The Lord Mayor of Newcastle Cr John Tate unveiled a plaque donated by the Australian Agricultural Company, to commemorate the opening of the first railway on 10 December 1831. The AA Company (founded 1824), had agreed to take over coal mining at the settlement of Newcastle, from the convict miners that had commenced Australia's first mines in 1804.
The AA Company's first mine, known as the 'A' Pit was located on 'the hill'. A railway using iron rails from England was constructed commencing at the pit, down the hill to a coal-loading 'staithe' at the river. One ton wagons of coal were rolled down the railway, connected by rope to empty wagons at the wharf, which were pulled up the slope as the loaded wagons descended.
No physical evidence remains of the location of Australia's first railway. In November 2006 surveying company Monteath & Powys used a survey map produced by AA Company surveyor Armstrong in 1830, to relocate the position of the pit and railway. Other drawings and documents from the AA Company archives were used to verify the location. This became the basis for determining the location to mount the plaque.
On Sunday 10 December 2006, 150 visitors and representatives of local historical and heritage groups attended a ceremony organised by Newcastle Heritage Industrial Association. The event was held on the Newcastle Foreshore, now dramatically different than it was 175 years ago, at the site of what was the coal-loader at the end of the railway.
Member for Newcastle Bryce Gaudry welcomed those in attendance and spoke on the historical significance of the event. Peter Sherlock from Monteath & Powys described how the railway's location was proved. Pennie Pemberton, an archivist at the ANU in Canberra, and an expert on the history of the AA Company, described how the company became involved in coal mining and railways. Keith Powell from Newcastle Port Corporation explained how that first private mining company began the developments that have made Newcastle the largest coal exporting port in the world today.
The Lord Mayor recounted the events of the morning of 10 December 1831, and it's major significance to Australia's development. The first private coal company sent it's first coal along Australia's first railway, to the first coal-loader, to be automatically loaded into Sophia Jane - Australia's first steam powered ship.
This was the first time in Australia that COAL, RAILWAY, SHIPS and STEAM all came together - the beginning of the industrialised Australia.
Newcastle Industrial Heritage Association