Lake Macquarie History

Shared Stories: Industry

Industry - Married or unmarried

There were more than 12 000 divorces in Australia in 1970. In 1975, there were 24 307 and in 1976 a never exceeded record of 63 230 divorces.

The Pasminco engagement books record everyone employed by the company between about 1900 and 1995. The books record each employee’s details: their nationality in the earlier volumes, their date of birth, their name, address and martial status.

The books record changes to Australian life and the local community over this time.

In the martial status column, the earlier volumes record the codes S, M, Ww or Wr: meaning single, married, widow or widower. The later volume documenting new employees from 1971 onwards includes a new code: D meaning divorced.

The earliest recorded divorced person in the Pasminco engagement books is Phillip John Howell in 1971. The use of the code ‘D’ becomes more frequent after this time. The ledger didn’t reflect the rapid social change in occurring in Australia in the 1970s. The clerk was forced to make some novel entries: ‘Defacto’ and ‘Sep.’ meaning separated.

The 1959 Matrimonial Causes Bill laid out 14 grounds for divorce. These included desertion, adultery, habitual drunkenness, cruelty, insanity and imprisonment. In 1975 the Family Law Act introduced no fault divorce to Australia. The only condition was a 12 month period of separation.

Pasminco engagement book volume 3
Unknown maker
Lake Macquarie City Council Local Studies Collection
Gift of Ferrier Hodgson, Pasminco administrators

Industry - Fighting with the neighbours

On 14 May 1902 William Fairley, the Young Wallsend Colliery caretaker, was feeling pretty ticked off.

He sat down and turned to the back of a mine ledger to draft an angry letter to Mr Ross, the teacher at Young Wallsend Primary School. Ross was a devoted teacher with the interests of his pupils at heart, but he had unfortunately offended some powerful members of the local community.

Fairley crossed out his first attempt, collected himself and started again. He was still ticked off though.

In going about my rounds of the estate today I noticed no less than seven gum saplings have been chopped down by the school boys and no doubt with you [sic] consent to make goal posts for the playground…

I think you might have had the courtesy to speak to me about the matter… But you seem to treat us in a contemptible manner. It seems you don’t care what trouble you put a person to as you gratify your own ends.

I feel sorry to complain as I know you will think it petty spite, but it is not so; there is a right and wrong way to do a thing and nobody knows better than yourself…

It seems that occasional fights with the neighbours about vegetation were as much a part of life a hundred years ago as they are today.

The Young Wallsend Colliery ledger gives fascinating insights into the day to day life looking after a mine at the start of the twentieth century. The mine was closed and in caretaking mode at the time the letter was drafted.

Young Wallsend Colliery ledger
William Fairley
Lake Macquarie City Council Local Studies Collection
Donated by Nancy Beaton

Industry - Trying to make sense of an accident

People living around Killingworth were woken up by a terrible noise on 7 December 1910. A black cloud of coal dust hung over the area. An explosion inside Killingworth Colliery had flung dust and debris 300 metres in the air. The powerful explosion had compacted shattered coal, cages, ironwork and steel cables under the poppet head.

Herbie Watkins was on site tending the boilers not far from the mouth of the pit when he heard the beginnings of the explosion. He made for the bush. There were no human casualties as the mine was in maintenance. A skeleton staff was keeping the mine and equipment in working order. The deputies and maintenance staff due to enter the mine on that day hadn’t started their shifts.

A single pit pony, Splash, was sadly killed as he was stabled below ground.

The inquiry into the explosion never identified a cause. Safety lamps that couldn’t spark an explosion were used at the mine. The mine manager blamed discarded matches spontaneously igniting from a rock fall. Miners blamed a spark from the pony’s metal shoes. Everyone involved wanted an explanation.

People are storytelling animals. Through history we have drawn together facts or story elements to explain the world around us. The people who experienced the Killingworth Colliery explosion shared our human need to make sense of the accident and find a cause.

Killingworth Explosion

Unknown maker
Taken 1910
Lake Macquarie City Council Local Studies Collection
Donated by H. Taylor Barnsley

Industry - Keeping a record

Just like us, miners needed to keep a record of the work they were doing so that they could receive a fair payment. Miners were not paid for the hours that they worked. They were paid for the weight of coal they brought to the surface. Skip tokens were a part of the manual accounting system used to keep a record of the quantity of coal mined.

Clyde Jones started working in Hunter region mines in 1927. Jones was 15 years old and worked as a pit top mine hand ‘token boy’. In an oral history interview taken in 1988, Jones explained his work and how skip tokens were used:

…a token is a piece of marlin cord or string with a leather token on the end with a number on it. And these were fixed to all the miners' skips, as they went fill a skip they would put this token on it and when the skip was filled and taken out of the mine they went over a weigh bridge and all the coal was weighed… a miners' weighman and a company weighman, and they took all the particulars of that coal as it came out… they recorded all the weights and then the time of the day they calculated the gross of each pair of miners. And my job was to arrange the tokens on pegs so that they'd get a check on my token against their weights and when it was all finished, I had to take them down to the pit for the next day’s work.

Miner’s skip tokens
Unknown maker
Lake Macquarie City Council Local Studies Collection
Donated by Nick Jurd

Acknowledgement of Country

We remember and respect the Ancestors who cared for and nurtured this Country. It is in their footsteps that we travel these lands and waters. Lake Macquarie City Council acknowledges the Awabakal people and Elders past, present and future.

Council acknowledges traditional custodians throughout Australia. We commit to listening deeply to and collaborating with First Peoples in our work.

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