The Stone Road in Argenton
As part of a bike track development being carried out by Lake Macquarie City Council in 2020, workers excavating the area uncovered a stone road which bent around the corner of Lake Road and Queen Street, Argenton. The workers were shocked, as no hint of such a road was evident in the ground work maps they had received. Of course, archaeologists were called in to record the find and attempt to determine the age of the road, and their findings will help us establish the original purpose of the road.
Image 1 A photograph of the stone road uncovered in 2020, positioned on the corner of Queen Street and Lake Road, Argenton.
But history is more than simply determining the date a road was set. History provides us with stories of times and people who have passed, yet left their indelible mark upon our daily lives. This stone road can be followed into a period of Lake Macquarie History seldom remembered and sometimes even maligned. But a history, like the stone road, that sits just below the surface of the place we call Argenton.
Image 2 A photograph of the workers re-covering the road in order to maintain it, undamaged, for future generations.
The original inhabitants of the land, the Awabakal people, did not construct roads such as this one. Rather, their transportation strategies were permeated on a much more holistic view of land management. Utilising management strategies such as fire stick farming, the Awabakal people managed the land over the entire area, ensuring much of it was sparse scrubland, that could be moved through and hunted within easily(1). Likewise, other areas were established as grassland that herbivores could utilise but also be hunted within without scrub and trees interrupting weapon use. The idea of destroying tracts of land in order to build a road that produced nothing and sustained no life, does not fit within the Awabakal land management practices or philosophy of the land focused culture of the owners (2). Hence, we can safely rule out the road as dating from a period prior to European invasion.
Image 3 Aborigines cooking and eating beached whales, Newcastle, New South Wales, ca. 1817. Painted by Joseph Lycett, circa 1817. Lycett was a convict with some artistic training. His work gives us insight into some of the activities the (presumably) Awabakal people were engaged in. This image shows the importance of the sea and hence the lake, to the life of the Awabakal people, and the way they interacted with these natural resources in a way that was less destructive than Europeans.
The area we today call Argenton, was awarded to European settler George Weller as part of a land grant for an area of land called "Hampton" in 1838 (3). Weller seemingly did not live on his land and attempted to subdivide it for sale in 1841(4). However, this attempt failed with no lots recorded as being sold (5). But infrastructure development was occurring in the area of "Hampton" as neighbouring land owners developed various projects to allow for the transportation of people, goods and trade along the waterways stemming from Cockle Bay at the northern reach of Lake Macquarie. From the 1830s to the late 1860s there are accounts of specific Europeans, particularly Lancelot Threlkeld, using various forms of punts to move goods and people. Overland, there was the development of transport routes called roads, however these were often little more than a track a settler had followed that was marked for others to follow. The constant use saw these "roads" develop into a worn transport route rather than any specific development (6). However, Clouten, in his detailed work on the colonial history of Lake Macquarie claims "at the northern end of Lake Macquarie the small number of well-to-do settlers - Warners, Brooks, and others - had constructed their own cart tracks leading from their lakeside farms towards Newcastle(7)." If road building on land grants was a priority in this period, then the Argenton stone road could be an example of one such activity. The land around Cockle Creek was usually very boggy and prone to flooding. Hence, a solid stone road would have been a useful strategy to get people and goods down to the banks of Cockle Creek for the purposes of transport. This possibility is also supported by the fact that a visitor to the area in 1870 reported they found "only bushland, with the exception of a small dairy with some vegetable gardens attached to it (8)." If this road project was the work of the dairy owner, it is likely that the stone would have been sourced from the site of the "Hampton" lease.
Image 4 Charles Johnson's Tent, Argenton, date unknown. However, records show early employees of the Sulphide Corporation lived in tents as they developed the site, and the buildings in the background would suggest this image must have been taken after 1880.
The 1880s was a significant period for transport in the areas of north Lake Macquarie because the Great Northern Railway was put through to connect the coalfields of Newcastle and the Hunter Region with Sydney (9). The completion of the rail line had little direct impact on Argenton because the land had still not been subdivided in 1887 when the rail project was completed, hence no station was given to the largely unpopulated area(10). But there was significant population growth in the suburbs around Argenton. On the opposite side of Cockle Creek, Teralba had been established via land grant in 1830 (11). In 1884, the company of Amos & Co tendered for and won the right for the Great Northern Railway construction (12). To carry out this work, they established a quarry (requiring gravel as part of the rail laying process). This in turn brought workers and their families and by 1885 approximately 100 men worked in the quarry and the nearby camp that held them and their families was occupied by around 45 children (13). Miller’s Wharf, which had been established just north of Argenton at the intersection of Cocked Hat and Winding Creeks (modern day Edgeworth) had been in use for people and cargo since 1876 (14). By the 1880s, Miller’s Wharf was being used as a terminal for coal miners (some who had previously worked in the quarry during its height) travelling to and from Catherine Hill Bay to the areas surrounding Cockle Creek (15). The movement of people into the vicinity of Argenton is also supported by the establishment of the Sulphide Corporation in 1896 (16). The Corporation was originally planning to extract zinc from Broken Hill ore via an electrolytic technology (17). While this technological process was not maintained, employment occurred with over 700 workers involved in developing the site (18). With workers living in tents on the site as the plant was developed and the business altering into a lead smelting operation in 1898 (19). Argenton Public School also opened in 1897, with an enrolment of 22 students at its inception, likewise suggesting the growth of employment and thus people living in the local area (20). There is a possibility that the road was built by locals looking to achieve ease of access to Cockle Creek for their employment and education transport needs.
Image 5 Remains of Millers Wharf Brush Creek/ Cockle Creek Edgeworth 1998.
Image 6 Early photo of Sulphide Works, Cockle Creek
While the train was being used by people of the area, an account from 1890 suggests that absent major road development made train travel pointless, with the road from Cockle Creek station to Speers Point described as being "a quagmire unfit for any horse or vehicle and impassable on foot (21)." Therefore, minor roads built by individuals were vital to enabling access to Cockle Creek water-based transport infrastructure. What is different about this period is that local people would have been able to both source and transport stones from the quarry at Teralba. Likewise, the skills and tools required to fashion stones into required shapes would have also been able to be found amongst people working, or having previously worked, in the Teralba quarry. Hence, should the road be from this period of growth in Argenton, it is possible that the stones in the road may have been quarried at nearby Teralba.
Image 7 View from top of the hill at the end of Quarry Road Teralba, looking towards Warners Bay on the other side of the Lake. The car is passing the old quarry, that is still partially visible. Photograph taken July 1954.
In 1901, Argenton was once again surveyed for subdivision and in 1915, the suburb was finally established, with the edge of the grid-based subdivision running along Queen Street. It may well be possible, that the positioning of modern Argenton was established based on the stone road in question. It sets the far side of the subdivision (along Queen Street) and turns up towards what was once the double avenued main street (22). The reason for this double avenued main street was established in 1912 with the opening of the steam powered tram line (23). The tram was an extension line from the earlier constructed West Wallsend tram line, and was built with the intent of serving the rapidly growing suburbs of Lake Macquarie (24). As Image 8 shows, the rail line ran along the back of the original subdivision, but the tram line ran down the centre of the main street (what is today Lake Road) and as such ran immediately past Queen Street. However, either side of the tram line were two avenues that made up the main street, these were Hampden Street to the east of the line and Jersey Street to the west (25). Today, Jersey Avenue is still evident and separated from Lake Road all the way from Margaret Street to Queen Street. Hence, if the stones are linked to the tramway, considering the position of the stones, it would suggest that they were being used in the establishment of the road surface of Jersey Avenue as well as a ground level platform for people alighting the tram.
Image 8 1931 Parish map showing Jersey Street and Hampden Street making up the main street either side of the tram line which runs down the centre.
Yet there are problems with this theory - specifically the reason for using stone when most other roads were simply compacted stone and clay aggregate in this period. Likewise, archaeological research has suggested that the entire tram line was constructed with rails and Teralba gravel was used as the ballast (26). There is no suggestion that ground level stone construction was used in the building of the line. Finally, as the attached images [9,10, 11] show stone was only being used for retaining walls near water, and all other construction seems to have been brick or compacted earth. Hence, while the tram line and its associated avenue did run over the stone road, in the author's hypothesis, it is unlikely that the road was set for the express purpose of the tramline. It is more likely that it was a pre-existing road being utilised as part of Jersey Street, or the stone road had already been covered up in an earlier period.
Image 9 Steam tram at the old wharf, Toronto. Photograph taken c.1891. Note the use of stone for the retaining wall of the "old wharf," yet it is not used for the wharf path nor for any of the groundwork surrounding the tram tracks.
Image 10 Steam Tram, 'Pygmy', Toronto. This is the station allowing people to access the tram. While it is not clear what material the station is made from, it is too regular to be a stone platform.
Image 11 Fassifern siding and station were first built in 1887 to serve the Newstan Colliery. A few years later, the Toronto tram line was opened. In 1911 it became a branch line of the railway, with its own platform at Fassifern. The station buildings were opened in 1913 and were said to have burnt down in 1933. Note the use of brick in the siding and the absence of stone as a building material.
The archaeological report into this road provides a new perspective on dating this road. The report found
It is likely that the pavers formed part of a former road foundation, appearing to have been laid in accordance with the 'pitching' method of road construction which was developed in Britain by Thomas Telford (1757-1834). The method involved a foundation of shaped paving stones overlaid with smaller stones then surfaced with gravel (AMAC 2016:14). Historical council records for the Newcastle area show that road surfaces of gravel over a pitched foundation were being constructed in that area at end of nineteenth century. Comparable examples have been uncovered in the Newcastle area (27).
The report into the discovery of pitching stones in Watt Street, Newcastle, provides more specific dating about the use of this road building method. The Telford pitching method was used in Newcastle from the 1860s (28). However, in the same period, roads were also built using the "Macadamized" method (29). This is a method were instead of a stone foundation, a thick layer of compacted, angular and broken stone was used (30). Both of these methods were replaced by tar metalling (tarmac) from 1892 (31). An end date to the use of these methods also supports our findings that the stone road was not specifically built for the Argenton subdivision or tram (which would have more likely utilised the more modern tarmac), but was instead part of an earlier road that had been built over. The report found that the pitching in Watt Street, Newcastle, was laid in either 1866 or in a subsequent roadwork project in 1878-79 (32). There is also evidence of pitching used in other projects in Newcastle, specifically, in Brown Street which was laid in 1876 (33). Accepting that the Argenton Road was contemporary to the Newcastle roads, we can conclude that the stone road at Argenton was in fact a foundation for a road that was then topped with stone and gravel to make a robust roadway prior to 1892 and while the land was still owned by a single grant owner.
Such a stout path would have been necessary for the people moving around the Argenton area accessing work and education throughout the 1870s-1890s. But work and education traffic would have been largely on foot, and this does not explain the reason for a wide road, versus a footpath down to the water. But the road also could have been built by the dairy owner who was already established on the Hampton lease in 1870. By definition, a dairy requires customers, or it would not be described as a dairy but rather a subsistence farm with a dairy cow or two. For this dairy owner to move his or her produce (which in this pre-refrigeration period was prone to spoil quickly unless it was preserved in the form of cheese) he or she would have needed to access customers on a regular basis, with customers coming direct to the farm or the farmer delivering to customers. The only form of fast and reliable transport in this period was Cockle Creek and thus it seems that a road to access that creek would have been a vital piece of infrastructure to make this cottage industry a viable interest.
There are two other pieces of evidence provided by the archaeological reports that support this dairy hypothesis. Firstly, there is the recognition in the Watt Street report that Telford pitching used "partially shaped" stones, but over time the term Telford Pitching also came to include "fully shaped stone blocks (34)." The report on the Argenton find notes that "The pavers were predominately rectilinear in shape and roughly dressed, with none of them being regularly or formally shaped (35)." This supports the idea that this road was possibly built in the earlier period of Telford pitching method use. There is also evidence that individual residents in Newcastle were aware of the solid nature of Telford pitched roads, with local residents calling on council to utilise the method when building roads, and with some residents using the method to build footpaths in the 1880s (36). This would suggest that the dairy owner, while far removed from the more suburban atmosphere of Newcastle, could well have also been aware of the use of this method for road building and as such, was capable of laying this road him or herself without the need for paying professionals. Based on all this evidence, and without a map denoting this road being discovered, this author believes the most likely argument for the date and purpose of the stone road is it being a Telford pitch road built by a local dairy owner circa 1870, for the purpose of accessing Cockle Creek for trade. Hence this road was built prior to the development of Argenton in response to workers camping on the Hampton lease to be close to their work at the Sulphide development site in 1896.
A small stone road on the corner of a small street in the small suburb of Argenton may not initially seem to be of great historical significance. And yet, this small road can provide us with an insight that links us back to the history of: Awabakal land management practices; the colonial practice of land grants; life for wealthy land owners compared to subsistence farmers leasing land; the failure of the area to attract a population through sub-division and land releases; the growth of resource based industries around the creeks to the north of Lake Macquarie with a particular focus on mining, quarrying and the Sulphide Corporation; and the slow and steady development of the area's transport infrastructure in the form of wharfs, ferries, punts, roads, trams and trains. This small road can remind us how the people of north Lake Macquarie have lived, worked and entertained themselves since the mid- 1800s. And today that story continues with the rediscovery of the stone road as part of the latest transport infrastructure project, a major bike and pedestrian path. A little stone road on a little corner of a little suburb that has seen so much of our collective history. This is a road well worth walking down.
Image 12 Cottage, Queen St. Argenton, date unknown.
- Image 1 - Photograph of stone road discovery - Lake Macquarie City Council.
- Image 2 - Photograph of stone road being recovered - Lake Macquarie City Council.
- Image 3 - Aborigines cooking and eating beached whales, Newcastle, New South Wales, ca. 1817. Painted by Joseph Lycett, circa 1817. Available from Trove.
- Image 4 - Charles Johnson's Tent, Argenton, date unknown. Available from Lake Macquarie City Council Library Community History Website.
- Image 5 - Remains of Millers Wharf Brush Creek/ Cockle Creek Edgeworth 1998. Available from Lake Macquarie City Council Library Community History Website.
- Image 6 - Early photo of Sulphide Works, Cockle Creek. Available from Lake Macquarie City Council Library Community History Website.
- Image 7 - View from top of the hill at the end of Quarry Road Teralba, looking towards Warners Bay on the other side of the Lake. The car is passing the old quarry, that is still partially visible. Photograph taken July 1954. Available from Lake Macquarie City Council Library Community History Website.
- Image 8 - 1931 Parish map showing Jersey Street and Hampden Avenue making up the main street either side of the tram line which runs down he centre. Available from https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-233865346/view
- Image 9 - Steam tram at the old wharf, Toronto. Photograph taken c.1891. Available from Lake Macquarie City Council Library Community History Website.
- Image 10 - Steam Tram, 'Pygmy', Toronto. Available from Lake Macquarie City Council Library Community History Website.
- Image 11 - Siding and station were first built in 1887 to serve the Newstan Colliery. A few years later, the Toronto tram line was opened. In 1911 it became a branch line of the railway, with its own platform at Fassifern. The station buildings were opened in 1913 and were said to have burnt down in 1933. The branch from the gravel quarry operated from 1898 to 1940. Available from Lake Macquarie City Council Library Community History Website.
- Image 12 - Cottage, Queen St. Argenton. Available from Lake Macquarie City Council Library Community History Website.
Clouten, Keith, Reid's Mistake: The Story of Lake Macquarie from its Discovery Until 1890, (Griffin Press Limited: Adelaide) 1967.
Citation from Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners? Advocate, 12/8/1890, in Doreen Phillips, Ferries of Lake Macquarie, (East Lakes Historical Society Inc: Lake Macquarie), 2008.
Incitec Fertilizers Limited, Cockle Creek Superphosphate Plant Photographic Archival Record, 2009.
Lake Macquarie City Council Community History website, "Aboriginal Acknowledgement of Country", available at https://history.lakemac.com.au/page-local-history.aspx?pid=1085&vid=20&tmpt=narrative&narid=3604
Nilsen, Laurie, Lake Macquarie: Past and Present (Lake Macquarie City Council: Lake Macquarie), 1985.
Maynard, John, "Whose Traditional Land" (essay), available from https://www.newcastle.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0009/41868/Research-document_John-Maynard_whose-land.pdf
Murray, Peter. Around Cockle Creek (local publication, c2012).
TCJ, 11 June, 1870, cited in Clouten, Reid?s Mistake.
Turner, John, 200 Years of Transport in the Hunter, (Chartered Institute of Transport and Logistics Australia: NSW), 2005.
Umwelt Environmental Consultants, "Draft Baseline Archaeological Assessment of Main Street, Speers Point Between the Esplanade and Park Street," 2002.
This work by Lake Macquarie City Library is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License