A Picnic Homecoming

This month’s photograph, taken at the border between Lambton and New Lambton looking along Howe Street invites the question “Why is a large group of well-dressed adults and children walking along the tram track towards Lambton?” The answer turns out to be related to transport, but not to trams.

When Lambton Colliery began in 1863 a railway was built to haul coal to the harbour. Roads into Newcastle were in a very poor state and a trip to town was a major undertaking. An appealing alternative was to travel by train.  For a few years the colliery allowed passengers in the guards’ van of their coal trains at a cost of 6 shillings per trip. Tiring of this arrangement, they doubled the price in 1866, then ceased the service in 1867.

Residents agitated for the return of a passenger train service, and in 1874 the Waratah Coal Company gave permission for the Government to run a passenger train to Lambton on the railway to their new coal workings. This train operated on Saturdays and public holidays only, with pick-up and set-down at Betty Bunn’s crossing, located at the bottom end of Acacia Avenue where it meets Griffiths Road. The service ceased in 1887 when the tramline through Lambton began operation.

Afterwards the Lambton Colliery railway was occasionally used to convey passengers to special events. One example was the Lambton Public School annual picnic day on Wednesday 25 February 1903. At 9am a train of seven cars left Lambton colliery with 500 children and 400 adults on board and headed for Toronto. On arrival there were refreshments, sports competitions, musical entertainments, and Ralph Snowball was on hand to take group photographs.

At day’s end the picnickers returned by train to Lambton and disembarked near the bridge over the tram line. In the fading light of a summer’s evening as they headed for their homes, Snowball took a final photograph, capturing one of the last occasions a passenger train arrived at Lambton.

Heading home after Lambton Public School Picnic in 1903. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.
Hobart Rd and Howe St in 2020.

The article above was first published in the November 2020 edition of The Local.


Additional Information

Photo date

In the article published in The Local, I stated without qualification that the Snowball photo was taken on 25 February 1903 on the occasion of the Lambton Public School Picnic. It is important to note that the photo has no direct attribution to this date and event, but this conclusion is based on indirect evidence. Behind this story was an interesting case of how to locate and date a photograph.

When the University of Newcastle Cultural Collections first uploaded Snowball’s photo to their Flickr site, somehow it was mistakenly captioned “View from a train, Singleton”. In 2013 both John Shoebridge and Robert Watson identified that the scene was Lambton, and not Singleton. Robert in particular confirmed the location as being Lambton by comparing a number of houses on the top of the hill with another old photo of Lambton.

Houses near Dent St on mis-captioned photo.
Houses near Dent St, Lambton.

In determining the date of the photo, back in 2014 Robert noted that there was an electric light pole, which meant the photo was taken in or after 1890, when Lambton first installed electric lighting.

Electric light pole on Howe St.

The tram line in the photo is only a single track, and as the duplication of this portion of the tram route was only opened in July 1911, this indicates that the photo is in the time range 1890 to 1911. Using this information, and noting a similarity with another photo of a dressed up crowd in Lambton Park, I made a guess back in 2014 that the photo might have been on the occasion of the celebrations to inaugurate the electric light scheme in September 1890. Not an unreasonable guess, but as it turns out, wrong.

The next step in unravelling the mystery came six years later, when Robert revisited the photo and made two key observations.

  1. The people in the photo are almost all women and children, with very few men.
  2. A couple of the children are waving flags.

I did a careful count of the people in the photo and found that adult women outnumbered the adult men, three to one. This would indicate that the event being captured took place on a weekday, when the majority of men would be at work. The large number of children would then suggest that this is a school event. This is supported by looking at one of the flags being held aloft, which appears to be the NSW State flag, suggesting that the event was connected with the Lambton Public School.

Child waving flag.
NSW State flag.

Prompted by Robert’s observations I then made a third key observation – that the crowd in the photo is not random or dispersing. With one lone exception there are no people in the side streets. Everyone is heading in the same direction. This would indicate that the people are moving as a group, having come from a particular point and heading towards a particular destination. This would be consistent with the idea that the group has just disembarked from a train on the colliery railway and are heading home to Lambton.

Given that the crowd is well dressed I made a guess that the event was connected with a picnic, and along with the three key observations already noted, I searched in Trove in the known date range for the keywords “Lambton train school picnic”, which immediately revealed a very likely candidate for the occasion – the Lambton Public School picnic on 25 February 1903.

One final and compelling confirmation of this dating, came from Newcastle Library’s Hunter Photo Bank collection. Knowing that the collection had quite a number of Ralph Snowball picnic photos, I searched the collection and found a photo that Ralph had taken at the school picnic at Toronto on that day. It is quite probable that Snowball travelled with the school group in the chartered train, and took a photograph of the disembarked passengers from the train carriage up on the embankment before the rail line traversed the bridges over Hobart Rd and Howe St.

Group photo from Lambton Public School picnic at Toronto, 25 February 1903. Ralph Snowball, Hunter Photo Bank.

There is one other documented occasion, on 23 November 1900, when Lambton Public School travelled by train to a picnic at Toronto. It may be that Snowball’s photo was from this earlier picnic, but given the Hunter Photo Bank picnic photo, I think it much more likely that it is of the February 1903 picnic.

The Waratah Company Rail LINE Passenger Service

Passenger train services to and from Lambton on the Waratah Coal Company’s railway commenced on Monday 25 April 1874, with a special train on the Queen’s birthday public holiday.  Regular weekly Saturday evening services then commenced the following Saturday 30 May 1874. By March 1875, falling patronage meant that services were reduced to alternate Saturdays. The last passenger train on the line ran on Saturday 19 August 1887.

Passenger pick-up and set-down was at a location known as “Betty Bunn’s Crossing”, which was the point where the road between Lambton and Waratah crossed the coal company’s railway.

1906 map showing the Waratah and Lambton coal company railways, annotated with passenger service embarkation locations. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.

I have never seen an old map with Betty Bunn’s Crossing marked on it, but all the evidence of many newspaper articles points to it being the crossing of the Waratah coal rail line with the Lambton to Waratah road. Another reasonably clear indication of the location is the death notice for Thomas George Griffith who died “at Betty Bunn’s Crossing” in 1918.  The 1906 map shows his property adjacent to the crossing.

Death notice for Thomas George Griffith, of Betty Bunn’s Crossing, Lambton. 16 May 1918
Property location of T. G. Griffith, Lambton
Notice in Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners Advocate, 19 Aug 1887, advising of discontinuance of passenger train services to Waratah Tunnels near Lambton.
Railway Timetables printed on 19 Aug 1887 and 20 Aug 1887, showing the dropping of the fortnightly Waratah Tunnels service.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
12 Dec 1862
9 Dec 1862
Passing of "Morehead and Young Railway Act" to enable the construction of the Lambton Colliery railway.
25 Aug 1863By August 1863 the Lambton colliery railway was almost completed : "… the Waratah and Lambton Collieries, whose branch lines are already formed, only requiring some further slight addition being made to their permanent ways."
6 Oct 1866"A meeting of miners was held at Pit Town, for the purpose of expressing the disapprobation of themselves and the inhabitants of Lambton and Pit Town generally, at the recent raising of the passenger's fares on the Lambton railway from 6d. to 11d. The meeting resolved that a deputation of four wait upon Mr. Croudace, the colliery manager, and ask him to represent to the Government the following requests, namely: 1. That the fares be lowered to 6d ; 2. That return tickets be issued on the railway ; 3. That a carriage in lieu of the present break van be substituted for passengers."
3 Sep 1867"Within the past few days a memorial has been taken round the city, to which the names of a large number of the inhabitants have been attached, for presentation to the Minister for Works, with reference to having a regular passenger train to run between this city and the various coal mines, on a Saturday, for the convenience of the people residing in those localities who are desirous of visiting Newcastle."
13 Nov 1869Call for a passenger train on the Lambton railway … "Why not, in order to give the enterprise a fair chance, have a thorough special train for Saturday afternoons, to leave Old Lambton (which would suit the requirements of the neighbourhood of Dark Creek and New Lambton, too) say, at, from four to half-past four o'clock."

The letter writer also notes the bad state of the roads … "Lambtonians have to wend their way betimes up to their knees in mud through a nasty road, extending over a distance of from two to five miles, to reach the Government six o'clock train at Waratah, which is by no means a pleasant undertaking, particularly after a hard day's work, and which few, from mere choice, care about tackling, I can tell you. "
9 Dec 1871
5 Sep 1871
Public meeting “to establish a goods and passenger traffic on the Lambton Colliery railway.”
16 Mar 1872In regard to "a petition from the inhabitants of Lambton, praying that a goods and passenger train may be run to Newcastle" the Commissoner of Railways writes that "by a special arrangement with Messrs. Morehead and Young, a passenger train used to run to Lambton, but in January, '67, they asked to be relieved ; this was consented to, and the traffic then ceased. I cannot, therefore, reintroduce the practice without, the consent of Messrs. Morehead and Young."
19 Aug 1873
16 Aug 1873
It appears that there are occasional passenger services on the Lambton line on pay Saturday's … "This being pay-night, the principal street in the city was more thronged than we have seen it for a considerable time past. The various trains from Wallsend and Lambton brought in a large number of passengers, and these added much to fill our main street."
7 Feb 1874"Here is the case of the people living at Lambton and New Lambton ; and so far as railway communication is concerned, they are completely isolated, although when the pits are at work they have from four to five trains per day running to each of the collieries; but being private ones, and the proprietors refusing to allow passenger traffic on them."
21 Feb 1874
28 Feb 1874
A one-off experiment of a passenger service to be tried. "The committee appointed to agitate for a train to run between Newcastle and Lambton have at last succeeded, after great exertions and through strenuous efforts … A special passenger train will run from Newcastle to Old Lambton Crossing on Saturday night, the 28th February, 1874. The train will leave Lambton for Newcastle on or about 5 o'clock p.m., and returning from Newcastle to Lambton on or about 11 p.m. The fares will be 9d. for the return ticket and sixpence for the single fare."
6 Mar 1874
28 Feb 1874
"A Saturday night train commenced to run from Lambton to Newcastle on the 28th ultimo, and over 500 return tickets were taken, besides single ones; the brass band accompanied the excursionists, amounting in number to about 900. "
7 Mar 1874
28 Feb 1874
"Saturday last was a new era in Lambtonian history. The passenger train, as announced, arrived here about 4 p.m. with fourteen carriages and the van, and long before the appointed time for starting almost every available seat was occupied. We have heard that there were more than 500 tickets sold. If this train is to be permanent, as we hope it will, there will have to be some other arrangement for giving out the tickets, for it will never do for people to have to climb up into the guard's van, as was the case on Saturday."

"This train is a fine thing for the business people in Newcastle, but quite the reverse for our town's business folk, who are considerably down in the mouth about so much ready money going out of their hands … the next step ought to be to agitate for a goods train to be run here."
14 Mar 1874
12 Mar 1874
Newcastle Chronicle's report of a public meeting to discuss getting a passenger train service to Lambton. An allegation is made that business people agitated against aregular train service as it would hurt their trade.
Mr W Goodhew “observed that the Lambton line was a good and convenient one no doubt, but when they were allowed the use of it on one night, and deprived of it the next what dependence could be placed on it. He moved that application be made to the directors of the Waratah Coal Company for permission to run the train on their line of railway to the new tunnel, to Betty Bunn's crossing.”
14 Mar 1874
12 Mar 1874
The Newcastle Morning Herald's report of the public meeting regarding a passenger train service to Lambton. The report notes that "Mr. Croudace, the Manager, has granted permission for a passenger train to be run from here to Newcastle on the demonstration day and also for a Saturday night's train for four Saturdays ; and if it proves payable, the train will run regularly." Despite this promising sign, a regular train service on the Lambton line never eventuated.
18 Mar 1874"Great disappointment was felt at the non-arrival of the passenger train last Saturday evening. There were about 200 or 300 passengers waiting, who had to return to their homes annoyed. The blame is attributed to Mr. Croudace, for, I believe if he would consent to the train's running, the Government would; and, the advantage the inhabitants would derive would be very great."
31 Mar 1874"The subcommittee appointed to conduct the application to the Waratah Coal Company, for a passenger train to be laid on, have received a reply from the directors, expressing their willingness to grant the request … The sub-committee accordingly waited upon Mr. Higgs, the traffic manager, to gain the required Government permission, and that gentleman has informed them that there were some arrangements pending respecting a train to be laid on by the Lambton Company, which had not yet been decided upon."
4 Apr 1874"A meeting of parties interested in the Lambton train movement was held at the Lambton crossing, Mr. T. Hardy in the chair, when it was determined to send a deputation to the Minister for Works, to impress upon him the necessity of running a passenger train to this town at once."
23 May 1874"I have been instructed to inform you that the directors of the Waratah Coal Company have no objection to the Government running, for the convenience of the inhabitants of the district, on Saturday nights and holidays passenger trains on the Waratah Coal Company's private line of railway, from the junction with Great Northern Railway to the Company's new tunnel, at the same rate as it is done on the Wallsend Coal Company's line, provided arrangements are made so as not to interfere with the Waratah Company's coal traffic, and that the Government construct at its own cost all sidings, platforms, landing places, &c., which may be required for passenger traffic."

The following Monday, being a public holiday for Queen Victoria's birthday, "arrangements were made for the train to leave Bunn's crossing on Monday, 25th May at half-past 10 o'clock a.m."
27 May 1874
25 May 1874
First passenger train on the Waratah Company railway.
"The Railway Auditors laid on a train from Bunn's Crossing, on the Waratah Company's line, on Queen's Birthday, which was moderately patronised."

In the same week that passenger trains start running to Lambton on the Waratah Company line, promises are being made to run passenger trains on the Lambton colliery line … "The following arrangement was made, between Mr. Croudace, on behalf of the Lambton Company, and the Minister, viz., that [Government] trains should be run ... that the Company give their line free and keep it clear of their own traffic ... The Government to take all other responsibility … this arrangement to come in force immediately after the holidays."
In spite of this arrangement being made, nothing came of it.
30 May 1874"Although the Minister for Works promised that a passenger train should be run to this town on the first Saturday after the holidays, no communication whatever has been received by the Traffic Manager on the subject. The arrangement made between the Minister for Works and Mr. Croudace was that four trains should be run, commencing on the first Saturday after Queen's Birthday."
2 Jun 1874
30 May 1874
"On Saturday, the first evening train for passengers ran from the Waratah Co.'s Tunnels to Newcastle, for the accommodation of a large population in that neighbourhood. The number of passengers by whom it was availed of, amply testified the necessity for the convenience. We take it for granted that the train will be continued, as otherwise the people of Grovestown and Lambton would have to give up all idea of getting into Newcastle during the winter evenings, either by way of the Broad Meadow or Waratah, the former being a sheet of water, and the latter a perfect slough of mud."
18 Jun 1874"Nothing further has transpired here with reference to the granting of a passenger train [on the Lambton line], and many are now of opinion that it will not be allowed, as the one from the Waratah Tunnels is so central."
4 Aug 1874
1 Aug 1874
Fatal accident on the Waratah Company railway, when the Saturday evening passenger train strikes Andrew Tunney, who while drunk was riding his horse along the railway.
11 Aug 1874After the death of Andrew Tunney on the railway line, the passenger service to Lambton is halted. A conspiracy theory arises that storekeepers on the inquest jury had a vested interest in stopping the passenger service in order to keep business in the town.
17 Mar 1875"I believe that it is also intended to make another effort towards getting a passenger train on the Lambton line, and with some chance of success. Mr. Croudace has been heard to express his willingness to allow it, and no doubt the Government will have seen by this time the fallacy of running the train to the Waratah New Tunnels. As a proof that they have seen their mistake the train is now only run on alternate Saturdays, and then with very few passengers, the majority of the people preferring to walk to Waratah station or down the line to Hamilton rather than go to the new tunnels, which is very little nearer."
22 Sep 1875
18 Sep 1875
A public meeting to petition the Governemnt "asking them to construct a branch line of railway from the Great Northern, through Lambton, and thence to Wallsend."
"It was one of the anomalies of the coal-mining district of Newcastle that a line of railway came into the centre of each township, and yet the residents could not travel on these lines at all, or they did so as a favour, granted by the coal companies, which they could withdraw at any time."

The movement pushing for this railway never gained momentum. Instead, in the next decade the push was for a tram line rather than a train line to Wallsend.
28 Apr 1876The possibility of running a special passenger train on Lambton line to take patrons to see a performance of “Little Nell” at the Victoria Theatre is discussed. "I am sure that Mr. Croudace would allow a train to run on his railway for this purpose. He has obliged Mr. Bennett in this way before and would do so again."
4 Jan 1877
1 Jan 1877
A rather tongue-in-cheek one sentence report of a minor incident on the Waratah Tunnels line … "The gates on the Waratah Railway were closed when the Passenger train was coming up from Newcastle on New Year's night, but the engine opened them without a key."
27 Feb 1877"The alteration in time of the Pay-Saturdays' passenger train to the Waratah Company's Tunnel, from 2 o'clock p.m. to 11 o'clock a m., does not meet with the approbation of the public. The housewives especially are dissatisfied with the alteration, as 11 o'clock is too soon for them to leave home, having their domestic duties to attend to."
6 Apr 1880
3 Apr 1880
"On Saturday evening Gordon's 'bus was capsized near Bunn's crossing, when coming from the 10 o'clock train. "
29 Jun 1883"At the last Municipal Council meeting Alderman Thornton very properly drew attention to the want of accommodation, in the shape of a platform, at the Waratah Company's tunnel, for the use of passengers travelling from there to Newcastle on pay Saturdays."
2 May 1885Grievance from a Lambton miner's wife regarding the general uncleanliness of the Waratah tunnel train.
19 Aug 1887
13 Aug 1887
Last passenger train on the Waratah Tunnels railway. An advertisement on the following Friday announces the discontinuance of the service.
23 Nov 1900
21 Nov 1900
Lambton Public School picnic to Toronto. "About 9 a.m. upwards of 600 children, all nicely dressed in holiday attire, with their flags and banners, presented themselves at the school grounds, and formed a spectacle well worth witnessing. A procession was then formed, and the little ones marched along Elder-street and through the park to the Lambton Colliery railway, where, thanks to the kindness of Mr. T. Croudace in granting the use of the line, a train of seven cars awaited them."
5 Feb 1903Planning meeting for the Lambton Public School picnic. "It was decided to hold the picnic at Toronto, entraining the children at the Lambton Colliery railway, as in the previous year, if Mr. Croudace and Mr. Kitching will permit the train to run on the colliery line."
(The reference to a picnic train "in the previous year" is a little puzzling, as I can find no record of that event. It may be that it is a time-inaccurate reference to the picnic in November 1900, two years previously.)
21 Feb 1903"The annual picnic of the Lambton Public School will be held on Wednesday, the 25th instant. The train will leave Lambton Colliery at 9 a.m., calling at all stations on the way to Toronto. There has been an energetic committee at work for some months, preparing for the event, and it is hoped that the parents will show their appreciation of the good work done by attending in large numbers on that day."
27 Feb 1903
25 Feb 1903
"The annual picnic of the local Public School, took place at Toronto on Wednesday, and was largely attended by the parents and the general public. A train of seven cars left the Lambton Colliery railway at 9 a.m., containing about 500 children and 400 adults … The return journey was made in time to allow the little ones to get home before dark."

Morgan’s Store

Lambton may have begun as a mining town, but it takes more than miners to make a town. Among the first of hundreds of people who came to Lambton after the mine opened in 1863, were Scottish immigrants Daniel and Ann Morgan. Daniel is reported to have built the fourth house in Lambton. Around 1866 he started a grocery and drapery business, leasing a building appropriately known as “The Pioneer Stores”.

In 1873 Morgan had his own premises erected in Grainger St. Within two years  he had a larger store and residence erected at 127 Elder St, to accommodate a growing business and the raising of three sons and seven daughters. The sign on the front advertised the store as a grocers and drapers, a common combination in those days. Often associated with drapery was millinery, and a close inspection of the right-hand window of Morgan’s store reveals a collection of ladies’ hats on display. This is a reminder that although only the “Sons” appeared in the store name, the daughters were an integral part of the family business.

Daniel Morgan suffered poor-health for his last 20 years, and died on 22 August 1896, aged 62. Two days later he was conveyed by train from Waratah station to Sandgate Cemetery for burial. The Lambton correspondent for the Newcastle Morning Herald reported that “The event cast quite a gloom over this town, as the deceased and his family held a high place in the esteem of all classes of the community.”

Following Daniel’s death, his wife Ann and his children continued to operate the store. Ann died in 1915 aged 76, and was buried at Sandgate with her husband. In 1918 the children sold the business, which continued to trade as “G Spruce and Sons”. The sale brought to end over 50 years of commercial contribution to Lambton by a pioneering family.

D Morgan and Sons Store, 127 Elder St Lambton, 1909. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.
Grave in Sandgate cemetery of Daniel and Ann Morgan, early residents of Lambton. Also on the headstone are inscriptions for an infant grandson Albert (1905), and daughter Margaret (1920).

The article above was first published in the October 2020 edition of The Local.


Additional Information

Photo date

The University of Newcastle Cultural Collections Flickr site has three photographs of Morgan’s store (photo 1, photo 2, photo 3), all obviously taken on the same day. While two of the photos are captioned with a year of 1909, the third is captioned as 1904. I can only assume this is a transcription error, someone mistaking a written digit 9 to be a 4.

Other photos

Morgan’s store can be seen in a 1904 panoramic photograph of Lambton, taken from the North Lambton hill looking south. Also in the photo, can be seen the Commercial Hotel (demolished 2019) at 121 Elder St. Note that there is a bit of an optical illusion here that makes it look like Morgan’s building is further back than Elder St, maybe on Kendall St.

However, Elder St is rising in elevation as you move west from the Commercial Hotel, which means that Morgan’s shop is several metres higher than the hotel. This lack of vertical alignment with the hotel, Morgan’s building being smaller than the hotel, and the compressed depth of field of the photo, makes it appear as though the building is further back on Kendall St.

Morgan’s Store. visible in 1904 Lambton Panorama photo. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.
Morgan’s store building visible in a 1944 aerial photograph.

Elder Street renumbering

In the article, I state the address of Morgan’s store as 127 Elder Street.  This is the modern address. When Morgan built the store around 1875 streets in Lambton were not numbered,  numbering only being introduced to Lambton in 1927. In Elder St the numbers commenced at 1 at the east end and increased travelling westwards, so that Morgan’s Store was 47 Elder St. In 1934 a bankruptcy notice for the subsequent proprietors of the store, G Spruce and Sons, states the address as 47 Elder St.

Some time later around 1948, in order to accommodate the houses built on Elder street extension to the east of Lambton park, Elder street was renumbered, adding 80 to existing numbers on the south side. Thus the site of Morgan’s store became 127 Elder Street.

127 Elder St in September 2020.

The increase of 80 in the renumbering can be seen in the case of W Baker’s bakery shop. An advertisement in August 1946 states the address as 39 Elder St.

By March 1948, an advertisement shows the address for W Baker has changed to 119 Elder St.

A photo from Margaret Henry’s research paper on the bakery shows the bakery building on the south-east corner of Elder and Grainger Streets, which today is 119 Elder Street.

An advertisement from 1941 also shows the increase in 80 with the Commercial Hotel given as 41 Elder St, which later was 121 Elder St.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
9 Apr 1869First mention of Daniel Morgan in Trove, signatory on a petition against the proposed Mulibimbah Municiplaity.
4 Sep 1873"TO BE LET— THE PIONEER STORES, LAMBTON. THE above STORES, with Dwelling-house now occupied by Mr. Daniel Morgan."
25 Oct 1873"Two places of business are now in course of erection in Grainger-street— one by Mr. Daniel Morgan and the other by Mr. Shoesmith."
13 Mar 1875Notes from Lambton Council meeting regarding the kerbing and guttering of the south side of Elder St indicate that D Morgans store is now in Elder Street.
18 Mar 1876After building new premises in Elder street, Daniel Morgan makes a voluntary contribution of £1 to Lambton Council towards street improvements.
25 Aug 1896
22 Aug 1896
"Mr. Daniel Morgan, aged 62 years, an old and highly respected resident of this town, after an illness extending over a number of years, passed over to the great majority on Saturday last, at his esidence, Elder-street."
24 Aug 1896
24 Aug 1896
Funeral of Daniel Morgan, and burial in Sandgate cemetery.
7 Jan 1915
6 Jan 1915
Death of Ann Morgan (widow of Daniel), aged 76.
16 Feb 1918Morgan's business sold to “George Spruce and Sons.”
24 Jul 1920
18 Jul 1920
"The death has occurred at Lambton of Miss Margaret Morgan, from congestion of the lungs. She was born at Minmi 58 years ago, and since her infancy had lived in Lambton. She was the third daughter of the late D Morgan, and was employed in the business of Morgan and Sons as milliner up till within a few years."
Note that this article erroneously referes to Margaret Morgan as being the third David Morgan is an error. The tombstone inscription at Sandgate cemetery clearly shows that she was the daughter of Daniel Morgan. (The error probably arose because she had both an uncle and a brother named David, and it had been 24 years since her father Daniel had died in 1896.)
28 Feb 1934Bankruptcy notice for "G. Spruce and Sons, 47 Elder-street, Lambton".
Note that at some later time, Elder street was renumbered, adding 80 to existing numbers on the south side, so this address became 127 Elder St.

Adamstown Rifle Range

“Farcical.” That is how the Daily Telegraph described in February 1900 the situation where “the Government maintains four volunteer companies at Newcastle at considerable expense, and yet provides absolutely no opportunity for the members to learn the practical use of their principal weapon, the rifle.”

To rectify this deficiency, Newcastle District Commandant Lieutenant-Colonel Ranclaud proposed a new rifle range in a flat valley on the outskirts of Adamstown. It was surveyed in August 1900 and an 800-yard range constructed the following year. It was officially opened on 16 November 1901, with six targets situated at the southern end under the shelter of a large hill.

The range was also meant to be used by civilian gun clubs, but their access was extremely limited by the demands of military training. In 1903 the gun clubs agitated for greater availability, and the range was improved and expanded several times in the ensuing years.

As Adamstown grew and the range began to use newer and noisier rapid firing guns, the suitability of having a rifle range adjacent to residential areas was called in to question. There was also the issue of safety, with at least one incident of a ricocheting bullet striking a car on the road running along the ridge behind the range.

In 1938 a decision was made to relocate the rifle range to Stockton, but the move was put on hold with the outbreak of World War 2. After the war the push to relocate was renewed, and the last shot at the Adamstown range was fired on 21 March 1953.

There was much debate on how the rifle range land should then be used. Some thought it should be left as a ‘green belt’, others that it should be parks and sporting fields, while others wanted residential development. At one time the land was a proposed site for Newcastle University. In the end the Defence Department retained the site, and today it is Bullecourt Barracks, a multi user training depot.

Adamstown Rifle Range, early 1900s. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.
Bullecourt Barracks, Adamstown.

The article above was first published in the September 2020 edition of The Local.


Additional Information

The increasing use of rapid fire weapons such as the Bren gun, and complaints about the noise was one of the driving factors in moving the Adamstown rifle range to a new site in Stockton.

Bren Gun Practice. Newcastle Morning Herald, Monday 4 December 1950.
Adamstown Rifle Range shown on 1911 map. National Library of Australia.
A real estate advertising poster from 1915, somewhat conveniently forgets to mention that the land for sale is adjacent to a rifle range. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.
Area of Adamstown Rifle Range marked on 1920s map. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.
“Rifle Street” first appears as a street name in the newspaper on 23 June 1920, in an advertisement for the auction of a block of land.
Another land sale in 1925 conveniently omits any reference to the adjacent rifle range. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.
A 1944 aerial photograph of Adamstown rifle range.
Adamstown rifle range, 12 April 1909. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
17 Feb 1900"There is a good deal that is farcical in the fact that the Government maintains four volunteer companies at Newcastle at considerable expense, and yet provides absolutely no opportunity for the members to learn the practical use of their principal weapon, the rifle. Since last June, the military rifle clubs of the city have been absolutely without target accommodation of their own. Through the courtesy of the civilian rifle men they have at odd times been able to shoot on the short range on Shepherd's-hill, and that is all."
14 Mar 1900"For some considerable time past Lieut. Colonel Ranclaud has been working to secure a new rifle range for the use of the local military forces. A site on the Merewether Estate is now under consideration, and yesterday an officer of the Engineer Corps arrived in the city, for the purpose of inspecting and reporting on the proposed range."
6 Aug 1900"The new rifle range for the Newcastle district, selected by Lieutenant-Colonel Ranclaud, has just been surveyed and laid out by Mr. A. F. Hall, and it is probable that the range may be available for target practice within three months from now. Tenders will at once be called for clearing the ground, which is situated near Adamstown, on the Burwood estate, and within easy access of the tram. Provision will be made for firing at a dis tance of 900 yards, and the shooting will take place from a point near where the Roman Catholic Church was blown down."
28 Sep 1901"The new rifle range at the rear of the Catholic Church will be completed early next week. The work is of a substantial character, and has been carried out by the Government contractor, Mr. Robert Com ley. Six targets can be displayed at the one time, four being on pivots and two for long range will be run out on trolleys. The targets are of canvas and are situated at the southern end of the range under the shelter of a large hill. The mounds at the different distances up to 800 yards have already been made, and the contractor is waiting for iron plates to complete the work."
18 Nov 1901
16 Nov 1901
Official opening of Adamstown Rifle Range.
12 Mar 1902"At the opening rifle competition, Colonel Ranclaud erected temporary telephone communication, which was found of great service, especially when a shot was challenged. The instruments were removed after the competition, and now, if any communication is needed with the marker, shooting is suspended, and someone has to walk up the range to the targets."
15 Jul 1903Construction of new targets … "Under existing conditions, and in consequence of the unreasonable time allowed some military companies to complete their musketry, the range is practically closed to club shooting for the first six months in the year. During the last military year one company occupied the range for no less than 28 Saturdays."
20 Apr 1904"Since the opening of Adamstown rifle range much dissatisfaction has existed amongst members of rifle clubs, those of Adamstown Club in particular, on account of the range being occupied the greater part of the Saturdays in the year by the Scottish and Irish Rifles going through musketry shooting."
26 Sep 1907"improvements to the Adamstown rifle range is pushing on … the work in progress provides for the erection of seven target carriages … provision is made for the erection of a large shed, in which to keep the targets. "
28 Feb 1910"The much-needed additions to the rifle range officer's residence are being carried out, and a storeroom is also being constructed. These improvements are greatly needed, and also is the extension of the rifle range."
27 Jun 1910"The improvements to Adamstown rifle range were completed on Saturday. It is the first work done by the Commonwealth Government on the range, and consists of the construction of three new target mantlets."
4 Oct 1910"Adamstown rifle range is one of the best in the State. It is well sheltered from heavy winds, and shooting can be done up to 1000 yards. Recently a sum of £244 was spent in erecting new targets, and in general improvements, and later a further sum of £27."
14 Apr 1913"… the range at present is inadequate for the requirements of the district … the rifle clubs ... were debarred their weekly practice in consequence of the range being monopolised by the staff officers putting the different units of cadets through a course of musketry."
15 Aug 1914"The work of extending the rifle range is proceeding satisfactorily. When the work in hand is completed there will be 37 targets available on the range."
8 May 1915Real Estate poster advertising sale of housing lots along Union St, conveniently omitting any mention of the land being adjacent to a rifle range!
23 Jun 1920First mention of "Rifle Street" in Trove, in an advertisement for the auction of a block of land.
28 Apr 1924"An improperly locked rifle, which backfired, resulted in two men being injured at Adamstown range on Saturday."
24 Jul 1933"On Saturday afternoon a bullet from one of the high velocity rifles ricocheted over the crest of the hill and, passing, through the door of a motor car, which was parked on the track, lodged in the upholstery on the other side."
21 Dec 1938"A site for a new rifle range at North Stockton will be recommended to the Defence Department by the Greater Newcastle Council. The council wants the Adamstown range abandoned because of its proximity to the route of the proposed scenic highway, and because it is in an expanding residential area."
1 Jun 1939Newcastle Council urges that the Defence Department remove Adamstown rifle range.
25 Jul 1939"The Minister for Defence (Mr. G. A. Street), who is to visit Newcastle to morrow, will make a personal investigation of the Adamstown rifle range Tourist Highway problem. The question to be determined is whether the Tourist Highway can be made safe from bullets fired on the range, or whether it will be necessary to move the range to another part of the district. A site at Stockton has been suggested as an alternative."
5 Aug 1947Letter to the editor … "The Adamstown rifle range is not only a menace to the public travelling between the Lake area and Newcastle, but we of Hillcrest must contend with gates which are locked whenever the club is shooting, and those who are fortunate enough to own cars cannot travel to and from their homes as they please. The gates were erected during the war years, and we were told they were not permanent, but they are still there."
14 Aug 1947Letter to the editor from W. R. Rowcliff … "At one time it was my duty to lock the gates on the Scenic Highway when shooting was being carried out on the Adamstown rifle range, so I know only too well the inconvenience caused to the travelling public as well as the residents of Hillcrest. I am wholeheartedly behind O. C. Newton and E. Chapman that it is high time this menace to the community was removed to some other locality."
21 Aug 1947"… if Adamstown Rifle Range site was transformed to parks, sports areas, building land and, above all, an ideal spot to house a new school, it would be more important and a far greater asset to Newcastle than a rifle range wanted by a minority"
13 Feb 1948"The Lord Mayor (Ald. Quinlan) has asked the Minister for Education (Mr. Heffron) that the rifle range at Adamstown, which is to be closed, be used as a site for a Newcastle University."
6 Aug 1948"… the Adamstown Rifle Range site, now proposed for a university … is low lying but there is a big area as far as the scenic drive that rises rather sharply and provides one of the few ready-made green belts in this district. It would be a pity to put the axe into it."
29 Nov 1950"The rifle range at Adamstown is to be transferred to Stockton, under the Department of Works and Housing programme."
8 Dec 1950IN THE "Newcastle Morning Herald on Monday an interesting picture showed two gunners with a Bren gun in action at Adamstown Rifle Range. Saturday's big shoot held no pleasure for residents of Brunker-road, particarly for people living in the closely built area opposite the Rifle Range. The terrific noise from these quick firing guns was kept up all day The concussion was so great that it rattled windows of nearby houses. It was a nerve-racking experience Surely the authorities concerned realise that it is not fair that residents concerned should be compelled to endure this noise. "
6 Feb 1953"ADAMSTOWN rifle range would close on March 23, the Brigade Major of 14 Infantry Brigade (Major J. A. Sellars) said yesterday. All targets would be transferred to the new range at Stockton, which would be the only one in the Newcastle area."
19 Mar 1953
21 Mar 1953
"At Adamstown Civilian rifle clubs will shoot for the last time at Adamstown rifle range on Saturday. The area has been taken over by the Army. Civilian rifle clubs will transfer to North Stockton, which will be used for the first time on Saturday week."
23 Mar 1953
21 Mar 1953
"An 80-year-old rifleman, Mr. Jason Price, was one of the first marksmen to compete at Adamstown rifle range when it opened about 53 years ago. He was the last civilian to fire on the range when it was closed on Saturday."
14 Jun 1961"A proposal by the Interior Department to sub-divide Newcastle's old Adamstown rifle range into 340 home sites has touched off a row in the north. Northumberland County Council opposes the subdivision. It wants to keep the land in the green belt. According to the Council's planning consultant, the proposal would rob Newcastle of "breathing space." The range includes picturesque timber country which should be preserved, the consultant urged."

Ralph Snowball

With a modern smart phone in our hands we can easily and at negligible cost snap high-resolution pictures and instantly send them around the world. It’s a vast difference from the rigours and expense of photography in the late 19th century when Newcastle’s celebrated early photographer Ralph Snowball worked.

This month marks 95 years since Snowball’s death in August 1925. He was born in 1848 in Leadgate, Durham (UK), where he worked as a miner before coming to Australia and settling in New Lambton around 1879 to work at the Lambton colliery. An accident meant he could no longer continue in mining, and he took up photography in 1885. He established a studio at his home in Clarence Rd, where his work included portraits and visiting cards. He also travelled extensively in a horse drawn wagonette, carting his bulky equipment to capture landscapes, buildings, and public events, sometimes selling his work for publication in newspapers.

In 1887 Snowball set up a studio in Hunter St Newcastle, near Market St, where he was well placed to document the bustling harbour city and sell his services to visiting sailors.  In 1888 he referred to the rigours of his trade, writing “My work keeps me from home from 8am to 7pm, and sometimes later.” This must have been a huge strain on his wife Mary, at home raising eight children.

Snowball was an active participant in civic affairs, and was appointed the first town clerk of New Lambton in 1889. He also served in a number of churches and friendly societies. He retired from photography around 1912, and died in Wallsend Hospital on 4 August 1925, aged 76.

Snowball’s glass plate negatives then remained in the cellar of his Clarence Rd home, forgotten for over 60 years until rediscovered in 1988.  The bulk of his collection is now held by Newcastle Library and the University of Newcastle, providing us today with a priceless legacy of thousands of detailed pictures of our past.

Snowball with his horse and wagonette. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.
A portrait photo of Ralph Snowball, advertising his “Market Studio” in Hunter St Newcastle. Living Histories @ UON.

The article above was first published in the August 2020 edition of The Local.


Additional Information

Birth and Death

Name:Ralph Snowball
Birth date:19 Nov 1848
Birth place:Leadgate, Durham (UK)
Death date:4 Aug 1925
Death place:Wallsend
Burial site:Sandgate Cemetery
Burial Long,Lat :151.70677,-32.87043 (KML File for Google Earth)
Burial date:6 Aug 1925
Grave site of Ralph and Mary Snowball

Grave site of Ralph and Mary Snowball

Headstone of Ralph and Mary Snowball

Headstone of Ralph and Mary Snowball

Market Studio

In 1887 Ralph Snowball set up a photographic studio in the Newcastle Borough Market Building in Hunter St Newcastle. The foundation was laid in 1870, and the building opened in December 1871. The building was located at 121 Hunter St. It was demolished in September 1915, and a picture theatre erected in its place.

Ralph Snowball’s photographic studio on the upper floor of the Newcastle Borough Market building, 21 January 1891. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.
1886 map showing location of Newcastle Borough Market Building. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.

Many years later, the “Market Square” building was erected on the site.

Construction of Market Square. Photo by Peter Sansom. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.

It is unclear how long Ralph Snowball had his Market Studio in Hunter St, but it would seem that he vacated prior to 1901. In the 1901 Federal Directory of Newcastle and District, Snowball is not listed among the photographers of Newcastle, but is instead listed in the New Lambton section, as being on Gwydir Rd. (Note that Snowball’s property that contained his home and studio, stretched between Gwydir Rd and Clarence Rd, with the house facing Gwydir Rd and the studio backing on to Clarence Rd.)

The location of the Newcastle Borough Markets building in August 2020.

Clarence Rd Studio

Ralph Snowball’s studio, New Lambton, NSW, 11 April 1902
Ralph Snowball Studio, Clarence Road, New Lambton, NSW, [n.d.]

Box listings

Some idea of the time period that Snowball worked as a photographer can be gleaned from the handwritten labels he affixed to the front of his boxes of glass plate negatives. Many of these have been scanned and are available on the University of Newcastle Cultural Collections site.

Snowball glass plate negative box listing – Box 2 from October 1885. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.

I have compiled an index  of Snowball photograph box listings, ordered by box number and year. Note that there are two series of numberings. The first series begins in 1885 (box 2 in Oct 1885) and goes to box 349 in 1905. In 1906 Snowball began numbering boxes from 1 again, with box 7 in February 1906. The numbering of this second series is somewhat strange and not necessarily in date order. After 1906 the highest numbered box label I could find was box 139 in January 1910, but the latest date is box 55 in September 1912.

The earliest Snowball photo I can find in the University of Newcastle collection is of Thomas Croudace’s house, listed on the cover of box 2.

The home of Thomas Croudace in New Lambton Heights, October 1885. One of the earliest Ralph Snowball photos. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.

Links to Other Sites

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
21 Apr 1885First mention of Ralph Snowball in the newspaper, in a letter he writes to the editor regarding political matters. In the letter Ralph states that he has been a miner in the employment of Thomas Croudace at Lambton colliery for five years.
9 Dec 1885
5 Dec 1885
A report of the battalion parade of the Newcastle, Wallsend, and Lambton Volunteers in the Recreation Reserve states that "Mr. Snowball was there with his photo-apparatus ... [to photograph] a grouping of the whole. However, the matter fell through, as Mr. Snowball considered the light very unfavourable-thick clustering of clouds and no sun to take a picture with proper effect."
4 Dec 1886
19 Nov 1886
A Ralph Snowball photograph appears in a story about a pitfall at Wallsend that wrecked the Exchange Hotel.
23 Feb 1888In a letter to the editor complaining of the actions of surveyors executing their work on the Commonage, Snowball writes … "My work keeps me from home from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., and sometimes later."
20 Aug 1889
28 Mar 1889
"BOROUGH OF NEW LAMBTON NOTICE is hereby given that Mr. Ralph Snowball was, on the 28th March, 1889, appointed Council Clerk of the above Municipality, THOMAS CROUDACE, Mayor."
21 Mar 1892WE, the Undersigned Photographers of Newcastle, have agreed to charge the following prices on and after March 21st, 1892:-1 Dozen Cabinets, plain, 16s, Half Dozen, plain, 12s 6d: 1 Doz Cab. Enam. 21s, Half Doz. Enam. 15s; 1 Doz. C.D.V.S., plain,8s; 1 Doz. C.D.V.S., Enam., 10s 6d. (Signed) C. Drinkwater, H. B. Solomon, G. C. Woolston, Eddie J. B. Hutchison, Harry Charleston, and Ralph Snowball."
C.D.V.S - abbreviation for "Carte de visite"
6 Aug 1925
4 Aug 1925
Death of Ralph Snowball, age 76.
6 May 1942
22 Apr 1942
Mary Snowball, widow of Ralph, dies, aged 90.

New Lambton Post Office

The nature of our postal and communication services has changed radically over the years, but our dependence on them remains undiminished. While the delivery of handwritten letters from family and friends has been largely replaced by online messaging, the delivery to our door of goods we order online is ever increasing.

In June 1869 when New Lambton was but a year old, the residents recognised the importance of communication services, and petitioned the government for a post office for their growing town. Their request was denied, but every year another request was patiently forwarded to Sydney, until finally in 1872 a licence was granted to Mrs Hutchinson to conduct Post Office business from her general store in Regent St, opposite the public school. This arrangement continued until August 1880 when the post office facility closed, and was replaced by a letter receiver installed on the street.

Calls for the return of a post office continued over the next decade. In 1892, on land purchased from the New Lambton Coal Company on the corner of Regent and Victoria Streets, a small weatherboard building was erected to serve as New Lambton’s first dedicated Post Office. Mr G H Rowthorn was appointed as postmaster. With the new building came new technology, the introduction of a telegraph service.

New Lambton grew and by the mid-1930s it was clear that the old wooden post office was inadequate to meet the needs of the population and ever-changing technology. In 1938 the Postmaster-General’s Department erected a two-storey brick building adjacent to the old building, to house the post office on the ground floor and an automatic telephone exchange on the upper floor. The old weatherboard post office was demolished soon after.

That original building may have been gone for 80 years, but other buildings on the same block of land now house broadband and mobile communications infrastructure that keep us connected, and today power our online messaging and shopping.

New Lambton Post and Telegraph Office, erected in 1892. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.
New Lambton Post Office today. The white car is parked in front of where the 1892 post office was located.

The article above was first published in the July 2020 edition of The Local.


Additional Information

1892 Building

On 26 July 1892, the Postmaster-General, Mr John Kidd, visited Newcastle and toured various suburbs and post office facilities, including the New Lambton post office that was very near to completion. The newspaper report of Kidd’s visit gives a good description of the new building.

This is a commodious and handsome weatherboard building, of 30ft by 62ft outside dimensions. It is roofed with galvanised iron, and has a front and back verandah 7ft by 30ft dimensions. The building is situated at the corner of Victoria and Regent streets, on an allotment of land 90ft by 134ft. A room 22ft by 16ft, with a lobby 6ft by 16ft, is set apart for the post-office, and there are four nicely-fitted rooms – two of 12ft by 14ft, and two of 12ft by 12ft dimensions – for the residential use of the postmaster, Mr. Bates, of Hamilton, is the contractor, and the contract price was £382, with £40 for extras.  The post office will be a great boon to the residents of New Lambton, as hitherto there has been none nearer than Lambton, from whence letters, &c., have been delivered daily by a postman. Mr. G. H. Rowthorn, assistant postmaster at Lambton, has been appointed postmaster.

1890s Water Board map overlaid in Google Earth shows the location of the 1892 post office building.

1939 Building

New Lambton Post Office. Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 17 June 1939.
A 1944 aerial photograph shows the new brick post office on the corner, adjacent to the outline of the foundations of the demolished 1892 wooden post office.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
22 Jun 1869"The inhabitants of New Lambton have just memorialized the Hon. the Postmaster-General for the establishment of a Post-office at that township. New Lambton now contains a population of upwards of three hundred, and it is expected that in less than seven or eight months hence, it will increase to double that number."
6 Jul 1869"A numerously signed petition had been sent to the Postmaster-General, praying for the establishment of a post-office at New Lambton, on the ground of its being now a considerable centre of an increasing population, and of its being upwards of two miles from the nearest post office, Lambton ... if the present position of the Lambton post-office is not sufficiently central, the proper course would be to remove it to a site that is more so."
13 Jan 1870"the inhabitants of New Lambton suffer considerable inconvenience from the want of a post-office at that township, and expresses a hope that a second petition, which is about to be presented to the Postmaster-General, praying that a post-office may be established in the village, will be taken into favourable consideration"
9 Feb 1871"another application will shortly be made to the Postmaster-General for the establishment of a post-office at New Lambton"
23 Jul 1872Yet another petition for a post office at New Lambton.
13 Sep 1872
10 Sep 1872
Government Gazette - Post Office to be established at New Lambton.
6 Mar 1876"Mrs. Hutchinson, who keeps the Post-office Stores …"
26 Jun 1880"It is rumoured that the Post Office at this place is to be closed, and that a letter receiver is to be substituted, a responsible letter carrier is also to be appointed."
7 Jul 1880"The New Lambton post office is to close with the present month, and a letter receiver is to be erected under Mr. Sneddon's verandah … Mr. Thomas Sneddon has been appointed licensed vendor of postage stamps, and Albert Bedford has been appointed letter deliverer and telegraph probationer in the Lambton office."
28 Sep 1880"The licensed stamp vendor here has resigned his position, owing to the miserable per centage allowed by the Government for their sale. He considers 2½ per cent. insufficient to pay for serving the stamps. People have now to obtain their supply from the Lambton post office."
9 Sep 1882"I have heard frequent complaints about the postal arrangements here, and the people generally, I am sure, consider it desirable that they should have a post office of their own. For some time past, owing to the paltry commission allowed by the Government for selling stamps, no one in the town can be found to undertake their sale, consequently the people have had to walk to Lambton, or depend upon the obliging disposition of the letter-carriers to bring them a few stamps."
13 Mar 1885Sale of Mrs Hutchinsons general store "opposite the Public School at New Lambton."
14 Apr 1890"A deputation ... waited upon the Hon. D. O'Connor, Postmaster-General, this morning to urge upon him the necessity of the Government taking steps to provide a post and telegraph office and letter delivery at New Lambton."
1 Sep 1891Government Gazette: "TENDERS will be received ... from persons willing to sell to this Department a piece of land in a main street of New Lambton, with a frontage of about 50 feet, suitable as a site for a Post and Telegraph Office."
6 Nov 1891New Lambton Council asked for a different site for the Post Office, on land owned by D Williams Junr. There is an allegation that “undue influence had been brought to bear in favour of the [New Lambton Coal] company’s offer”
1 Jan 1892
30 Dec 1891
New Lambton Council receives a letter "From the secretary of the Postal Department, intimating that the New Lambton Coal Company's land as a site for the post office had been purchased and definitely decided upon."
5 Apr 1892"TENDERS FOR ERECTION OF POST AND TELEGRAPH OFFICE, NEW LAMBTON (on allotments 6 and 7, section C, at the corner of Regent and Victoria Streets)"
27 Jul 1892
26 Jul 1892
Inspection by Postmaster General (Mr John Kidd) in New Lambton of "the new post-office, which is just being completed."
1 Sep 1892
1 Sep 1892
"The new post and telegraph office, situate in Regent-street, has been completed by the contractor and formally handed over to the department. The office will be opened today for business transactions, which will undoubtedly prove a lasting convenience to the residents. Mr. G. H. Rowthorn, recently of Lambton Post office, is the resident postmaster."
21 Jul 1926"Minor improvements are being effected to the post and telegraph office, consisting of a new front verandah and steps, new flooring to the general office, and betterment of the drainage of the premises ... telephone communication comes mainly through the Waratah exchange … The number of subscribers however, is growing to such an extent and it is considered that conditions will shortly, warrant the establishment of a local exchange."
8 Nov 1934"New Lambton Council received another courteous refusal, from the Postmaster-General's Department last night to its repeated request for a new post office."
13 Jul 1937"Speaking in the House of Representatives, Mr. R. James (Hunter) said that on many occasions he had urged the Postmaster-General's Department to provide a new post-office building at New Lambton. This town, he said, had a population of about 8000, but the residents were still compelled to conduct their postal business in an old weatherboard pre-Federation office, which was a disgrace to the department."
24 Mar 1938"The Postmaster-General's Department advised the council last night that it had approved the erection of a two storey building to house the post-office and an automatic telephone exchange, and that the preparation of drawings and specifications was proceeding with the object of inviting tenders for the work as soon as circumstances permitted."
29 Aug 1938Tenders called "for the erection of a new post office and telephone exchange at New Lambton. The building, which will be of brick, will be two storeys high and of modern design. Situated at the corner of Regent and Victoria-streets, adjacent to the existing weatherboard post office and residence ... It is the intention of the department to demolish the old post office building."
28 Mar 1939"Construction of the new post-office at New Lambton is almost complete. It is expected that the post-office will be open for business in about a month. It is near the old post-office building at the corner of Victoria and Regent Streets."

Burning Style – Waratah incinerator

The building in this month’s photo, standing starkly before the bare hills of Waratah, is not an elegant home or stylish church. It is a garbage incinerator designed by Walter Burley Griffin, more famously known as the architect of Canberra. After finishing his work on Canberra, Griffin set up an architectural practice with Eric Milton Nichols. In 1929, they began a long running collaboration with the Reverberatory Incinerator and Engineering Company to design stylish buildings to house incinerators, the new fashion in garbage disposal.

Previously, getting rid of rubbish had been a very ad hoc affair. In Newcastle suburbs people would bury or burn it in their backyard, throw it in colliery pitfalls, or dump it in swampy low-lying areas to reclaim land for parks. These dumps were extremely dissatisfactory, being breeding grounds for flies, mosquitos and rats. With a lack of regional consensus on what should be done, in 1930 Waratah Council commissioned an incinerator to be built at the upper end of High St. At the official opening on 1 Aug 1931 the manufacturer boldly enthused that “Everything was totally destroyed without odour and without fumes of any description.”

But the promise of making garbage magically disappear without a puff of smoke proved to be wildly optimistic. Complaints began almost immediately, and escalated as the plant got older and more rubbish was burned. Towards the end of its few years of operations the Waratah incinerator was described as “belching forth clouds of greasy smoke, the stench of which is practically unbearable.” The incinerator ceased regular operation in June 1940, and was then only occasionally fired up as a backup to other city facilities. Around 1943 it closed permanently and became a target of vandals. In 1950 Newcastle Council ordered the building to be demolished and the rubble to be used for extending the sea wall at North Stockton.

Waratah’s incinerator is gone, but a handful of Burley Griffin’s incinerator buildings remain standing in the eastern states, now serving as theatres, cafes, and art galleries.

Waratah Incinerator 1931. National Library of Australia, Eric Milton Nicholls collection.
Trees now stand where rubbish once burned.

The article above was first published in the June 2020 edition of The Local.


Additional Information

Official Opening

The Official Opening of the Waratah incinerator took place on 1 August 1931, and reported in the paper on 3 August 1931. The glowing praises of the incinerator by various people look rather naive in retrospect, knowing that the plant only operated for a dozen years.

A dream of Waratah aldermen of the destruction of garbage by fire has been brought to fruition by the formal opening on Saturday of the reverberatory furnace garbage incinerator. Set on a high hill, overlooking the suburb, the building is of artistic design, and with the plant cost approximately £5000. It can dispose of a cubic yard of garbage at a cost of 1/1.09d, reducing wet slimy mush to a clean clinker in a few moments.

Ald W H Tripet, Mayor of Waratah described former garbage disposal practices …

They could not deny the fact that in the past the garbage had served a very useful purpose in the filling of swamp and low-lying lands, which in their original state, were next to, if not quite, useless and which to-day comprised very fine park lands and playing areas.

Mr. N. Leonard Kanevsky, Managing Director of the Reverberatory Incinerator and Engineering Company Proprietary, Ltd, described the operation of the furnace …

Unseen by those present the superheated refuse was presently consumed in the heat of an intense fire, and in a short time, the evil smelling stuff which had dropped into the shute was drawn away in a heap of clean clinker. Everything was totally destroyed without odor and without fumes of any description.

Mr. W. B. Griffin, the Architect, declared …

that the time would come when beauty and utility in service would be combined.

Mr. A. G. Goninan …

… congratulated Ald. Griffiths as the man who prepared the way for the incinerator, and the Mayor and aldermen of Waratah on its materialisation. When Mr. Kanevsky first approached him regarding the work on the incinerator, he made investigations, and found that the machine was a good one. The whole of the metal was produced in the district, and provided work for local men. He could see nothing wrong with the incinerator – nothing, as a fact, could go wrong with it.

Waratah incinerator opening ceremony. 1 Aug 1931. National Library of Australia, Eric Milton Nicholls collection.
The same location in May 2020.

Other photos

Waratah Council’s incinerator building, with the motor and horse-drawn lorries. Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 3 August 1935.
The Waratah incinerator appears in the bottom left corner of this 1944 aerial photograph. The incinerator was no longer in use at this time.

parry St incinerator, Newcastle

After Waratah Council opened their incinerator in 1931, Newcastle Council decided to also build an incinerator also. Their incinerator was much larger, designed to initially handle 40 cubic yards of garbage in an 8 hour shift, but with space to install a second unit to double the processing capacity. Built at a cost of £20,000 at the corner of Parry St and Ravenshaw St opposite the sports grounds, the incinerator was opened in August 1938.

The Newcastle incinerator building wasn’t designed by Walter Burley Griffin, but by F. A. Scorer, Chief Architect, Greater Newcastle City Council. In spite of its industrial purpose, the building was awarded the John Sulman architectural medal for 1938. (Greg and Silvia Ray’s Photo Time Tunnel website has a photograph of the building in 1938.)

Newcastle’s experiment with garbage incineration lasted less than Waratah’s efforts. After just 9 years of service, by 1947 the furnaces of the Parry St incinerator had failed. Estimates were prepared for the repair of the plant, but council decided “the efforts would be a waste of thousands of pounds” and therefore the incinerator “must be scrapped.” In April 1947 council called for tenders for the demolition of the plant but nothing progressed, and the building sat vacant for a number of years. In 1950 the council leased the building to “Mr. W. A. Miller, proprietor of a motor-body building and repairing business, who had been looking for new premises since fire gutted part of his earlier establishment.”

A 1944 aerial photograph showing the Newcastle Council incinerator on the corner of Parry and Ravenshaw Streets.
A close up of the incinerator, showing the horseshoe shaped ramp from street level up to the dump point.
An undated aerial photograph of the Newcastle incinerator. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.
The chimney stack of the former Newcastle incinerator appears in the background of this 1957 sporting photo. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.

I have not yet identified when the Parry St incinerator building was demolished, but an aerial photograph shows that it was still standing in 1975.

A 1975 aerial photograph shows the Parry St incinerator building still standing. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
15 Nov 1922"Pitfalls at the back of residences in Howe-street, Lambton, are used as a repository for rubbish. One resident who objects to the disgusting smell of rotting vegetable matter lying in these holes, describes it an "a perfect breeding place for files and mosquitoes."
28 May 1925"There are more than 1000 houses in Lambton, and yet the municipality is without a garbage system. The council will not introduce one, and residents appear quite content to carry on under primitive methods. An inquiry as to how the people get on was met with the reply that the fowls eat it.Lambton people or a good many of them, bury it, either in their yards or on some handy vacant ground, others burn it. Some people, hotelkeepers and storekeepers, send it away to one of the many pitfalls, which abound in Lambton. Many Lambton residents declare that the council should institute a garbage system."
19 Apr 1930"The City Council's health Inspector (Mr. O'Keefe)... considers it an absolute necessity for the public health. Incineration seemed to be the only hygienic way to dispose of garbage without creating undue nuisance, and menacing the public health.”
29 Apr 1930"I have no doubt that some form of garbage incineration will be adopted in the district sooner or later," said the Government Medical Officer (Dr. Wallace) to-day. "The sooner the better, for it is the only way to get rid of flies and rats."
5 Nov 1930
4 Nov 1930
"Disgusted with the apathy of other councils in the Newcastle district towards the establishment of garbage destructors, Waratah Council definitely decided last night lo erect its own plant at a cost of £5000."
13 May 1931"Waratah Council will be the first in the Newcastle district to be provided with a modern incinerator. Building operations are progressing rapidly. The steel work, which has been manufactured by Messrs. A. Goninan and Company, of Broadmeadow, has already been assembled on the site, and the fire brickwork is being laid by expert hands."
4 Jul 1931"Work on the furnace construction of Waratah Council's garbage incinerator is practically completed ... the flue stack has been taken up to its full height of 50 feet. It is anticipated that the plant will be ready to incinerate the municipal ity's garbage by the end of the month."
1 Aug 1931"One furnace unit is provided, with room in the building, however, for a duplicate unit."
1 Aug 1931
1 Aug 1931
Official opening of the Waratah incinerator. [Report in The Newcastle Sun.]
3 Aug 1931
1 Aug 1931
Official opening of the Waratah incinerator. [Report in Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate]
20 Dec 1933"Waratah Council last night decided to install a telephone at its incinerator at a cost of £5 2s 6d a year."
2 May 1934Residents complain of odours coming from the Waratah incinerator.
8 Oct 1934Repairs needed to incinerator … "cracks in the reverberating arch and chips out of crown of furnace, and other matters needing attention."
11 Oct 1937"Owing to the increase in population in Waratah Municipality during the past few years, the council's incinerator has been unable to cope with the stream of garbage, and a second unit has to be built."
11 Aug 1938"Newcastle's £20,000 incinerator will be put into use next week. "
13 Aug 1938"The new city incinerator, built at a cost of approximately £20,000, should be in full operation within a fortnight. The furnace is burning this week for the first time, with a small coke fire, which in being increased gradually each day to dry out the fireclay cementing the special firebricks which line the in ternal walls of the burning unit and the 117-feet chimney stack. Eventually the burning unit will be brought to a temperature of 1700 degrees, at which it operates."
24 Jan 1940The Newcastle Incinerator Building, Parry Street, Newcastle. AWARDED THE SIR JOHN SULMAN MEDAL FOR 1938.
5 Jun 1941"Now that the Waratah incinerator had been closed temporarily, and all garbage was burnt at Parry-street, essential repairs could be carried out at Waratah incinerator so that it would be ready for full service in the event of the service at Parry-street failing at any time. An amount of £233 was voted for repairs. The City Engineer was instructed to make an estimate of the cost of erecting a new chimney stack."
17 Nov 1941"Waratah incinerator has for weeks belched forth clouds of greasy smoke, the stench of which is practically unbearable. On recent days, the incinerator has been unable to cope with the quantity of garbage, and heaps of refuse were piled in front of the plant, exposed to hordes of flies. At the rear, the rat-infested dump is an ideal place for an outbreak of an epidemic."
19 Dec 1941"… at the rubbish dump at Waratah incinerator there are rats as large and as fast as hares, and that people in the vicinity could not sleep because of odours when certain winds were blowing … residents thought that garbage of any kind could be burnt at the incinerator, with the result that around it was an increasing dump of oil drums, kerosene tins, discarded tyres and other rubbish, which provided excellent harbourage for rats."
9 Oct 1943"lt is time Greater Newcastle Council did something to eliminate obnoxious fumes from the city incinerator. It is constantly giving out volumes of smoke, which at times is unbearable … the Waratah incinerator is not in use, and all the garbage is brought to the city to be burnt. "
19 Oct 1943"People living in the Cook's Hill area are complaining about offensive odors and an excessive amount of smoke emanating from Greater Newcastle Council's incinerator. The wisdom of Greater Newcastle Council's closing down the incinerator at Waratah about four years ago and concentrating the disposal of garbage at the one plant in the city was doubted by another resident today."
6 Jan 1944"A complaint of an obnoxious smell from the council's incinerator at Waratah was before the Health Committee … the incinerator had been out of commission for the past 12 months, and during that period no refuse of any description had been deposited there."
16 Mar 1944"The disused Waratah incinerator was becoming the playground of children and the rendezvous of undesirables. Children are shying stones at the incinerator. Vandals are active."
5 Apr 1944"The salvage drive was blamed by Ald. Colman last night for the smoke nuisance at Newcastle incinerator. Asked if he considered it advisable to reopen Waratah incinerator, the Chairman (Ald. Dunkley) said a second incinerator would naturally add to overhead costs. He expressed the view that the council's' policy of burning all its garbage was wrong. The burial of garbage enabled low lying areas to be filled in and parks to be erected at a reasonable cost."
23 Aug 1944Waratah and Parry St incinerators subject to vandalism.
6 Apr 1945"The Greater Newcastle Council has decided to make an 'experiment" in the disposal of garbage by burial … it has sanctioned a change in procedure, which will involve burning about half the rubbish and burying the remainder … the Waratah incinerator has been closed since 1940, and the destructor at Newcastle has been worked two shifts."
21 May 1946"The Greater Newcastle Council Garbage Committee decided last night to recommend to the council that it negotiate for sites for the burial of garbage at Wallsend, Lambton, and Adamstown ... the Waratah incinerator was shut down in June, 1940, on the advice of the then mechanical engineer."
18 Mar 1947"FURNACE COLLAPSES: INCINERATOR OUT. WHEN bricks and ironwork in the furnace collapsed, the Parry-street incinerator went out of action yesterday and was abandoned."
2 Apr 1947"At last night's council committee meeting a motion by the Mayor favoring calling of tenders for demolition of the chimney stacks at the Newcastle and Waratah incinerators, removal of the incinerator units and sale of the bricks for building purposes was approved in spite of some opposition."
9 Apr 1947Tenders invited for for the purchase and removal of the following Incinerator Units: (a) Two chimney stacks. (b) Four "Giant" type upright patented reverberatory furnace units from the Parry Street and Waratah incinerators.
9 Mar 1949The Works committee of Newcastle Council "decided to call tenders for the demolition of the incinerator building at Waratah … the building was in a dangerous condition."
3 Feb 1950"A new job will be found for the old incinerator building at Waratah … the building would be demolished and the bricks and concrete used for extending the sea wall in the North Stockton erosion area. The incinerator had been standing for about 20 years. It had outlived its usefulness and any timber or fittings of value had already been removed."
4 Feb 1950Lengthy article by Ian Healy on the history of the Parry St incinerator, and its re-incarnation as W. A. Miller's motor repair shop.
20 Sep 1950"A disused incinerator stack at Waratah was dangerous. Six months ago the council had arranged for a contractor to demolish the stack, but nothing had been done."