Heritage Week 1982             To Quarry Index   To Main Index

 

SOME ASPECTS OF THE BLUE METAL INDUSTRY 

A CONTRIBUTOR TO KIAMA'S HERITAGE

To stimulate interest in our nation's historical background, the government, working through The Heritage Council, has set aside a Week each year during March as a time when communities may reflect upon their past history and the people and events that contributed to its making. This week has been named, "Heritage Week".

The Kiama and District Historical Society, in response to the Heritage Council's request, has set aside Saturday and Sunday of Heritage Week, 27th. and 28th.March to present some aspects of Kiama's heritage. To this end a series of historical bus and walking tours has been arranged, photographic displays and work activities associated with Kiama's past will be staged in Hindmarsh Park, antique stalls will be set up in the Masonic Hall, and the local Tennis Club will demonstrate how tennis was played in former years by dressing in period costume. Spinning and weaving activities will be shown and china painting demonstrated, the whole to be accompanied by items from a local "Bush" band. Refreshments reminiscent of yester year will be available.

Among the variety of activities to be presented, the Historical Society has chosen the blue metal industry as its central theme because Of the contribution of this industry to the economy of the district for over 100 years.

The first mention from the past of the practical usage of basalt, or blue metal as it is commonly called, was its application to the building of dry stone walls as a means of fencing properties and their division into paddocks and yards.

When the stands of red cedar which first attracted settlers to the area, had been felled and the land cleared of other timbers and undergrowth, attention was given to the cultivation of crops. The hill-sides were strewn with basalt rocks and boulders, some on the surface and others just beneath it. These had to be cleared before cultivation could proceed. Tenant farmers holding the land under clearing leases utilized the stones for fence building. Rock fence building, or dry stone walling as it was called, required great skill, infinite patience and a strong back.

One of the most noted dry stone wallers of the Kiama District was Thomas Newing. Born in Kent, England, in 1835.he came to Australia aboard the sailing ship "Anna Maria" in 1857.He originally settled in Foxground, south of Kiama. Upon marrying Maria Bailey, daughter of a pioneer Saddleback farmer, he moved to Kiama. He had several children including a daughter who married Billy Cooke. Billy worked as an assistant to Thomas Newing for many years. Newing did his work so expertly that many of the fences he built are standing today, over 100 years after he built them. For most of his Kiama residency, Newing lived in a cottage in Eddy Street.

The next step in the utilization of blue metal in the area was building construction. Many of of Kiama's earlier buildings were built of this material in the form of rubble masonry. Two of a number of existing buildings constructed in this way are the Church of England, "Christ Church" and the Court House. The church, commenced in 1856,was dedicated by Bishop Barker of Sydney in January 1859 and the Court House was completed in 1860.

A fine example of the more sophisticated use of basalt as a building material in the form of dressed cubes is to be seen in the Infants' School in Minnamurra Street. The first stage of the building, the one storeyed section, was completed and occupied in 1871 and the two storeyed part added in 1893.

It appears that large scale exploitation of the the great basalt hills that surround Kiama did not commence until about July,1870 when a scheme was set in motion to convert some of the "iron" stone found in the area into road building metal. In that month a small sailing vessel delivered three batteries of stone crushing machinery and returned to Sydney laden with specimens of "Bumbo Latitell the name given to the metal found in this area of Illawarra.

The demand for road making metal was such that the Kiama Independent of May.1871 carried an article which stated "The business of stone crushing for the production of road metal is likely to become an established industry."

About this period the firm of Wakefords opened a quarry in the vicinity of Pike's Hill and built a jetty projecting into the natural harbour at Black Beach somewhere in the vicinity opposite where the Post Office now stands. This was at a time before the advent of the railway to Illawarra when ships were the principal means of transport between Kiama and Sydney.

A fillip to the metal industry came with the introduction of tram passenger transport in Sydney. Blue metal cubes were required to build up the roadway between the tram lines to create a Smooth pavement. The company of Leggatt and Hodkins opened up a quarry to meet this need.

Between seventy and eighty men were employed in this work at the headland quarry, Bombo.

The metal industry has had its economic ups and downs over the years. These have seen the opening up of new quarries, the closure of some, changes of ownership and sometimes the re-opening of quarries that had been closed.

Since 1870, major quarries within the municipality of Kiama have been located at Pike's Hill, Hothersall Street, Barney Street, Brown Street Bombo, both east and west of the railway line, and at Minnamurra.

Before the extension of the Illawarra railway to Bombo in 1887 and to Kiama in 1893,all basalt products were exported from the area by sea. In the earliest years ships were loaded by men wheeling barrow loads of metal across gangplanks to fill the holds of ships moored at the jetty.

With the construction of Roberson Basin as Kiama Harbour is officially called, a safe shipping basin came into use. It was opened in 1876. At this location the cumbersome and low method of loading by wheel-barrow was replaced by chutes that allowed loading directly from the tip drays which transported the metal from the quarries. Later a system of storage bins was introduced to speed up chute loading and enable a quick turn around of the metal ships.

To mitigate the road maintenance and dust problems created by the horse drawn metal drays, particularly in Terralong Street, an attempt was made between 1883 and 1886 to establish a steam locomotive tramway between the Pike's Hill quarries and Robertson Basin. This attempt ended in fiasco as the line had to be abandoned after completion because of a succession of engineering errors. The local municipal council which had sponsored the construction of the line was plunged into debt from which it did not recover for a number of years.

The dust and road maintenance problems persisted until 1913, when the Government, which had bought McSweeney's quarry, constructed a successful steam operated tramway from the quarry along Terralong Street to the loading bins at The basin. The following year a branch from this line was constructed along Manning Street and Bong Bong Street to the railway loading chutes which had been installed south of the station in 1907. BY 1914 seven trains daily were leaving the Kiama area loaded with metal for various destinations.

In 1924,the State Metal Quarries re-opened a quarry originally operated by the Kiama Road Metal Company, and extended the Terralong Street tramline to serve it.

During the peak of the quarrying industry the N.S.W. Railways constructed siding at different locations to serve the needs of the quarries. The only one presently in operation is that which serves the Railway Commissioner's Quarry and the Boral Quarry at Bombo.

Metal extraction has ceased in many formerly operated quarries mainly because of their encroachment on zoned residential and rural lands. Quarrying in the immediate vicinity of Kiama ceased but the two ????? quarries operating at Bombo are producing more metal in relation to manpower employed than did many of the former quarries. Sophisticated methods employing up to date machinery backed by improved technical skills have led to this situation. In the earlier days of the industry most of the work was done manually from the boring of holes to blast down the rock to the breaking of the stone into marketable size and its loading into drays for transport to the wharves. Machinery now does this work and the quarryman rarely, if ever, handles the rock which he blasts down from the quarry face.

With the increasing popularity of the railway for the transport of blue metal from the area coastal cargo shipping declined. The cessation of quarrying in Kiama township in 1947 meant that the loading bins at Robertson Basin became redundant. These were demolished, mainly by burning in 1965.The harbour is now used mainly for the local and visiting fishing boats and pleasure craft.

To give some idea of the skills required in quarrying the Kiama and District Historical Society has arranged with Mr Roy Phillis to demonstrate the activities of spaulling and knapping, that is the breaking up of rock blown from the quarry face into sizes required by the user. As the horse played such an important role in the conduct of the blue metal industry from its beginning right up to the advent of the tramway in 1913, Mr Wal Anderson will demonstrate the farrier's skills by shoeing a horse.

To keep his horse in good working condition the tip-drayman, among other aspects of care, had to have it shod regularly, hence the inclusion of this demonstration on the programme.

The contribution of quarrying to the industrial and economic growth of Kiama is such that we owe it to the pioneers who contributed so much to our town to keep a knowledge of their working conditions alive.