Home' Hunter Its People : Hunter-Glory Days June 2012 Contents 50
82. Coals from Newcastle
Newcastle coal NatioN’s first export: october,
It is generally accepted that the vessel The Hunter carried
Australia’s frst export - 50 tonnes of coal - to Bengal from
Newcastle in 1799.
Although there’s a line of thought that the frst export may have
been aboard the Earl Cornwallis in 1800, as Governor King wrote “I
believe this is the frst return ever made from NSW”, most accept
a letter from surgeon John Thomson as proof that the frst export
was aboard in The Hunter.
Thomson wrote of the ship, which sailed for Bengal on October
7, 1799, that: “We have also some hopes that the coals with which
the country abounds will be of much Colonial advantage. A ship
lately returned to Bengal loaded with coals, and it gave no small
satisfaction to every person interested in the prosperity of the
colony to see this frst export of it: and I am hopeful from these
advantages that New South Wales, however contemptible it may
at present appear in the list of our colonies, may yet become an
acquisition of value to the mother country”.
Insulting to NSW, perhaps, but the start of something great for
Between 1799 and 1829, Newcastle shipped 50,000 tonnes of
coal, loaded into ships using wheelbarrows, a little different to
today. From those humble beginnings, Newcastle has grown to be
the greatest coal export port in the world. A total of 114.1 million
tonnes of coal was exported in the 2011 calendar year for a new
record while December, 2011, saw a new monthly export record of
11.6 million tonnes. Exports have grown from 91.4 million tonnes in
2008; 92.8 million tonnes in 2009; 102.5 million tonnes in 2010 to
last year’s record.
83. Birth of mining
first coal miNes iN australia opeN: JuNe, 1801
Newcastle and the Hunter Valley have been vital to the
development of the Australian mining industry since its birth,
and the region remains a key player today. Newcastle is, in fact,
the site of the frst coal mines in Australia, now buried under Fort
The frst European discovery of coal at Newcastle came in 1791
through escaping convicts, then offcially in 1797 when Lt John
Shortland collected coal on his frst trip to the harbour.
After Shortland returned to Sydney with his news, Lt Col William
Paterson led a party to survey the river and its resources in June,
1801, leaving miner John Platt and others behind to work the coal
they had discovered at Colliers Point (Fort Scratchley). They were
the frst miners to work coal in the colony’s frst mines.
By October, 1801, they were removing three tonnes of coal
per day. The mines prompted Governor King to set up a penal
settlement in Newcastle in 1802 to better work the mines, and
by November, 1802, there were four small mines producing nine
tonnes of coal a day. The frst settlement failed, however, and
closed at the end of 1802, although some miners remained.
In May, 1803, the Sydney Gazette reported “a new mine has been
found at Hunter’s River, which is likely to yield an abundance of the
fnest coal that has ever been witnessed”.
In 1804 Newcastle was resettled, this time successfully and
permanently, and the city, the region and its coal industry was up
84. Permanent rise to
Newcastle permaNeNt NatioN’s biggest buildiNg
society: december, 2011
Newcastle is famous for its industry, that’s for sure. And its sports
people. No argument. But its fnancial institutions?
Last December, with hardly anyone noticing, the Newcastle
Permanent became the biggest mutual building society in
Australia. Part of the Hunter landscape since 1903,
the Perm now has 325,000 members, assets of
$7.5 billion, total loans of $6.1 billion and more than
900 staff. It makes a $1 million annual investment
in community sponsorships.
Another Newcastle society, The Greater,
is number three in the Abacus (the industry
association for Australian credit unions and
building societies) list with assets of $4.6 billion,
while the Hunter’s oldest society, Maitland Mutual,
operating since 1888, has assets of $500 million.
The Hunter’s largest credit union is Hunter
United, which started life in 1963 as BHP
(Newcastle) Employees Credit Union and has more
than $283 million in assets.
85. First megapic
for the term of his Natural life
world premiere: JuNe, 1927
It was a big day for Newcastle when the most
expensive Australian feature flm to that time, For
the Term of His Natural Life, had its world premier
at the city’s Theatre Royal on June 20, 1927.
The silent flm was initially planned as a 15,000
pound production but ballooned to a reputed
60,000 pounds, with its world premier held in
Newcastle because some of it was flmed on the
harbour and Stockton.
The flm was set in convict era Port Arthur,
Tasmania, and Stockton’s ballast ground
doubled for a wharf in Tasmania where convicts
disembarked from a windjammer. Newcastle was
selected for flming because it was the end of the
sailing era and Newcastle was the last port where
convincing “convict transport” could be found.
The 101-minute flm, directed by American
Norman Dawn and starring George Fisher, is
considered one of Australia’s greatest silent
movies as well as the most ambitious, expensive
and advanced, introducing special effects to the
Australian flm industry.
86. Fish story that's
fishermeN’s co-op kicks off
hoNeysuckle: march, 1998
When a new, $4 million Commercial Fishermen’s
Co-op opened its doors at Wickham on March 27,
1998, it was a reasonable occasion, nothing to get
too excited about unless you were a commercial
But it wasn’t just a fshermen’s co-op, rather
a quite historic building - the frst designed,
developed and functioning as a business on the
Honeysuckle site, the area that has changed the
face and perception of Newcastle.
The Honeysuckle Development Corporation (now
Hunter Development Corporation) was established
in 1992 by the NSW government to organise one
of Australia’s largest urban renewal projects -
redeveloping 50 hectares of derelict land and
buildings along Newcastle Harbour.
For years nothing much seemed to happen, but
once the co-op got things started the harbour
blossomed, now home to cafes, restaurants and
hotels, museums, public spaces, boardwalks,
residential apartments and townhouses, a marina
and offce blocks.
The most recent fgures show that since 1992 the
Honeysuckle project has generated an estimated
$2.05 billion in the regional economy with $267.7
million in public sector spending attracting $767.7
million in private sector funds with $1016 million
in fow-on investment. There’s now 13 hectares of
quality public open space and since the opening of
the co-operative more than 1900 residents have
come to call the area home and 2500 people have
it as their workplace.
87. Icons come
skyliNe drive-iN opeNs: december,
The pairing of two great icons of the 20th
century - cars and movies. What could be more
glorious. Perhaps more for “social interaction”
behind steamed-up windows than the movies, the
heyday of drive-in movies in the 1960s and ’70s is
remembered fondly by all those who were there.
The Skyline drive-in at Lambton opened for
business on December 17, 1956, narrowly beaten as
the frst drive-in in NSW by Bass Hill, which opened
a month earlier. With its frst flm Three Coins In A
Fountain, the Lambton drive-in cost $200,000 and
had a capacity of 722 cars with a holding area for
another 420 waiting for the next session.
It was almost joined by another drive-in the
same year when one was approved for Park
Ave, Adamstown, but nothing came of it. Three
more were planned for Lake Macquarie in 1957,
at Gateshead, between Gateshead and Belmont
North and at Caves Beach, but only the Metro at
Gateshead came to fruition, opening in February,
The Skyline closed on June, 1985, and by the
end of the 1980s Gateshead was also gone. The
Westside drive in at Rutherford came and went,
and the only remaining valley drive-in - one of just
a few in NSW - is the Heddon Greta drive-in which
opened in 1967.
88. Toast to good
JohN huNter hospital opeNs:
“With the offcial opening today of the new John
Hunter Hospital,” The Newcastle Herald said in its
editorial of January 30, 1991, “the Hunter region
is entering a new era of medical care. The $250
million, 496-bed hospital will provide the best
and most modern public health facilities seen in
Newcastle for decades”.
The opening of the hospital was a great day for
the health of the Hunter after 500 workers had
toiled from 1985 on the Rankin Park site, among
other things pouring 63,000 tonnes of cement,
installing 12,000 ceiling lights and 380 toilets.
With 1000 nurses employed, 9229 patients were
admitted during the hospital’s frst six months
and 2269 operations were undertaken. The frst
surgery actually snuck in a few weeks before
the offcial opening, when four elective surgery
patients - Susan Pearsall, Louise Hope, Denis Tait
and Marvin Mendonca - were admitted on January
15 for surgery including the removal of tonsils and
The frst baby born at the hospital was Cameron
Michael Crabb, who booked his place in the
hospital’s history (and received a $500 account
from Newcastle Permanent) when he weighed in
at 4.3 kg at 4.26pm on the offcial opening day, the
frst child of Jenni and Michael Crabb, of Warners
Since that auspicious frst day, John Hunter
has grown and prospered. It is the region’s largest
hospital with 550 adult beds and another 113
paediatric beds in the John Hunter Children’s
Hospital, one of just three designated children’s
hospitals in NSW. The Royal Newcastle Centre
(formerly Royal Newcastle Hospital, which provided
Newcastle’s main health services from 1817 until it
closed in 2006) opened next to the John Hunter in
April, 2006, providing another 144 beds.
John Hunter is the principal referral centre and
community hospital for Newcastle, Lake Macquarie
and northern NSW; the main teaching hospital of
the University of Newcastle; has the only trauma
centre in NSW outside Sydney; has the busiest
emergency department in the state; and about
4000 babies are born there each year.
As a sign of its growth, in 1991 it had 32,141
admissions, 3947 births and 7432 operations. In
2011 it had 74,873 admissions, 4252 births and
Coal loading, Newcastle
First baby, 1991
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