It is often said that logistics are the main part of strategy. The Roman army was well aware of it. The Legions augmented their lines of supply by colonising the countries they conquered, building foundries, and manufacturing shops for production of war material close to the fighting army. By contrast both Napoleon and Hitler’s armies were defeated in Russia when their line of supply became too extended and the transportation network failed. Japan didn’t learn either.
The great achievements of Newcastle’s industries during the Second World War were never matched by the performance of its transport network. The extensive production range of the local industry was hampered by an inadequate transport system stretched to breaking point: particularly shipping.
Shipping was in short supply due to military requisition and successful enemy attacks. In 1940 ten ships were sunk by raiders and three more by mine laid by raiders. Several cargo ships were lost to the action of Japanese submarines, the BHP Co’s Iron Chieftain, Iron Crown, Iron Knight, carrying iron ore from South Australia were torpedoed with the loss of 56 lives. Other vessels leaving the port with finished product suffered the same fate. Difficulties continued after the war.
Production of coal fell, so did that of coke, pig iron, steel ingots, and other steel merchant product. J Turner writes that: “…by 1956 the Port of Newcastle was silted up and its plant obsolescent “. A situation described by the Chamber of Commerce as a “ chaotic state”. Basically the infrastructure of the port was what Turner describes as “state-of-the-art method of the 1870s”.
The Australian Coal, Shipping and the Harbour explained, that the State Government “pillaged” the port of Newcastle, by diverting the revenue of the port into consolidated revenue and neglecting the programme for port improvements. This situation led Ian Stewart to write in Shaping The Hunter - “ the port Committee assumed that the existing coal loading facilities…would remain adequate”, the declining demand for coal given as a reason.
Another reason was that the regulation of the Australian economy in the war years was still affecting the operations of private transport. Commercial transporters were affected by all sorts of shortages, from spare parts to fuel. The Government formed the War Transport Pool consisting of A.G. Hawkins (Chairman), Harry Chadwick, Allan Bramble, Vic Toll, Lee Nicholls of Gale Bros., W. Marshall who represented the brick-carters, and R Berry of Dungog. This board controlled the distribution of petrol, tyres and spare parts as well as manpower, it performed a vital role in wartime.
However, by the end of the decade the transport industry had recovered to the point that improvements in the design of motor trucks were threatening to put an end to interstate general cargo shipping industry, and railways were unable to re-establish their dominance of land transportation.
The emergence of the Upper Hunter Valley as a major source of quality coal and its proximity to the surface, reinforced the importance of rail transport. It became evident that new lines were needed, as well as improved technology in both mining and transport operations.
Coal would eventually come to the port but in some cases it was carted from the mine to railhead by a fleet of motor trucks. At times trucks would deliver coal directly to stockpiles for storage or blending.
Improvements in passenger services eventuated with the electrification of the Newcastle-Sydney line in 1984 and the introduction of the XPT on the Sydney-North Coast service fulfilled old promises. It had a marked effect on the towns of the Upper Valley, and the interior, when extended to serve the New England region. Prior to this event air travel was the preferred long distance travel mode.
Long distance transport is more efficient when served by aircraft. Military use of this service has amply demonstrated the versatility and reliability of this mode.
Newcastle’s Williamtown Airport has suffered in the past from having to share its operations with the RAAF Base. The controversy in regard to an alternative site was settled when Charlie Jones, Minister for Transport and Civil Aviation decided in 1975, to extend the runway and build a new terminal. The intention then was to cater for international flights. But this view was criticised in a report by Gutteridge, Haskins and Davey Ltd., in their 1993 “Newcastle Airport Plan” with: “the proximity of Newcastle to Sydney represents a situation where competition exists between the rail, road and air modes of transport; whereas over longer distances air travel has a significantly higher proportion of the market, the viability of passenger and freight services by air between the Hunter and the capital of the State is particularly vulnerable to changes in road and rail transport systems”.
The completion of the Newcastle Freeway (F3) added to the problem of competition as people opted for private car transport, a switch that caused a growing threat to rail services as well. Passengers turned from the airlines to road and rail, resulting in annual passenger movements dropping by more than 50,000 in the following decade, to a low of 60,000 passengers per year. Newcastle Airport’s resurgence has lifted the terminal’s movement of passengers to 750,000 in 2005. ‘The fastest growing regional airport in Australia’ (NMH) is adding a new dimension to service to the public and the tourism industry with a forecast increase to 840,000 passengers in 2006.
The stream of innovations was accelerating, the appointment of high-calibre Railway Manager, David Hill, was a triumph. Under his direction rail services were greatly improved, remarkable was the reversal of the historical trend of huge annual railway deficits. Punctuality and reliability were welcomed by increased patronage. Seven million passenger journeys were being made each year by 1991.
In 1988 State Rail embarked in large scale upgrading of rail lines in the Hunter Valley, $90 million were spent on track improvements and a further $20 million on 100 new 100 tonnes coal wagons.
Fundamental changes improved services of City-Rail as a philosophy was adopted by the NSW Parliament Transport Administration Act 1988, to operate railways “efficiently in accordance with sound commercial practice”. This prompted Brian Cogan to write: “… a large scale restructuring of organisation and management … turned its sights from serving the public to serving the customer “. This market-oriented approach resulted in a long-term advantage to Newcastle, it consolidated the city’s position as a key hub for railway activity in NSW.
FreightRail trains moved from colliery to the port in interminable fashion, comprised of as many as eighty four 100 tonnes gross wagons hauled by up to four diesel-electric locomotives, trains from the North West transported 2.5 million tonnes of wheat annually as well as large quantities of ore concentrate from Cobar and iron and steel product. The forecast of 100 million tonnes of coal per year, most of it transported by rail, will see partial privatisation of the railway system, it will become necessary in order to produce the necessary organisation and infrastructure requirements.
The past three decades witnessed the unbridled aggressiveness of the Australian road transport industry. The increasing size of trucks and their frequency of use, in times of heightened environmental awareness has caused the community to demand restrictions of their use on some roads. These restrictions provide the medium for coexistence and goodwill between the community and the industry, in the interest of environmental respect. Jeff Horn of Newcastle is an example.
Horns Transport won the environmental award in 1994, and 1996 when they were awarded the NSW Road Transport Association Master Carriers of the Year, also winning their Environmental Excellence Award. His company sees commercial advantage in good community relations. He admits philosophically: “…carriers in the past we are talking 20-30 years ago, had to abide by the conditions customers imposed on them. But now its’ not what the customer imposes, its what the community expects, which is different. So not only do you have to be aware of what your customer demands, you have to be aware of what the community demands.” (J Turner, Transport in the Hunter)
In the future coal transport may not see large fleets of trucks, or interminable trains moving to the port, there are more environmentally acceptable technologies being considered, such as pipelines and other infrastructure. Looking further in the direction of oil production one has to wander what changes the road transport industry will have to accept in the not too distant future.
It is impossible to describe details of every event when the task is to condense 200 years of history into a few pages.
Readers whose interest lingers beyond the scope of these lines are advised to read John Turner’s excellent “200 Years of Transport History in the Hunter”.
Other sources of information have contributed to the final work in a modest way. We thank all contributors for their cooperation.
Victor Cattaneo 2006
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Newcastle Industrial Heritage Association