Lake Macquarie History

Munibung Hill

photo: unibung hill

Munibung Hill rises around 160 metres above sea level, and is characterised by steep slopes and gullies. It covers a large area of land bounded by the suburbs of Speers Point, Boolaroo and Warners Bay to the south and Argenton, Glendale and Macquarie Hills (Cardiff) to the north. There are several small caves and rock overhangs and a permanent spring on the hill. These caves were a favourite meeting place and recreation area for many local children over the years, and longtime residents tell of camping out on the hill and roasting potatoes on makeshift fires during their childhood.

Indigenous significance

Munibung has always been important to the Aboriginal community of Lake Macquarie. It's high vantage point and 360 degree views of the surrounding area made it a significant location, and there were once a number of stone arrangements on the hill linked to traditional stories of the Awabakal tribe. Threlkeld recorded that the hill was named 'Konakonaba', and that it provided a source of ochre for the local people. The hill was believed to be a place where Aborigines communicated between mountains, and the site of a dreamtime story where a serpent brought water into the Lake - the top of Munibung Hill was a place where Aborigines watched Lake Macquarie fill with water 6000 years ago.

European settlement

Formal European occupation of the area commenced in 1828 when William Brooks selected 1,280 acres encompassing the present day suburb of Speers Point. Brooks operated a coal mine on the western side of the hill (near present day Hopkins Street) from 1843 - c1856. William Speer, a Sydney businessman and timber merchant, acquired the property in about 1870. The area was very isolated and sparsely populated in this time, and travellers made use of the spring as a reliable water source to obtain fresh water. Locals refer to this spring as ‘Pots and Pans’, as pots, pans and other utensils were left in the area permanently for the use of people travelling between Toronto and Newcastle.

In 1902, the first subdivisions were made around Munibung Hill extending from Main Road Boolaroo, to present day Thompson Road and east to Fairfax Road Warners Bay. Some of the remaining land was acquired by Mrs Mersie Hardy - wife of early Lake Macquarie alderman George Edward Hardy. Although she subdivided some portions of land the hilly area remained undeveloped. This area of Munibung - in the vicinity of Farm Street and Quarry Road - became known as Hardy's Hill.

Hawkins Quarry

photo: map of speers point quarries

The hilly part of Mersie Hardy's land was sold to A G Hawkins who established gravel quarries to support road building activities. A sandstone cave apparently once existed on the south west side of the ridgeline of Munibung Hill (overlooking Lake Macquarie) but was destroyed by the quarrying. During the war, gravel taken from this quarry was used in the construction of Williamtown Air Base.

The steepness of the terrain in this area and the uncontrolled nature of early quarrying work on the site meant that the area was quite dangerous. Reports of workers being injured in rock falls, and the accidental death of a soldier at the quarry have appeared in the newspapers over the years.

Soldier's fatal fall into quarry

"Workmen in a quarry at Speers Point yesterday found the body of Harold John Dwyer. 23.of Tenterfield, a soldier, at the foot of s l00ft. drop. Dwyer had -been dead some hours. It. is believed that he was attempting to make a short cut across the hill at night, and accidentally walked over the edge of the quarry. Quarry hands started work at 7.30a.m., but were not aware of the presence of the body until lunch time. It was lying behind rock and bushes lees than 50 yards away.” Newcastle Morning Herald, 26th March 1942.

The last major project for which this quarry was used was the building of the Speers Point Memorial Pool complex in 1963. In May 1979 the first major dissent of residents via the Boolaroo-Speers Point Advisory Committee over the use of the quarry was reported in the newspapers

"It was devoid of vegetation, a visual pollutant and a threat to local residents through land movement and water seepage causing structural subsidence Mr Alderson said." Newcastle Morning Herald, 8th May1979

By November 1979 council was formulating plans to rehabilitate the quarry rather than open it to use.

"The western face of hardy's quarry at Speers point will be rehabilitated but not before 15,000 cubic metres of gravel has been removed. Lake Macquarie municipal Council meeting at Wyee last night agreed that the quarry would be reshaped and the gravel removed within the next two years... There would also be a sealed road and , a parking area and foot access to Munibung Hill." Newcastle Morning Herald, 27th November1979.

A further article from 1982 talks about a council inspection of how rehabilitation was progressing in the area. A park was planned for the site, but never really eventuated - the area was too dangerous to be a public recreation space and public access was eventually closed.

From 1986 onward, Boral Resources Pty Ltd operated a gravel quarry on the site under an operating licence from Dekagra Pty Ltd. The quarry licence was formally surrendered in 2014.

A second quarry operated by Lake Macquarie Council operated from a site very close to Hawkins Quarry. The entrance to this quarry was from the end of present day Hopkins Street. It is believed that a Mr Hopkins was the quarry manager.

The Caves and other reminiscences of Munibung

Reminiscences of local residents

The caves on Munibung were a well known area for exploration for those growing up in the 1940’s 50’s, and I guess probably earlier.

I can remember many girl guide patrol hikes up “the hill’ as we called it then. I mostly explored the Lake end of Munibung from Sixth Street over the hill to Fairfax Road, however my friends (older than me) confirm that the caves were a well-known area frequently visited by local kids. Cooking, potatoes, sausages etc. on fires lit outside the caves was quite popular.

photo: early aerial photograph of warners bay with munibung hill to the left

They were usually accessed from third street and I am told the caves were known as “The Three sisters” being two large caves and a smaller one. I remember there were several water holes around there – known as “The Pots and Pans”. There was also a large rock there known as “Lovers rock” – with initials carved thereon! This was also the site for a ‘two up school”.

Caves were also found on the Fairfax Road side – more along Quarry Road which over time were demolished by activity at Hawkins Quarry.

There were several old entrances to the mines that were there very early in our local history. You could see them at times from Hopkins Road. As children we were told never to go near them as poison gas was present.

Many people climbed the hill to collect mushrooms – which were plentiful after rain. Also, buckets could be filled with blackberries when they were in season. Many a local father trapped or shot rabbits to supplement the family larder and sell to neighbours. I had a plentiful supply of rabbit tails and feet for lucky charms from a gentleman who resided across the road from my Grandmother at the top of Sixth street. Rabbit was often on our menu!

We also went up the hill to get a Christmas tree, and used the steep bank surrounding the reservoir (top of Sixth street) for a good sled ride. I believe the reservoir was closed after tragedy occurring – don’t know when.

Cattle roamed freely, and local boys collected the ‘resources’, selling bucketfulls to gardeners to augment their pocket money!

The area of Munibung Hill including the quarry is now covered by a Precinct Area Plan made under the Lake Macquarie City Council Development Control Plan, which will guide development of the area for future years.