LIFE’S full of surprises. Who’d ever guess the popular Lakeside suburb of Warners Bay might have once been called ‘Lymington’.
Back in 1840, the district’s first European pioneer settler Jonathan Warner offered his land for sale there as the ‘Township of Lymington’. Named after Warner’s hometown in England, the name still survives in various ways today.
But for most people the name is more closely connected with the former Lymington Colliery (at Cardiff South) with its famous endless rope skips hauling coal overland. The mine ceased operation in 1931.
Briefly in the 1880s, Lymington was even the popular name for the whole of Cardiff, replacing the name Winding Creek.
But I remember the Lymington mine (formerly South Wallsend Colliery) for a totally different reason.
Last November I wrote about visiting Hillsborough Road (then all bush except for the Germania Club, now Sala’s) many years ago, maybe the 1980s, to investigate a mystery orphan geyser.
This spouting ‘fountain’ didn’t come from a burst water main, but was deliberate. Earlier, Lake Macquarie City Council (LMCC) workers had inserted a pipe into the ground there. It was to relieve a pressure build-up from the flooded old Lymington mine workings beneath, especially after heavy rain.
If it wasn’t there, that part of Hillsborough Rd could sink every two or three weeks and then had to be repaired with large rocks and gravel. It was a nasty problem effectively solved, allowing water to run off harmlessly into the bush rather than destroy the road.
Then recently, Herald reader Andrew Brock contacted me. It turns out his father, Ray, was with LMCC as a trainee civil engineer back in the early 1960s.
“We’d discussed your story and after rummaging through slides taken by him at the time I thought they may be of interest to you,” Andrew said.
Ray Brock’s pictures were taken almost 54 years ago, on November 16, 1962, when LMCC was working to solve the sinking road problem. Ray Brock, now 77 years, remembered the site well. “It wasn’t lower down by the nursery, but way back up the hill. I suppose the pipe is hidden now in someone’s yard,” he said.
“There wasn’t a house then at Hillsborough. The whole area around there is very interesting. There must also be some remains left of the mine cableway up around Myall Road,” Brock said.
And that’s when he spoke of other hidden mining relics, all associated with a now largely forgotten coal company.
“I’m talking about the 1870s here,” Ray Brock said.
Imagine my surprise then, learning about a large ‘missing’ coal railway tunnel capable of accommodating a 30-tonne locomotive. The tunnel was dug into the steep Stoney Pinch ridge south of the later Tickhole tunnels, but then abandoned. It is the probable reason Bridges Road at New Lambton got its name. It seems it was because of a giant railway bridge over then low-lying, swampy ground. This was long before any of today’s major roads ever existed. It was all just bush. The present Bridges Road is built on the roadbed of the Australasia (or Australasian) Coal Company railway.
The big trestle bridge (now long demolished) consisted of six spans, being “115ft long” and “32ft tall”. It was the “highest and longest bridge that has been constructed on any coal line in the district”, the Newcastle Herald reported in April 1877.
The now forgotten Australasia Coal Company project involved constructing an ambitious tramway (coal railway) from present day Hamilton Junction on a low-level embankment about 13km towards Cardiff. Tunnel digging through the Stoney Pinch ‘mountain’ stopped for economic reasons as the coal railway was just short of its target.
From the present Kotara rail subway near Westfield going south-west, the Australasia and Waratah (Raspberry Gully) Colliery coal rail lines were entirely separate, but partly parallel. Also parallel, but not yet built was the Great Northern Railway to Sydney via the first Tickhole Tunnel (in 1887).
“I believe Australasia’s [abandoned eastern coal rail] tunnel was below at the present intersection of Myall Rd and Charlestown Rd. The Waratah Coal Company did not then exist. The railway did not follow that route,” Ray Brock said.
“It went along what later became Bridges Rd. The large stormwater drain down near the [Broadmeadow] hockey fields and UGL was built over the right of way. It then went down near the old gas works at Clyde St.”
Ray Brock also revealed some modern day engineering problems associated with the old abandoned, almost finished, 1870s Australasia tunnel.
“When the government was building the Charlestown bypass, they broke into the old ACC tunnel workings which were full of water. Suddenly a lot of backyards around there were flooded,” he said.
“My own reference to the tunnel and the big trestle bridge is a two-volume set of books on coal, railways and mines of the Newcastle district by rail historian Brian Robert Andrews,” Brock said.
These books reveal the Australasia Coal Company owned two blocks of land bounded to the east by the Waratah Coal Company and to the west by land belonging to the widow of Mrs Jonathan Warner.
According to Andrews, the Australasia venture started in late 1874, but in August 1879 the company was liquidated after spending 70,000 pounds (maybe $10 million today). Some 50 men were left jobless. The quality of coal mined never lived up to expectations and brought about the company’s early demise, Andrews wrote.
In December 1879, tenders were called to pull up all rail lines so few traces remained. However, during excavation in 1963 for the subway under the main northern line linking Bridges Rd and today’s Northcott Drive, a nearby viaduct to allow a coal railway to pass under if the ACC line was ever reinstated, was unearthed. Author Andrews said the old timbers were in excellent condition despite being buried for 61 years.
Another surprise (to me anyway) was how Hillsborough got its name. It’s named after Dr John Hill, the area’s first landholder and one of the original five people seeking their fortunes who floated the Australasia Coal Co back in 1874. They sought finance from a Melbourne group which then assumed a controlling interest in the large coalmine venture which ultimately failed.