Lake Macquarie History

Coal gantry at Blacksmiths

Charles Cam was a Sydney wholesale fish agent who owned and operated a large fleet of vessels from fishing trawlers to colliers and cargo ships – many of which were steam powered. When acquired North Waratah Colliery at Swansea in 1935 it was with a view to securing a reliable supply of coal for his steam driven vessels.

A new tunnel was dug, officially known as North Wallarah Number 2 tunnel, but known locally as "Snakey" – probably due to the thick bushland surrounding the area which was a haven for snakes and other wildlife.

photo: coal loader at blacksmiths

The difficulty of getting coal ships through Swansea Channel had always been a problem for mines in the area, so a plan was devised to cart the coal by lorries to the ocean at what is now Blacksmiths, as the water there was sufficiently deep to allow for colliers to berth at the existing wharf. Initially coal was dumped directly into the hulls of the ships from trucks which traversed the bridge in order to dump their loads, until a coal-loading gantry was built in 1933.

In his book on the history of Blacksmiths, Wal Drain describes it as follows:

"Built in 1933, the large timber coal loading gantry towered over the break-wall, situated approximately opposite the Information Centre. It was a hive of activity in its hey-day, with coal lorries climbing slowly up the ramp to empty their loads into the hopper and then to be unloaded into the waiting coal boats the "Idant", "Imatangi" and "Tuncurry" regular visitors here to load coal for Sydney. At its height of activity the gantry loaded 500 tons of coal a day, the pits whose output it handled employed 200 men. This coal loading was owned by the "Snakey" pit."

The Newcastle Morning Herald of Monday 23 May 1932 reported on the mining taking place:

"One of these, the Wallarah Extended Colliery situated onthe North Wallarah Colliery Estate on the west side of the Sydney road one mile south of Swansea is being rapidly developed, and will soon be producing coal. The air shaft 6ft in diameter is down 67 ft to the coal: the haulage tunnel has been driven 66yds, and is now iust on top of the seam. A coal-box is being erected, and a gantry in course of construction, a vertical boiler, winch and rope have been installed, and are in use hauling the mullock and water from the tunnel. The Wallarah seam is to be worked. It is 13ft. thick, but only 6ft. will be extracted, the top coal not being marketable. A permit to erect a wharf has been applied for a lease of land near "The Blacksmiths" and, if granted, the coal will be carted from the mine and shipped there."

World War two saw most of Cam and Sons vessels requisitioned for use in wartime service. The gantry ceased operation in 1943 and by 1948 the company was in financial difficulties and the mine was sold off. The gantry was demolished in 1968.

Sources:

  • Newcastle Morning Herald Monday 23 May 1932 Mining Activity at Swansea
  • Coal mines of NSW / prepared and researched by Brian John Andrews ... for Coal Services Pty Limited., 2011
  • Historical Perspectives of Fisheries Exploitation in the Indo-Pacific edited by Joseph Christensen, Malcolm Tull