Oral histories

These oral histories are being digitised from audio cassette tapes of interviews by the late historian, Jack Delaney,  as part of the Voices of the Hunter Project. They are not yet ready for publication - this is very much a draft page to show some samples.

  • Ian Hotchkiss, electrical engineer, Caledonian Collieries - Side 1  |  Side 2 
  • Baden Howard, bricklayer in mines in the Cessnock area and at Northern (Rhondda) Colliery, father of Barry Howard,
  • Bede Kelly, Superintendent of Mines - Side 1 | Side 2
    The unedited summary of part of Mr Kelly's interview follows:


TAPE 145 A

BEDE KELLY 7th December 1985


Executive with the RW Miller Group - Millfield, Ayrfield and Rothbury.


The history of the mines. East Greta Coal Company.

Bede was born in Sydney and began at Ayrfield in 1921 starting with Miller.


Bede was born in 1907.


Ayrfield started in 1921. Under license from Cliffs Estate who also owned Heddon Greta. Miller owned it.


He began aged 15 straight out of working in the Sydney office when his father died when he was 14. Walter Pigstock was the under manager – he lived at Telarah.


The track was put in first to Stanford with spurs to East Greta Junction.


Rail wagons were branded with Ayrfield. In about 1920 the flooding happened.


Completely flooded underground – Glen Ayr. Glen Main had a bit of Glen Ayr’s lease.


Ayrfield No2 and No 1 were initially the same size – Heddon Greta finished about 1912 and East Greta Coal Co bought the lease.


1934 they pumped out the flooded shaft (70deg. slope) with a steam engine alligator pump. Compressed air was used first. Power eventually came from Maitland City Council. Naked lights were used not safety lights.


Contract mining from the A D Armstrong   G.E Armstrong

 – mine managers 1915 - 1922. Using the breast cutters.


Skips tipped the coal into the alligator. Two alligators were used – one up one down. 8 stage pumps. Sulphur was very bad.

The market went to Newcastle by rail and shipped to Sydney to the gasworks at Balmain and Black Wattle Bay.

There were about 130 men at Ayrfield No 1 and at No 2 there about 120 men. Tonnage taken was much the same.


The coal seam at No 1 was up to 24 ft thick – skips were wheeled in by hand, no horses till later. No 2 used the same methods.


They discuss the demolition of the infrastructure of the mines. 1946.


Millfield. Began without a railway. Glassyn (?) put in the rail. Steam power with Lancashire boilers. The manager was Armstrong. George Wilson from Pelton was an under manager.


Board and pillar construction -   1500ft – The haulage were endless rope - 1 in 4 steep. 120 men worked at Millfield and it was screened and the chitter was dumped locally. Mechanisation came in about the 1950’s. All contract mining.


In 1967 there was a big bushfire. 3 houses lost. Mine was ventilated by a big sirocco fan and this was replaced by aeroplane propeller blades from a Tiger Moth. Ventilation at Ayrfield mines 1 & 2 used sirocco fans.


Eric Newham and manager Reg Watson (Bellbird and Millfield) – (he was never appointed to ) Board of Directors with RW Miller.


Bede started at at Ayrfield No3 at Branxton at 1933. Branxton Coal Co (possibly owned by Miller) – Maitland Extended Colliery – The Commercial Hotel at Branxton.


Management at Millfield. Manager   Harry Thomas – 1933 at Ayrfield No3 or also called Rothbury. Ventilated with propeller fans connected underground later.


Tape finishes.


Tape 145B

BEDE KELLY    CONTD     7th December 1985


Initial 5 minutes are blurred due to tape damage. It was unable to be recorded so the timing will be approximate.


Bede finished at Rothbury – 1970. Rhondda


The Millfield and Ayrfield trucks.   Washery at Ayrfield No 1 – 1956 -


Jig worked on the principal of working up and down – it was a type rather than a brand.


He retired in 1970. Rhonda belonged to Millers too. Wallsend and Bore Hole and Belmont. Millers were there to the finish. Open cut at Ayrfield No 6. It went for 12 – 18 months. Grade went from 1:4 to 1:6.


The transition from skips to mechanisation. The slide bottom skip dropped down into the alligator then to the main heading. Athol Lightfoot was Jack Delaney’s early idol.


Local Football history. Bede was involved in the first football teams. George Watt. McKinnon. Birdie Parsons.


He and his wife came to live in the Coalfields from Sydney in the 40’s. They had 3 sons.


Nepotism in all fields of endeavour. Dinny Durham – mines inspector. Billy Seward. The Drinkwaters. The Bluebells Virago team. Alf Goodsir   “salt of the earth”. Tommy Cooper. (When he wanted to open a cheque account at the Commonwealth Bank, they wouldn’t serve him because he was dressed poorly – he went on to be a millionaire and he never banked with them.) Recovering props from the mines.


The Millers – Robert and Roger. Marcus was involved in the brewery. Sons of RW.


The first mines in the Four Mile Creek area – Teddy Hayler, The McKendrys, The Eales, the Morpeth Road.


No one seems to know where Prof. David first found the coal. Jack thinks it’s where the fan was at Abermain 1. Edward Pepper put a search shaft down there.


Old pits have been levelled and there is no indication of tunnels and shafts.


History told through cemeteries, burial records and headstones. Family reunions. Grave listing. Historical societies. 21 cemeteries in the Greater Cessnock area.


Jim Comerford. Unions - the men formed it - NSW Colliery Employees – Whitburn in the Branxton area – R Wyndham son of George Wyndham had Leckenfield mine-


In 1941 – Twin Bellis Morcom generator caught fire during the war – bought from Merewether and supplying power to colliery houses. Power came from Whitburn before the Council took over then from the substation at Branxton using their own lines.


He was at Millfield in 1929. During the strikes at Rothbury.


Stan Parkes from Millfield. Frank Perkins. Alec Wardrop.


Tape finishes.