The horse nobody loved
Horses have been used in the Australian coal industry from it's beginnings till well into the twentieth century. In earlier times horses were the only option, but even with mechanisation horses had several advantages over the early machines. They were quiet, cheap, reliable and created minimal pollution. It was said that the horses could also sense when something was wrong, and were therefore a kind of "safety check" when working underground.
It is said that the last pit ponies to work in Lake Macquarie mines were at Stockrington Colliery near West Wallsend. They ceased working in 1980.
There are doubtless many tales of pit ponies working in the mines which talk about their bravery, hard working nature and the companionship and affection they engendered.
One of the more peculiar stories involving pit ponies in Lake Macquarie mines, is that of a strike at Pacific Colliery in 1948. The Newcastle Herald reported that 150 men had ceased work in protest of a pit pony which had "bad breath". The incident was reported in the Newcastle Herald of 11th February 1948.
"Pacific Colliery did not work yesterday because a wheeler complained about a smell from the horse he was using. The wheeler said the horse had a bad breath. A deputy who examined the horse said he found nothing wrong with its mouth or its breath. It was then suggested that the horse had body odour, but this was not noticeable in the open air. The management agreed that the horse should be examined after it had been at work for some time this morning."(1)
The miners stopped work and the mine lost a days output amounting to 500 tons. Although nothing could be found wrong with the horse the manager, undermanager and lodge officials agreed to go underground to experience the conditions with the horse first hand the next day.
There were several articles which followed in defence of the miners, which described the appalling conditions of working underground with a sick animal
"The effect of a stench from a horse underground can be compared with a stench remaining in the stifling atmosphere of a closed room with no openings to permit its removal by a flow of fresh air. Because of the lack of amenities, mineworkers have to eat their crib where they work. To have a meal in an atmosphere permeated with the stench of a diseased horse is most unpleasant. Men have been known to become ill under such conditions."(2)
The story aroused so much interest that it was apparently picked up by the American newsmagazine "Time", and appeared in their publication on 5th March 1948:
In its Miscellany column of March 5, the American newsmagazine "Time" gives a new version of a recent local incident. It says: "Near Newcastle, New South Wales, 150 coalminers who walked off the job when a pit pony developed halitosis, reconsidered when the management offered to mix fragrant musk in its feed."(3)
(1)Newcastle Herald, Wednesday 11 February 1948 p 2
(2)Newcastle Herald, Thursday 12 February 1948, page 2
(3)Newcastle Herald, Monday 8 March 1948, page 2
This work by Lake Macquarie City Library is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License