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.

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."

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."

New Lambton Fire Station

This month marks 125 years since New Lambton Fire Station was opened in 1897. The formation of a fire brigade, nearly thirty years after the suburb was established, was prompted in part by suburban rivalry. When Lambton fire brigade asked New Lambton council in 1896 to install a hydrant for their use, the council politely declined, deciding instead to form their own brigade.

They applied to the state government and received a grant of £100 and a block of land on Alma Rd to build a station, which was opened on 17 July 1897. Constructed by Henry Burg, the station consisted of a shed 18 feet by 35 feet with two large sliding doors at the front and a meeting room at the rear. Perched on top was a bell tower with a lookout platform 26 feet above ground. In the pre-telephone area, ringing the bell would summon volunteer firefighters to the station, to then take their horse drawn hose reel carriage to the location of the fire.

The brigade was first called out in October 1897, to assist at a chimney fire in Adamstown. The Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate praised their response noting that “in connection with the alarm the newly inaugurated New Lambton Fire Brigade did a smart run. Ten minutes after the alarm was given at Adamstown station the New Lambton firemen had their fire extinguishing appliances upon the scene.” Thankfully the early days of the brigade were mostly uneventful. In 1898 the fire bell rang on only eight occasions, five of those a false alarm. A telephone service was connected to the station in 1912, and in 1925 the brigade received its first motorised fire engine. In 1934 a new brick fire station was erected in place of the original wooden building. This building still stands today but ceased to be an operating station when the new fire station in Young Road Lambton opened in 2016.

Opening of New Lambton Fire Station in Alma Road, 17 July 1897. Photo by Ralph Snowball.
New Lambton fire station building in 2022.

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

Additional Information

Portion 1321 of the Newcastle Pasturage Reserve was set aside for the New Lambton Fire Station site in March 1897.

The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser on 31 July 1897 published two Ralph Snowball photographs of the opening of New Lambton fire station earlier that month. The second of these photographs was taken from the bell tower, looking over the crowd gathered on Alma Rd. The vacant block behind the crowd (where the solitary figure is standing) is where the General Roberts Hotel is now. The hilly peak on the horizon at the left is Braye Park, Waratah.

Opening of New Lambton Fire Station in Alma Road, 17 July 1897.

On 13 October 1898, in connection with the procession for the Eight Hour Day public holiday …

The New Lambton Volunteer Fire Brigade secured the prize for the best decorated fire reel, there being no other competitors.

Sydney Morning Herald, 14 October 1898
New Lambton Fire Brigade, with their reel decorated for the Eight Hour Day procession, 13 October 1898. Photo by Ralph Snowball. University of Newcastle, Living Histories.

George Anderson

George Anderson was one of the longest serving members of the New Lambton Fire Brigade. In 1953 the Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate reported that ….

George Anderson, of New Lambton, better known as “The Captain,” will complete 50 years in the service of the New South Wales Fire Brigade on Monday. Three times Mr. Anderson tendered his resignation to the Board of Fire Commissioners, but each time the board refused to accept it. Mr. Anderson, who is 75, was elected a member of New Lambton Fire Brigade at a meeting on October 12, 1903.

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 10 October 1953
The Newcastle Sun, 19 October 1953.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
28 Jan 1880
27 Jan 1880
“On Tuesday the house of Mr: William Capewell, New Lambton, was burnt with nearly everything in it.”
13 May 1884
10 May 1884
“On Saturday evening last the chimney of Mr. Jarvis' [New Lambton] house was discovered by the children of Constable Robinson to be on fire. The youngsters promptly got into the house, and with a few buckets of water extinguished the flames, and prevented the whole building from being destroyed.”
20 Jan 1893
18 Jan 1893
“A fire occurred at the residence of Mr. John Davies, Russell-street, New Lambton, on Wednesday evening, but was fortunately extinguished before any great amount of damage was done.”
6 Aug 1896
5 Aug 1896
At New Lambton Council meeting “Alderman DAGWELL said he favoured an application being made to the Water and Sewerage Board for a standpipe that would be their own, and the establishment of a fire brigade in the municipality. Alderman COOMER moved, "That the Lambton Brigade be informed that the council could not accept the offer, as they contemplated organising a brigade of their own."
12 Aug 1896“Mr. Edden has also presented to the Chief Secretary a letter from the New Lambton Council requesting a grant to assist in establishing a local fire brigade at that place.”
20 Nov 1896“The sum of £100 has been allotted to the New Lambton Fire Brigade.”
1 Dec 1896
30 Nov 1896
"A public meeting of the residents was held on Monday evening for the purpose of forming a fire brigade in the town. There were about 50 persons present."
13 Mar 1897Portion 1321 of the Newcastle Pasturage Reserve is set aside for the New Lambton Fire Brigade.
26 Mar 1897"The situation of the [fire station] site is fronting the Lambton main road, close the old New Lambton line crossing, and with a small tower erected at the shed will command a good view of the surrounding district. Building operations will be proceeded with almost immediately, and an order has been given to Gilbert Bros., of Newcastle, for the building of a first-class reel."
29 Jun 1897"The contractor (Mr. H. Burg) has now completed the shed and handed it over to the brigade. The site chosen for the station is a most suitable one, having a frontage to Alma-road, and at the junction of the Lambton main road. The shed is large and roomy, being 18ft wide by 35ft long. A room is partitioned off for meetings at the rear of the shed. The front is of rusticated boards, and the main entrance has two large sliding doors. The lookout and bell tower are reached by stairs from the outside of the shed, a good view being obtained from the lookout landing, the height of such being 26ft."
19 Jul 1897
17 Jul 1897
"New Lambton Fire Brigade. The formal opening of the newly erected engine-shed and the christening of the reel in connection with this brigade took place on Saturday afternoon before a large audience."
31 Jul 1897
17 Jul 1897
Opening of New Lambton Fire Station. Report includes two photographs by Ralph Snowball.
11 Oct 1897
10 Oct 1897
“In connection with the alarm the newly inaugurated New Lambton Fire Brigade did a smart run. Ten minutes after the alarm was given at Adamstown station the New Lambton firemen, under Captain Brogden, had their fire extinguishing appliances upon the scene. Though their services fortunately were not required, Captain Brogden and his men are to be commended for their remarkable promptitude in turning out when the alarm was given.”
8 Jul 1898
6 Jul 1898
Fire alarm at New Lambton … "In very quick time the local brigade, under Captain Brogden, turned out with their reel, but, luckily, their services were not required."
10 Oct 1898
9 Oct 1898
New Lambton brigade competes at the fire brigades competion held in Lambton Park, where "the spectators numbered about 1500, including a fair number of ladies and children."
14 Oct 1898
13 Oct 1898
“The New Lambton Volunteer Fire Brigade secured the prize for the best decorated fire reel, there being no other competitors.”
14 Jan 1899
13 Jan 1899
Annual meeting of New Lambton fire brigade. In the previous year there was one fire, two chimney firess, and five false alarms.
17 Apr 1899"Extensive improvements have just been completed at the fire brigade station. The land has been enclosed by a strong and substantial fence, and a neat and uniform picket fence has been erected at the front part of the building. The belfry has been strengthened, and the shed has been painted both inside and out, which gives a bright and tidy appearance to the building."
10 May 1899
8 May 1899
“On Monday evening an alarm of fire was raised by the sounding of the fire bell. The alarm caused some excitement, and a crowd quickly gathered. The members of the brigade turned out with their usual promptness but, luckily, their services were not required. The cause of the scare was the burning of some inflammable material in the yard of the Sportsman's Arms Hotel.”
11 Jan 1900
8 Jan 1900
Third annual meeting of New Lambton fire brigade – nine fire alarms in the [ast year, only one fire attended, in Newcastle.
15 Feb 1902“Considerable excitement was caused about noon yesterday by the ringing of a fire alarm. A crowd quickly gathered, and no time was lost in getting the reel to the scene of the fire which was located at Lyshon's property in Lambton-road.”
14 May 1902“The fire brigade station has been enlarged by the addition of a bath and storerooms, which are a great convenience.”
5 Jun 1905
4 Jun 1905
“Shortly before nine o'clock yesterday morning a fire occurred in an old unoccupied building at the corner of Regent street and Portland Place. The building, which was owned by Marshall's Brewery Co. was formerly known as the Sportsman's Arms Hotel ... The fire was first observed by the inmates of the Duke of Wellington Hotel, on the opposite side of the road, smoke being seen to issue from the roof. The alarm was immediately given and in a very short space of time the local firemen, with their reel and appliances, were on the scene.”
23 Jan 1908
21 Jan 1908
Annual meeting of the New Lambton Fire Brigade. "The secretary recommended the erection of a new belfry and a new, bell, the present bell being almost worn out."
25 Mar 1908“The bell now in use was about worn out and as it was purchased second-hand, it had done about 25 years' service having been at one time the property of the Newcastle City Brigade. It was damaged to the extent that it was almost impossible to be heard even by the firemen who lived in close proximity to the shed.”
22 Jun 1908
20 Jun 1908
"The ceremony in connection with the trial ring of the new alarm bell recently purchased by the New Lambton Fire Brigade took place at the fire station on Saturday afternoon, there being a large attendance of the public."
23 Aug 1911"Active steps are being taken for linking-up all the Newcastle district fire brigade stations with telephones and establishing street fire alarms. There are sixteen fire stations, in Newcastle and district, and each of these is to be connected with a telephone exchange at the headquarters, Newcastle West. So far, Newcastle West, City, Hamilton, Wickham, and Waratah are connected.”
5 Jun 1912“In Newcastle, a complete system of telephone communication to link all the suburban stations with headquarters was designed considerably over twelve months ago. The circuit linking up the suburban stations and headquarters is practically complete, but the gaps render the work done not nearly as effective as it should be. For instance, there is no direct line to Hamilton. To get in touch with a station beyond Hamilton, headquarters has first to ring up Newcastle exchange and then ring up Hamilton exchange, and thence through Hamilton station to the station required.”
13 Nov 1918
11 Nov 1918
"The news of the end of the war was received in New Lambton with demonstrations of joyfulness. The bell at the fire station was continuously rung until the early hours of yesterday morning. At the first clanging of the bell the people thronged to the fire station. The National Anthem was sung."
9 Aug 1920A four roomed cottage in Orchardtown, owned by Mrs J Robinson burns down. “The firemen were somewhat delayed in consequence of the person engaged to provide a horse to draw the reel being away from home with the horse, and the reel had to be hand-drawn, which in this case was a serious handicap, as the fire was over a mile away from the fire station.”
1 Jan 1925“The Fire Commissioners have installed 65 street fire alarms, and placed all fire stations in communication with local telephone lines, enabling the stations to be immediately notified of an outbreak of fire.” “Where motor lorries are available contracts are arranged for transit of the men and appliances to fires, and horse transit at Boolaroo and Lambton has been replaced by motor lorries, also at New Lambton.”
14 Sep 1925
12 Sep 1925
"The installation of the new motor hose carriage in the New Lambton fire station, on Saturday evening, took place in the presence of a large gathering."
17 Mar 1934“Building application granted by New Lambton Council for "a new fire station and dwelling, to be erected in Alma-street, at a cost of £1460. The new building, which will be of brick, will have a roof of asbestos slates. Provision has been made for two bedrooms, a living-room, kitchen, recreation-room, watch-house, store-room, engine-room, and a laundry.”
22 Oct 1934
20 Oct 1934
"A new fire station, costing in the vicinity of £1600, was officially opened at New Lambton, on Saturday. At the same time, a new Dennis motor was installed, and long service medals were presented. Constructed of brick, with a roomy engine apartment, and living quarters, the station fills a long-felt want at New Lambton."
10 Oct 1953Captain George Anderson completes 50 years of service with New Lambton Fire Brigade. This report has quite a few memories from George on the operation of the brigade in the period 1903 to 1953.

Robinson’s Farm, Orchardtown

Dairy farms, market gardens, orchards and vineyards are scattered throughout the Hunter Valley today. But at one time, all these agricultural activities were also taking place in New Lambton, on farms such as that run by the Robinson family.

John Robinson was born 1846 in the north of England. His father was a coal miner, and at age 16 John was working as a pony driver at a colliery. He married in 1872 and emigrated to Australia in 1879 with his wife Dorothy and their children. After arriving in New Lambton the Robinsons lived in Alma Rd adjacent to the fire station, with John probably working in the local collieries.

The New Lambton Coal  Company, after extracting the payable coal from their lease, looked to profit from selling and leasing their land above ground. In October 1892 the Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate reported that “a large extent of splendidly-sheltered and good land in New Lambton has lately been surveyed and laid out in five-acre allotments for fruit orchards or market gardens.” The twenty allotments, to the south of Queens Rd, were offered for lease on a 21 year term with an option to purchase.

John Robinson took this opportunity for a change in occupation. He obtained a lease on four of the allotments on the hillside to the west of Orchardtown Road, and pursued a number of farming endeavours such as dairy cows, bee keeping, vegetable gardens, an orchard, and even a small vineyard. In 1913, when the original 21 years leases expired, the Orchardtown allotments began to be sold off. From 1919 housing subdivisions commenced, and then accelerated particularly in the 1940s. By 1951 all of the original twenty allotments had been replaced with houses, shops, parks and sporting fields. Today there is but one remnant of Orchardtown’s agricultural past, that being the name of the main road that traverses the former farmland.

John and Dorothy Robinson on their Orchardtown farm, with their son Barwise, and daughters Margaret and Frances. November 1896. Photo by Ralph Snowball. University of Newcastle, Living Histories.
The name of Orchardtown Rd is the only remnant of the agricultural heritage of this area of New Lambton.

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

Additional Information

Robinson Family

There is some uncertainty about the birthplace of John Robinson. His obituary from 1920 states that he “was born at Seaton (England) in 1846.” Seaton is a village in county Durham on the east coast of England. In contradiction to this location, the 1851 census of England shows John, aged 5, as having been born at Workington in county Cumberland, a village on the west coast of England. In 1851 John is living at Maryport UK, with his widower father Barwise, older sisters Frances and Elizabeth and older brother Barwise. His father’s occupation is listed as “Coal Miner”

1851 England Census

In 1861 England Census shows John Robinson aged 16, living at Hetton-le-Hole in county Durham, with his widower father Barwise, older sister Elizabeth and older brother Barwise. His father’s occupation is listed as “Coal Miner”, and John is listed as “Pony Driver at a colliery.”

1861 England Census – Barwise Robinson (widower), Elizabeth Robinson (daughter)
1861 England Census – Barwise Robinson (son), John Robinson (son)

I’m not sure how to resolve the discrepancy in birth places for John Robinson. It is possible that the John Robinson mentioned in these census records is not the same John Robinson who lived in New Lambton. However, the 1851 and 1861 census entries show the Robinson family lived in various places on both the east and west coast. The 1861 census location is Hetton-le-Hole, which is just 5km from Seaton, so it is possible that John Robinson’s 1920 obituary confuses a childhood residence with his place of birth.

John Robinson married Dorothy Maughan on 31 December 1872, in East Rainton in county Durham. East Rainton is less than 2km from Hetton-le-Hole. The Robinson’s had three children (Barwise, Mary Ann, Elizabeth) before moving to Australia in 1879. The list of immigrants for the ship “Blair Athol” that arrived in Sydney on 4 March 1879 shows the Robinson family as follows …

  • John, age 28, labourer [The listed age of 28 is probably an error – other sources indicate that John was born in 1846, which would make him 32 or 33 on his arrival in Australia.]
  • Dorothy, age 26
  • Barwise, age 5
  • Mary A(nn), age 3
  • Elizabeth, age 1, died during voyage

John Robinson’s obituary in 1920 states that he lived in Alma Road New Lambton for 41 years, which indicates that they moved to New Lambton very soon after arriving in Australia in 1879.

Of John’s occupation when he arrived in New Lambton, we have no definite evidence, and we can only presume that he worked in coal mining as he had done back in England. In August 1883 the newspaper reported an accident in Lambton Mine causing injury to two miners, John Robinson and Robert Young. The article contains no information to definitively identify this person as the John Robinson of New Lambton, but it is a reasonable conclusion to draw.

At New Lambton, John and Dorothy had several more children born to them.

As with many families in that era, the Robinsons suffered the premature death of several of their children.

  • Elizabeth died at age 1 during their voyage to Australia in 1879.
  • George died at age 4 in December 1888, when he drowned in an unfenced waterhole on the New Lambton Coal Company’s estate.
  • John died in 1891, just two weeks after he was born.
  • William died at age 12 in October 1899 due to a “tumor on the brain.”

John Robinson’s main residence for the 41 years he lived in New Lambton, was on Alma Rd. Up until 1890 this was part of the Newcastle Pasturage Reserve (Commonage), and so Robinson did not have freehold title on this land. In August 1890 a sitting of the Commonage allotments Land Board granted Robinson’s application for lot 1320. It is somewhat confusing that the land title record (Vol-Fol 1363-20) for the grant of lot 1320 to John Robinson is dated 11 years later on 2 May 1901. I suspect that this is just due to a delay in the paperwork – that while the purchase took place around 1890, the registration of land title wasn’t submitted to the Lands Department until many years later.

Application for Lot 1320 of the Commonage was granted to John Robinson in 1890. The adjacent Lot 1321 is New Lambton fire station. Historical Land Records Viewer.

My initial research into John Robinson of New Lambton proved to be quite confusing, as there were references to John Robinson both in Orchardtown and in Alma Rd. As these locations are one kilometre apart, I initially thought that these were two different people with the same. However as progressed I kept finding that the details (wife, children, occupation) associated with the “Orchardtown” John Robinson kept matching the “Alma Rd” John Robinson. The seeming discrepancy of the two distinct locations can be explained by noting that John Robinson only ever leased the land at Orchardtown, he never purchased it. While there are some newspaper references to Robinson’s residence in Orchardtown, being on leased land it would probably have been only a small secondary house to enable living on the farm land, and that the Alma Rd land was the Robinson’s primary residence, noting that they purchased the Alma Rd land in 1890.

John Robinson died on 4 July 1920, aged 74 years, and was buried in Sandgate cemetery. His wife Dorothy died 6 November 1947, aged 94 years, and was buried beside her husband at Sandgate.

Grave of John and Dorothy Robinson, at Sandgate Cemetery


On 25 October 1892, the Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate reported …

“There are a good many people in this district who are going, or intending to go, into fruit farming, and an impetus will be given to the business by the throwing open of a large extent of splendidly-sheltered and good land in New Lambton, which has lately been surveyed and laid out in five-acre allotments for fruit orchards or market gardens.”

Four years after the land was first leased, the Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate described the progress of Orchardtown in an article on 29 January 1896.

“Orchardtown is situated on the New Lambton Company’s estate, adjacent to the New Lambton township. The inhabitants are working men, who within the last four years have taken up blocks of land of from three to five acres. The land is leased to them by the company at a nominal fee, subject to certain conditions. The land is cleared more or less, and under cultivation, but there is still a great quantity of timber, and much labour will need to be applied before the plough can be used advantageously. The object of the settlers is to make a living on the ground. The crops, so far, have yielded fairly, and the people appear satisfied that when they have the whole of their land in working order they will be able to supply the local market with vegetables of European growth, that are somewhat scarce at present. A road a chain wide runs through the land, the blocks (20 in number) being on the east and west of it. The road is in its natural state, and therefore does not afford the facilities demanded.”

The 20 blocks of leased land leased in “Orchardtown”.

A report from 22 March 1902 on the possible resumption by the government of portions of Orchardtown states that …

“This land is at present held by tenants of the New Lambton Company, on a twenty-one years’ lease, with a purchasing covenant.”

Robinson’s Farm

The first mention of John Robinson in connection with farming leaseholds at New Lambton, is at the Municipal Appeal Court in May 1893

“John Robinson, leased land, New Lambton Estate, annual value £3 3s, rate 2s 10d; confirmed.”

In August 1894, the Hunter River Vine Diseases Board cancelled the fees of a number of vine growers, including John Robinson of New Lambton, as those growers were “occupying less than half an acre.” In September 1894, New Lambton Council granted John Robinson application to be registered as a milk vendor.

At the Municipal Appeal Court in May 1896 “it was announced that the New Lambton Company and the council had arranged for a reduced assessment on their properties” including “21½ acres let to John Robinson.” This gives a clue to the probable location of Robinson’s lease. Snowball’s photo clearly shows the farm being on a hillside, which means that it must have been on the west side of Orchardtown Road. In the background of the photo behind the fence the land is still uncleared because this area was the Scottish Australian Mining Company lease. The 21½ acres leased by Robinson indicate that he leased four of the 20 allotments, each approximately 5 acres in size. If he leased four adjacent blocks, the most likely area of his farm was blocks 12 to 15 as shown below.

In the Deposited Plan 3365 where the blocks are surveyed, lots 12-15 have a total area of only 20.9 acres, which seems to contradict the appeals court figure of 21.5 acres. Note however that the Deposited Plan surveyed blocks do not include the area of Orchardtown Road. If we extend blocks 12-15 to the centreline of Orchardtown Rd, the area comes to exactly 21.5 acres. I suspect that the blocks were originally leased out before the road through the middle of the allotments was officially dedicated, and this accounts for the apparent discrepancy in areas.

Probable location of allotments leased by John Robinson.

A sitting of the New Lambton Municipal appeals court indicates that by 1908 John Robinson was only leasing 3 acres at Orchardtown.

After the initial 21 year leases expired, the land was available for purchase. The first sale was Lot 11 in 1913 to John Oliver. The final blocks were sold in 1942 to William Henry Hudson the Younger, who purchased lots 9 and 10.

Some remnants of agriculture in Orchardtown persisted into the 1940s with a dairy still operating there in 1943. However the post World War 2 years saw a rapid expansion of housing in the area, and by 1951 a story on the history of Orchardtown noted that …

To-day the orchards and most of the farms-like the market garden at Jean-street-have given way to modern suburban houses.

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 10 February 1951

Comparing aerial photographs from 1944 and 1954 shows how much suburban development took place in Orchardtown in just 10 years.

Aerial photographs of Orchardtown in 1944 and 1954 show rapid suburban expansion. NSW Historical Imagery

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
25 Aug 1883
24 Aug 1883
Accident and injury to two miners, John Robinson and Robert Young, at Lambton mine.
5 Dec 1888
4 Dec 1888
John and Dorothy Robinson's 4 year old son George drowns in a waterhole at New Lambton.
6 Dec 1888
5 Dec 1888
Inquest into the drowning death of George Robinson.
21 Aug 1890Commonage Allotments Land Board grants application for lot 1320 (on Alma Rd New Lambton) to John Robinson for £56 18s.
18 Aug 1894Hunter River Vine Diseases Board. John Robinson of New Lambton has less than half an acre of vines.
21 Sep 1894
19 Sep 1894
New Lambton council meeting … application from John Robinson to be registered as a milk vendor is approved.
8 Feb 1895
6 Feb 1895
First mention of "Orchardtown" in a newspaper article … in a New Lambton Council meeting, in reference to the state of the roads, and have the roads dedicated to the council.
22 Feb 1895
20 Feb 1895
At a New Lambton Council meeting … "The matter of making a road to Orchard Town was held over pending the deputation of residents reporting the result of their interview with Mr. Alexander Brown."
29 Jan 1896“Realising the growth of the place the inhabitants have determined to make an effort to have a representative in the New Lambton Council. Mr. C. H. Dagwell was unanimously nominated to go forward in the interests of the new township. Mr. Dagwell thanked the meeting for nominating him, and promised if he was successful in getting a seat in the council to have an eye to the interests of the New Lambton squatters.”
5 Feb 1896
4 Feb 1896
Charles Dagwell from Orchardtown is elected unopposed to New Lambton Council, to represent the interests of Orchardtown.
20 May 1896New Lambton Municipal Appeals Court … John Robinson is leasing 21½ acres at Orchardtown.
6 Aug 1896
5 Aug 1896
New Lambton Council meeting: Mr. J. Robinson applied to have his milk vendor's license cancelled.
22 Feb 1897
18 Feb 1897
"On Thursday night about 100 friends proceeded to the residence of Mr. and Mrs. Robinson, Orchard Town, and tendered to them a surprise in commemoration of their silver wedding."
8 May 1897New Lambton Municipal Appeals Court … John Robinson is leasing 21½ acres at Orchardtown for an annual rental of £5.
26 May 1898
25 May 1898
“Mr. John Robertson [Robinson], of Orchardtown, applied for the levels of Alma road, as he intended to build a house.”
1 Jul 1898"WANTED to Buy, Sulky PONY, 13½ hands, or 14¼ ; must be cheap and staunch. Apply Saturday, Mr. Barwise Robinson, Orchardtown, New Lambton."
25 Sep 1899
20 Sep 1899
Wedding of Barwise Robinson, eldest son of Mr. John Robinson, of Orchardtown, New Lambton, to Adeline Patterson. "After the ceremony the party left the church amid showers of rice and best wishes, and drove to Robinson's Farm, in the Orchard Blocks (residence of the bridegroom's parents), where a large circle of friends sat down to a sumptuous breakfast."
31 Oct 1899
29 Oct 1899
Death of William (age 12), son of Mr.and Mrs. John Robinson, of Orchard Town, from tumor on the brain.
31 Dec 1900
26 Dec 1899
Marriage of John Robinson's daughter Frances Jane to Thomas Ashman.
7 Dec 1901
4 Dec 1901
"On Wednesday a quiet though pretty wedding was solemnised at the residence of Mr. John Robinson, the contracting parties being Maggie, the youngest daughter of John Robinson and William, fifth son of Robert Atkinson, both of Orchard Town."
22 Mar 1902"A proposal was made to the Minister for Lands yesterday that he should resume certain areas at Orchardtown. This land is at present held by tenants of the New Lambton Company, on a twenty-one years' lease, with a purchasing covenant."
28 Jul 1904
27 Jul 1904
New Lambton Council meeting, correspondence. "From the manager, New Lambton Coal Company, stating, in reply to a request made by the council that, they were prepared to dedicate to the council the Orchard Town-road from Queen's-road to Mr. J. Robinson's lease."
3 Jul 1908New Lambton Municipal appeals court … "The appellants were residents of Orchardtown, who occupy land under lease from the New Lambton Company." J. Robinson appears to be leasing only 3 acres at this time.
23 Jun 1910
22 Jun 1910
"The wet weather had made the sanitary road almost impassable, and Mr. Robinson had allowed the council the use of his paddock for a month as a temporary depot, at a rental of £1. The manager of the New Lambton Company had consented to the Council taking any material they required from the old pumping shaft for repairing the Orchardtown-road."
7 Jul 1920
5 Jul 1920
"The funeral of the late Mr. John Robinson, of Alma-road, took place on Monday afternoon ... The interment took place in the general cemetery, Sandgate. The deceased, who had been suffering for a lengthy period, died early on Sunday morning. He was 74 years old, and was born at Seaton (England) in 1846. He was married in the year 1872 at East Renton, West Durham, and came to New Lambton 41 years ago, living in Alma-road during that period. He was highly respected. He leaves a widow and three daughters, one son, 20 grandchildren, and two great grandchildren."
9 Aug 1920
7 Aug 1920
"At midnight on Saturday a four-roomed cottage at Orchardtown, owned by Mrs. J. Robinson, of Alma-road, was burned to the ground. The occupiers, Mr. Bratz and family, were away from home at the time. The premises were not insured, and had been lately renovated by Mr. Robinson, who died a month ago, leaving the property to his widow."
24 Dec 1920The probate notice for the will of John Robinson of New Lambton shows his occupation as "fruiterer and gardener."
18 Nov 1931"Mrs. Dorothy Robinson was given a party at the home of her daughter and son-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. W. Atkinson, Portland-place, New Lambton, in celebration of her 80th birthday. For more than half a century Mrs. Robinson has been a resident of New Lambton, having arrived from England in 1879. The Robinsons were among the earliest settlers of Orchard town, where they had an orchard and bee farm."
11 Aug 1943"C. Maclean, Orchardtown-road, New Lambton, said he conducted his business without outside labour. It required three carts and four horses, one a spare."
10 Feb 1951Ian Healy's article on the history of Orchardtown, and its rapid suburbanisation after World War 2.

Lambton Central Collieries

Seven years ago, in my first article for The Local, I remarked on how little evidence of coal mining remains in our town. The gulf between the prevalence of mining and the scarcity of surviving artefacts continues to surprise me.

The pre-eminence of mining is starkly seen in historical land title records. For example, looking at the first purchaser of blocks of land in the township of Lambton we find a staggering 67% are listed as miners. There is a cavernous gap to the second most common occupations, carpenters and storekeepers at just 3% each. Mines were everywhere in Newcastle. Even into the 1950s road maps orientated motorists by showing the location of suburban collieries.

In spite of the utter dominance of coal mining, suburban development has progressively removed almost every trace of old collieries.  But some artefacts survived if they were sufficiently hidden away. I recently discovered in the heart of Blackbutt Reserve a rusting iron chimney. This was a furnace air shaft of the Lambton Central colliery, who mined a seam of coal in the middle of Blackbutt from 1936 to 1942. Around 1945 they commenced mining a different seam in the same area, naming the workings Lambton Central No. 2. Coal extracted from this seam was hauled in trucks to the old Lambton colliery railway (near present day Lewis Oval) to be loaded into rail wagons. In 1947 coal from Lambton Central was being sent to Zara St power station in Newcastle East.

Lambton Central No. 3 (Rankin Park) and Lambton Central No. 4 (Cardiff) commenced around 1951, and somewhat paradoxically Lambton Central No. 1 was the last of the company’s workings to be opened, in 1953 at Kotara. This site is now the Carnley Ave picnic area of Blackbutt Reserve. While much used and loved facilities in Blackbutt have replaced the mines, hidden parts of the Reserve still preserve a few relics of our coal mining history.

An iron chimney of a furnace air shaft of Lambton Central Colliery (1936-42), hidden in the bush of Blackbutt Reserve.
A 1950s road map showing suburban collieries, including Lambton Central No. 2 in Blackbutt Reserve, and the coal rail line in Lambton.

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

Additional Information

The history of the various “Lambton Central” collieries is somewhat difficult to pin down exactly. The original “Lambton Central Colliery” operated from 1936 to 1942, and then subsequent pits opened up by the company had a numerical suffix. Thus the second, third and fourth pits opened up, quite sensibly had the suffixes of “No. 2”, “No. 3”, and “No. 4”. But somewhat confusingly when the company opened their fifth pit in 1952 (near March St, Kotara), rather than naming it “Lambton Central Colliery No. 5”, they chose to name it “Lambton Central Colliery No. 1”, presumably to have a neat sequence of numbers from 1 to 4. (Remember that the original pit from 1936 had no numbered suffix.)

To make matters more confusing, some newspaper articles mention “Lambton Central Colliery” without any numerical suffix, and you have to work out from the context and date of the article whether that refers to

  • The original 1936-1942 mine
  • The company that operated the 5 different mines
  • One or more of the numbered mines that operated from 1945 onwards

There are two main sources of information I have used to get a timeline of the Lambton Central Collierys:

  1. Newspaper articles from Trove
  2. The Annual Reports of the Department of Mines, available at the NSW Government DIGS website.

As most newspapers in Trove only go up to 1955, and the DIGS site only has annual reports up to 1953, it is difficult to ascertain the history of the mines after this time. There is a frustratingly brief and vague report from 10 November 1956 that states

Two northern collieries, Killingworth and Lambton Central, closed today, putting 152 mine workers out of work. The Joint Coal Board could find no markets for the collieries’ coal.

The Argus, 10 Nov 1956

It is not clear whether this refers to all the Lambton Central collieries (1-4), or just one of the pits.

The table below summarises the timeline of the five collieries, with references to newspaper articles and Department of Mines annual reports.

DateLambton CentralNo. 2No. 3No. 4No. 1
LocationBlackbutt – ridge north of Richley ReserveNear Richley reserveNorth side of McCaffrey DriveFern Valley, CardiffMarch St Kotara
AR 1936Commenced    
AR 1938Discontinued. Recommenced    
25/2/1942Mine to close    
6/3/1942Mine closed on 5/3/1942 – two miners called up for military service.    
13/5/1945 Theft of parts of a haulage engine   
5/10/1946 Wanted. Permit manager for a small colliery to be opened up in the Lambton District.   
20/11/1946 Wanted. Working foreman for colliery pit top.   
6/12/1946 Wanted. Experienced contract miners.   
AR1946 New Lambton   
12/7/1947 Wanted. Undermanager for “New colliery being developed”   
27/10/1947 Pit idle after fatal accident.   
10/12/1947 Pit idle due to heavy rains.   
AR 1948 New Lambton   
AR 1949 New Lambton   
11/10/1950 Off Aldyth-street, New Lambton   
AR 1950 New Lambton   
10/12/1951   Fern Valley, Cardiff. First mention in Trove. In planning. 
AR 1951 Electric Safety Lights in use. 19/12/51 – fire in battery boring unitElectric Safety Lights  
26/3/1952   Query about whether permission has been granted yet 
14/5/1952    permission to erect bath house in March Street
28/7/1952   Idle due to transport bottleneck 
AR 1952 Electric Safety LightsElectric Safety LightsInspected. Discontinued. 
28/3/1953Wanted. Surface hand. March St Kotara.
AR 1957, p.58Discontinued
BHP Coal Geology map overlaid into Google Earth, showing the general location of Lambton Central Collieries Nos. 1 to 3. University of Newcastle, Special Collections.

Lambton Central Colliery (1936-1942)

I have identified the furnace shaft that I discovered in Blackbutt Reserve as belonging to the original 1936-42 Lambton Central Colliery, on the basis of a map held in the Local Studies section of Newcastle Library.

Plan of Lambton Central Colliery Workings, New Lambton. LHM A 622.33/20, Local Studies, Newcastle Library.

I had photographed this map several years ago but was unsure exactly how it fitted into the geography, as the only reference point on the map was Queens Rd (what part??) and I was uncertain as the units of distance (yards? feet?) used on the map.

After finding the steel chimney in Blackbutt, I remembered that the map had a furnace shaft marked on it, and suspecting it was the one I had found I overlaid the map into Google Earth, using the two points of reference I now had – the shaft and Queens Rd.

This quickly confirmed my guess about the shaft, as the overlaid map showed the mine workings correlating with the ridge running east from the top of Queens Rd, westwards to Lookout Rd. I was also able to confirm that the distances marked on the map were in units of links – where 1 link is approximately 0.2 metres.

While walking around both the southern and northern sides of the ridge I had observed quite a number of large sunken depressions that appeared to be the result of mine workings falling in. The depressions on the north side of the ridge were usually dry, but on the southern side where it is more shaded, most were filled with water from recent heavy rainfalls.

A mine workings pitfall on the southern side of the ridge, filled with water after recent rains.

I took photographs of each depression I came to, and then extracted the GPS co-ordinates to plot them in Google Earth. When I overlaid the mine workings map the depressions I had observed lined up with the extremity of the workings, where the map has many annotations of “fall”.

Lambton Central No. 3 (1951-?)

Lambton Central No. 3 colliery was an underground mine situated in the Rankin Park area, north of McCaffrey Drive. In 1951 the company purchased 63 acres of land for their surface infrastructure.

Surface land purchased for Lambton Central Colliery No. 3 in 1951. Vol-Fol 6538-30
An aerial photograph from 1954 shows a small number of surface buildings and infrastructure at the site of Lambton Central Colliery No. 3. NSW Historical Imagery.
The surface land of Lambton Central Colliery No. 3 is now a housing subdivision in Rankin Park.

Lambton Central No. 1 (1952-1957)

The last of the Lambton Central Collieries to be opened, was somewhat paradoxically named Lambton Central No. 1. Presumably this was to fill in the gap in the numbering as the first colliery opened in 1936 had no numerical suffix. No. 1 colliery was located north of March Street in Kotara.

Workings of Lambton Central Colliery No. 1. Newcastle Library, Local Studies.

Overlaying this workings map into Google Earth shows that the colliery was working a seam of coal in Blackbutt Reserve to the west of the current Carnley Avenue picnic area.

Workings of Lambton Central No. 1, overlaid into Google Earth,
Tunnel entrance and shaft locations. (Approximate only.)

The overlay above indicates that a tunnel entrance and shaft were located somewhere near where the timber boardwalk entrance to the animal exhibits exist today. (Bear in mind that the overlay above is an approximation only, based on my best effort to align a photograph of a drawing into Google Earth, using a combination of visual alignment and dimensions marked on the drawing.)

The Department of Mines Annual Report for the year 1957 indicates on page 58 that Lambton Central No. 1 discontinued operations in that year.

Below the boardwalk today, there still exists some old concrete footings belonging to some part of the coal mine’s infrastructure.

Concrete foundations of relics of Lambton Central Colliery No. 1 infrastructure, Blackbutt Reserve.
Lambton Central Colliery No.1. Aerial photograph from 1954. March St can be seen at the bottom. NSW Historical Imagery.

One final point of interest on the workings map of the Lambton Central Colliery No. 4, is that some 70 metres to the north of the shaft and tunnel, someone has pencilled in an annotation of another shaft. The position of this annotation aligns exactly with the old Mosquito Pit shaft (of the original Lambton colliery) that was discovered by Newcastle Council in 2014 during renovations of the picnic area.

Mosquito Pit shaft marked in pencil on Lambton Central Colliery No. 1 workings map.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
25 Feb 1953"Borehill and Lambton Central are two small collieries with main tunnels, about 70 yards apart. Both enter the one hill and work on the one seam. But the production cost of one is 16/ a ton more than the other."
10 Nov 1956
9 Oct 1956
"Two northern collieries, Killingworth and Lambton Central, closed today, putting 152 mine workers out of work."

A very long road story

Marshall Street and the Inner City Bypass

Some roads in our city snake across the landscape following ridges or valleys, while others cut expansive straight lines across suburbia. In the former category are roads such as Grandview Rd in New Lambton Heights. In the latter category are roads such as Chatham Rd/St in the Hamilton area, and the curious Marshall St which has four disconnected sections running through five different suburbs, from Rankin Park to Garden Suburb.

These long straight roads have more to do with geometry than geography. They originated from the patchwork quilt of rectangular land grants in the mid-19th century, where it was common for roads to be planned along property borders.  Such is the case with Marshall St, where an 1884 map shows a three-mile un-named road separating the Scottish Australian Mining Company from Joseph Weller’s 2500 acre land grant.

It remained a road in plan only until the 1920s, when the Scottish Australian Mining Company built the first section as part of “The Lookout Subdivision” in New Lambton Heights. In 1925 it was named “Boundary Rd”, an eminently suitable title as over the years various portions of it divided mining leases, parishes, suburbs, municipalities, and state and federal electorates. In 1933 New Lambton Council changed the name to Marshall St, in recognition of one of the road’s earliest residents, James Gordon Marshall. In 1945 the NSW government unveiled big plans for the road network in Newcastle, including a highway from Rankin Park to Jesmond traversing the bush where the northern section of Marshall St existed only as a line on the map. Plans for this highway then changed many times over many years. In September 2021, Transport for NSW called for tenders for the construction of the $450 million final section of the Newcastle Inner City Bypass, with work to commence in  2022.  The expected opening in 2025 will be a final chapter in a 140-year story of a road, from nameless marks on a map to major motorway.

Long range road plans from 1945. Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 18 September 1945. Construction of the Rankin Park to Jesmond section (highlighted in green) is expected to commence in 2022.
On a 1960s map the never built Marshall St is shown as straight line, with the proposed bypass curving through the Jesmond bushland. University of Newcastle, Special Collections.
The final route of the inner city bypass through the Jesmond bushland closely follows the path of the original planned Marshall St.

The article above was first published in the December 2021 edition of The Local.

Boundary Road

An historical parish map whose origins date back to 1884, shows that the road that was given the name Boundary Road in 1925, was aptly named. It incorporated the following boundaries:

  • Parish of
    • Hexham
    • Kahibah
    • Newcastle
  • Municipality of
    • Plattsburg
    • Wallsend
    • Lambton
    • New Lambton
  • Coal lease of
    • Morehead and Young
    • Joseph Weller
    • Waratah coal
  • Town Police boundary
Parish of Newcastle, 1884.

Marshall Street

James Gordon Marshall of Cardiff, engine driver, purchased 8 acres of land in November 1918. The land title certificate shows an un-named road on the eastern boundary of his property. This road was the boundary between New Lambton and Lake Macquarie council areas.

Purchase of 8 acres by James Gordon Marshall in 1918. Vol-Fol 2893-203.

The location of Marshall’s land is shown below.

On the eastern side of the road, opposite Marshall’s property, the Scottish and Australian Mining Company subdivided a portion of their land to sell in October 1920.

The Lookout Subdivision, 1920. University of Newcastle, Special Collections.

In October 1925 Lake Macquarie Shire Council informed the Cardiff Heights Progress Association (James Marshall presiding) that the road at the east boundary of their council area was to be named Boundary Road.

In January 1927 James Marshall applied to Hunter District Water Board to have water mains extended to his property on Boundary Road.

In October 1933, at the suggestion of Lake Macquarie Shire Council, New Lambton Council agreed that the name of the road should be changed from Boundary Road to Marshall St. Despite the decision being made in 1933, it took another four years before the name change was made official in June 1937.

James Gordon Marshall’s property in 1944.
James Gordon Marshall.
A 1936 map shows Boundary Road as a continuous straight road stretching from Jesmond to Garden Suburb.
In 2021, Marshall St consists of four disconnected segments.
Marshall St in 2021 runs through five different suburbs – Rankin Park, New Lambton Heights, Cardiff Heights, Garden

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
29 Oct 1925"At a meeting of the Cardiff Heights Progress Association, Mr. Marshall presiding a letter was received from the shire council stating that the road on the boundary would be called Boundary-road."
17 Jan 1927J G Marshall applies to Hunter District Water Board to have water mains extended to his property on Boundary Road.
14 Sep 1933"Lake Macquarie Shire Council asked if [New Lambton] Council would bear half of the cost of constructing a boundary road between main road number 223 and Mr. Marshall's premises, Cardiff, a distance of about six and a half chains. The road was on the boundary of New Lambton municipality and Lake Macquarie shire. The total cost would be £29. It was decided to pay half the cost."
26 Oct 1933At a New Lambton Council meeting, a letter was received from Lake Macquarie Shire Council in which they "appreciated the Council's decision to pay half the cost of repairs to Boundary-road, near Cardiff. The letter also suggested that the name of Boundary-road be altered to Marshall-street. The Council decided to approve the name selected."
24 Sep 1936New Lambton Council meeting : "The Cardiff Heights Progress Association expressed dissatisfaction at the state of Boundary-road, and inquired if there was an agreement between the council and the Lake Macquarie Shire Council to form the road."
18 Jun 1937Government Gazette with official name change from Boundary Rd to Marshall St.
18 Sep 1945Long range road plans for Newcastle.

New Lambton Mechanics’ Institute

In 19th century coal mining towns, reading materials were an unaffordable luxury for many. For this reason many townships established a Mechanics’ Institute, where for a small annual subscription members could borrow books, newspapers and periodicals.

In New Lambton at a public meeting in September 1891, a committee was elected to establish a Mechanics Institute. Initially they used a small room in the council chambers, but were eager to obtain their own building. In 1899, after considering five possible sites, the committee applied to the government for land in Regent St opposite the public school. Their request was granted and construction commenced in April 1901. The building opened in September and Ralph Snowball’s photo justly recognises the substantial fund-raising efforts of the women in the committee.

With a spacious reading room in a new building, membership increased rapidly. When the Hand of Friendship Hotel on Regent St closed in 1906, the Institute purchased the large hall behind the hotel, dismantled it, then re-erected it behind their existing building. The hall was officially opened in April 1909, and for decades following was a well-used venue for social, political, religious, community and family events.

The provision of reading material by the Institute continued, but that role was to change after the formation of Greater Newcastle Council. In 1949 council began negotiations with mechanics’ institutes in Newcastle “with a view to taking them over for the establishment of free libraries.” In New Lambton this offer was tersely rebuffed by the Institute secretary who wrote, “We are in a sound financial position, and giving the residents of this suburb a satisfactory and efficient service.” But the in the long run a paid subscription model could never compete with a free library service. In 1972 council purchased the Institute’s land and constructed New Lambton branch library, opening it in September 1973. The Mechanics’ Institute may be gone from the site, but its function of providing reading material remains in place.

New Lambton Mechanics’ Institute, 21 September 1901. Photo by Ralph Snowball. Hunter Region Library Ref 001 000255.
New Lambton branch library now occupies the site of the Mechanics’ Institute.

The article above was first published in the September 2021 edition of The Local.

What’s in a name?

Mechanics’ Institutes were part of a broad movement of adult education whose origins can be traced back to the School of Arts in Edinburgh in 1821. Similar institutions then burgeoned throughout Britain and the British Empire, and went by many names – School of Arts, Mechanics’ Institute, Literary Institute, Miners’ Institute, and many other variations.

In New Lambton, the name “Mechanics’ Institute” and “School of Arts” was used interchangeably – they were different names for the same organisation. This can be seen in the newspaper reports of the building opening in September 1901, where some newspapers refer to the “School of Arts”, while others refer to it as the “Mechanics’ Institute”.

From about 1927, mentions in the newspapers of the New Lambton Mechanics Institute as an organisation (yearly meetings, activities, reading material) seem to transition to “Literary Institute”, whereas mentions of the “Mechanics Institute”mainly refer to the venue being used by other groups.

Additional Information

Within a year of the establishment of the Mechanics’ Institute as an organisation, there was an eagerness to press on to obtain land and a building for their use. At a public meeting on 29 August 1892, Thomas Croudace spoke, saying that …

“Respecting Mechanics’ Institutes, he remembered the time when such institutions took the place of public schools; but although the schools were now plentiful, yet the necessity for Mechanics’ Institutes still existed, as education did not cease with youth, but went on and on until the day of death. He urged the addition of debating classes and other adjuncts to fit and prepare members for their position, as citizens, politically and socially. He would also like to see the ladies become members. Mr. Alexander Brown had kindly offered them £100 to purchase a lot of land as a site for their projected building, and efforts were being made to obtain endowment from the Government on this amount towards erecting a building. He urged upon all present, who were able, to become members and swell the numbers, which would substantially assist the committee. By educating themselves and their young people they were building up a great nation, and very often their greatest men rose from the ranks of the working classes; and he earnestly requested all to unite in promulgating the great agency of education.

Mr. T. WALKER, MP, next addressed the meeting in regard to the necessity for Mechanics’ Institutes, saying that …

“These opened up avenues for future greatness which were incalculable, and he hoped all would embrace the opportunity, as there was no better companion than a good book. He referred to the possibility of having enjoyable intercourse with the ancient writers who were models to the 19th century in the way of art. Books of travel, history, adventure, and science in all its phases were all open to them, and should be faithfully perused by them. They should encourage debating, which tended to brighten the mind and sharpen the intellect. The ladies should also join, and they would find the benefits inestimable. Education divided the civilised from the barbarian, and they should always be widening the gulf.”

Despite the initial enthusiasm for a building and the establishment of a building fund, the institutes plans languished for a few years, until a public meeting in August 1899 debated five possible sites, and voted to make application to the government for an allotment in Regent Street, opposite the public school. The request was granted in February 1900.

Portion 1263 of Newcastle Pasturage Reserve.

Construction of the building in Regent St was in progress by April 1901. The construction can be seen in the background of a May 1901 photograph of a flag raising ceremony at New Lambton Public School.

New Lambton Mechanics’ Institute building under construction in May 1901. Living Histories, University of Newcastle.
Advertisement for opening ceremony, 7 September 1901.

The official opening ceremony of the building took place on Saturday 7 September 1901, and was opened by the Hon John Perry, minister for Education. In the speeches at the opening, Mr. George Watson, the institute secretary gave a brief history of the movement to erect their own building …

“Having commenced a move in 1892, the committee stuck together through trying times, and aided by the ladies, who arranged concerts and socials, together with a bazaar, the substantial sum of £205 was got together for the purpose of erecting the building on the site granted by the Minister for Lands. The tender accepted was one by Mr. William Knight, whose price was £324, but the extras brought the total cost up to £445 12s 6d. The committee wished to publicly thank all who had contributed towards the building fund. Mr. E. G. Yeomans was the architect for the building, which is of wood. The main room is a commodious one, measuring 40ft x 25ft. The side rooms at the entrance, one to be used as a games room, and the other as a library, each measure 18ft x 12ft, the lighting throughout being provided by kerosene lamps of great brilliancy.”

The photos of the Mechanics Institute by Ralph Snowball in September 1901 are listed on the cover of Box 263 of his glass plate negatives. It is from here that we know that the people posed in the photo are the committee of the School of Arts/Mechanics Institute.

Committee of the New Lambton Mechanics Institute. 21 September 1901. Photo by Ralph Snowball. Living Histories, University of Newcastle.
Reading room of the New Lambton Mechanics Institute. 21 September 1901. Photo by Ralph Snowball. Living Histories, University of Newcastle.

After the Hand of Friendship Hotel closed in 1906, the owners Tooth and Co advertised the sale of the land and buildings in February 1907. One of the buildings for sale was a hall behind the hotel, described as …

“The CENTENARY HALL, 35 x 60, built of iron, and lined throughout, with Stage, Dressing Rooms, and Seating complete.”

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate , 7 November 1907

There were no offers to purchase the hall initially, but November 1907, the Mechanics’ Institute voted to acquire the building, with the purchase …

“… subject to removal … to its new site”

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 5 December 1907

Specifications for the removal of the hall were approved in January 1909, and the hall was rebuilt at the rear of the existing institute building in March 1909. A ball was held in the new hall on 23 April 1909 to celebrate the official opening in its new location.

In December 1922, the block of land where the Mechanics’ Institute was located was officially dedicated to the trustees of the Institute and a land title granted in Vol-Fol 3444-116. How is this different from the gazetted “reservation” of land in 1900? I’m no legal expert in land conveyancing, but it seems that the “reservation” of land in 1900 was more of a temporary allocation of land by the Crown for a particular purpose, with the Crown retaining ownership, whereas the 1922 “dedication” was a permanent allocation, with ownership of the land being granted to the institutes’ trustees.

Vol-Fol 3444-116, page 1. New Lambton Literary Institute.
1944 aerial photograph showing New Lambton Mechanics’ Institute building on Regent St, and the hall behind it that was moved from the Hand of Friendship Hotel site.

The Mechanics’ Institute facilities were used over the years for a huge variety of community and social functions, such as …

  • Scouts
  • Australian Labour Party meetings
  • Pensioners group
  • Happiness Club
  • New Lambton Public School Parents & Citizens
  • Cricket club
  • Protestant Federation
  • IOOF Lodge
  • Loyal Orange Lodge
  • Gymnasium club
  • Soccer club
  • Public School performances
  • Chess club

One of the more memorable uses of the institute came in July 1953, when severe cracking of the boys classrooms at the public school due to mine subsidence, meant that the students had to be moved, with two of the classes were relocated to the Mechanic’s institute. The damaged school building was demolished in March 1954 and new classrooms erected in its place.

The rise of free public libraries

The transition from Schools of Arts and Mechanics Institutes providing reading materials, to free public libraries is eloquently dealt with in a 4 January 1949 article in the Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate. In an article entitled “Newcastle rises from the book cemetery”, Eric Sparke writes in part …

An American expert who inspected Australia’s library facilities in 1934 said, justly, that our libraries were “cemeteries of old and forgotten books.” Since the decline of the once vigorous Schools of Arts and Mechanics’ Institutes at the turn of the century, Australia’s progress to “free” libraries has been slow – painfully slow.

The Australian must be made to realise that the free public library is not just a collection of books for avid fiction readers and erudite scholars. The scheme aims to provide books for all – the apprentice fitter and turner, the business man, the housewife.

An English migrant told me he was appalled at two things in Newcastle when he came here to live – 6 o’clock -closing and the absence of public libraries. It was no sublime-ridiculous touch when he linked beer with books. On the contrary, he proved that libraries had become so much part of his everyday life that he expected to have them on tap, like his beer, when he wanted them.

Newcastle Pubic Library, with a staff of 13, has branches at Waratah and Wallsend. Others will follow as soon as practicable. Waratah branch has 1260 adult members and 1700 children. It was opened in September. Wallsend, open only three weeks, has 700 adults and 1000 children. As yet, the main library, which will be built into a lending and reference centre of which the city will be proud, is cramped in a small room in the City Hall.

With the building of the library wing as the first objective of the Cultural Centre Appeal, the day when Newcastle’s reference library will be open to John Citizen is at least in sight.

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 4 January 1949.
Vol-Fol 3444-116, page 2. Ownership passes to Council of the City of Newcastle on 22 July 1972.
New Lambton branch library was officially opened 17 September 1973.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
4 Feb 1891
3 Feb 1891
Joseph Oldham, standing for municipal election states that "fe was also working for a Mechanics' Institute, and provision was made for a start in a room in the new council chambers."
28 Aug 1891
26 Aug 1891
New Lambton Council meeting: "Alderman ERRINGTON referred to the necessity for the establishment of a mechanics' institute in the borough. Alderman WILLIAMS moved, That the Acting-Mayor convene a public meeting of the ratepayers to discuss the question."
4 Sep 1891
3 Sep 1891
Public meeting in New Lambton Council Chambers, to form a Mechanics' Institute. The first committee is elected. "Such interest was manifested in the movement that there remains not the slightest doubt but that a strong institute will shortly be established in the borough."
11 Sep 1891
9 Sep 1891
New Lambton council meeting, correspondence received "From Mr. J. W. Oldham, hon. secretary of the Mechanics' Institute, asking for the use of the small room as a reading-room and library, and the council chamber for committee meetings." Request granted.
12 Oct 1891New Lambton Mechanics' Institute opened. Trustees appointed: T. Croudace, J. Thomas, T. Hitchcock, and G. Errington.
16 Mar 1892Meeting of the members of the New Lambton Mechanics' Institute "to consider the offer of Mr. Alex. Brown of a sum of money to be expended in purchasing an allotment of land as a site for a suitable building."
30 Aug 1892
29 Aug 1892
"A TEA and social in connection with the New Lambton Mechanics and Miners' Institute … in Lathlean's Temperance Hall" followed by a public meeting in the council chambers, in support of the Institute obtaining their own building.
13 Jul 1893
11 Jul 1893
"Half-yearly meeting of New Lambton Mechanics' Institute … members now numbered 28 … sum of £9 14s banked to the credit of the building fund … the matter of obtaining the consent of the Government to resume an allotment as a site for an institute building was in the hands of Mr. T. Croudace and Mr. N. Melville, M.P."
22 Nov 1899
20 Nov 1899
Public meeting in connection with the establishing of a Mechanics' Institute. "Considerable discussion took place over the selection of a suitable site for a building. Five situations were proposed, and after an, exhaustive vote had been taken, it was finally decided to make application to the Minister for Lands for an allotment in Regent-street, next to Williams' property; this positon being considered as a very central one."
3 Feb 1900Portion 1263 of Newcastle Pasturage Reserve gazetted as a site for the New Lambton Mechanics' Institute.
7 Sep 1901Advertisement for the opening of the New Lambton Mechanics' Institute building.
9 Sep 1901
7 Sep 1901
Official opening of New Lambton Mechanic's Institute building in Regent Street.
2 Feb 1907Advertisement for the sale of the "Centenary Hall", the hall behind the former Hand of Friendship Hotel on the corner of Regent St and Russell St. "The CENTENARY HALL, 35 x 60, built of iron, and lined throughout, with Stage, Dressing Rooms, and Seating complete."
7 Nov 1907
6 Nov 1907
"A special meeting of the members of the New Lambton Mechanics' Institute was held last evening, for the purpose of dealing with a recommendation from the committee regarding the purchase of a hall, the property of Tooth and Co. Mr. W. Coomer considered the purchase would be a good investment, as the hall would provide ample accommodation for the purpose of holding socials and entertainments." The motion to purchase was carried unanimously.
11 Nov 1907Regarding the Centenary Hall, recently purchased … "The hall will remain in its present position for the time being, but the intention is to have it re-erected on the land at the rear of the institute fronting Alma-lane."
5 Dec 1907"Some time ago the trustees of the institute paid a deposit on the purchase of the Centenary Hall, subject to removal, and the bazaar is being held to obtain funds to pay the balance of the purchase money before removing the building to its new site."
15 Jan 1909
14 Jan 1909
Half yearly meeting of the New Lambton Mechanics' Institute: "The chairman stated that it was the intention of the members in the near future to remove the hall to the site of the institute, which would then be a valuable addition to the property, and which he hoped would increase the membership. Specifications, as drawn up by the committee for the removal of the hall, were read by the secretary, and it was resolved to have the work proceeded with as soon as possible."
26 Mar 1909"A meeting of the New Lambton Mechanics' Institute committee was held in the reading room on Tuesday evening for the purpose of taking into consideration the most suitable way of celebrating the re-opening of the hall, which has been removed from its previous site, and is now being rebuilt at the rear of the institute."
26 Apr 1909
23 Apr 1909
A ball to celebrate the opening of the hall recently moved to the Institute's site.
8 Dec 1922Portion 1263 of Newcastle Pasturage Reserve dedicated as the site for a Literary Institute.
29 Aug 1935
28 Aug 1935
In a New Lambton Council meeting discussing a possible new Town Hall. Alderman McLuckie notes that "The Mechanics' Institute is an eyesore."
4 Jan 1949"Newcastle Rises From The Book Cemetery", an article by ERIC SPARKE on the rise of the free public movement in Australia and in Newcastle.
16 Mar 1949"Newcastle Council decided to re-open negotiations with schools of arts in Newcastle with a view to taking them over for the establishment of free libraries."
13 Apr 1949Letter from G.MOORE, Secretary, New Lambton Literary Institute, in response to Newcastle Council's offer to take over schools of arts in the suburbs in order to provide free libraries … "The trustees have not agreed to meet the council on this matter. We are happy to state that we are in a sound financial position, and giving the residents of this suburb a satisfactory and efficient service."
26 Apr 1949"The Lord-Mayor (Ald. Quinlan) was rebuffed today by Carrington School of Arts Committee which informed him that its members were 'quite happy as they were.' New Lambton School of Arts Committee also told the Lord Mayor that it had considered his proposal and 'was not interested'."
25 Jul 1953"Following the removal of about 240 children yesterday from the 74-year-old boys' building at the school because of cracks in the walls, an officer of the Mines Department said there were old mine workings under that area. Two classes are being transferred to the girls' department. two to the Literary Institute Hall opposite the school, one to the infants' department and one, with its teacher, to New Lambton South School."
16 Aug 1968Appointment of Trustees to New Lambton Literary Institute: Edward Lewis, Oscar William Hyland.

East Lambton Colliery

Often historical photographs feature a successful person, event or building. But sometimes an old photograph is a snapshot of failure. Such is the case with the East Lambton Colliery. Somewhat confusingly this colliery was not located in East Lambton, but in New Lambton (near present day Novocastrian Park), on land owned by the Waratah Coal Company.

The mine was worked under the tribute system, where a large mining company having extracted all the easily won coal, would lease their mine to a smaller third party. The lease holder would then attempt to make a profit from the remaining coal by cutting costs, usually by reducing miners’ wages. Depending on where your political sympathies lay, this was viewed as either a good or evil arrangement.

Because of the constant need to cut costs, collieries run under the tribute system tended to face constant troubles. East Lambton was no exception. In its short life between 1888 and 1894 there were disputes about unpaid wages, court cases over subcontractors, and arguments about leases and ownership.

The mine also laboured under physical difficulties, with issues of flooding and having to dig shafts through harder than expected rock. All this led to a rather shambolic and perilous workplace. A close inspection of Ralph Snowball’s photo shows an untidy scene of rubbish, machinery and materials strewn all over the place. There was a fatality in 1891 when a large metal pipe fell down a shaft and struck a miner.

The colliery proved to be unprofitable and closed in January 1895, and the land in the area remained vacant and undeveloped for the next 50 years. Following World War 2, new housing subdivisions quickly and completely covered all trace of the former troubled colliery.

The legacy of the troubled East Lambton pit can perhaps best be summed up in the final words of the Newcastle Herald and Miners’ Advocate report on its abandonment …

“The closing of the colliery will not be felt.”

East Lambton Colliery in 1892. Photo by Ralph Snowball. NSW State Archives and Records.
Suburban serenity now covers the site of the troubled East Lambton Colliery. © 2020 Google. Image Landsat / Copernicus Image © 2021 Maxar Technologies

The article above was first published in the February 2021 edition of The Local.

Additional Information

The Tribute System

The tribute system of working mines and the attitude of the miners’ union to it, is nicely summarised in this 1887 article from The Daily Telegraph …

At a special meeting of miners’ delegates held to-day, at which 14 lodges were represented, it was decided to hold an aggregate meeting of the miners of this district at Waratah on the 16th inst,. to take into consideration the tribute system and other grievances existing in this district. This is owing to the unsatisfactory reply given by Mr Binney, secretary of the Associated Coalowners, to the request of the officers of the Miners’ Union for a conference with the masters’ executive. The tribute system, which the miners consider is a growing evil in the district, consists in the colliery proprietors letting out portions of their estate to persons other than themselves, who endeavor to cut down the price paid for hewing coal at the associated collieries. The miners consider the system detrimental to their interest, and look upon the masters as in directly, if not directly, responsible for reducing the wages.

The Daily Telegraph, 8 July 1887.

Colliery Location

The location of the East Lambton Colliery was difficult to pin down, as I have not found any map that unambiguously identifies the site. I have been able to ascertain the location by drawing conclusions from a number of separate pieces of information, in particular, information on land sales and ownership. The key clues are:

  1. The mine was located in the New Lambton Municipality. (See notice about council rates being in arrears in November 1893.)
  2. In September 1893 the mine was on land owned by the Waratah Coal Company.
  3. In May 1896 the Caledonian Coal Company unsuccessfully appealed the municipal rates for “enclosed land, site of the old East Lambton Colliery”, indicating they were the current owners.
  4. The pit was sunk “for the purpose of working a block of coal left by the New Lambton Company.

In the Historical Lands Records Viewer, Vol-Fol 947-59A shows an area of 357 acres in New Lambton area, owned by the Waratah Coal Company in 1889.

Overlaying this area (yellow) and the outline of New Lambton Municipality (cyan) into Google Earth, shows us the intersection of the two areas where the East Lambton Colliery must be located.

The image below shows intersecting area in green. To the west, outlined in white are the mining leases of the New Lambton Coal Company.

From Vol-Fol 947-59A, following the chain of title leads to Vol-Fol 1096-70 and 1485-171, which shows a sale in July 1896 of

  • a roughly triangular piece of land, on the border between Waratah Coal Company mining lease and New Lambton Coal Company mining lease
  • plus the railway easement for the Raspberry Gully line
  • plus a thin railway easement to the triangular block of land
From Vol-Fol 1096-70
Vol-Fol 1485-171

The shape of the triangular block plus the railway easement can still be seen 48 years later in a 1944 aerial photograph.

Close up of triangular area of land. There is round feature in the middle which might be the sunken depression of the former shaft.
Purchase of land in 1896 by Caledonian Coal Co, overlaid into Google Earth.

The location of the triangular area of land resolves what at first appears to be contradiction in the newspaper reports – that the mine was on Waratah Coal Company land, but extracting New Lambton Company coal. Being on the border, the surface operations and shaft were on Waratah Coal Company land, but would give access to New Lambton Company coal by tunnelling westwards. This also explains the reference on 27 July 1889 that flooding of the workings “may find its way into the Lambton Company’s workings”, because the Lambton Company workings were to the west of the New Lambton Company workings.

This site also matches the 1892 photograph, in which we can see the wooded hill (now Blackbutt Reserve) of the Sottish Australian Mining Company’s Lambton mineral lease in the background, and a rail line in the foreground.

There is one slight anomaly in the data placing the East Lambton Colliery in this location – the Caledonian Company’s appeal against Municipal rates was in May 1896, but the transfer of land to them is dated July 1896. My guess is that the rates were in arrears, and that the Caledonian Company had to pay the rates owing before the land purchase was allowed to proceed.

The rapid suburban development in post World War 2 years in the area of the former East Lambton Colliery, is starkly seen when comparing a 1944 aerial photograph (left) with a 1954 aerial photograph (right).

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
4 Jul 1888"WANTED, a BLACKSMITH, used to colliery work. Apply to WILLIAMS & GRIFFITHS, East Lambton Colliery."
28 Aug 1888East Lambton Colliery is being worked under tribute to the New Lambton proprietors by Mr. M. Yates and party "who are also contractors for supplying the G. N. Railway with coal for the mail and passenger trains."
27 Jul 1889"Messrs. Griffiths and Williams, lessees of the East Lambton Colliery, have been for some time past engaged in pumping the water from a shaft adjacent to their mine, and had it nearly cleared out, but the heavy rains have entirely flooded it again, which is a serious loss to the firm. A pitfall also was caused near the main road, which has allowed the water to flow more freely into the old workings of Mr. Yates' colliery, and it is the opinion of a well-known miner that this water may find its way into the Lambton Company's workings."
3 Sep 1889"TENDERS will be received up to September 7th, for REMOVAL OF TWO (2) COAL SCREENS and REERECTING. Plans and particulars apply T. G. GRIFFITHS, Colliery Manager, East Lambton Coal Company, New Lambton."
30 Oct 1889"John Prout sued Isaac Robinson for the sum of £7 10s as wages for labour done. Defendant admitted the debt, but alleged his inability to pay until he received payment for certain work done in sinking a shaft at East Lambton Colliery."
9 Dec 1889
6 Dec 1889
Court cases involving the East Lambton Colliery - unpaid wages, wrongful dismissal.
20 Jan 1890Mining rules for East Lambton Colliery published in Government Gazette.
15 Feb 1890"For some considerable time past Mr. T. G. Griffiths has been engaged driving in the East Lambton colliery towards the old workings of the Waratah Company, in order to tap the large accumulation of water therein, and a few days ago most successfully succeeded in his undertaking. The result will be that a large quantity of coal will soon be obtainable from both Waratah and New Lambton collieries."
3 Jan 1891
2 Jan 1891
Fatality in the old Blakey Shaft, being reopened as an airshaft for the East Lambton Colliery.
5 Jan 1891Inquest into the fatality at the Blakey shaft.
1 Feb 1892"A dispute has occurred at the East Lambton Mine between the manager and miners in regard to the remuneration for work."
6 Feb 1892East Lambton Colliery now under tribute to D. Fairfull, J. McReth, W. Bunn, and B. Austin, from Mr Griffith.
30 Mar 1892East Lambton Colliery was always teetering on the brink of bankruptcy … "ON FRIDAY, the first day of April, 1892, at noon, unless the warrant of fieri facias herein be previously satisfied, the Sheriff will cause to be sold by public auction at the East Lambton Colliery, The PLANT, &c., of a Colliery, comprising Coal Waggons, Pumps, Pit Horses, &c., &c."
2 Apr 1892
1 Apr 1892
"The East Lambton Colliery was sold by auction, by command of the Supreme Court, yesterday, for the sum of £400, Mr. Johnstone, of South Wallsend, being the purchaser."
9 Apr 1892"The trouble at East Lambton Colliery is not yet settled. Mr. Griffith, despite the sale of the colliery to Mr. Johnston, claims ownership. While the parties are fighting for their right to the colliery the miners are idle and unable to get the hard-earned money due to them."
13 Sep 1892"THE East Lambton Colliery started yesterday. About 20 men were employed"
7 Aug 1893"East Lambton pit was sunk about five years ago for the purpose of working a block of coal left by the New Lambton Company. Almost since the day a start was made to put down the shaft there has been a continuance of disputes and no end of trouble, and the present is not the first time the workmen have had to wait for their money."
15 Aug 1893"The miners of the East Lambton pit have not received the pay due to them on the 4th instant, and have instructed a solicitor to take legal steps for its recovery." The Miner's Association, being opposed to the tribute system, were not very sympathetic towards the unpaid miners, viewing them as strike breakers.
29 Aug 1893The bankruptcy Sequestration Order made in 1892 against proprietors of East Lambton Colliery (Griffiths, Huntley, Trickett, Russell, Campbell) was annulled, "the costs, charges, and expenses of Lancelot Threlkeld Lloyd" having been paid.
26 Sep 1893"Operations at the East Lambton Colliery are once more suspended …"

The Waratah Company having leased the mine to John Johnston of Cardiff colliery, who then sub-let the mine to others, and then a disagreement arose with the Waratah Company, who then locked the workers out.

"Matters at the colliery have been from a public standpoint in a greatly complicated state for a considerable time, and it is a most difficult question to solve as to who has the right to the colliery."
6 Oct 1893
4 Oct 1893
At a New Lambton Council meeting attention was called "to the dangerous state of the enclosure of the old Blakey shaft. Children made a practice of going inside and throwing stones down the shaft." The council decided to "write to the lessees of East Lambton Colliery, asking them to protect the shaft."
17 Nov 1893
15 Nov 1893
At New Lambton Council meeting a letter was received "from Messrs. Sparke and Millard, in regard to recovery of the East Lambton Colliery rates."
9 Apr 1894"THE Goods and Chattels of the above Defendant, Thomas S. Huntley, at the East Lambton Colliery, will be sold by public auction on MONDAY"
25 Jan 1895"EAST LAMBTON COLLIERY. This colliery has been abandoned. The pumps and rails are removed from the pit. The machinery is being taken to pieces and removed to South Waratah Colliery. During the past year only a few men were employed, and the last few weeks only three or four men were engaged. The seam worked in the pit was very hard, which, aided by other difficulties, did not allow of it being remunerative. The colliery was let to different tribute parties. The closing of the colliery will not be felt."
14 May 1896At the New Lambton Municipal Appeals Court, rates were confirmed for "Caledonian Coal Company, enclosed land, site of the old East Lambton Colliery, annual value £10."