National Nomination for Newcastle 2012

A map of the area showing the two Precincts and the Convict Lumber Yard for National Heritage Listing

National Nomination – Coal River & Government Domain 2012
By Ann Hardy and Gionni Di Gravio
 (1.1MB PDF File)

The following cover letter with copy of the National Nomination for Newcastle 2012 was sent to:

Sharon Grierson MP,  Federal Member for Newcastle

Tim Owen MP, State Member for Newcastle

Cr. John Tate, Lord Mayor of Newcastle


‘Coal River (Mulubinba) and Government Domain’ National nomination for the Commonwealth Heritage List


We are writing to inform you that the ‘Coal River (Mulubinba) and Government Domain’ National nomination for the Commonwealth Heritage List was submitted by the University of Newcastle’s Coal River Working Party in February 2012 to the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts.

We believe that the ‘Coal River (Mulubinba) and Government Domain’ is deserving of official National recognition because it was the site of Australia’s first discoveries of coal (1791 and 1796), the first export (1799), and first return (1801).

It has therefore played an important and unique role in launching the Nation’s economy, which has forged the economic, political and social evolution of Australia. It is truly a ‘Birthplace’ site in terms of how human collaborations in these early years created a distinctive social and political process that helped establish a more democratic society in Australia. This evolution from the harsh days of convict labour to a more civil society and the beginnings of private enterprise led to improved living and working conditions in Australia.

The nomination contains two Precincts: the Coal River Precinct (encompassing Nobbys, Macquarie Pier and Fort Scratchley) and Newcastle Government Domain (encompassing the James Fletcher Hospital site, Obelisk and King Edward Park). Also included is the Convict Lumber Yard, which lies in close proximity to both Precincts. These sites are indicative of the European formation of the settlement and its governance as a shared heritage.

Coal River (Mulubinba) and Government Domain is of outstanding National heritage significance because it is a place of ‘living history’, where Aboriginal and Colonial lifestyle is mirrored in the landscape. These two cultures reflect the early Aboriginal and European association with the place and their use of the land and how these cultures came together to tell a unique story. In Aboriginal Dreaming Nobbys (Whibayganba) was place of an imprisoned kangaroo, as was Newcastle (Mulubinba) a place for the incarceration of convicts. Newcastle was also the site of the first thorough and methodical study an Aboriginal language in the country, conducted by the Reverend Lancelot Threlkeld with Biraban in 1824. Their work is still used to this day by linguists in the reconstruction of Aboriginal Languages across the Region.

Newcastle is the site of the earliest profitable coalmines in the Southern Hemisphere. According to the 1930 Royal Commission into the Coal Industry (p.50):

‘The discovery of good quality coal dates from the earliest period of white settlement in Australia… During early exploration of the coastal belt outcrops of coal were found near Newcastle in 1796 and at Coal Cliff, near Wollongong in the following year. The importance of the discovery was not overlooked at the time, although there was no knowledge then of the immense extent of these coal beds, which have been by far the most productive of all that have been discovered in Australia and have exercised a powerful influence upon the development of New South Wales.’

Coal Cliff proved unworkable, yet Newcastle (Coal River) proved to be the site of the first export of coal shipped to Bengal in 1799:

‘We have also some hopes that coal with which the country abounds will be of much Colonial advantage. A ship lately returned to Bengal loaded with coals, and it gave no small satisfaction to every person interested in the prosperity of the colony to see this first export of it; and I am hopeful from these advantages that New South Wales, however contemptible it may at present appear in the list of our colonies, may yet become an acquisition of value to the mother country.
– 1799, September 8.’ (Mr John Thomson to Captain Schanck, H.R.N.S.W., Vol. III, pp. 716 – 718)

Coal River was also the site of the first return (or profit) made in the fledgling colony of New South Wales, (2 pounds, 5 shillings) and was recorded by Governor King in a letter to Sir Joseph Banks in August 1801

‘The first cargo of coals brought from the Coal River in a Government vessel I exchanged with the master of the Cornwallis, who goes to Bengal from hence for iron, which he gave at 30 per cent. Profit for our coals at two pounds five shillings per chaldron. I believe this is the first return ever made from New South Wales.’ (Governor King to Sir Joseph Banks (Banks Papers.), H.R.N.S.W., Vol.IV, p. 359).

Newcastle on a cultural level was also the site of the first full length autobiography ever written in Australia, by James Hardy Vaux (1782 – c.1841) and his Vocabulary of the Flash Language the first dictionary ever compiled in Australia around the years 1811-1814, probably on the site of the Convict Lumber Yard. Newcastle’s artisans also created the Macquarie Chest, the most significant cultural artefact of the Colonial period.

We believe that Commonwealth Heritage recognition for Newcastle and the Hunter Region is long overdue. This is our third attempt at striving for National recognition for our city and region’s role in the making of this prosperous Nation.

Your support for this National nomination is crucial and greatly appreciated.

Yours sincerely,

Gionni Di Gravio
University Archivist
Chair – Coal River Working Party
Cultural Collections
Level 2 Auchmuty Library
University of Newcastle
Callaghan NSW 2308

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