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Wonthaggi Genealogy Inc. is a non-profit community based organisation. Our aim is to foster and promote the study of genealogy, family history and allied subjects. All our work is carried out by volunteers.
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The centre is located at the station museum, Murray Street Wonthaggi, Victoria Australia
The opening hours are Thursdays and Saturdays from 10am to 4 pm, and Tuesdays from 1pm to 4pm.
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We wish to contact people with a view to preserving their family histories for future generations, especially those with Australian connections, recording when they or their ancestors arrived in Australia, where they were born, where they lived and highlights of their lives. In particular, we would like to hear from pioneer and early settlers' families of Wonthaggi and surrounding areas.
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Our meetings are held on the second Thursday of each month except January,
commencing 7.30pm in the Museum Station, Murray Street Wonthaggi.
For further information: Telephone 5672 1283
All visitors welcome.
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Wonthaggi Genealogy Inc. gladly accepts contributions of relevant items and articles of genealogical or hisitorical interest. Due acknowledgements given to the contributor and author and/or submitter. The Editor reserves the right to abridge as required.
Reasonable precaution and effort is taken to ensure the veracity of material, but no liability is assumed for loss or damage which may result from any inaccuracy or omission in the newsletter, or from the use of information therein and no warranties, expressed or implied is made with respect to any of the material contained therein.
Advertising space is available in our newsletters for genealogical, family history, heraldic or other related and selected businesses, services or events. For further details, email or write to: the Editor, Wonthaggi Genealogy, 11 Stewart Street, Wonthaggi: Vic. 3995, Australia
Wonthaggi is a small country town, situated in South Gippsland, Victoria, Australia. The current population is approximately 8000. "Wonthaggi" is an Aboriginal word from the eastern Kulin, meaning to drag, carry or pull with the wind. It was originally called The Clump and then Powlett River Coalfields.
In 1909, the site known as Powlett and Powlett Plains was covered with heath and light timber, but within two years a town would be established, complete with schools, public buildings, water supply and an industry. A town of several thousand inhabitants and in the same period would be separated from the Shire of Phillip Island and Woolamai to form its own minicipal district known as the Borough of Wonthaggi.
A man digging for water in the Powlett River basin, found not only water, but also coal and this discovery was reported to the Mines Department.
Coal had previously been discovered in the Cape Paterson district many years before, but had aroused very little government interest, so very little devopment occured. With the disastrous coal strikes in New South Wales and the consequent stoppage of coal supplies to Victoria, the State Government decided something must be done quickly or the wheels of industry in Victoria would cease to turn.
The Mines Department sent a boring party to prospect the area and a series of bores revealed a large coalfield. The Wonthaggi Coal Mine was opened as a national emergency.
The State Mine then began to reserve the necessary land for a township and an area for development of about 320 acres was purchased at a cost of 4796 Australian Pounds and 1763 acres were reserved at a cost of 1535 Australian Pounds.
On 11th November 1909, the opening of the coal seams at the Powlett River Basin was proceeded with, and in less than three weeks, four shafts had been sunk to the coal. Derricks were erected over the shafts and hauled to the surface in baskets and immediately loaded onto bullock wagons for transport to Inverloch for despatch to Melbourne. The first arrived at Inverloch in November 1909. All the residents of Inverloch turned out to witness and encourage the event. A few months later, the railway to Wonthaggi was completed, and no more coal went to Inverloch.
When the mine first opened, the daily output averaged 220 tons. 20 bullock teams and 15 horse teames carted the coal to Inverloch. By February, 1910, 600 men were on the payroll.
Bullock teams were pressed into service for hauling heavy equipment, machinery and plant from the nearest railhead at Outrim.
A camp was hastily provided for the accommodation of 2000 to 3000 people. This became known as Tent Town. The Mines Department then built 50 miners' cottages. By 30th. June, 1910, 100 houses were built and all were let to miners. 15 acres were subdivided into 1/4 acre blocks and leased to miners who would erect their own cottages.
With the establishment of the State Coal Mine in 1909, followed by the railway, roads and trucks, Tent Town, the mine workings, roads and trucks greatly changed the appearance of the countryside in less than three months. Changes occurred overnight. By the end of 1910, the town was almost complete.
While this Tent Town was being erected, the survey of the new township of Wonthaggi had been made. The first sale of the right to lease township blocks took place on the 23rd. March, 1910. At the completion of the survey, the Minister of Mines, Mr. McBride, visited the town and officially named the streets. By Proclamation, dated 14th September, 1910, the town was officially named Wonthaggi.
By August, 1910, at public meetings, agitating for the formation of a separate municipality for Wonthaggi, were being held. On the 4th January, 1910, the Minister of Mines brought before Parliament the 'Wonthaggi Borough Act 1910' No. 2300. The purpose of this act was to sever 13090 acres from the Shire of Phillip Island and Woolamai and create a new municipality.
The Act was passed and became law almost immediately and the Borough of Wonthaggi came into being.
Many descendants of the original mining families and even a few miners still remain. The community is very proud of the heritage left by the mining families, and the courage and determination they showed to gain better working conditions, for themselves and all Australian workers.
Information source: The Rise of Wonthaggi by Joseph White
THE PULL OF THE MINES
Theirs was a strange and remarkable working life. Through a group of volunteers at the State Coal Mine in Wonthaggi. we can gain a unique insight into the underground life of the miner.
The last operating mine in Wonthaggi closed in 1968, but former miners and other mine employees are still tramping its tunnels. They are among 50 or so Friends of the State Coal Mine who give their time and energy to keep the Wonthaggi mines open for visitors.
Through the guide's words you can almost hear the rats scurrying through the tunnels, taste his sandwiches and cold tea, hear the distant rumblings of a rockfall or a gelignite blast and feel the exhaustion of the miner at the end of his shift after eight hours of shovelling coal in the hot, wet mine shafts.
It is the human touch which makes a visit to the Wonthaggi State Coal Mine so memorable. Audio-visual displays, interpretive centres, ineractive displays, virtual reality, all have their uses in bringing history alive, but nothing will ever match the reality of a personal guide.
Now operated by the Department of Resources and Enviroment with the help of many volunteers, the State Coal Mine is open daily between 10am and 3.30pm. Above ground, you can see mine buildings and a reconstructed change-room which houses the museum. Then, with a former miner or other volunteer as your guide, you walk down a gently sloping tunnel to the coal face, 60 metres below ground level, for an escorted tour of the workings. At the end of the tour, you ride up to the surface in a cable-hauled coal skip.
Recent works at the mine, include the opening of an underground roadway linking the jig road to the scraper, construction of a store shed to preserve the old mining equipment, restoration of a miner's cottage, the relaying of rails on the skip-track and the restoration and relocation of the old lamp room.
Over the next couple of years, the main aim of the Friends of the State Coal Mine will be to consolidate what is on site and to bring it up to the standard of the years when the mine was operating. Future projects include rebuilding the brace, where the coal was graded and relocating the equipment to a central storage site for display.
From Outdoor Magazine 1996
When Wallace Davidson (volunteer guide and member no. 2 of Wonthaggi Genealogy Inc.), told his father that he was going to work on the coalface, his father was too angry to express himself in English. He cursed his son loud and long in his native Gaelic tongue. "Speak English, Dad, will you", Wallace implored him, "I can't understand a word you're saying.
But he didn't really need to know Gaelic tho understand. His father's disgust was written on his face and in his gestures. His father, William Davidson, a coal-miner, was born in Shotts, Scotland. He migrated to Australia to work in the recently opened, Wonthaggi Mine. He was half-crippled with arthritis by middle age.
Now he was letting his son know he was a 'bloody young fool', to risk his own health and life down the mine.
Wallace ignored him. "Of course I did", he says, more than 50 years later. "You can't put an old head on young shoulders. I wanted to get down the mines like all the other young blokes my age".
To be a miner in Wonthaggi was to be an aristocrat. Going to the coalface was the pinnacle of a mine-worker's career. Like the other 14 year olds, Wallace had started above ground on the brace, picking out the rocks and debris from the skip-loads of coal. When he was 18, he went underground as a wheeler, walking the ponies through the maize of tunnels and sidings to collect the skips of coal.
Finally, when he was judged to be ready, he graduated to the coalface, where he was apprenticed to an older miner. Over the next two years, his mentor taught him the skills he would need to extract the coal and to stay alive - how to tell the good coal from rubbish, where to set the gelignite, and how much to use, how to put in the stringybark props to stop the mudstone from collapsing, how to use the gutser, a heavy drill which you held against your stomach as you bored into the coal, how to use a power-borer, a huge electric drill which had to be lifted up to your shoulder and pushed into the coal face to bore holes for explosives to release the coal, how to listen to the timber creaking and pick out the sound of danger from all the other sounds.
Wonthaggi was harder to work than most other mines because there were so many faults in the seams. "If you were kneeling", Wallace recalls of his years at the coalface, "It was a luxury. An 18-inch seam was okay. You could work that all right. Half the time, you were stretched out full length with the pick out in front of you. You would have to slither back out, to turn the pick over and then get back in again, and often as not, you were lying in water".
All those years of lifting and driving heavy iron tools, with their bodies arched and extended at unnatural angles, exterted unbearable pressure on the miners' backs, necks and abdomens. Of course they were fit, as finely tuned and muscled as any Olympic athlete - but it got them all in the end.
Now in his late 60s, Wallace is half-crippled with arthritis, caused by the same hot, damp, cramped conditions that wrecked his father. The worst pain is his knee, the result of an accident in which he was trapped under a rock-fall. "Just negligence", he says, "My own fault". He couldn't be bothered propping up the roof while he crawled in to shovel out the coal. "All I could see was the money. I thought I'd be in and out in 20 minutes and it would hold that long". It didn't, and it took his companions five hours to extricate him and his crushed knee.
Another time, while wheeling below, a horse lashed out and kicked him in the face, on the cheekbone. This split his eyelid and his eye popped out. He had to get himself up to the surface, holding his eye up against his cheek with his hand.
In his years down the mine he saw several men carried out dead, on stretchers. "It's a bloody poor feeling, that, I can tell you".
The back-breaking work and the ever-present danger created a unique close-knit community. During a number of lengthy strikes in the 1920s and 1930s, the Wonthaggi miners became renowned throughtout Australia for their militancy and solidarity. Notorious, they might have been, but they won improved working conditions and other benifits which were passed on to other, less militant, workers.
Of course the militancy created a 'them and us' attitude. There can have been few lonelier experiences than to be on the outer in Wonthaggi. Bosses, in general, were hated, but the most reviled of all were those who began their working life in the pits, worked and studied hard and rose to a supervisory or managerial position in the mines.
The miners worked had, played hard and drank hard. The Wonthaggi pubs stayed open to cater for the men finishing the afternoon shift at midnight. 'You'd have eights pints straight off, just to settle the coal dust, and then settle down for a bit a steady drinking", Wallace recalls.
All that is behind him now. He hasn't had a drink for over 20 years. Now he is settled into a semi-respectable retirement. You mark the miner only in his blunt way of speaking his mind, no matter who he might offend. It has made him one of the most popular of the mine guides. Now, as he strides through the underground alleyways and sidings which he once knew as well as the streets of Wonthaggi, he is alternatively humorous, nostalgic and bitter about the life of the miner. He recognises now that his father was talking sense when he went crook at him all those years ago.
Would he have liked his own son to be a miner? "I wouldn't have let him', he says. Then he adds, "Of course, if they reopened this mine tomorrow, I'd be down there again, like a shot".
reprinted from information supplied by Wallace Davidson
During the 1934 strike, when militant miners took charge of the strike organisation and formed the Broad Committee, they asked the women to help. After the Union’s June elections, the women formed their own Broad Committee with Office-Bearers, and appointed speakers to the Propaganda, Entertainment and Relief Sub-Committees.
About a year after the strike, with Agnes Chambers as President and 35 members, the Wonthaggi Miners Womens Auxiliary was formed. Under her leadership, the W.M.W.A. set out to provide education on mine issues for its own women, and awareness of other’s needs and cultures.
The W.M.W.A. affilliated with the ‘United Australian Women’ organisation and the Peace Movement, and were a leading force in denouncing Facism during the Spanish Civil War. Besides sending relief, they also adopted a Spanish Orphan.
On the home front, they initiated Public meetings by canvassing all the town’s organisations and Churches to work for a Maternity Wing at the Miners Hospital, among other projects. This made the W.M.W.A. broader in scope than other Miners Auxiliary.
In the 1930’s, the W.M.W.A. helped Spanish Civil War victims, and at the same time they supplied needy families with food parcels, baby clothes etc. as the Great Depression didn’t lift until 1940, and the miners had no sick pay.
Other activities undertaken during the 1930's, included - setting up a canteen at the 20 Shaft explosion when 13 men were killed and helping their widows, holding Socials and dances, Mrs. Agnes Doig outlined the Korumburra Miners plight at Sunbeam Mine and asked for help to set up an Auxiliary, and support the stay-in strike. The W.M.W.A. also marched to 18 Shaft to support the Wonthaggi stay-in strike.
Idris Williams, President of the Miners Union, spoke on a new log of claims and asked the W.M.W.A. to support them. They included: paid annual holidays, a 6 hour day, mine safety, pension at 60 years of age and weekly pay, no sackings at age 21. The W.M.W.A. also organised a petition to get cheaper electricity for the town, and sent delegates to Sydney for drafting a Constitution for the Miners’ Women’s Auxiliaries, Links with Housewives.
In the 1940’s, the Government had given the miners most of their claims so there were no strikes and the W.M.W.A. could turn their attention to other matters including - forming a working committee for the Country Women’s Association, Red Cross Hospital Auxiliary, and Church groups to get the Maternity Wing for the hospital, which was opened by Labour M.H.R. Dedman in November 1944 and called the ‘Agnes Chambers Wing’.
After the war, the Chifley Government began a campaign to break the Miners Union by freezing Union funds and in a cloak and dagger manner, sent Commonwealth Police to arrest Union leaders. The W.M.W.A. worked with the miners Broad Committee to publicise the facts and raise funds.
the 1950’s, they marched with the Union in the May Day March under their
own banner made by Jessie Hansen, they once more initiated a public meeting
and worked for a Kindergarten for the town. After 12 years of campaigning,
it was built in Baillieu Street. They gave annual concerts to pensioners:
providing supper and entertainment, they catered for the Union Theatre and Workmen’s Club Annual Picnic to Inverloch, and they also continued to housework for sick mothers and supply grocery orders.
In 1958, Sir Arthur Warner, Minister for Transport, announced the closure of the mine as it was in debt. The W.M.W.A. and the Miners Union went to Parliament House on a deputation and afterwards called a Public meeting to protest the closure. Over 1000 people crowded in the ‘Union Theatre’ to hear J.J. Brown of the A.R.U., Bill Parkinson: President of the Miners Federation, Idris Williams: President of the Wonthaggi Miners Union and many more declare their opposition to the closure. Warner softened the legislation to allow the mine to die gradually.
Because of the unstinting help to the needy, the initiatives and hard work to obtain amenities for the town, the Wonthaggi Miners Womens Auxiliary was highly respected and admired. They continued as an auxiliary until the mine closed in 1968. Most of them joined the Combined Pensioners Association where they continued to be concerned for others less fortunate than themselves, and for civil liberties and peace.
Extracts from notes by:
Lyn Chambers, Secretary, Wonthaggi Historical Society Inc.
Repinted by kind permission of the author
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