Lake Macquarie History

John Darling Colliery

The City Council of Lake Macquarie acknowledge the Aboriginal people known today as the Awabakal, as the traditional Custodians of the land, respecting Aboriginal Elders past, present and future. Lake Macquarie City Council recognise the local Aboriginal community today in all of their diversity, who came forward to share their experiences, knowledge, images and memories.

Reverend Lancelot Threlkeld was originally granted the land where the John Darling Colliery was built. It then passed to AA Coal Company and then to the New Redhead Company. In 1924 B.H.P. Co. Ltd entered into an agreement with New Redhead Company for coal leases on the site that was to become John Darling Colliery.

Beginnings

photo: john darling colliery

The John Darling Colliery operated over a period of sixty-two years. It was named after the tenth chairman and prominent member of the Board of Directors of the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited (BHP). The first superintendent of the colliery was Joshua Jefferies and John Fallins the first manager in1928. Mr Fallins later became superintendent in 1955, and kept an extensive diary rich in history of the mine. Other employees at the time were Norman Anderson, Mechanical Engineer; Edrick Roberts Electrical Engineer; John Fisher, Surface Foreman in 1925 and J. Thompson who was appointed deputy in 1929. Bert Wilkinson filled the position of Under-Manager. Six houses were built over a period of twenty-one years on the land and housed management and their families.

The first shaft was sunk in January 1925, with the Victoria Seam (650 ft [198 m] deep, 10 ft 3in [3.124 2m] thick: 5ft 9in [1.752 6m] workable) bottomed on June 10, 1927. On October 21 of the same year, the Borehole Seam was bottomed (870 ft [265.176m] deep, 6 ft 38.25in [2.546 35m] thick: 5ft 8in [1.727 2m] workable). Midnight of November 14 the first coal was mined and the first truckload of Borehole Seam coal was railed to the Steel Works on November 17.

The official contracts for the Victoria Seam and the Borehole Seam commenced in August 1928 and May 1937 respectively. A substantial dispute arose on October 22, 1940, protesting the displacement of 184 men and selection of crews for mechanical cutters, loaders and borers. This was a direct result of the mechanisation of the mine and displacement of staff, and would mean leaving only forty-four pairs of miners to mine the Borehole Seam. The dispute was settled when all of the displaced men were offered employment at other BHP Collieries or Steel Works. It was around this time that the Colliery employed a Safety Officer and the first female commenced work after special permission from the Department of Mines was granted. Margaret Mann worked as a typist at the mine, retiring in 1986.

The original main arteries of the mine were in the form of five narrow bords. These ran in a north easterly and southwesterly direction. The various working districts were named One East, Two East etc. The same principle applied on the western side: One West, Two West and so on. South of the shafts were One South East, One South West and so forth. Quite often, the dykes determined the various working districts.

Milestones

In 1947

  • coal production for and eight hour day was between 1600 and 2000 tons;
  • employees numbered 513 and
  • the average output per man per day was around 3.3 tons.
  • Up until 1969, when shortwall mining commenced, horses were used in the mine. They were known as 'pit ponies'.
  • Longwall mining began in July 1982.
  • At 11 am on November 6, 1987 production at the mine ceased. December 16 1990 marked the signing of a document stating in effect that John Darling was no longer a coal mine. It was shortly after this that a small group of parishioners from Belmont Baptist Church secured the land and the site was then transformed into Belmont Christian College, now a thriving independent school of over 900 students.

During the span of its productive life, John Darling Colliery

  • mourned twenty nine fatalities;
  • employed 3400 people with twelve of those managers;
  • endured thirty eight strikes totalling around eight years in loss of working hours;
  • enjoyed a number of sporting achievements from their bowls, rugby league, soccer, sailing, cricket, Surf Life Saving, golf and later, indoor cricket teams and affiliations, to name a few and hosted around twenty thousand visitors.

Reference:

Bell, John & Driscoll, Judy & Lake Macquarie (N.S.W.). Council & 2NUR-FM (Radio station : Newcastle, N.S.W.) 1991, The Human face of coal : an oral history of the early years of coal mining in Lake Macquarie, Lake Macquarie City Council and 2NUR-FM, [Speers Point, N.S.W.])

Fallins, Hilary R 1992, Happenings under Belmont : the history of John Darling Colliery and the story of its people

Hartley, Dulcie 2004, Reverend Lancelot E. Threlkeld 1788-1859, Dulcie Hartley, Fennell Bay, N.S.W