day’s wages.

  • 12 Mar 1896 – Glebe colliery wheelers asking for an increase of 6d on their current rate of 5s 6d per day
  • 19 March 1896 – Borehole wheelers asking for an increase to 6s per day.

When it comes to the cost of phone calls today, the comparison is somewhat muddied in that basic phone plans today are fixed cost per month and include unlimited and untimed phone calls within Australia. Notwithstanding that difficulty, let’s do some maths …

If we take an average wage today to be $92000 per annum, that translates to $353 per working day. If we assume that a person is awake for a maximum of 18 hours in a day, then there about 32400 minutes in a month they could be making a phone call. Thus a 3 minute phone call is 0.0000926 of the usable phone minutes in a month. As a basic phone plan can be obtained for $15 a month, a 3 minute phone call evaluates to just 0.14 cents $15 x 0.0000926). This correlates to 0.0000039251 of the average daily wage (0.14 cents / $353).

Comparing the relative costs of a 3 minute phone call (0.5 of daily wage in 1898, and 0.0000039251 of daily wage in 2022) we arrive at a ratio of 127384 times cheaper in 2022, which rounds out to 125 thousand to nicely match the 125 year time span!

Now I realise that some of the assumptions I made above are a bit arbitrary (and I may have even chosen some assumptions to get me to a nice round figure), however the point is still clear – phone calls today are vastly and almost unimaginably cheaper today than 125 years ago. Are there any other consumer services whose price has decreased so dramatically in the same time?

Newcastle telegraph office

In Newcastle, the trunk telephone line from Sydney was connected to the Telegraph Office in Hunter Street, near the intersection of Watt Street.

Water Board Map 1895, showing location of Newcastle Telegraph Office and Post Office, on the corner of Hunter and Watt Streets. Newcastle University, Living Histories.
The Newcastle Telegraph Office (left) in 1891. The Sydney to Newcastle telephone service commenced here on 1 January 1898. Newcastle Libraries, Hunter Photobank.
The old Telegraph and Post Office buildings in Hunter Street today. Google Street View.

Evolution of the telephone service

The original telephone service installed between Sydney and Newcastle in 1897 and inaugurated on 3 January 1898, consisted of 4 wires, allowing for two complete circuits. The reports at the time do not explicitly say so, but I get the impression that one circuit was used for phone calls initiated from Newcastle to Sydney, and the other circuit for the opposite direction. The advertisement for the service on 1 January 1898 speaks of “the line” (singular) and says …

In cases where the line may be engaged applications will be registered and connection will be made in the order of priority of application.

This queuing of applicants would be more easily managed with one circuit dedicated to each direction.

Snowball’s 1897 photograph shows four telephone wires.

By 1907 the limitations of the initial service were being felt.

Numerous complaints have been made by business houses in the city of the frequent congestion which occurs on the telephone trunk lines between Newcastle and Sydney. There are at present only two direct lines connecting Newcastle with the metropolis … tenders have been called for the supply of material for the construction of another line.

Sydney Morning Herald, 26 August 1907.

Four more lines were added, but their capacity was soon used up. In 1919 it was noted that …

There are six lines at present in use, but the congestion that occurs in the business almost every day of the week is becoming intolerable. The Postal Department hopes to begin immediately the erection of two new telephone trunk lines.

The Newcastle Sun, 17 May 1919.

In 1924 the Postal Department expressed their intention to “put all telephone and telegraph cables between Sydney and Newcastle underground”. However like a number of other Newcastle infrastructure projects in the last century, this was the first of a series of announcements followed by nothing being finshed.

In October 1928 bushfires exposed the vulnerability of the overhead telephone wiring system …

The raging inferno, along the Sydney railway line played havoc with the Sydney-Newcastle telephone lines. Suddenly, late yesterday afternoon, 15 trunk lines between Newcastle and Sydney went out, and Newcastle was completely isolated. This morning subscribers were told that there was no possibility of communication with Sydney by phone.

The Newcastle Sun, 8 October 1928.

In June 1929 the Deputy Postmaster-General announced that work had commenced on the laying of underground cable between Sydney and Newcastle, at a cost of £500,000. The length of the cable required was 117 miles, and the first cable to be laid would provide more than 120 pairs of wires, with each circuit allowing telephone conversations and telegraphic messages simultaneously.

Very little was done and by 1935 it was time for another announcement that …

Preliminary work has begun on the laying of an underground telephone cable between Sydney and Newcastle. Conduit to carry the cable has already been laid between Sydney and Peat’s Ferry, it was stated this morning, and survey work along the main Newcastle-Sydney highway is in progress.

The Newcastle Sun, 10 January 1935.

Progress must have been slow, because four years later there was opportunity for yet another announcement when …

The Deputy Director of Posts and Telegraphs Mr Butler at Gosford yesterday afternoon turned the first sod for the laying of the underground telephone and telegraph cables which will link Sydney, Newcastle and West Maitland.

Sydney Morning Herald, 1 April 1939.

By mid 1941 the underground cabling had been completed, and ancillary equipment was being installed at the exchanges. Mr. E. S. Butler, senior mechanic attached to the Taree Post Office, in addressing the Taree Rotary Club on the development of telephone communication, stated that …

The [underground] cabling from Sydney to Newcastle has been completed, and the equipment is being installed. To date the test results have exceeded the requirements of the contract. The completion of this work will be a boon, especially in summer, when storms and bushfires will no longer work havoc on the overhead wiring system, with the consequent interruption to traffic. There is provision in this cable for 28 systems of 17 channels — a total of 470 plus 4 programme relay lines, but equipment is only being provided for a portion of this, and can be added to us required. Both systems are based on frequency or tuned circuits, as we know it on our radio, the difference being that the radio is transmitted at a much higher frequency and with a high power. The frequencies used on the telephone systems are much, lower, and do not radiate from the wires unless excessive current is used. Even then it could not be picked up by the commercial radio.

The Northern Champion, 26 July 1941.

Although the cables installed between Sydney and Newcastle potentially allowed for up to 470 channels, war conditions delayed the delivery of the carrier wave equipment needed to make use of that potential. In May 1945 there were only 42 channels available on the intercity trunk line. After the war, additional modern carrier wave equipment was installed as telephony needs increased.

One of the most significant advances in inter-city telephony occurred in 1967, when Subscriber Trunk Dialing (STD) became available in Newcastle. This allowed users at home to dial direct to a destination number in another city without having to get a telephone operator to manually connect them.

Brunker Road Buildings

In Snowball’s photograph of the workmen’s camp, there is double story shop and a church on the horizon at the right hand side.

Church and shop on Brunker Road, Adamstown.

These buildings are on Brunker Rd. The church is the original wooden building of St Stephens Church of England located at 191 Brunker Rd.

Saint Stephen’s Church of England, Adamstown, not dated. Photo by Ralph Snowball. Newcastle Libraries, Hunter Photo Bank.

The shop in the photo is the tailoring business of Anthony Shaw, whose premises were located opposite the Post Office, at 208 Brunker Road. (See also Vol-Fol 1051-29 for Portion 1651 of the Newcastle Pasturage Reserve.)

Vol-Fol 1051-29, portion 1651 sold to Anthony Shaw, Master Tailor, 18 July 1894.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
8 Mar 1859Tenders invited "for the supply of material (wire excepted), and for the workmanship necessary for the erection of line of Electric Telegraph from a point upon or near the Blacktown Road to Windsor, and thence via Wiseman's Ferry, Wollombi, West Maitland, and Maitland to Newcastle."
5 Dec 1859"The [telegraph] line to the Hunter was commenced on the 6th June last ; starting from the Blacktown road it passes through Windsor and Richmond via Wiseman's Ferry to Wollombi and West Maitland, and thence to Morpeth, and along the railway line to Newcastle."
11 Jan 1860"The electric circuit between Maitland and Newcastle was tested yesterday. Mr E. C. Cracknell came hither to effect the experimental process, and a message was successfully transmitted through the Northern telegraph line. We believe the working of the line will not come into active operation until some slight arrangements have been considered relative to the general telegraphic line from Newcastle to Sydney from each intermediate station. In the course of the week we believe all will be prepared for the sending of telegrams."
26 Jan 1860
22 Jan 1860
"On Monday last communication with Sydney by electric telegraph was opened to the public of Maitland." This article has some interesting details on the technical implementation of the telegraph service.
24 Jan 1860"On Tuesday last, a ball took place at the Caledonia Hotel in this city, in commemoration of the establishment and the opening of telegraphic communication between Sydney and the Hunter River district."
18 Sep 1877"The Contractor for the Newcastle Telegraph Office additions having completed his work, the building now presents a very neat and creditable appearance, and will, we understand, be occupied in the early part of next week."
26 Oct 1883"Operations in connection with the Newcastle Telephone Exchange are now, we are glad to learn, on the eve of completion. Yesterday the contractor (Mr. Kinshela, of Parramatta) commenced the operation of "wireing," and has so far made very satisfactory progress with his work. Half a dozen large ironbark poles, forty feet high, have been set up; and when finished, there will be upwards of fifty wires in use, connected with the various subscribing offices and private residences."
6 Dec 1883
5 Dec 1883
"The new Telephone Exchange of Newcastle was formally opened at noon yesterday in the presence of a few influential citizens ... There are at present twenty five subscribers, and the system of working is an excellent one."
5 Aug 1896"During the past few weeks Messrs. Dick and Fegan, Ms.P., have had several interviews with the Postmaster-General concerning the advisableness of providing immediate telephonic communication between Newcastle and Sydney. As a result of their representations the Minister has instructed his officers to prepare specifications at once."
19 Nov 1896"Since Parliament voted £20,000 for connecting Newcastle, Maitland, and Bathurst by telephone with Sydney an advertisement is said to have appeared in the Government Gazette calling for tenders for 3000 poles, to be laid between here and Sydney. This looks as if the proposal is to become an assured fact sooner or later."
27 Nov 1896Tender accepted : "Mr. A. B. Espley, Hamilton. 3,000 Wooden Telegraph Poles (ironbark), 30 feet long (to be delivered along the railway line from Milson's Point to Newcastle), 6s. 8d. each."
1 Dec 1896"A little time ago the Postmaster-General decided to establish certain trunk lines for telephonic purposes between Sydney and some of the larger inland towns. Already the department has accepted a tender for the 3000 wooden poles necessary to carry the wire between the metropolis and Newcastle, and the work is to be put in hand at once."
8 Mar 1897"The work of establishing telephonic communication between Sydney and Newcastle is being rapidly proceeded with, and will be completed within the course of a few months."
12 Apr 1897"In connection with the construction of a telephone line between Sydney and Newcastle, Mr. W. T. Dick, M.L.A., has been advised by the Postmaster-General that the poles, as far as Hornsby, are up, and ready for the wires, and on arrival of the latter the work will be pushed on expeditiously."
19 Jun 1897"The Newcastle telephone line, which is under construction, has reached Peat's Ferry. Some trouble has been experienced with the cumbersome wooden posts being used."
7 Sep 1897"The Sydney to Newcastle telephone line is now completed to the Gosford Post-offioe. Overseer Elder and men are now camped at Ourimbah, and the poles have been erected past Narara."
30 Sep 1897"The work of connecting Newcastle by telephone with Sydney is now being pushed on with, the poles having been erected some distance beyond Gosford."
20 Oct 1897"By the end of next month telephonic communication between Sydney and Newcastle will have been established. The work is now well on, and the question of what the charge shall be for its use is engaging the attention of the Postmaster-General."
25 Dec 1897"In order to avoid the influences of the earth, the wires are being so arranged as to form a complete circuit. To do this, it has been necessary to have a double wire right through ... The communication has been found to be most complete, Mr. John Elder, the constructing overseer at this end, hearing distinctly the voice at the Sydney Telephone Exchange … Those who are not subscribers will be provided with a little room, at the end of the general room at the telegraph office, in which to carry on their limited conversation."
29 Dec 1897"A gang of men under Mr. John Elder, constructing overseer, were engaged yesterday fixing up the aerial cable which is to carry the Sydney telephone wires through the city from the rear of Ireland's bond … Mr. Elder spoke to Sydney yesterday from the rear of Ireland's bond, and he says he could hear the replies to his questions just as distinctly as if the conversation was being held with a person only a few yards off."
30 Dec 1897
3 Jan 1898
"The Sydney-Newcastle telephone will be open to the public on Monday next. The charge will be 3s for the first three minutes, and 1s for each subsequent minute."
4 Jan 1898
3 Jan 1898
"Mr. Arthur Fenwick was the first person to use the new telephone line between Sydney and Newcastle. The gentleman spoken to in Sydney was surprised, and could not at first believe that a resident of Newcastle was speaking to him."
1 Mar 1898
3 Mar 1898
Advertisement for the opening of the Newcastle to Sydney telpehone service.
5 Mar 1898"The gang of men who were employed laying the telephone line from Sydney to Newcastle have been camped at Adamstown for the past four months. During their residence in Adamstown they proved themselves a genial, well-conducted body of men and, consequently, gained the respect of the trades men and all they came in contact with. They broke up camp yesterday, and removed to Morrisett."
26 Aug 1907"Numerous complaints have been made by business houses in the city of the frequent congestion which occurs on the telephone trunk lines between Newcastle and Sydney. There are at present only two direct lines connecting Newcastle with the metropolis ... tenders have been called for the supply of material for the construction of another line."
17 May 1919"The commercial community of Newcastle, as well as many Sydney business firms, will learn with relief that the Postal Department 'hopes to begin immediately the erection of two new telephone trunk lines.' There are six lines at present in use, but the congestion that occurs in the business almost every day of the week is becoming intolerable."
26 Jun 1924"It is the intention of the Postal Department to put all telephone and telegraph cables between Sydney and Newcastle underground. Conduits will be run along the railway line, and it is stated that the mid-way testing station will be at a point near Lisarow."
8 Oct 1928Bushfires cut the Sydney-Newcastle telephone line.
12 Jun 1929The Deputy Postmaster-General, Mr. Kitto, said to-day that work was commenced at the beginning of this week of laying the underground cable between Sydney and Newcastle. This will improve the telephone and telegraphic service. Mr. Kitto said the new 'system would cost approximately £500,000.' "
13 Jun 1929"Preliminary work has been commenced in connection with the laying of underground telegraph and telephone cables between Sydney and Newcastle. It is anticipated that the estimated cost will be £500,000, and the length of the cable will be 117 miles. The first cable will provide for more than 120 pairs of wire, and there will be a circuit by each for telephone conversations and telegraphic messages simultaneously."
10 Jan 1935"Preliminary work has begun on the laying of an underground telephone cable between Sydney and Newcastle. Conduit to carry the cable has already been laid between Sydney and Peat's Ferry, it was stated this morning, and survey work along the main Newcastle-Sydney highway is in progress."
1 Apr 1939"The Deputy Director of Posts and Telegraphs Mr Butler at Gosford yesterday afternoon turned the first sod for the laying of the underground telephone and telegraph cables which will link Sydney, Newcastle and West Maitland. Two cables will be laid and although each will contain only 24 pairs of comparatively small gauge copper wires, special apparatus will enable more than 200 channels of communication to be provided. Repeater stations will be established at intervals of from 14 to 20 miles."
4 Dec 1939"Already a cable was being laid between Sydney and Newcastle, and 408 people in Newcastle could talk simultaneously with the same number of people in Sydney."
26 Jul 1941Mr. E. S. Butler, senior mechanic attached to the Taree Post Office, gave a speech to the Taree Rotary Club on the development of telephone communication, over the past two decades. There is a brief mention of the upgrade of the Sydney to Newcastle trunk line, including a few technical details.
3 Dec 1953"Seven extra trunk channels will be available between Sydney and Newcastle from next Wednesday. The improved telephone service will follow the installation of a modern carrier-wave telephone system which shortly will undergo tests. When the carrier telephone equipment was connected to a trunkline two or more calls could be completed simultanously over one pair of wires without the callers overhearing other conversations. According to the type of equipment installed, up to 17 extra circuits could be provided on each pair of wires."
18 Nov 1967Subscriber Trunk Dialling - Newcastle Exhange already upgraded and ready for the service.

Adamstown Fire and Police Station

The building featured in this month’s article was constructed in 1922 as Adamstown’s upgraded fire station. Although 100 years old now, it was used as a fire station for less than a quarter of that time.

In 1891 Adamstown’s first fire station was erected at 67 Narara Rd near the public school. A simple wood and corrugated iron shed, with a tall lookout and bell tower alongside, it served the needs of the local firefighters for the next 30 years. But when NSW fire brigades began introducing motorised fire engines a larger station was needed.  Adamstown Council considered several alternate locations for a new station but found none better than the current site.

So, in 1922 the existing wooden building was picked up and moved to the adjacent block of land to allow for the erection of a larger brick fire station in its place. The new building was officially opened on 17 November 1922. In October 1925 Adamstown brigade received their first motorised fire engine, a Garford-Hale type 15 pumper, assembled at the Fire Brigade workshops in Sydney.

The station closed in July 1946, as part of the fire service’s transition to having fewer and bigger stations.  Within months of the closure the Education Department stated their intention to use the site to extend the playground of the nearby public school. The land was officially gazetted for education use in April 1950, but if it was ever used by the school is unclear. We do know that in 1951 Newcastle Council was leasing the building, to store crates of library books as they waited for the construction of the public library in Laman Street, Newcastle. In 1970 the use of the site changed yet again, when the land was reserved for police purposes. Adamstown Police Station operated there until the mid-1990s when the station closed, and the property sold off. The building is now a private residence, albeit one with a very unusual past.

Adamstown Fire Station and the Garford-Hale motor fire engine acquired in 1925. Photo courtesy of Museum of Fire.
Adamstown Police Station 1974. Newcastle Library, Hunter Photobank.

The article above was first published in the November 2022 edition of The Local.


Additional Information – Fire Station

Adamstown’s first Fire Station, opened 1891. Living Histories, University of Newcastle.
Location of Adamstown Fire Station, on Water Board Map circa 1901. Living Histories, University of Newcastle.

The Garford-Hale motor fire engine that Adamstown received in 1925 was a big advance on the horse drawn fire engine previously used. The features of the new engine are well described in the Glen Innes Examiner when that town received their new engine.

The new motor is a Garford-Hale, of 20 horsepower, with three speeds and reverse, electric light, and self starter. A large warning bell is fitted in a convenient position for the driver to operate. The pumps have a capacity of 300 gallons a minute and are fitted with a safety valve that blows off with 1501b. pressure, and which can be adjusted to increased pressure if necessary. One of the greatest advantages which the Garford-Hale has over other makes is the expeditious way in which the pumps can be brought into action. From the pump it is possible to get four hoses to work, two on either side. The pump is fitted so that it can be operated by the three speeds, in the same way as the motor itself is operated, according to the power required. It is not possible for the pumping operations to be hung up owing to clogging, as the gear can be thrown into reverse, and any obstruction removed. Accommodation is provided for eight men, and a scaling ladder is carried on either side. The hose box is situated at the back of the engine, and accommodates 1500 feet of hose, together with all the necessary tools.

Glen Innes Examiner, 8 September 1924

Further details of the Garford-Hale engine are described when the Windsor brigade received their unit.

The new motor fire engine is known as the Garford-Hale pump, and is capable of pumping 300 gallons of water per minute. It is similar to the one just installed at Richmond, and they were both assembled in the Fire Brigades’ workshop in Sydney. The engine can attain a speed of 35 miles an hour when travelling to a fire. The engine is 21 h.p. A.S.E rating, with self starter and electric flight- system. There is a large hose box capable of carrying 1500 feet of hose, and a first aid kit is carried, together with all other appurtenances. The whole thing complete cost approximately £900.

Windsor and Richmond Gazette, 7 August 1925

Just a few months before Adamstown fire station was closed, Captain Francis Elson Kimber at age 83 retired from the brigade after 45 years of voluntary service.

He joined the Adamstown Fire Brigade as a volunteer in June, 1901, and was elected as Captain engine keeper in 1906, a position he retained until January 1, 1944, when his son, Mr. William G. Kimber, was apppointed Captain and Fireman A. Ure as engine-keeper. Mr. Kimber still recalls the hard work the volunteers had to do when it was mostly necessary for them to run with the fire reel to the fires. He says that in the early days they attended a large number of house fires, but their greatest worry was the large number of bush fires. The first engine provided at Adamstown was a turbine motor that had to be drawn by horses and it was while, this engine was in use that they assisted at Cohen’s fire under District Officer Hillier. The turbine was replaced by a motor-driven engine on September 28, 1925, and Mr. Kimber secured a driving licence for the vehicle. He drove this engine to a fire at Jones’s bakery on December 18, 1944, when he was 81 years of age. Although he had been relieved as captain of the district, he continued to do the clerical work. He was on duty at the station when the alarm was given and as no drivers were available, he drove the engine. This was the last fire Mr. Kimber attended.

The Newcastle Sun, 30 May 1946

Newspaper articles – Fire Station

Article Date Event DateNotes
31 Jan 1891
29 Jan 1891
Adamstown Council meeting: "From Mr. W. Brown, secretary of the Fire Brigade, requesting the council to endeavour to secure a portion of the proposed reserve for the purpose of erecting a fire station."
28 Feb 1891
26 Feb 1891
Adamstown Council meeting: Alderman FAIRFULL moved, "That the Mayor and one of the firemen meet the district surveyor when convenient, and select a piece of land on the Commonage for a fire station."
29 Jun 1891"Tender of Mr. G. Turner, of Waratah, for £93 10s was accepted, for the erection of the new fire-station. It was resolved to allow the contractor six weeks to complete the building. The building will be 30ft by 18ft, and, when completed, will be somewhat similar to the Honeysuckle fire-station. It is to be erected on a piece of land near the public school, from where a good view of Newcastle, Lambton, and other parts of the district may be obtained."
29 Aug 1891Government Gazette - portion 2395 of the Newcastle Pasturage Reserve at Adamstown, reserved for fire brigade station.
3 Sep 1891"The new fire brigade station is almost completed, and the brigade committee are devising means to pay the cost. They have suficient in hand to meet the contractor, but to pay for the bell which is ordered, 266lb weight, and other necessary things, they have to appeal to the public."
5 Oct 1891
3 Oct 1891
Official opening of Adamstown's first fire station.
12 Oct 1891
11 Oct 1891
First fire attended by Adamstown fire brigade. " Too much credit cannot be given to Messrs. J. Bullerwell and W. Dixon, captain and lieutenant respectively, and all the members of the Adamstown Fire Brigade, for the prompt and efficient way in which they extinguished the fire."
23 Sep 1920Adamstown council is not in favour of the idea of closing small local fire stations and establishing a large central fire station. "Mr. Shepherd, municipal representative on the Fire Board, wrote that a new fire station is absolutely necessary before a motor engine can be placed in the town, as the under structure of the present building is not strong enough to hold a motor, and there is danger of fire if a motor is placed in a wooden building."
18 Nov 1920"Adamstown Council have been notified by the secretary of the Board of Fire Commissioners that the board will be pleased to receive suggestions from the council as to suitable sites for the proposed new fire station. The council decided that information be obtained in regard to a site opposite the local police station, and that it be forwarded to the board for consideration."
21 Apr 1921"Adamstown Council has been notified by the Board of Fire Commissioners that it has considered the site brought under notice in Brunker road, owned by Mrs. Smith. Up to the present none of the sites available is as suitable as that upon which the fire station at present stands."
3 Sep 1921"The Mayor stated that Adamstown was rapidly progressing, and that the need for a new station was urgent. The council had for some considerable time been agitating for one, and he hoped that the members of the board would favorably consider the request."
19 Jun 1922"The secretary of the Board of Fire Commissioners has informed Adamstown Council that the board has accepted the tender of Mr. William Southon, of Waratah, for the erection of the new fire station at Adamstown."
23 Jun 1922"A commencement will shortly be made with the erection of a new fire brigade station at Adamstown, on the site of the old building, which has done duty for a number of years, adjoining the council chambers. It will be a brick building, containing an engine-room, a recreation room, single men's quarters, and watch, bath, and store rooms. The contract has been let to Mr W. Southon, and the cost will be about £1300. The present structure will be removed to the Adamstown Council's adjoining land, and do service until the new building is completed, in three or four months' time."
20 Nov 1922
17 Nov 1922
"The new fire station erected in Narara road was officially opened on Friday night by Mr. F. Jackson, Chief Officer of the New South Wales Fire Brigades, in the presence of a large and representative gathering, over which the Mayor, Alderman J. Arthur, presided."
6 Mar 1924"The secretary of the Board of Fire Commissioners intimated to Adamstown Council that the board cannot give, a definite date when a motor fire engine will be installed at Adamstown. The board was doing all it could to supply motors, but the output was limited."
8 Sep 1924A good description of the Garford-Hale motor fire engine received by the Glen Innes brigade. Adamstown received the same model of fire engine the following year.
7 Aug 1925Further details of the Garford-Hale engine. (This one received by Windsor brigade.)
12 Oct 1925
10 Oct 1925
"The installation of a motor fire engine was celebrated at the Adamstown Fire Station on Saturday night."
12 Oct 1925
10 Oct 1925
"A social, to celebrate the installation of a new motor fire engine, took place in Adamstown Fire Station on Saturday night. The Mayor said Adamstown had been agitating for a motor fire engine for a considerable time, and they were glad their hopes had been realised."
30 May 1946Retirement of volunteer Francis Elson Kimber aged 83 years, after 45 years service with Adamstown fire brigade. He drove the fire engine to a fire in 1944, at age 81!
13 Jul 1946
12 Jul 1946
Closure of Adamstown and Lambton fire stations .
23 Jul 1946Protest against the closure of Adamstown and Lambton fire station: The board closed down the two fire stations on July 12. Mr. Smith claimed that fast and powerful fire engines and good roads had "annihilated" distance, making it no longer, necessary for each suburb to have its own fire-fighting service. Centrally placed stations could cover the area efficiently. Mr. A. Ure said this suggestion was ridiculous. "On the afternoon the stations were closed, there was a fire in Adamstown," he said. "It took Cook's Hill brigade 14 minutes to get there. The Adamstown brigade could have been there in four."
16 Sep 1946"The Greater Newcastle Council has made a reasonable proposal in requesting that the Adamstown and Lambton fire stations should be reopened until the new services are in operation. No doubt the reorganisation planned by the Board of Fire Commissioners is sound. It envisages bigger stations, additional and more highly-trained officers, and high-powered equipment at central points. But until these safeguards have been provided, it is premature to say that the day of the single-engine station has passed."
31 Oct 1946"To relieve congestion at Adamstown School, the Education Department intends to extend the playground to include the land now occupied by the disused Adamstown Fire Station."
2 Nov 1951"About 20,000 books, catalogued ready for issue to the public, are stored in the clock tower of the Newcastle City Hall. Because the clock tower is full, the books are now being taken in crates to the former Adamstown fire station, which Newcastle City Council holds on lease."

Additional Information – Police Station

Constable John Anderson was Adamstown’s first police officer. According to his remininscences at celebrations of Adamstown’s jubilee in 1936, he arrived in the town in August 1885. No permanent police station was built at that time, but a house was rented for Constable Anderson in Victoria St, and in 1886 the police authorities erected a temporary lock-up at the rear of the house.

Adamstown’s first police station, in Victoria St. Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 18 March 1936.
Location of Adamstown’s first Police Station in Victoria Street. Water Board map, circa 1901. Living Histories, University of Newcastle.

As early as November 1886, two acres of land near the public school had been reserved for police purposes, and for the erection of a permanent police station. In the ensuing years portions of that land was set aside for the Post Office and the council chambers. In 1902, portion 2499 of the Newcastle Pasturage Reserve (65 Narara Rd) was reserved for the erection of a police station, and in 1910 the government awarded L Saunders the contract for the construction of a new police residence and lockup, for a sum of £1450. The building was completed and occupied in July 1911.

Curiously, the new building had no office space, Like the ‘temporary’ quarters in Victoria St used for the past 26 years, it was just a residence and a lockup.

The new building is constructed on the same lines as Hunter-street West, Newcastle, police station, with the exception that it has no official quarters in the front of the building. There are two large cells for the accommodation of prisoners, and the residential quarters of the constable in charge are up-to-date.

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 18 July 1911.
1944 aerial photograph showing location of police and fire station buildings in Adamstown.

In 1970, the former fire station (67 Narara Rd) adjacent to the police residence and lockup was dedicated for police purposes. I assume that both 65 and 67 Narara Rd were being used by for police purposes at that time, that the acquisition of the neighbouring 67 Narara Rd was an extension of facilities rather than a relocation.

1960s street directory showing the Police Station located in Narara Rd Adamstown.
Adamstown Police Station, circa 1983-1992. Photo courtesy of Col Manual and Paul Zuljan.
Adamstown Police Station circa 1996. From Newcastle City Council Wide Heritage Study 1996.

I have not found exact dates for when 65 and 67 Narara Rd ceased to be used by the police, however the Land values and property sales map indicates that the Deposited Plan for these sites (which is required for the land to be sold into private hands) was created in 1996. Presumably the police station was closed around that time.

DP823771 created in 1996.

Newspaper articles – Police Station

Article Date Event DateNotes
24 Jan 1885"Sir, Allow me a space in your valuable columns to comment on the injustice done to Adamstown by the authorities not complying with a petition sent some time ago, with reference to having a policeman stationed in this township. There is not a township in the district in so much need of police protection as Adamstown, for it is not safe for respectable people, especially females, to go out of their own houses, and it is quite dangerous for children to be away from their homes."
15 May 1886Adamston council "met in their new council chambers on Thursday evening. The building is situated in Victoria street, near the Post-office, and directly opposite the police station."
20 Jul 1886"There is a piece of land on the commonage, near the Public school, resumed by the Government for a police station, but nothing has yet been done by the townspeople towards having the police station secured."
1 Nov 1886"The police authorities have decided to erect a temporary lock-up at the rear of our local constable's residence. In whatever spirit the residents will hail it, there is one thing certain, that Constable Anderson will receive it with joy. There are two acres of land reserved for a police station near the Public School."
15 Nov 1886"The municipal council have resolved to apply for half an acre of land on the commonage, near the Public School, for the purpose of erecting a council chamber and post and telegraph office. The land referred to is a portion of the two acres reserved by the Government for police barracks, and is a capital site, having a full view of the city. I fail to comprehend why they are applying for this land for council chambers and post and telegraphic office, and making no mention of the police barracks-a building for which the land was solely reserved."
22 Nov 1902Government Gazette: Portion 2499 of the Newcastle Pasturage Reserve (65 Narara Rd) reserved from sale for police purposes.
10 Mar 1910"Some months back the Adamstown Council was notified that the sum of £1450 had been placed on the estimates for the erection of a new police station in Adamstown. It is now learned that plans are being prepared for the same."
16 Aug 1910Tender of L Saunders received for erection of Adamstown police station.
14 Mar 1911"It is six months ago since a start was made with the erection of the Adamstown police station, on a site adjacent to the first station. The work has been progressing slowly ever since, and by the present rate of progress Constable Robertson will be able to remove to his new quarters some time approaching Christmas."
18 Jul 1911"For 26 years the Government paid rent for premises in Victoria-street for a police station. A new building has now been erected, and on Thursday last Constable Robertson received notice to move to the new premises, which he at once did. The new building is constructed on the same lines as Hunter-street West, Newcastle, police station, with the exception that it has no official quarters in the front of the building. There are two large cells for the accommodation of prisoners, and the residential quarters of the constable in charge are up-to-date. The station is situated in Narara-road, adjoining the fire brigade station and council chambers."
20 Mar 1936Reminiscences from Adamstown's jubilee celebrations … "Mr. J. Anderson, now of Sydney, who was the first policeman in Adamstown, said it would be 51 years next August since he arrived there. He found it then much different from what it was to-day. The police station which he had first entered when he arrived was still standing. The municipality was incorporated about six months after his arrival."
4 Dec 1970Government Gazette: Portion 2395 of the Newcastle Pasturage Reserve (67 Narara Rd) reserved for police purposes.

Pokolbin’s Lost Airstrip

Mike Scanlon had an interesting history article in the Newcastle Herald this weekend (22 October 2022), on the mystery of the forgotten World War 2 runway at Pokolbin. In 1942 the RAAF built an air station at Pokolbin. The north-south runway was located where the current Cessnock airport is now. But there was also second runway located towards the south-west.

In the article Mike mentions that this old east-west runway can still be seen in Google’s satellite views. Using the historical imagery feature in Google Earth Pro and winding back to 2007, indeed shows a faint yet quite distinct outline of the old runway lying beneath fields and vineyards.

The faint outline of the old east-west runway of the Pokolbin RAAF base can be seen in this Google Earth satellite image from 2007. The current Cessnock airport runway can be seen in the top right of the image. (Click on the photo to enlarge)

Leonora Glass Industries

When the old Lambton colliery ceased operation, the pit paddock with its offices and buildings lay idle for a decade. Then 75 years ago, in 1947, a new enterprise began on the site with the opening of Leonora Glass Industries, founded by David Marr and three highly skilled Czechoslovakian glass workers.

Joseph and Henry Vecera and Josef Tvrdik came to Australia from Europe in 1934 to teach glass making at a Sydney factory. They later moved to Newcastle to work in the Electric Lamp Manufacturers Australia factory at Hamilton North. In 1946 the three men and their families became Australian citizens. The following year, along with David Marr (manager) and Alan Little (engineer), they set out to create their own glass making business, renting a portion of the Lambton colliery and setting up furnaces in the former colliery workshop.

In August 1947 they registered their enterprise as “Leonora Glass Industries”, possibly inspired by the town of Lenora in the Czech Republic, just 30km from Josef Tvrdik’s birthplace, where a famous glassworks had operated since 1834. Manufacturing commenced the following month and by December 1948 the works employed 23 people including several young apprentices. At this time they were making 2000 lamp shades a week. In the following years they produced many items such as wine glasses, dishes, ash trays, and car headlight lenses.

While the bulk of Leonora’s output was utilitarian in nature, they also handcrafted fine glassware such as jugs, vases, and decorative ornaments. Museums across Australia hold examples of these works in their collections. In July 1957 glassmaking in Lambton came to an abrupt halt when a fire destroyed the Leonora works. The company quickly recovered, purchasing 14 acres of land on Douglas St Wallsend to set up a new factory. In 1960 the multinational firm Philips Industries took over the glassworks to focus on the manufacture of light fittings. Although business expanded in the 1960s, increasing pressure from low cost overseas competitors in the 1970s led to the eventual closure of the works in 1982

Henry Vecera making a wine glass at Leonora Glassworks in Lambton. Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners Advocate, 7 October 1947.
Hand blown glass jug from the Leonora Glass Works, 1955. Image courtesy of Newcastle Museum.

The article above was first published in the October 2022 edition of The Local.


Additional photos

Gordon Maybury, of Wallsend, and Sid Bennet, of Cardiff (rear), grind lamp shades at the Leonora Glassworks. Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 3 Dec 1948.
Mr. Ernest Sandgren cutting glass at Lambton fine glass factory. Mr. Ernest Sandgren, Newcastle’s only cutter of fine crystal, was Australia’s weightlifting champion for seven years. Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 11 Dec 1948.
Milon and Joseph Vecera, 19 year-old twins blowing glass at a Lambton glass factory. Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 8 Mar 1950.
Mr. Henry Vecera finishes off a piece of hand made glassware. Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 8 Mar 1950.
Three Newcastle youths, from left, Des Williams, George Kildey and Ron Jones, training at a Lambton glass factory yesterday to be glass-makers.
Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 26 May 1953.
The 15 acres of land in Wallsend, purchased by Leonora Glass Industries in October 1957, to build a new glassworks after the Lambton glassworks was destroyed by fire. Vol-Fol 7697-17.
The area of the 1957 purchase of land, shown in Google Earth.
A 1966 aerial photograph, showing the glassworks in Douglas St Wallsend. NSW Historical Imagery.
Leonora Glass, Wallsend. University of Newcastle, Living Histories.
Official inspection of a prototype at the Philips factory, Wallsend, 1980. University of Newcastle, Living Histories.

Personal details

The following personal details of the three Czechoslovakian founders of Leonora Glass were extracted from National Archives of Australia records searches.

Name Henry Vecera Josef Vecera Josef Tvrdik
Birth 15 Aug 1901, Uhrovec, Slovakia 19 Mar 1899, Uhrovec, Slovakia 12 Jan 1904, Nova Hut, Czechia
Arrival in Australia 11 Nov 1934 9 Nov 1934  
Naturalised 30 Aug 1946 9 Dec 1946 3 Dec 1946
Family Wife, Julia; daughter, Henrietta Julia, born 1928 Wife, Cecile; twin sons, Milon Edward and Joseph Henry, born 1931 Wife, Coralie Violet Mary

Company information

A search of the ASIC Registers shows that Leonora Glass Industries Pty Ltd was registered as a company on 11 August 1947.

Origin of the Name Leonora

I have no direct evidence for the naming of “Leonora Glass Industries”, and what follows is just a reasoned guess.

We know from the notification of intention to apply for naturalisation, that Josef Tvrdik was born in “Nova Hut” in Czechoslovakia. This is the village of Nové Hute in the Czech Republic today.

The villages of Nove Hute and Lenora in Czechia, are 17km apart (26km by road). OpenStreetMap

Just 17km away (28km by road) from Nove Hute is the village of Lenora. The tourism website for the Šumava region describes the origin of the town.

The village of Lenora was founded as a settlement around one of the last glass- works established in the Šumava mountains by Jan Meyer in 1834. Later on the glass-works were taken over by Meyer’s nephew Vilém Kralik. The village was named Eleonorenhain after the Princess Eleonora (1812-1873), the wife of the lord of the estates John Adolf of Schwarzenberg. Czech translation of the name is “Eleonora’s Paradise”. Later on the village adopted Czech version of the name, Lenora.

Sumavanet tourism website
The Lenora Glassworks in the Czech Republic closed in 1996. www.sumavanet.cz

Note that while there is Leonora Parade in Waratah West, it appears to have no connection to the Leonora glassworks. The street was formerly a section of Platt Street, and was renamed to Leonora Parade in 1968.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
6 Apr 1946Notice of intention by Henry Vecera, Josef Vecera, and Josef Trvdik to apply for naturalisation. Josef Tvrdik, born at Nova Hut, Czechoslovakia, resident over 11 yers. Josef Vecera, Born at Uhrovec, resident over 11 years, living in Adamstown. Henry Vecera, Born at Uhrovec, resident over 11 years, living in Pearson St Lambton.
7 Oct 1947"A GLASS factory, now operating in a disused building which once was part of the Old Lambton coalmine, aims to produce the finest glass and crystal ware. The company--Leonora Glass Industries Pty. Ltd.- comprises Messrs. Jospeh and Henry Vecera, Mr. Jospeh Tvrdik. Mr. David Marr (manager) and Mr. Alan Little (engineer). Messrs Vecera and Tvrdik are Czech-Australians, who came to Australia in 1934 to teach glass-making at a Sydney factory."
23 Nov 1948“The strange bulbous Dali-like shapes, coloured in streaky and marbled patterns, which yesterday made an appearance as part of the Christmas dressing of a Hunter-street store are not painted marrows or solid-seeming balloons ... they are made of glass. The result of a brain-wave on the part of the window dresser (Miss E. Ritchie), they were specially blown at the Leonora Glass Works at New Lambton.”
3 Dec 1948The development of the fine glass industry in Newcastle by two Newcastle engineers and three Czechoslovakian glassworkers in a factory at Lambton is giving Newcastle boys an opportunity to learn the trade. The factory, which employs 23 after 12 months of operation, turns out 2000 lamp shades a week and some 400 water sets. Production of fine glass-wine glasses and ground glass-is starting.
11 Dec 1948Photo of twins Joseph and Milon Vecera, on the steps of the old Lambton Colliery office, near to where they work in the Leonora Glassworks.
11 Dec 1948Story on Ernest Sandgren, immigrant from Sweden, and Australian weight-lifting champion for 7 years, working as a cutter of fine crystal at Leonora Glassworks.
3 Feb 1949"It was planned with the Leonora glass factory at Lambton to make Newcastle a centre of the fine glass industry in Australia, the Managing Director (Mr. D. Marr) told Newcastle Business Men's Club yesterday. The factory was still in its initial development. It had been operating for 18 months. In the factory there were three Czechs of world-wide experience in the manufacture of hollow blown ware, including the art of stemware. They came from generations of art craftsmen."
8 Mar 1950“The factory is now producing heat-resistant glass in large quantities. About 100,000 such articles have been produced for distribution throughout Australia, in the past 12 months. The Manager (Mr. David Marr) said he believed this was the first time pyrex-type glass had been made in Newcastle.”
4 Jan 1952"MILON and Joseph Vecera, twin sons of Mr. and Mrs. J. Vecera, of Croudace street, Lambton, celebrated their 21st birthday, which was on New Year's Day,' with a party, on New Year's Eve. About 40 people attended the party. Milon and Joseph, who were born in Lausanne, Switzerland, came to Australia when they were four. They are both glass craftsmen at Leonora Glass Works, Lambton, and both play the piano, violin and piano-accordion."
26 May 1953The factory is turning to a new type of glass manufacture for Newcastle. This is the manufacture of pressed glass. A glass moulding press has been installed to manufacture pressed glass dishes, car headlight lenses, ash trays and other goods. The machine is in trial production. When producing fully, it will turn out 1500 articles a day.”

WAAAF Hostel, New Lambton

During World War 2, New Lambton Public School was commandeered by the RAAF. But not just men served there, but also a large contingent from the Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force (WAAAF).

Previously the role of women in the armed services was restricted to mainly nursing and kitchen work. With the outbreak of war in 1939 there were many discussions, but no decisions, about enlisting women. In February 1941 a severe shortage of signals personnel prompted the air force to form the WAAAF, with an enrolment of 250 women to be trained as wireless and teleprinter operators. This was intended as a temporary arrangement, but when Japan entered the war in December 1941 the role of air defence increased, as did the need for the WAAAF.

In March 1942, No. 2 Fighter Sector headquarters commenced at New Lambton with 134 personnel, including 69 WAAAF servicewomen performing roles in telecommunications and plotting aircraft movements.

To assist the WAAAF, the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), aided by volunteers and donations from the public, opened a hostel in a shop and residence at the corner of Hobart and Rugby Roads.  The Newcastle Morning Herald and Miner’s Advocate report of the opening ceremony on 5 May 1942 noted that “The hostel has sleeping accommodation for nine, an attractive bathroom, a lounge-room where the girls can entertain their friends or write letters home, a piano, sewing machine, and a cheery kitchen where they can cook a meal.” In the first four months, 351 WAAAFs were accommodated at nights.

In December 1942 the YWCA closed the hostel when they opened a larger facility in Hunter Street Newcastle. This proved unsatisfactory for the WAAAF in New Lambton, and on 24 July 1943 the Church Army re-opened the Hobart Road site. The hostel finally closed in September 1944, when the RAAF transferred their operations at the school to new headquarters on Ash Island. After the war, the WAAAF was disbanded, having had 27000 women serve in 72 different trades.

Servicewomen at the official opening of the WAAAF hostel in New Lambton, 5 May 1942. Newcastle Morning Herald and Miner’s Advocate.
The former WAAAF hostel building in 2022.

The article above was first published in the September 2022 edition of The Local.


Additional Information

The Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate reported on the opening of the WAAAF Hostel at New Lambton on 5 May 1942.

“REAL SHEETS on the bed … and mattresses, too,” cried members of the W.A.A.A.F. excitedly when they inspected the service women’s hostel yesterday for the first time. “Can’t we have a bath now?” suggested another. The hostel was officially opened yesterday by the Mayor of Greater Newcastle (Ald. Young). Members of the W.A.A.A.F. formed a guard of honour. The Australian army nursing service was also represented. The hostel, which is at New Lambton, has many facilities that will be appreciated by service women. It has sleeping accommodation for nine, an attractive bathroom, a lounge-room where the girls can entertain their friends or write letters home, a piano, sewing machine, and a cheery kitchen where they can cook a meal. The hostel has been opened by the Y.W.C.A. to serve all women in uniform.

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 6 May 1942
Aerial photograph, New Lambton, 3 September 1944.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
22 Apr 1942"Members of the public who are interested in the establishment of the leave hostel for uniformed women, which will be opened shortly at New Lambton, are invited by the Y.W.C.A. Board of Directors to attend a meeting in the Y.W.C.A. lounge next Tuesday ... It was decided at a meeting yesterday to appeal for gifts of linen, such as sheets, tea towels and tablecloths. Gifts of china would also be appreciated. Uniformed women will be able to sleep at the hostel, also to do laundry and ironing there. Baths, which have been a problem for the W.A.A.A.F. will be available."
24 Apr 1942"Property at the corner of Hobart and Rugby Roads, New Lambton (a shop and residence), has been selected for the establishment of a leave hostel for the convenience of W.A.A.A.Fs and other service women. The scheme is in the hands of the Y.W.C.A. Board of Directors. There are hopes that the hostel will be officially opened on May 5."
5 May 1942"The hostel for servicewomen, controlled by the Y.W.C.A., will be opened at New Lambton at 3 o'clock this afternoon by the Mayor (Ald. Young). The building has been transformed into a cheery and comfortable centre where servicewomen can sleep, eat and do their laundry. A lounge room has been provided."
6 May 1942
5 May 1942
Report of the opening of the servicewomen's hostel at New Lambton.
25 Aug 1942The Australian Comforts Fund last night decided to finance the establishment of an hostel for women of the Services. The hostel, which is estimated to cost £1500, will be on the upper floors of John's store. A request to the A.C.F. to advance the £1500 was made by Mrs. Cockburn and Mrs. Penny on behalf of the Y.W.C.A. Mrs. W Neve said that as hundreds of uniformed girls were expected to be sent to the district, a leave centre was urgently needed. The Mayor (Ald. Young) said this was a wonderful opportunity for the A.C.F. to show its appreciation of the patriotic efforts of hundreds of women war workers in Newcastle.
11 Sep 1942Report on the first four months of operation of the hostel. "It was reported that some of the service girls had particularly expressed their appreciation of the amenities provided by the hostel, and their anxiety that it should not he closed when the larger leave house in the city is opened. The committee decided that unless the hostel should prove definitely not to be needed every effort should be made to continue it. Since the opening of the hostel, 351 W.A.A.A.F.S. had been accommodated for nights, and many more had used it for rest and recreation during the day."
24 Sep 1942"Three upper floors of the Hunter street building once occupied by John's Silk Store are being converted into a leave-house for women of the services. The room will be equipped with 50 beds, bathrooms with hot and cold water, a dance-floor and recreation rooms where the girls can entertain friends. A resident fully trained Y.W.C.A. matron will be in attendance to look after the girls' needs."
4 Dec 1942Mrs Dunkley, Newcastle's new Mayoress, opens the Hunter Street servicewomen's hostel.
30 Dec 1942"With the tremendous increase in women's service, the Leave House, maintained jointly by the Y.W.C.A. and A.C.F,. was established over John's Building in Hunter-street. The whole place is delightfully furnished, and shows how much work went into it. Mrs. Douglas is in charge at the hostel."
20 Jan 1943"New Lambton hostel was closed because, with the opening of the leave house in the city, it was felt that the needs of service women in the district would be adequately met."
23 Jan 1943"Referring yesterday to the closing of the hostel formerly conducted by the Y.W.C.A. at New Lambton, Captain J. S. Cowland, of the Church Army, said that the Church Army took the view, and for that it had official support, that a women's hostel at New Lambton was necessary. It was prepared to reopen the hostel without delay if arrangements could be made."
22 Jun 1943A PUBLIC MEETING will be held in ALL SAINTS' CHURCH HALL, CROMWELL-ROAD, NEW LAMBTON, on WEDNESDAY, JUNE 30th, at 2.30 p.m. All those interested in the establishment of a SERVICE WOMEN'S HOSTEL in NEW LAMBTON are heartily invited to attend.
25 Jun 1943"THE CHURCH ARMY has opened a hostel for service women at 92 Hobart-road, New Lambton. It provides sleeping accommodation and light meals, following the custom of the parent society, which has several hostels in England."
13 Jul 1943"A successful meeting and screening of film strips on the progress of Soviet Russia was held in the New Lambton Parish Hall. Half the proceeds were given to the Church Army to assist in setting up a service women's hostel at New Lambton."
15 Jul 1943
24 Jul 1943
"Mrs. F. de Witt Batty, wife of the Bishop of Newcastle, will open the Church Army Service Women's Hostel, at 92 Hobart-road, New Lambton, on July 24, at 3 p.m. This hostel will cater for service women during their recreation periods. At present the hostel has sleeping accommodation for 10 nightly, but it is hoped to enlarge the building as finances permit."
27 Jul 1943
24 Jul 1943
The Church Army servicewomen's hostel in Hobart-road, New Lambton, was officially opened by Mrs. F. De Witt Batty."
9 Dec 1943"An appeal for a radio set for the servicewomen's hostel at New Lambton has been made by the Church Army Women's Auxiliary. The hostel was proving a 'home away from home' for women in uniform. Girls were able to go in and out of the hostel at any time. Washing and ironing facilities were provided as well as free writing paper and a good library service."
20 Sep 1944"The small hostel in New Lambton for girls stationed at New Lambton R.A.A.F. centre would close at the end of the month. The school has been handed back to the Education Department. This hostel was originally run by the Y.W.C.A. Later. It was taken over by the Church Army."

The “Baby” Coal Mines of Lambton-Waratah

In the climate change debate today, there is great concern about the global impact of large coal mines. But 100 years ago, the hot topic in Newcastle was the local impact of little mines. The Newcastle Sun reported in August 1922

“A good deal of activity is noticeable among the “baby” coal mines in the hills of Waratah and Lambton. They are generally one-man affairs, the work is hard and the methods crude.”

Some were tiny burrows in a hillside, others a shaft with a wooden tripod overhead to haul up coal in buckets. In the post war economic downturn unemployed men looked to scratch a living by selling coal to nearby householders, the tough nature of their enterprise reflected in the mine names … “Try Again Colliery”, “Lone Hand”, “Perseverance”.

While the “baby” mines were a boon to some, they were a grievance to many. The councils were concerned about undermining of streets and damage to pipes. Residents complained of water run-off and danger to their properties. An inspection by the Department of Mines in November 1922 attended by miners and residents turned ugly and “the parties became bitter in their denunciation of each other and indulged in heated personal remarks.”

Matters weren’t helped by the Department’s manifest disinterest in resolving the dispute. Their view was that the big coal companies who owned the mineral rights were entitled to sublease to the “baby” miners, and the Department could do nothing. Waratah Council then took legal action against one of the mine owners, and the court imposed a substantial fine. By 1924 newspaper reports on the mines had disappeared. Their closure was due to a combination of factors –poor quality coal, increasing suburban development, the threat of fines, but mainly because households were moving to the new technologies of gas, and coal-fired electricity. Ironically these energy sources that were the solution to the local “baby” mines in 1922, are now central to the global climate change problem in 2022.

The North Lambton Colliery was one of the bigger “baby” mines. It was located near the underground water reservoir on Newcastle Road and ceased operation in 1924. Photo from Sydney Mail, 8 August 1923.
A map from a 1923 real estate poster shows 15 “baby” coal mines in just a two square kilometre area of Lambton and Waratah. University of Newcastle, Special Collections.

The article above was first published in the August 2022 edition of The Local.


Additional Information

The locality sketch on the 1923 real estate poster shows 17 “baby” mines. Many of them are unknown apart from their name on this map.

  1. Bayley’s Reward Colliery
  2. The Bowler Colliery
  3. Brown Hill Colliery
  4. Carclew Colliery
  5. Clay Cross No. 2 Colliery
  6. Federal Colliery
  7. Hanbury Colliery
  8. Meadow Colliery
  9. The Nest Colliery
  10. Perseverance Colliery
  11. Red Bank Colliery
  12. Sea View Colliery
  13. Silverdale Colliery
  14. Talk o’ the Hill Colliery
  15. Try Again Colliery
  16. Winn Colliery
  17. Wright’s Colliery

Other “baby” mines in the Lambton area recorded in other sources such as newspaper reports and Department of Mines annual reports include …

  1. Lambton Heights No. 2
  2. North Lambton Colliery
  3. Braye Park Colliery
  4. Rosehill No. 2
  5. Lone Hand [End?] Colliery
  6. West End Colliery
  7. Tubber Robinson’s mine
The Sun, 12 Nov 1922.

“Lambton Heights No. 2 is the name of this colliery, which has a staff of four men, and an output of 15 tons a day. Its depth is 80 feet, and the coal is drawn to the surface by one pony-power. It is owned by Fitzpatrick Bros., who were too busy grubbing out wealth down below to face the camera.”

The Sun, 12 Nov 1922
The Sun, 12 Nov 1922.

“This is Lone End Colliery, the smallest mine on the field. Its owner, managing director, and whole staff, Mr. T. Morgan, has just hauled a basket of coal to the surface. The shaft is 36ft. deep, and it boasts an output of 14 tons per week. Its owner claims that the coal is part of the famous Borehole seam.”

The Sun, 12 Nov 1922

Although “The Sun” has named this mine as “Lone End Colliery”, I suspect that may be an erroneous reference to the “Lone Hand Colliery”. In the annual report of the Department of Mines for the year 1921, Inspector Bissett states that …

“Two small mines were commenced during the year; these were Lone Hand and Rosehill No.2 Collieries.”

The Lone Hand Colliery is mentioned again in the 1922 annual report, but is not mentioned in subsequent years. Note that Rose Hill (occasionally misspelled Roe’s Hill) was the name of the hill to the north of Lambton township, as shown on this 1908 real estate map.

1908 real estate poster showing “Rose Hill” to the north of Lambton. University of Newcastle, Special Collections.

Tubber Robinson’s mine

William Robinson (known as “Tubber”) had a “baby” mine in George Street near Notley Street, North Lambton. He also had mines at Wallsend in the proximity of the High School. William’s brother Jeremiah (Jerry) Robinson had a “baby” mine in Seventh Street, North Lambton.The photo below shows the George Street mine.

Harry (Alf) Cox with his future father-in-law, William (Tubber) Robinson, circa 1930s. Photo courtesy of Ron Robinson.

The photo below of William and his sons with a pit pony, was taken near Robinson’s house in Fifth Street North Lambton.

William (Tubber) Robinson and his sons, Clarence (Joe) Robinson and William Jr (Bill) Robinson, circa 1930s. Photo courtesy of Ron Robinson.

North Lambton Colliery

The North Lambton Colliery, whose photo appeared in the published article, was somewhat different to the other “baby” mines. In contrast to most of the “baby” mines that employed only one or two men and were very short-lived in operation, the North Lambton colliery operated for 20 years (1905 to 1924), and at its peak employed 28 men in 1918. The mine, despite its larger size, used the same primitive techniques as the “baby” mines, sinking a shallow shaft, erecting a wooden tripod, and hauling coal up the shaft in buckets.

The Department of Mines annual report for the year 1905 notes that

North Lambton Colliery.-On 26th September, Mr. J. Jeffries notified, in terms of section 30 of the Coal Mines Regulation Act, that he had opened a new mine on land leased from the Scottish Australian Mining Co., the name of which would be North Lambton.

The location of the colliery being close to the water reservoir on Newcastle Road Lambton, can be ascertained from a report to the Newcastle Water and Sewerage Board in February 1906 …

The proprietor of the North Lambton Colliery gave notice that the workings of his colliery are now approaching within 40 yards of the Lambton reservoir fence, and stated his intention of removing coal to that boundary in terms of a lease held by him from the Scottish Australian Mining Company, Limited.

Sydney Morning Herald, 8 February 1906.

Similarly, in 1918 …

The engineer of the Water and Sewerage Board reports that it is understood Mr. Long, manager of the North Lambton colliery, intends sinking a shaft near the eastern fence of the Lambton reservoir property. The proposed mining work will probably not affect the reservoir or the pump-house, but might affect the 12-inch scourpipe from the reservoir and some trees.

The Newcastle Sun, 9 September 1918.

The Newcastle Sun of 30 September 1922 noted that the colliery was a …

… tribute mine working the outcrop pillar coal left by the Lambton colliery. The coal from North Lambton, employing sixteen persons, is carried to the Lambton screens, and there put into waggons and sent for shipment.

The Sydney Mail of 8 August 1923 in publishing their photo of the mine, noted that …

This small mine is situated at North Lambton. It has an output of 30 tons per day, and gives employment to 10 men. It has been working for 20 years, and is owned by Mr. W. Long, who is shown seated on his cart, loaded with coal. The winding gear is worked by a horse hauling on the cable.

The North Lambton mine notified the Department of Mines of discontinuance of operations in 1924.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
4 Mar 1921First mention of the term "baby coal mines" in the newspaper.
"The streets of Newcastle are not paved with gold, but underneath them all is something nearly as precious. Coal seams are everywhere, and it is only a matter of digging and coal can be found. Where less fortunate peoples have to pay £5 and £6 a ton for coal, many people in the suburbs of Newcastle just dig in their back yards, and from the baby coal mine there take enough to supply their own needs."
16 Aug 1922Article on the "miniature mines" of Waratah and Lambton.
20 Sep 1922"So that the people who operate "baby" coal mines in the hills of Waratah, and endanger the safety of houses in the vicinity, might have a stop put to their mining, the council asked the Minister for Mines to grant no more permits for the taking of coal from these lands. The official reply received last night was vague and indefinite ..."
25 Sep 1922"Trying to put a stop to the private mining that goes on at Lambton, and endangers the safety of water and gas mains, apart from damaging the roads, the Mayor last week asked the Minister for Mines not to grant permits for this mining. The latter replied that most of the mineral leases were held by a mining company which seemed to have a perfect right to lease certain areas to private people for the purpose of exploiting the remaining coal seams."
30 Sep 1922Description of various collieries in the northern coal field, including a brief mention of the small North Lambton colliery.
18 Oct 1922"Several Inspectors from the Department of Mines will visit Waratah next week, and in company with the Mayor and aldermen, will visit the sites of the "baby" coal-mines in the hills, which have been complained of by residents who are fearful of damage to their properties."
30 Oct 1922"Expert opinion on the question of the damage likely to result to streets and dwellings on Roe's Hill, Waratah, through the opening up of "baby" coal mines, will be given by Chief Inspector Atkinson, of the Department of Mines, who will visit the shafts complained of to-morrow afternoon."
1 Nov 1922
31 Oct 1922
"Many householders came out to emphasise the general grievance when Chief-Inspector Atkinson and Inspector Tennant, representing the Mines Department, made an inspection of the "baby" coal mines on Lambton and Waratah hills yesterday afternoon ... At times the parties became bitter in their denunciation of each other— that is, the property owners and the coal hewers … The Mines Department had to consider the resources of the country, said Inspector Atkinson, and to see they were not wasted ... The inspector intimated that the department could not offer much assistance."
12 Nov 1922A long report on the "baby coal mines" in the hills of Waratah and Lambton, including a couple of thumbnail photos.
15 Nov 1922Waratah council given legal opinon on the "baby" coal mines that "showed that the council had power to stop such mining under public roads. The owner adjoining any land being undermined had a natural and legal right to prevent his land being endangered, but there was no cause for action for damage until the land was disturbed."
29 Nov 1922"Another chapter in the history of baby coal mines was unfolded last night when Waratah Council served a notice upon William Metcalfe to fill in shafts sunk in Sixth and Seventh streets, Rosehill. A prosecution is to follow if the order is not obeyed."
22 Dec 1922William Metcalfe prosecuted by Waratah Council "for having made a hole in a public road without authority… Metcalfe was fined £5, with £4 8s 5d costs, in default one month's gaol."
24 Jan 1923"William Metcalfe, who is working a 'baby' coal mine at Waratah, was proceeded against by the Waratah Council for allowing a shaft to remain in a street of the municipality… A fine of £8 was imposed, together with 8s 6d court costs and 42s professional costs."
25 Sep 1923"North Lambton, more familiarly known as Lambton Heights, merges into the Jesmond district. There are a number of 'baby' coal mines in the district, and the landscape is dotted with wooden tripods, over small shafts, used to lower and raise the miner-proprietors, and the coal they win from their little collieries." [This is the last mention of the 'baby' coal mines in the newspaper, until a couple of references to 'baby' coal mines at Wallsend in 1931.]
23 Feb 1931"After working for six months getting everything in readiness, the largest of the 'baby' mines at Wallsend has begun producing coal."
15 Jul 1931"Owing to the flooding of several small 'baby' coal mines at Wallsend, the already large number of unemployed has been added to. These mines employ between 25 and 30 men."
[Last reference to 'baby' mines in Trove.]