Teralba Colliery Oral History Project

Teralba Colliery
Teralba Colliery [Lake Mac Libraries: Lake Macquarie History Online]

Out the Gate in 88: The amalgamation of Teralba and Stockton Borehole Collieries

This project was co-ordinated by Deborah Waddell, Work Integrated Learning & Bach. of Arts student at the University of Newcastle

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This collection of oral history interviews delves into the mining community of Teralba Colliery and its neighbouring Stockton Borehole Colliery, located in the Lake Macquarie region of New South Wales. The interviews were conducted in 2006 by Peta Belic, with miners who had worked at Teralba Colliery during the period 1979-1991. Predominantly, tales of mateship, larrikinism, danger and back-breaking hard work abound. Additionally, the interviews shed light on the 1988 event known as ‘The Amalgamation’―during which time, Stockton Borehole amalgamated with Teralba. Set against the backdrop of the 1980’s, the miners’ stories coincide with the shift in industrial relations from a centralised wage system to an enterprise agreement system, which, for many of these seasoned miners, heralded the end of the mining industry as they knew and understood it. The Amalgamation represents an emotion charged time that pitted Teralba against Borehole, and for many of the Teralba blokes, signified their abandonment by their union. Interviews with miners from both sides, plus from those who would join Teralba post-Amalgamation, each bring a unique perspective to this defining moment in the history of Teralba Colliery. We acknowledge and thank Dr Peta Belic for her contributions to Cultural Collections.

Interview with Ken Brown

Ken Brown has lived in the Kurri Kurri area all his life. Having had many family and friends who were miners, it was inevitable he would end up a miner himself at the age of 25. Since then, in his words, he has been “virtually around the world” (or NSW, anyway) as a miner, and has seen much change in the industry, from board and pillar to long wall mining and from the culture of mateship to what he perceives to be the less honest, backstabbing culture of the industry today. Working at Teralba from 1979-1997, Ken affectionately recounts his initial reflections of the place as a “shit hole”, but admits it was a “pleasure to go to work, working with the blokes you were working with.” Reminiscences of practical jokes, nicknames, shared extra-curricular activities and even the odd gruesome injury (both his and others) pepper this account, before the discussion inevitably turns to the Amalgamation. It was at this time Ken believes he lost his respect for the unions, when they were “stabbed in the back”, and they found themselves forced to work begrudgingly with those “who stole our jobs.” But Ken who went into mining because he didn’t need a trade to get a job and wanted better pay and job security, reckons he’d still recommend the mining industry to younger blokes today, believing “if you’re cut out for it, you grow to love it.” [transcript]

Interview with Robert Burton

Growing up in Sydney, and trialing every career under the sun, from plumbing, construction and landscape gardening, to teaching and even studying law, Bob Burton asserts that he stumbled into mining, after meeting his future wife in Newcastle, stymied his plans for an around the world sailing trip. And in over a quarter of a century, Bob has experienced more than his fair share in the mines. The terrifying fear―which fostered lifetime camaraderie and made the “beer taste all the sweeter”―as a result of incidents like the runaway battery loco that required a leap of faith to survive. The absolute fun, “the capers…and all the pranks,” from riding out on a ballast skip, to the loco versus Dukie fruit fights, and the Bob Hawke phosphate valve and Brick of Gibraltar tales. The unforgiving work, such as wading through chest deep water “stripped right down to our undies…and…boots.” However, it is Bob’s nostalgia for his beloved union and their eventual fall from grace that is most poignant in this interview. He recounts the early days when the delegates were passionate and a manager’s ‘poor’ attitude was enough to call a forty-eight hour stop work. From aggregate meetings at the Kurri Kurri sports ground, where “the hair went up on the back of ya neck,” to “marching on Drayton” with 7000 men in a 100 buses. But this all changed with the Enterprise Agreements of the 1980’s, which, in the space of two decades, destroyed all the old miners had fought for and pitted “blokes just like us, who were fighting for their jobs,” against one another. [transcript]

Teralba Grounds
Teralba Colliery Grounds [Lake Mac Libraries: Lake Macquarie History Online]

Interview with Peter Faull

In his words, Peter Faull traded a traineeship as an industrial chemist for a “good time with my mates.” It wasn’t until settling down that Peter was drawn to the mines to support his young family. Peter vividly recounts his first weeks on the job at Teralba in 1981: from three boring days of induction; to the fella who, when it came to the crunch, couldn’t face the descent to pit bottom; to the six weeks of day shift training, before reality set in and dog watch (the junior shift) became his new way of life. A life, he recalls as a bolter in a development unit. From dog watch it was to swing shift, arvo shift and eventually day shift (where after a dust-filled stretch on the long wall) Peter found himself learning the ropes of laying and maintaining rails and turns. Unfortunately, on reflection, Peter believes it was this stint working rails that rendered him a casualty of “Out the Gate in 88.” He recalls of the battle, in which BHP left the decision regarding redundancies to the unions, “I’m not ashamed to admit I was selfish and I just wanted to save my job,” but “they fought for their jobs, they fought better.” However, lured by the ideal of coming full circle, Peter returned to Teralba in 1996, where he lasted eighteen months before retrenchment again claimed his mining career for the final time. For the laymen, this interview is riddled with great descriptions of those peculiar mining terms like out-by, leco, swing shift, chemical anchors and stone dust, to name just a few. [transcript]

Interview with Allen Horder

Allen’s mining career was almost over before it began. A loco driver early on, an incident with a runaway loco landed him in hospital in traction for five months and off work for another five. And he admits returning from this, he didn’t have much better luck up on pit top, taking up where his father left off on retirement, with “button jobs” as he ruefully called them. However, sticking with it, it was six months or so after the closure of Hebburn in 1972 that “the job come up at Stockton Borehole, and that’s when I kicked off there.” Transferring to Teralba in 1988, Allen worked with the “bolting machine, the Wombats they call them,” doing what he believed was the most dangerous job there, bolting up the roof out in front of the miner. He also recalls of his time there, the nefarious rats: hanging dead from equipment; chewing through lunch bags, running over you when you snoozed at crib time; and even of one rat, who a worker adopted on weekends. And open day, taking the kids down the pit so they could experience the wonder of it being “blacker than black.” And of the tree ferns and petrified wood that could be found running through the coal seam. And of mateship. And lastly, of a love for night shift; “Yeah I loved it. I’d go over in the morning, at the hotel across the road here and have a couple of beers, come home and have lunch, lay down for a while.” [transcript]

Teralba Washery
Teralba Colliery Washery [Lake Mac Libraries: Lake Macquarie History Online]

Interview with David Jones

David Jones considers his start in mining ironic, given that his father, a lifelong miner, moved his family from Wales to Australia in 1968 because he didn’t want his sons ending up in the mines. Commencing at John Darling in 1973, he eventually found himself at Stockton Borehole three years prior to the Amalgamation. He recalls of the Amalgamation, “well we thought that was the fairest thing – was to go one for one from each pit” but in the end “you take the referee’s decision and just go with it.” Commencing at Teralba during that turbulent time, where a few held a grudge for years, he acknowledges that although “it’s not very nice to be called a scab,” he understood the Pacific blokes’ feelings, particularly in relation to having to go back to being the juniors. Eventually, however, life went on and on a lighter note, David reflects on the funnier times in the pit: getting their pay docked by the under-manager who, out walking his dog one evening, caught them nicking off early; the bloke, who when questioned about having a run of Friday’s off, responded with “the only reason I’m working a four day week is because I can’t live on three;” chemically bonding (just as they would the roof) the under-manager’s bike seat on backwards; and the use of nicknames, such as suitcase, “everybody’s got to carry him,” and blisters, “always turns up after the work is finished.” [transcript]

Interview with Paul Jones

A self-confessed fan of the outdoors and fresh air, it took the effects of a prolonged drought during the 1980’s on his livelihood and family life, for Paul Jones’ father-in-law to finally convince him to trade his career as a head greenkeeper for one in the mines. And in his words, “I loved it…absolutely loved it…The adrenaline and the adventure…it was just a whole new different world.” The old blokes’ stories of their days digging for coal with horses and pick and axe, the camaraderie and the sheer exhilaration of witnessing his first rock fall. For Paul, employed at Lambton B for a number of years, the trouble when it happened at Teralba, seemed a “million miles away to us.” However, starting at Teralba in 1990, a couple of years after the Amalgamation, his awareness of Lambton B as “one big happy family,” threw Teralba into stark relief. “They hated each other, you know they hated each other.” Training with the Borehole blokes on day shift, he was indoctrinated with their side of the story, but as pit seniority would have it, it was the Pacific blokes with whom he would end up forming an affinity on the back shifts, recognizing that with the need to become “an official Pacific bloke you know, I had to hate them Borehole so-and-sos.” Ultimately, however, Paul recognized it was the changing industry that was the true culprit; it shattered the ‘all for one and one for all’ spirit and ushered in a new dawn of “every man for himself.” [transcript]

Crib Time
Crib Time [Lake Mac Libraries: Lake Macquarie History Online]

Interview with Stan Juchniewicz

After an apprenticeship with BHP and a nine year stint as a milkman, it was Stan’s neighbour, “an old miner from Stockton Borehole,” who got him “involved in the mining game.” Starting at Stockton Borehole in 1971, he finished up at Teralba after 28 years in 1999. Stan admits for him, apart from the lure of the money, which he considers was often more than many professionals could earn, it was the opportunity to work nights that appealed most, affording him time for his wife, kids and sporting endeavours. Whilst Stan acknowledges his active family and sports life didn’t leave much time for socializing with work mates, there was a definite comradeship and “it was just good to get to work and just see them and whatever.” Stan recalls the initial strangeness of adjusting to working in the dark with only “this little light on top of your helmet,” and learning to angle your hat “so you could still see the person’s face without blinding them.” Additionally, Stan reflects on the differences between Stockton Borehole and Teralba, admitting working the long wall at Teralba was initially terrifying, coming from a long wall you often crawled through on hands and knees to one so big that “the coal would just come crashing down.” Lastly, Stan ponders the complex and undeniably significant concept of ‘seniority’. It was the right to seniority that fueled the Amalgamation battle between the Stockton Borehole and Teralba workers, and as Stan recognizes, also favoured some of those who perhaps didn’t necessarily deserve it. [transcript]

Interview with Neil Koller

From the first time his father took him down the pit at Burwood Colliery as a young kid, Neil knew “I wanted to work in a coal mine from that day;” and having worked in the pits at Lambton, Wallsend, Stockton Borehole, Blue Mountains, Springvale and Chain Valley before finally starting at Teralba, where he would also eventually end his mining career, he certainly accomplished that. The experience Neil garnered before starting at Teralba, allowed him to recognize it as both one of the most dangerous and difficult pits he worked in. He comments on the poor roof conditions at Teralba that made it dangerous, as well as the sheer size that it more difficult to work. “Of course you don’t want it lower than how high you are, but the lower the roof the easier the work…working an eight foot or a ten foot or a twelve foot seam, everything’s up that high and everything’s longer and bigger and heavier and it’s a lot harder.” With a preference for pillar extraction, Neil wasn’t a great fan of long wall mining and was happy at Teralba on the swing shift, where, as the “service shift,” work focused on ensuring the other three shifts were well stocked for production. This included setting up the panels and miners for the other shifts, as well as rail work and belt moves. In Neil’s words for him, mining “and to get on machinery and drive it and all that, that was enjoyable to me; that wasn’t a job.” [transcript]

Production Board
Pit Production Board [Lake Mac Libraries: Lake Macquarie History Online]

Interview with Phillip Owen

A greenkeeper working at Club Macquarie, Phillip reminisces about befriending a lot of the Teralba blokes who frequented the place, prior to his start in the mining industry in 1981; although he credits his actual start to luck, calling into John Darling at the right time on the right day and securing a start. It was a move that in his words “totally changes your life; it changed my life.” Despite the fact that “you don’t get a suntan down there,” mining afforded him the time to continue with his beloved surf boat training and the money for some of life’s luxuries. He recalls of starting at John Darling, “they were on strike for three days, and I still took home three times as much money than I did working as a greenkeeper.” Having commenced his training on the long wall at John Darling, it seemed inevitable he would end up on the long wall at Teralba when it commenced, transferring there in 1982. He compares his time in development units on the long wall there to his later work at Dartbrook, and reflects on the gradual changes in machinery over the years that made undertaking the job “a lot safer.” [transcript]

Interview with Jim Richardson

Inspired by his father’s pay packets, Jim commenced in the pits at 21, believing he’d be there “until I decided what I wanted to do when I grew up.” 26 years later―14 of those at Teralba―he’s made his way through the ranks of miner, deputy and under-manager, to superintendent, conceding he stayed “because it’s better than a real job.” Jim also acknowledges his wife Anne, who proudly hangs his qualifications on the wall, and recognizes they reveal far more about her support of him than they do his abilities. With the benefit of hindsight, Jim concedes mining in the 1980’s was far more physically demanding, with the workforce a lot fitter, but a lot more who also got hurt; and he credits behavioural changes since, as the key to reducing injuries. On the Amalgamation, Jim concedes, “The Stockton Borehole Lodge would have accepted a one for one…but we, as a lodge, voted no…we drew the line in the sand…we pulled the blue line and we got smacked in the nose.” Although, he does believe it wasn’t a fair fight; “It was never on the agenda for the aggregate meeting that made that decision…but other people knew…that became obvious as whole reams of paper were produced as evidence as to a precedence for that type of amalgamation…and everybody I’ve talked to since from other mines…said that was the part that swayed them.” Nonetheless, Jim declares there was a silver lining, “a whole lot of people that started at the same time…from 1981…ended up back in the same crew and that was, for me, a highlight of my mining career; just that opportunity to all be there.” [transcript]

Shift end.jpg
End of Shift [Lake Mac Libraries: Lake Macquarie History Online]

Interview with Ralph Roddam

Leaving school at 14, Ralph went to work for his sister on her property, and he credits his start in the mining industry to the machinery know-how he learnt during his time there. He began his mining career at Burwood, before eventually relocating to Teralba, where he recalls, “I hated them shafts. Especially that one. I think it was just over 300 metres deep. I was only used to going up and down 340 feet. That was a scary joint, that.” Knowing that, one can only imagine Ralph’s thoughts the day a mining engineer’s decision to shut down the electricity, without checking that all the miners were out, resulted in him and another miner stranded in the cage, a quarter of the way up the shaft from pit bottom, “for 4 hours, on one rope.” And if it wasn’t fear of the shaft itself, it was fear of his fellow miners, with Ralph reminiscing about a prank he played on a fellow miner, a first-grade footballer no less, wrapping a lump of coal in a lolly wrapper. “I could hear him going crunch, crunch, crunch…I thought this bloke’s going to get me; he’s going to grab hold of me and rip me straight out of the cab.” Seems though, that Ralph is also a collector of sorts and this interview concludes with Peta and Ralph discussing the many certificates and things he collected throughout his days in the pits; certificates for distance in metres mined in one week, certificates for his myriad qualifications, bonuses for safety targets met, and one solitary sticker, reading “Out the Gate in 88!” [transcript]

Teralba Colliery Bath-house [Lake Mac Libraries: Lake Macquarie History Online]


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