The Piewai Or Pyewye

by Brian J Andrews, OAM - Coalfields Heritage Group

The Piewai (or Pyewye) was said to be a mythological creature, something of a cross between the pee wee bird and a rat.

It was believed to be a hairy creature, about the size of the average dog, but walked upright on its hind legs.

No one ever claimed to have seen its head which was thought to be bird like. They were very much like Gremlins.

At one time, in the 1950s, Piewais were said to have lived in the Aberdare Shaft colliery.

There was a time once when a novice miner, on entering the mine for the first time, was warned by the older miners to take great care to watch out for the feared Piewais, which preyed upon any inexperienced or uninitiated new miner.

To appease the creature, which was never seen, it had to be fed daily by any newcomer, otherwise something dreadful would surely befall him.

To seal off old abandoned underground workings in a mine a brick wall was built to close it off - this was called a stopping wall. In one such wall at the Aberdare Shaft colliery there was a hole where miners had removed a loose brick.

The youngster was told that in order to satisfy the Piewais, which lurked in the deep dark depths of the mine, he must place some food in the hole when commencing his shift. He put out sandwiches every day which, naturally enough, soon disappeared -presumably taken by the creatures.

The miners added fuel to this by maintaining a constant banter about the feared Piewai, and what they would do to him if every they got their clutches on him.

This went on for several days. The sandwiches always disappearing and the men continuing to give warnings and relating hideous stories.

After a week the youth's curiosity overcame part of his fear. Peering through the hole into the gloom with his lamp he saw nothing.

However, as he again placed the sandwiches into the hole, something seized hold of his hand, and with enormous strength dragged the arm, up to the armpits into the hole, and then fastening it off tightly.

He pulled and tugged but couldn't free his arm - his fear turned to terror.

Hiding behind the stopping wall were his work-mates, who had been stealing and eating his sandwiches, and now had grabbed and securely tied off his arm. They had a good laugh at the poor fellow's expense.

Unfortunately, they had gone too far with this victim - he almost had a nervous breakdown over the affair.

Thus another initiate survived a brush with the Piewais, who returned to the deep darkened depths of collieries to await their next victim.

Perhaps the Piewais are still down there just waiting to be released.

The Piewai by Brian J Andrews

The Piewai by Brian J Andrews 

Aberdare Shaft Colliery

Barry Howard Collection 

Pelaw Main Colliery
J & A Brown Collection


Underground at Richmond Main Colliery
Barry Howard Collection



A dozen or so Piewais were known to have taken up residence in the Aberdare Extended Colliery up until at least the end of the 1940s, recalled an old miner who commenced at the mine in 1930. He believed the Piewais died out after the 1940s.

At the time there were boys employed as wheelers and even younger boys as trappers. It was the job of the trapper to open the ventilation doors for the wheeler to take his set of skips through.

After letting a wheeler through one day in the 1930s, the trapper began to hear strange rumblings and creaking noises coming from deep down in the bowels of the mine.

When the wheeler eventually returned the alarmed trapper said to him, "I could hear the noise of a big storm coming from down there."

"No," said the wheeler, "that was the Piewais down there having a meeting. They were all growling at each other. It seems no one has brought them down any food." The trapper innocently asked, "What have you got to give them?"

"Haven't you given them any food down there?" asked the wheeler, to which his younger companion replied, "No, I haven't been told a thing about it."

"Crickey," said the wheeler, "you've got to bring them an apple, a chocolate or a cake every day."

Dutifully the young trapper began to bring along his cake, chocolate and apple every day for the Piewais, who somehow during the shift always managed to get at the lad's crib tin and steal whatever remained.

This went on for a fortnight and still the food disappeared. By now the wheeler began to feel sorry for the trapper. "Look," he said, "there are no Piewais. The miners are just having you on. Your biscuits and everything else that was left over in your crib can was taken by a couple of miners down there. Whenever you came out onto the flat each day, they came down and pinched your cake and everything."

So that was alright recalled the old miner. The next day the b&^*%$ kid gets into the two miners' crib tins - into their sandwiches and everything, eating them all. The miners hit the roof when they found their food gone.

Someone had pinched their crib. They questioned everyone. When they came to question the boy trapper, he replied, "No, I never saw a thing. However, when I opened the ventilation door about six Piewais rushed out, nearly knocking me over. They flew up towards your working place. I bet it was them that ate all of your crib!"

Other unsubstantiated reports placed the Piewais in both the Pelaw Main and Richmond Main collieries so it would seem that they had infested all or most of the South Maitland Coalfield collieries.

Brian J Andrews, OAM. In Pioneering Days of the Coalfields - No.17 - March, 2001, pp. 8-11.

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