Adamstown Aldermen (1886-1938)

Adamstown Council was incorporated on 31 December 1885 and remained until March 1938 when 11 local municipal councils merged to form the City of Greater Newcastle Council. During its 52 years of its existence, Adamstown Council had 84 different aldermen, 32 of whom served as mayor.

The file linked to below contains a summary of all the aldermen that served on New Lambton Municipal Council in the years 1889 to 1938.

Entries in the table that are underlined are hyperlinks to a relevant newspaper article in Trove. To make sense of the information in the summary document, it is helpful to understand how council elections were organised, and how I have used different text and background colours to represent changes in the council membership.

Adamstown Council Chambers on the opening day, 22 August 1892. Photo courtesy of Newcastle Region Library.

Council elections

Elections in the Adamstown Municipal Council were initially governed by the NSW Municipalities Act of 1867. The council had 9 aldermen, who served terms of three years.

Initially the municipality was incorporated in 1886 without a ward system, but prior to the 1891 election, the municipality was divided into three wards (North/South/East), with three aldermen to represent each ward. Each February the term of three aldermen expired (one from each ward), and nominations were called to fill the expiring positions, so that over a three year cycle the terms of all nine of the aldermen expired. If only one nomination was received for a particular ward, that nominee was automatically elected to the council without the need for a ballot. If there was more than one nomination in a ward the returning officer would set a date within the next seven days at which a ballot would be held, where the ratepayers of the council area would vote for aldermen.

The position of Mayor was not voted on by ratepayers, but rather on the first council meeting after the election, the nine aldermen (including the three newly elected/returned aldermen) would vote for who they wanted to be Mayor. In contrast to the position of aldermen who were elected to a term of three years, the position of Mayor had a term of only one year.

In the event of any casual vacancies, nominations for the vacancy would be called for, and an election called if there were more nominees than vacancies. Casual vacancies in Adamstown were caused by resignation, death, or in the case of the 1920 election, there being a shortage of nominees.

On 26/2/1906, the Municipalities Act (1897) was replaced by the Local Government Act (1906). The system of electing 3 aldermen each year was changed to elect 9 aldermen every 3 years. The election of a Mayor was still held each February, with the Mayoral term running from the first day of March to the last day of February. At a council meeting on 12 March 1919, the aldermen voted to abolish the ward system in Adamstown.

Although there are numerous pieces of legislation relevant to local government in the period 1871 to 1938, the main acts relevant to the content on this page are:

Colour coding

In the documents I have used different colours to indicate the means by which people entered and exited council positions:

  • The foreground text color indicates how a person entered a council position:
    • Blue indicates the person was elected unopposed.
    • Green indicates the person was a successful candidate in an election.
    • Black indicates a continuation in office.
  • The background colour of a table cell indicates how a person exited a council position:
    • Yellow indicates a resignation.
    • Light pink indicates expiration of a term, and the person did not seek re-election.
    • Darker pink indicates expiration of a term, and the person was defeated when seeking re-election to another term.
    • Light gray indicates that the person died while serving their term of office.
  • For entries prior to 1906, where three aldermen retired each year, the names of the retiring aldermen are shown in italics.

Each new row in the table represents a change in the makeup of the council, with the exception of the council/mayoral elections of February 1919, December 1920, December 1921 and December 1935 where the aldermen and mayor remained unchanged.

Miscellaneous Observations

In the period 1886 to 1938:

  • 32 different people served as Mayor.
    • The longest serving Mayor was Theophilus Robin, who served a total of 5 years as Mayor during the period 1908 to 1917, on three separate occasions.
    • Edden St is named after Alfred Edden, who served as Mayor in 1889 and 1891.
    • In comparison with Lambton, Adamstown liked to share the Mayoral honours around. Adamstown council operated for 15 years less than Lambton council, but had four more than Lambton’s 28 Mayors.
  • 84 different people served as aldermen.
    • Often there are variant spellings for the same aldermen. In the spreadsheet I have used a consistent spelling of names, based on the variant that seems to be used the most, and on a separate worksheet listed the variant spellings. The most curious case is that of Matthew Loyden/Lydon, who prior to 12 February 1900 is consistently spelled “Loyden” and after 12 February 1900 is consistently spelled “Lydon”.  And on that exact date he is spelled “Loyden” in the Newcastle Morning Herald, and “Lydon” in the Daily Telegraph!
    • The longest serving alderman was Matthew Lydon who served a total of 22 years and 6 months in the period 1888 to 1917, on two separate occasions.
    • The shortest term of an aldermen was that of R Keogh who filled a casual vacancy for 8 months in 1925.
  • This page is titled “Adamstown Aldermen“, for they were all men. For most of the life of the council, this was by law, for while both men and women were entitled to vote, the Municipalities Act of 1867 and the Local Government Act of 1906 was explicit in restricting council service to men. e.g. section 69 of the 1906 act says:
    “Any male person whose name is on the roll of electors for an area shall, if not disqualified, be eligible to be elected and to act as alderman or councillor of the area.”
    By the time of the Local Government Act of 1919, this gender exclusion for office was no longer in place, however in the remaining 20 years no women were nominated for or elected to Adamstown Council.
  • Four people died while serving in office, James Gray in 1916, Thomas Rutherford and Matthew Lydon in 1917, and Allan Randolph Cameron in 1936.
  • There were 22 occasions when an alderman or mayor resigned their position. In most cases the reason was that the person had left the district, or because of ill health.

Adamstown Council Chambers

In 1869 Thomas Adam purchased 54 acres of Crown land south of Glebe Rd, subdivided it, and began selling lots to the public. Adamstown was born. In the next 15 years the population grew to about 1000, and the residents began petitioning for a local council to be formed. Their principal concern was the poor state of roads in the town. A counter petition was led by the mining companies, principally objecting to the rates they would have to pay.

The arguments for local government won the day, and on 31 December 1885 the NSW Governor officially proclaimed the “Municipal District of Adamstown”. The election of nine aldermen took place on 6 March 1886. For the next few weeks, the Council met in local halls and hotels while they quickly arranged the erection of a small weatherboard building in Victoria St to use as Council Chambers.

Six years later, in April 1892, they commissioned larger and grander chambers. Designed by architects Bennett and Yeomans in the Renaissance style, the building was erected on the corner of Narara and Kyle Roads. With construction not fully completed, 500 people gathered for the official opening on 22 August 1892. The Postmaster-general John Kidd declared the chambers open, and the fire brigade then “christened the building with a copious stream of water.”

The building was used for the next 46 years until Adamstown Council ceased to exist with the formation of the City of Greater Newcastle Council in March 1938. It was subsequently leased to the Returned Soldier’s League in 1941. From 1947, the building was used for a number of purposes, including at one stage as emergency housing for a homeless family. As the building aged, it gradually fell into disuse and disrepair.

Curiously, while the grand council chambers in Narara road was demolished over 50 years ago, and the site is now used by Hunter Health, the initial modest building in Victoria St survived, and is now used for a medical practice.

The article above was first published in the March 2019 edition of The Local.

The building in Victoria St used as Adamstown Council chambers 1886-1892.
Opening of the Adamstown Council Chambers in Narara Road, 1892. Photo courtesy of Newcastle Region Library.

Additional Information

For further information on Adamstown Council and other suburban municipal councils can be found from my Newcastle Municipal Councils page.

Adamstown Mechanics’ Institute

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 1928 Mechanics’ Institute building, photographed July 2017.

Newspaper articles

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

Update, Aug 2017

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

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

Adamstown Council

Adamstown Council was incorporated by a proclamation on 31st December 1885 published in the Government Gazette on 8th January 1886. A public banquet to celebrate the incorporation was held on Monday 25th January 1886, and the first election of aldermen took place on Saturday 6th March 1886.

The Mechanics’ Institute (March, April 1886)

The first meeting of the council took place in the Adamstown Mechanics’ Institute on Wednesday 10th March 1886, and Thomas William Weir was elected unopposed as Mayor for the ensuing year.

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

The Mechanics’ Institute building was in Union St, Adamstown, which was the early name of the section of Brunker Rd south of Glebe Rd. A 1921 real estate map shows the location of the Mechanics’ Institute on the west side of Union St/Brunker Rd, just to the south of Victoria Street.

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

The wooden Mechanics’ Institute building was removed in 1928, as part of the widening of Union Street, and a new brick building was erected on the same site that year. The Adamstown RSL took possession of the building in May 1942.

The 1928 Mechanics’ Institute building, photographed July 2017.

At the second meeting of the council on 19th March 1886, the Mayor raised the need for dedicated council chambers, due to the “the institute only being available for a month”, and the council decided that “advertisements for a council chamber should be inserted” into the newspapers. At a meeting on 26th March 1886, six tenders were receive, and “Mrs. Love’s tender was received for 8s per week”.

Royal Standard Hotel (April 1886)

April 1886 was a brief period when the Mechanics Institute hall was unavailable, and the new council chambers was not yet ready. The council therefore held its meetings that month in the Royal Standard Hotel. (Some of the reports refer to the meetings being in the Royal Oak Hotel, but I suspect that is an error, as I can find no other reference to a hotel of that name in Adamstown at that time.) The Royal Standard Hotel was on the corner of Victoria Street and William Street. (William Street was an earlier name of the section of Gosford St south of Glebe Road, as shown by an early subdivision drawing.) A building with a nameplate of “Royal Standard House” still stands on the south-east corner of Victoria and Gosford Street.

Site of the Royal Standard Hotel, corner of Victoria and Gosford streets, Adamstown. July 2017.

Victoria Street Council Chambers (1886 -1892)

From 13th May 1886 the council met in new chambers in Victoria Street. The Newcastle Herald reporting on the new building noted that it


is situated in Victoria street, near the Post-office, and directly opposite the police station. It is a weatherboard building, 30ft. by 13ft., lined and ceiled, and will, when painted and properly furnished, be a comfortable meeting room.

In March 1936, the Newcastle Morning Herald had a feature on the jubilee of Adamstown Council, that included photographs of the buildings in Victoria Street that served as the first council chambers and post office.

Adamstown’s first council chambers. Photographed in 1936.

Adamstown’s first Post Office. Photographed in 1936.

Amazingly, those two buildings are still there side by side in 2017.

The buildings that served as Adamstown’s first council chambers (left) and post office (right), in July 2017.

Narara Road Council Chambers

New council chambers were erected in 1892 in Narara Road, and officially opened on 22nd August 1892. A report on the opening ceremony described the building as follows:

The new council chambers are situated at the corner of Narara and Kyle streets, on nearly a quarter of an acre of land given to the municipality by the Government some time ago. The building is of brick and cement, the design being in the Renaissance style of architecture. It has a frontage of 38ft to Narara-street, and 35ft to Kyle street, the total cost being about £450, the actual contract price amounting to £448. The front to Narara-street is some 20ft in height, with semi-circular and semi-eleptical arches supported by strong piers, and surmounted with a nice entablature having circular balustrading. A verandah is built in the front, from which public meetings may be addressed. The interior of the building is divided into two parts by a hall 5ft wide. On one side are the rooms for the Mayor, the council clerk, and inspector, the other portion being devoted to the council chamber, which is 27ft by 18ft, and 12ft in height. The contractors for the building, who have not yet completed their work, are Messrs. King and Cleave, the architects being Messrs. Bennett and Yeomans, who are also going to build the Hamilton municipal chambers.

Adamstown Council Chambers on the opening day, 22 August 1892. Photo courtesy of Newcastle Region Library.


Adamstown Council Chambers. Newcastle City Council, Hunter Photobank.

Adamstown Council Chambers. Newcastle City Council, Hunter Photobank.


The location of the 1892 Adamstown Town Hall. February 2019.

The portion of a 1928 Craigie’s map of Newcastle shows the location of the council chambers behind the post office, on the corner of Kyle Road and Narara Road.

Location of Adamstown council chambers, corner of Kyle and Narara roads.


Adamstown Town Hall location, as shown on a 1912 map. NSW Land and Property Information, Historical Land Records Viewer.


Adamstown Council Chambers. Newcastle Morning Herald, 21 May 1938.

Post 1938

After the formation of the City of Greater Newcastle council in 1938, the old Adamstown council chambers was leased to the Returned Soldiers’ League in 1941, and in 1947 the former council chambers was being rented to the Newcastle Ex-Servicemens and Citizens’ Band.

In November 1947, the building was used as emergency housing for the Sorby family, who had been recently evicted from their home, and were living in a tent in Merewether. In 1949 the Nix family moved into the stables behind the council chambers. and remained there for six years before being evicted in March 1954.

Adamstown Council Chambers. Newcastle Morning Herald, 19th November 1947.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
19 Jun 1869
16 Jun 1869
Thomas Adam purchases 54 acres of Crown land in Parish of Newcastle.
23 Sep 1869"Adam's Town. — This is the name that is to be given to a new township which is about to be established between the Borehole and New Lambton, near Mr. Christian's, where Mr. Thomas Adam, of Blane-street, has recently purchased between fifty and sixty acres of Crown Land. This land is to be subdivided into a large number of small allotments, and sold at most reasonable terms so as to induce a population to settle upon it. Many of the allotments have been already disposed of, and in the course of a short time hence, we may expect to see a number of huts erected in the locality. The soil is said to be pretty good there."
9 Nov 1869Land for sale in Adamstown. First reference in the newspapers to the town name as one word, rather than "Adams' Town".
25 Aug 1884Hearing at Waratah Police Court "respecting the proposed incorporation of Adamstown, petitions for and against the same having been presented to his Excellency the Governor."
8 Jan 1886
31 Dec 1885
Proclamation of the Governor of the incorporation of "The Municipal District of Adamstown."
26 Jan 1886
25 Jan 1886
A banquet to celebrate the incorporation of Adamstown as a municipality.
8 Mar 1886
6 Mar 1886
First election of aldermen for Adamstown Council.
11 Mar 1886
10 Mar 1886
First meeting of Adamstown Council. Alderman Weir unanimously elected Mayor for the ensuing year. The Mechanics' Institute had granted free use of the building for council business for a month.
20 Mar 1886
19 Mar 1886
Adamstown Council meeting: "The MAYOR then brought forward the question of a council chamber, the institute only being available for a month. Moved by Alderman ATKINSON, and seconded by Alderman EDDEN - "That tenders be called for a suitable room, not less than 12 feet by 24 feet."
10 Apr 1886
9 Apr 1886
A meeting of the Adamstown council held at the Royal Standard Hotel.
14 May 1886
13 May 1886
First meeting of Adamstown Council in their new building in Victoria Street.
15 May 1886Newcastle Herald describes the newly erected weatherboard council chambers.
30 Oct 1886
28 Oct 1886
Motion passed by Adamstown Council to request from the Government the allocation of half an acre of land " for the purpose of erecting council chambers and post and telegraph offices when required."
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."
3 Aug 1891
30 Jul 1891
At a meeting of Adamstown Council, correspondence received "from the Lands Department, forwarding the dedication of portion 2396, on Commonage, as a site for council chambers."
23 Apr 1892
21 Apr 1892
The Mayor moved "That steps be taken for the erection of council chambers and offices on the ground given for that purpose by the Government." A committee was appointed to draw up an estimate of cost of the proposed new chambers.
7 May 1892
5 May 1892
Adamstown Council meeting: "Messrs. Bennett and Yeomans submitted the plans for the new council chambers, and after some slight alterations, the plans were adopted."
23 Aug 1892
22 Aug 1892
Opening of new Council Chambers by the Postmaster-General.
23 Aug 1892
22 Aug 1892
Description of the new Council Chambers, and the opening ceremony.
18 Mar 1936ADAMSTOWN JUBILEE. Fifty Years of Local Government.
23 Jan 1941"Adamstown Returned Soldiers' League has been notified that it has been granted the use of the old council chambers as a clubroom."
22 Oct 1947"APPROVAL was given for the hiring of the former Adamstown Council Chambers to Newcastle Ex-Service mens and Citizens' Band on a weekly tenancy of 5/, the band to keep the premises clean and pay cost of electricity."
19 Nov 1947"The Lord Mayor (Ald. H. D. Quinlan) took swift action this morning to provide a home for the Sorby family, who were recently evicted and have since been living in a tent. Before noon the family were moving into the old Adamstown Council Chambers"
20 Apr 1949"A family living in stables behind the old Adamstown Council Chambers will be ordered to leave unless they install proper lavatory accommodation."
9 Mar 1954"The family, Mr. R. J. Nix and his wife and four young children, were evicted yesterday from a shed at the rear of Adamstown Council Chambers, which they had occupied for the past six years."

Unanswered questions

  • When was the Narara Road council chambers building demolished?

The drain explain

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drain dimensions

Broadmeadow drain measurements.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drain construction workers at Broadmeadow, NSW, 6 April 1900

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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