Monday, June 21, 2010

Scars On The Landscape - Greta

Most of us have seen those old gritty films that feature coal mining, movies like "How Green Was My Valley (1941) & "Coal Miner's Daughter" (1980), they are just two that come readily to mind. Both these films portray a hard working life in the Welsh and Kentucky coal fields, where the countryside was as hard as the miners that dug for the black ore.

However, here in the Hunter Valley, while the miners were as tough and as gritty as any miners in the world, the country was, for want of a better word .... nice. 

There was no bitingly cold snow laden winters or towns trapped in dank valleys where the sun rarely shone or where misery was worn like a shawl that wrapped itself around generations of mining families condemned to work in the pits

No, the Hunter Valley coal mines, even from the time of the first pits, right through to today can be considered a rather pleasant working environment, mining accidents not withstanding.

Now while the coal industry had been a thriving concern in Newcastle and the Hunter region since the early 1800's, it was a discovery of a few precious lumps on the banks of Anvil Creek (21 kilometres north of Maitland) that was to establish the Hunter Region as the worlds leading supplier of high quality low ash coal.

The honour of that find goes to William Farthing whose tenacity proved correct when in 1861 he obtained a lease on Anvil Creek and commenced operations in 1862 (which was known as Farthings Pit). From these small beginnings, helped along by the arrival of the Great Northern Railway 1869 and then by the geological findings of Sir T.W. Edgeworth David who declared in 1886 that this area was sitting atop some of the richest coalfields in Australia, the small rural village of Greta quickly expanded with at least eight coal mines beginning operations in this small area by 1910.

It hard to envisage today that this sleepy village  at the height of mining operations, had over 7,000 inhabitants and the town boasted no less than 11 hotels! As with al these towns the local Post Office played an important role in the towns development and Greta was no different. The local Post Office began operations as a non official office in 1874 at Anvil Creek and then in early 1877 it was operating from the new  £1800 ($1.5million) Farthings Platform ( which was then renamed Greta Railway Station in 1878) and was still called Anvil Creek Post Office (are you confused yet?). However, eventually commonsense prevailed and Anvil Creek Post Office was renamed Greta in October 1886. Then in 1889 with the mines around Anvil Creek closing and most of the population moving closer to the Greta township the Post Office at the railway station was closed and transferred to High Street (New England Highway) and was made an official Post Office with Mr M.J. Sheppard appointed Postmaster. The original Greta Post Office is still standing today, however the Post Office (which then became non official, or LPO, in 1979) has changed locations, now co-located with the newsagent next door and still providing the Greta community with postal services as it has done for over 120 years.     

As for William Farthing, well his mining ventures didn't flourish as he'd hoped they would, mainly due to fires that ravaged his pits in 1871 and so he settled into the Greta district, ultimately becoming the local Magistrate for both Greta and Branxton Courthouses. On the 6th August 1886 William Farthing died suddenly while sitting in front of the fire with his wife Lillias, he was aged 68 years old. While others went on to claim higher honours for achieving less, William Farthing should never be forgotten for his contribution to the Hunter Valley and its mining heritage.    

Not much remains of Greta's extensive mining heritage, no grand memorials, sculptures or dedications and mines such as Anvil Creek, Farthings Pit, Leconfield. Whitburn and Central Greta are now just scars on the landscape. Today it is difficult to see where these mines once operated, where proud men worked and died, however, these old mining ventures can give up subtle clues to their proud heritage ... if you know where to look.

I'd like to thank the online resources of the Newcastle Regional Library & especially the excellent contribution by the late John Delaney  -

P.S. There is a small dedication to the 36 miners who died whilst working in the various Greta pits and also to the one miner shot dead by the police during the Rothbury Riot. This small, but important memorial is located in Water St, outside the Greta Arts & Sports Community Hall.

William Farthing and his wife Lillias are buried in a small unpretentious plot in the Presbyterian section of the East Maitland cemetery.  

No comments: