The new century provided more challenges to road transport. The year 1891saw Newcastle with a population of 50,000. This increased to 54,000 by 1911. Maitland was experiencing a period of stagnation. West Maitland, East Maitland and Morpeth registered less than 12,000 residents. However, these were large towns for those times. Services catering for passengers other than the railways were badly needed.
Trains left a lot to be desired when it came to comfort and convenience. This prompted the Newcastle Chronicle to write: “…great dissatisfaction exists among a great many of the travelling public as regards the ventilation and adaptability of some of the second class carriages now running on the Great Northern Railway. The seats are uncomfortable and have no support for the back. There is no fresh air at all in the second-hand coffins. Brawny men smoke, babies scream and the windows are screwed tight.”
Extensive mining in the suburbs caused roads to be in a deplorable state. More often than not pitfalls would occur creating dangerous situations especially at night. Despite these dreadful conditions horse-drawn omnibus services became common in the second half of the century, in 1881 James Morris of Tighes Hill provided a service of wagonettes and omnibuses to the city.
In his descriptive 200 Years of Transport in the Hunter J. Turner writes: “Some of the omnibus services developed into quite large concerns but none so extensive as Peter James’s Newcastle to Minmi via Wallsend line which also ran branch services to West Wallsend, Killingworth and cokle Creek. At its peak James had forty buses and two hundred horses.”
The arrival of the steam tram in Newcastle was heralded in 1885 when John Fletcher MLA made a case that the second largest city in the colony be provided with its own tramway. Sydney of course had the service operating since 1879. The single line from Newcastle to Plattsburg via Hamilton New Lambton and Lambton would cost 34,150 pounds, and the line was to be in operation by 1887.
The tramcars were self propelled and had a double-decker arrangement, soon to be modified to allow them to pass under the overhead bridge of the Lambton colliery which spanned over the public road! The modification reduced the carrying capacity from 80 to 40 passengers. The introduction was delayed several months for a change of route demanded by the colliery.
The service, which operated for 63 years, was not without incidents. The inaugural ceremony at 2pm of 5 July 1887 was marred by a breakdown and a derailment at Lambton Hill and Lambton. As the Newcastle Morning Herald put it, “…the Mayor, who went out resplendent in his robes, had to be brought back in a cart like a coster monger”. (J Turner - Transport in the Hunter) The offending tram returned empty at 10pm. The red faced official party made their way back home with their guests in omnibuses and carts.
Turner comments: “The tribulations of its opening would have provided rich materials for those great satirists of the Victorian way of life, William Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan. It was a long time since the town wits had so much fun”
In Australia rumours about the horseless carriage circulated about 1890, but no one took them seriously. Three years later David Shearer of Adelaide produced his steam carriage, it transported 9 passengers around the city at 25 miles an hour. Herbert Thomson of Melbourne went into production in 1900 and sold ten of them. At that time there was nothing to indicate that motor vehicles had any future as a mode of transport.
The first motorcar arrived in Newcastle in 1905, motor lorries soon followed.
The first 20 years of the 20th Century went without producing significant changes in the Hunter valley, the advent of the Steelworks, the Great War increased the demand for transport services, but there were few signs of the impact the motor vehicle would make on society, aviation was regarded more as a toy than an invention that would revolutionise the future.
The South Maitland Coal fields had been booming for some time, the coal rush had transformed the quite rural areas of Kurri Kurri and Cessnock into very busy towns and nearly every mine had its own railway, in time they became The South Maitland Railways. The Great Northern line had reached Merriwa by 1917 and six years later the link to Dubbo was completed. A web of spur lines connected rural areas of the North West and the North Coast to Newcastle. Further developments of coal mines to the south of Newcastle produced more private railways. The collieries they served, Stockton Borehole, Rhondda, West Wallsend and Killingworth, all joined the main line at cokle Creek. Further South the Newstan mine also depended on its link to the Sydney-Newcastle line.
The BHP had internal railways that served the needs of steel production and was linked to the main northern line at Mayfield. The BHP Journal in 1976 was commenting with Leon Oberg: “… while railways have played a major role in the development of Australia, few will realise the role railways played in BHP”
The first motor vehicle to be driven in Australia was driven in Melbourne in 1897.
It had a Gorgon oil engine, a chain drive and steering levers. Nevertheless, the first Motor Registry in the Hunter was introduced in 1910, it reveals details of the pioneers of motoring in the Region. Cars and trucks manufacturers included: Buick, Benz, Wolseley and Talbot. Pioneers of the engine age in the Hunter were Brambles who operated a FIAT lorry L 1123 rated 20-30 horsepower; Hawkins operated an International truck bought for 350 pounds. The Register of Motor lorries identified it as IHC Lorry, L1589, this occurred in 1915 according to Joyce Watt author of Hawkins’ biography.
People’s imagination was often captured by aeroplanes, but they made a minimal contribution to national economy compared to other transport modes. There were 44,443 motor vehicles in NSW in 1939, this did not include 83,997 Motor Lorries. By 1940 six major carriers ha joined Newcastle Chamber of Commerce: WE Brambles and Sons, HH Chadwick, the Gale Brothers, AF Toll who had taken over Bacon’s business, J Woolley and Sons, whilst H G Hawkins was not a member of the Chamber of Commerce.
In 1931 the Chief Commissioner for Railways urged citizens, particularly business people to boycott private motor transport, and to use rail services to transport goods. The Labor Government of JT Lang passed an Act of Parliament and instituted a Board of Commissioners for that purpose. Despite the depth of the Great Depression, and with the state as close as it has ever been to revolution the Transport Coordination Act was accepted; it was the beginning of a number of measures, including registration fees, petrol, and road taxes that were to severely impact all facets of road transport.
The revolution in the freight transport industry continued, with the introduction of palletised cargo and ship-based forklifts at the end of the war. All these changes were to lead to the long due transformation of passenger services in the Valley. Motorbuses became a formidable competitor of trams and railways. Mobility and flexibility was their advantage, comfort too was what the public expected. Private buses had a better choice of routes and competitive cost.
The government considered substituting trams with buses, but local authorities insisted the trams be kept, thus the system was electrified and continued for a further twenty years. Private bus services continued to expand and reached about every town and suburb in the Valley and Lake Macquarie. S Fogg was a leading pioneer of services in the Newcastle to Port Stephens route in 1935, it relied on the punt service at Hexham.
The Rover Motors Pty Ltd of Cessnock was established a decade before World War II, it takes the credit for pioneering the use of semi-trailer configured buses, successfully demonstrated to the Department of Transport in Sydney in 1944. Some services were eventually taken over by the Government when it introduced double-decker buses camouflaged during the war.
In the meantime railways were being restructured, from 1950 onward Newcastle steam engines were replaced with more powerful diesel powered locomotives. But even this failed to cope with the booming post war economy, the slack was taken up by motor transport. The Government increased railway charges and the taxes to interstate road hauliers to make them less competitive with rail transport.
The Act was disallowed by the Privy Council in 1954, as a breach of the Federal Constitution to free trade between the States.
During the war the Chadwick Company had a fleet of more than thirty-two trucks partly owed to growing production at BHP, emerging from the war with remarkable success. At its peak HH Chadwick and Son’s fleet amounted to over one hundred and fifty vehicles and employed 200 people.
AF Toll too was on the move. Heavily involved with transport of mineral sands for National Minerals, it developed a mobile conveyor system for loading this material onto ships. It allowed the ship to be loaded irrespective of the availability of wharf cranes. The efficiency of the system caused large quantity of North Coast sands to be diverted from Brisbane to the loading plant in Newcastle. At the time of the Toll-Chadwick merger in 1965 Toll had a fleet of one hundred and eighteen units.
During the devastating Lower Hunter Valley floods of February 1955 the railway system failed. About one third of the State railways were immobilised. It was left to private operators, to answer to call by the Government to help the communities.
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Newcastle Industrial Heritage Association