Lake Macquarie History

Coal Point in the Fifties

John Stansfield

As we entered the nineteen-fifties my family moved house to live in Lake Macquarie Shire. My parents bought at Coal Point, a decision which condemned me to more than three hours a day of bus, train, waiting and walking to get to school and back each day. For almost five years I would catch the 7.15 am bus at the corner of Rofe Street and do the shake-and-rattle journey to Toronto railway station. A Puffing-Billy-style steam engine attached to a train of old, wooden carriages then transported us to Newcastle. In my case I had to wait fifteen minutes – it felt like an eternity - at Hamilton for a connection to Waratah station. Then came the walk to school: great in fine weather, but misery in the rain. There were no high schools in Lake Macquarie Shire.

The road to Toronto railway station was tar-sealed from the corner of Ambrose Street at the Carey Bay zoo, but the rest of the district was served by gravel roads. The surface of these gravel roads remained tolerable in a rainy season, as the Council grader could level the carriageway. On the other hand, long dry spells left us with banks of fine dust at the road edges, murderous potholes in the middle, and teeth-chattering corrugations at every bend and corner. When I look back, I realise that Mr Hertogs, the owner of Toronto Buses, provided a magnificently reliable service to the local people in what were most trying conditions. Like any teenager I just took it all for granted.

It soon became clear to me that the disadvantage of three hours-plus travel on school days was more than compensated for at weekends and holidays by the laid-back lifestyle of the Coal Pointers and by the sheer beauty of their physical environment. In fact, the contrast between life at the Lake and life in the city was so marked that it led me to detest any city environment: the heat that rose from tarred-over roads and footpaths, the urban bustle and the traffic, the stink of exhaust fumes, the stifling effect of so many buildings crammed up against each other. This powerful dislike of the city environment was formed in my youth and remains with me still today. Though I attended school and went to work in Newcastle city for many years, I could never live there.

One of our Coal Point neighbours, Tom Brown, whose parents had built the house he later lived in, recounted stories to us of life at Coal Point in the period between the wars. During the Great Depression many people took refuge out at the Lake, living in weekenders like Tom’s parents, and getting by on fishing and home-grown produce, but after World War Two permanent residents were few. One of Tom’s stories impressed me a lot. He said the road to Coal Point in the thirties was so primitive that his parents rarely drove their car. If they wished to travel locally or go to Toronto to buy essentials like bread and vegetables, they would row their pulling boat, a retired sixteen-foot skiff. It would be dragged out from under the house as soon as the family arrived and immediately sunk in the shallows to allow the planks to swell and seal the hull. Even in the nineteen-fifties there were plenty of these beautifully crafted old boats about. Danny Blakemore (at that time principal of Orange High School) had one. Doc Smith (Mayfield’s G.P.) had one. They were of either carvel or clinker planking. Many were built by Towns Boatbuilders, I believe, and were often planked with Australian cedar and had tea-tree stems and braces.

Tom had fond childhood memories, as I do, of an idyllic existence at Coal Point. You did not need much money to have a blissful life there. The air was clean and so was the Lake. The surroundings were stunningly beautiful – trees and water. The locals were friendly, and the fishing was always rewarding. Boredom was unknown. You might have had to make your own entertainment, but opportunity was everywhere. Unfortunately, in the Twenty-First Century Coal Point might be better named “Cool Point, where the cool people live”. It is being urbanised, loved to death, the trendy place to live, and even the connotations of the noun “coal ” have the effect of reverse snobbery for those who must have a Mcmansion with the right address. The trees are fewer, the buildings more obvious. The place is moving towards becoming just another suburb.