Lake Macquarie History

Mining museum and music shell at Freemans Waterhole

Five miners died after a fall at Wyee State Mine on October 21st 1966, the worst disaster for 40 years in the state. A meeting was called at Abermain to discuss a suitable memorial to the dead miners, and a committee formed. Six years later on 14th May, 1972 the Mineworkers Memorial Music Shell at Freemans Waterhole was opened by the then Minister for Mines, the Hon Wal Fife, M.L.A.

The music shell commemorated all of those who died at their jobs in the mining industry in Australia.

photo: music shell freemans waterhole

A mining museum was later erected next to the music shell, with the first sod of soil being turned by the then Minister for Minerals and Energy, the late Mr Rex Connor. The Mineworkers Memorial Museum was officially opened on the 8th May 1977, Mothers Day.

Labour for the project was all voluntary, with funding coming from mining lodges, mining companies, the Joint Coal Board, private donations and government grants.

Oak Park

The Hunter Valley Dairy Co-operative selected this site in the 1960s for a food and picnic ground facility, as it was set on a busy back road leading from Sydney to the Hunter Valley. Set on 40 acres of bush-land this venture was very popular before the opening of the F3 freeway. The site boasted an Oak milk-bar and restaurant, many picnic tables and barbecues (wood provided) enhanced by stately indigenous trees in well kept grounds. There were viewing enclosures where native fauna and bird life lived in natural surroundings. There were also paths for bush walking.

The company agreed to the lease of land and erection of the memorial in 1970.


In the entrance to the museum was a plaque depicting the Awabakal legend of how coal was formed. The text was written by local Awabakal history authority Mr Perce Haslam and the painting of Coal Point was done by Ray Hewson.

It is said that the Awabakal tribe were the only aboriginals to use coal, which they called nikkinba, for their fires. Often they would light coal fires, which they kept burning for days, on the shores of Lake Macquarie to signify a community corroboree.

The entrance to the museum was built in a representation of a mine portal, and featured a mural in bas-relief of a coalface scene only too common in the Hunter region. It depicted a scene of a roof fall; a miner lay on the floor with one of his mates removing coal from his body while two others, also helping, anxiously watch the roof. Broken and sagging roof supports are set as in a mine.

Entering the octagonal shaped museum was designed to be like entering a mine, and walking around viewing the exhibits was intended to give the illusion of being underground.


The museum was unique in that it was the only museum in the southern hemisphere to have animated working models dealing exclusively in coal mining.

The diaramas concentrated on mining history in the Northern area (Newcastle and district), which were among the first coal mining operations in Australia. They were designed and constructed by Arthur "Mick" Jurd, who was the driving force behind the memorial and museum.

photo: mick jurd with model of glenrock lagoon

The first diarama showed the first mine in Newcastle, which was located in 1801 at Fort Scratchley — the time when Newcastle was also known by other names and was a major penal settlement in the colony. It was a time when the hewers of coal carried their product in baskets on their backs, watched by red-coated soldiers stationed at Newcastle.

The second showed the 1817 shaft of the mine located in the grounds of Watt St Mental Hospital.

The third model presented the first mine of the Australian Agricultural Co, established at the corner of Brown and Church Streets, in 1831.

For the fourth model the scene moved from Newcastle to Lake Macquarie. It depicted Coal Point in 1841, where the missionary Rev L. E. Threlkeld, developed his Ebeneezer Colliery - the first properly organised mine in the Lake area.

For the fifth model, the venue switched to Glenrock Lagoon, where Dr James Mitchell had a mine from 1856.

The Co-operative Colliery of Wallsend was featured on the sixth model. This was established in 1862 and was associated with a figure always to remain prominent in local history - Mr James Fletcher.

New Wallsend Colliery at Catherine Hill Bay was portrayed by the seventh model. It showed the early coal jetty at Catherine Hill Bay, with the Susannah Cuthbert alongside loading coal.

The last model returned to bushland mining with it’s depiction of the first mine at Killingworth, near West Wallsend, in 1890.

photo: poppet head at freemand waterholel

The Poppet Head

Dominating the outside area of the Museum, was the first Poppet Head made of steel in Australia. The Poppet Head was12 metres high (around 40 feet). It originally stood 22 metres high (about 72 feet) when it was installed in 1884 at West Wallsend Colliery. It was moved to the museum site in April 1977


A collection of mining machinery and locomotives was set up on the grounds outside of the museum building. One of these, a 200 tonne ROD locomotive owned by John Brown’s Collieries was reputed to have been the engine used to take Marshal Foch to the WWI armistice signing in 1918, though this is a question of some dispute.

Cultural contribution

As well as being a commemorative monument, the museum and music shell added a cultural contribution to the community, as it was frequently used for concerts which entertained the large numbers of people who used the park. An organ was a permanent feature of the exhibit, and well attended concerts were held every Sunday with volunteers Ann Rees and Peter Marr playing music.

The first marriage ceremony to take place at the music shell was that of Susan Layzell and Noel Constable on Saturday 24th September, 1977.

Over the years, as visits to the site declined, the music shell and museum eventually became derelict and were demolished sometime around 2010. The poppet head was saved from the site, and reassembled at Kindyerra Reserve, Argenton, behind the Mines Rescue Station in 2009.

Acknowledgement of Country

We remember and respect the Ancestors who cared for and nurtured this Country. It is in their footsteps that we travel these lands and waters. Lake Macquarie City Council acknowledges the Awabakal people and Elders past, present and future.

Council acknowledges traditional custodians throughout Australia. We commit to listening deeply to and collaborating with First Peoples in our work.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website and Council's cultural collections may contain images, voices or names of deceased persons in photographs, film, audio recordings or printed material.

This website may contain place names, opinions and terms that reflect authors' views or those of the period in which the item was written or recorded. These may not be considered appropriate today.

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