Thursday, September 12, 2013

‘Quarries’ - Newcastle’s Cultural Landscape

Broadcast NotesABC1233 'Local Treasures'  Newcastle Quarries          
27 August 2013

Presenter: Carol Duncan
Interviewees: Ann Hardy

Quarries are part of Newcastle's cultural landscape and are subtle and often forgotten reminders of human occupation of the area. They exist only because something has been taken away, and not built, we often forget how much the landform has changed. Cultural landscapes are just as important as the built environment and other heritage items, symbolising the many layers of human occupation. Cultural landscapes and their stories are important parts of the Australian heritage discourse, and Newcastle has some exceptional examples as shown of Nobbys Headland and Macquarie Pier.

Nobbys northern pier- Cultural Collections- University of Newcastle

 Where were the quarries that formed Newcastle’s modern landscape. Quarries were workplaces of convicts, free settlers during the 1800s. The earliest sites were Colliers Point (Fort Scratchley) and Nobbys Island.  As well as Colliers Point being the site of the earliest coal mines in Australia, the headland was also a quarry, with rock taken away to construct Macquarie Pier.  Similarly Nobbys Headland was also a quarry, its outer edges gradually chiselled away to help build the southern breakwater. Early artworks show workers picking away at the earth. like sculptors creating a new work of art.
People often recognise the old rail lines out to Nobbys on their walks along the pier. These were used to transport rock to build to northern and southern breakwaters. Later the railway bringing stone from the Waratah quarries to the pier.
Another site that was quarried quite early was the Newcastle Government Domain (James Fletcher Hospital).  Work began there in the 1830s when convict labour was used to prepare for the construction military buildings.  A chain gang quarried the site levelling the ground to allow for the erection of rectangular military barracks and a parade ground. The quarried rock wall is visible today and is located at the southern side below Ordnance Street. The landform is now uninterrupted and almost the entire length of the quarried southern boundary and because previously much of the focus has been on built heritage and fabric, landscape features like the quarried rock wall at the Newcastle Domain have received little attention or acknowledgement until recently when the entire precinct was listed on the State Heritage Register.
A quarry at Waratah was in operation from 1857, believed to have been started by Mr Wright. However the larger quarries at Waratah were Government owned and established in the mid 1860s. One of the Government quarried was known as Whitman's Quarry located somewhere near the town 'Commonage'. The Waratah quarries were the most significant in the Newcastle area providing rock to build the southern breakwater at Nobbys, and later in the early 20th Century the Northern breakwater. The stone was brought in by rail and was also used in the extensive works to strengthen the harbour walls.

“Greatly increase the get of stone at this quarry, in order to lay down a stone Dyke from Scott's Point on the North Shore upwards to Limeburner's Bay, in order to stop the immense sand that for some years has been washed down into the harbour” (The Newcastle Chronicle, 21 October 1871)

Many injuries and deaths occurred at quarries, not only from those working at these dangerous sites, but from local children playing in the area. The Waratah Quarry Accident Fund was established in the 1870s to support those affected by death and injury at a quarry.