The history of transport in the Hunter region has been shaped by three distinct categories: shipping, rail and road.
The history of shipping and boats is the oldest and perhaps the most important. Originally, canoes were used by indigenous people for travel and fishing on the Hunter River. The earliest European explorers also arrived by ship to setup the penal settlement of Newcastle permanently in 1804. Due to its remoteness, Newcastle was an ideal place for secondary punishment.
Shipping was the only mode of transport in the new settlement. When coal mining started in Newcastle, ships were loaded by basket. With timber and agriculture industries and accessible through the Hunter River, Morpeth was the first port in the region for trade.
As settlement spread, roads between towns were developed. Sydney was linked to the Hunter Valley by the completion of the Great Northern Road in 1836. The early roads were poor quality and over swampy ground and road travel was difficult. Shipping still dominated transportation in the region.
The coal miners and producers of the Hunter Valley needed better ways to transport their goods to the ships. As the mining industry in the Hunter Valley grew so did rail transport. The Newcastle wharf and the Carrington dyke were developed.
The development of steam power using coal as fuel allowed for faster delivery of coal. Coal was also later transported by trucks and conveyer belts. At present, trains are still used to bring the coal from the mines across the Hunter Valley to the port of Newcastle, where it is loaded onto ships.
Hunter Valley Coal - Road Haulage. From the collection of Dr John Turner.
Coal from Rothbury colliery being loaded at Newcastle, From the UoN collection relating to British Science Congress visit in 1914.