The University of Newcastle Library’s Hunter Living Histories (previously known as Coal River Working Party) was initiated in 2003 and takes a multi-disciplinary approach facilitating engagement and research around cultural heritage and history of our regions.

This University-community approach encourages collaboration between our diverse communities, the GLAM sector and across disciplines, such as history, architecture, geology, surveying, archaeology, creative industries. Hunter Living Histories projects and updates are regularly shared on this website.

Interns and Work Integrated Learning (WIL) students at the Library’s GLAM Lab are also invited to participate at Hunter Living Histories meetings to share projects and gain knowledge from industry professionals.

Our Monthly meetings encourage active participation to facilitate further university-community collaboration and research.

If you are interested in attending meetings there is further information  AVAILABLE HERE


The University of Newcastle’s Coal River Working Party an historical research group formed in 2003 by then Dr (now Professor) Erik Eklund in the Dept of History. Mr. Doug Lithgow, President of the Parks and Playgrounds Movement Inc. approached the University with the proposal to form a team of academic researchers dedicated to the investigation of the early history of Newcastle, with a view to safeguarding the heritage fabric of Newcastle’s birthplace, the Coal River Heritage Precinct.

Since 2016 the work of the Coal River Working Party has become part of the Hunter (Living) Histories Initiative, to better reflect the University’s Special Collections collaborations across the Hunter Regional communities.

Outside the convict coal mine entrance, under Fort Scratchley, Open Day 2004
Outside one of the convict coal mine entrances under Fort Scratchley, Open Day 31 March 2004


Doug Lithgow and Emeritus Professor John Fryer - Members of the CRWP since 2003, photographed in 2015 (Photo Credit: Charlie Hardy)
Doug Lithgow and Emeritus Professor John Fryer – Members of the CRWP since 2003, photographed in 2015 (Photo Credit: Charlie Hardy)


General Orders. (1807, March 22). The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 - 1842), p. 1.
General Orders. (1807, March 22). The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 – 1842), p. 1.

Q. Why ‘Coal River’?

The name ‘Coal River’ was the first European name describing the fledgling settlement that would later become known as the city of Newcastle.

Q. What do we do?

The group meets monthly at the University of Newcastle, and members are invited to share what is going on across their communities, such as important historic commemorations, upcoming cultural events, research topics as well as their community issues and needs.

They are invited to share cultural resources such as photographs, stories, research and collections; it’s often surprising the connections that are made when knowledge is shared, and projects take shape to reflect the needs, as well as opportunities for the University to help.  Projects undertaken by the group are collaborative and multidisciplinary, and tap into the region’s knowledge linking students, academics with the wider community as well as experts in the field to explore the deeper history of the area.


The Macquarie Pier Commemorative Plaque unveiled by Her Excellency Professor Marie Bashir AC CVO, Governor of New South Wales at a ceremony at the Nobbys Surf Life Saving Club on the 4 August 2010 at 4 pm.
The Macquarie Pier Commemorative Plaque unveiled by Her Excellency Professor Marie Bashir AC CVO, Governor of New South Wales at a ceremony at the Nobbys Surf Life Saving Club on the 4 August 2010 at 4 pm.


Q. How do we work?

The Coal River Working Party functions under a multi-disciplinary model with volunteers coming from a variety of academic and community research backgrounds including history, engineering, geology, surveying, archaeology, creative arts and education and share a special interest in research and conservation of Newcastle. There are also representatives from the local Aboriginal community and various corporations and government departments.

Originally the group focused research on conservation of the Coal River Precinct, but has broadened its focus to look at other places in Newcastle such as the Newcastle Government Domain, as well as the wider Hunter Region.  Collaborations are encouraged between academic staff, students and organisations to interpret the array of historical material relating to early Newcastle and the Hunter Region. Since 2016 the University’s Coal River Working Party is now part of the wider Hunter (Living) Histories Initiaitive.

Some of the projects have involved developing new ways of presenting history using contemporary technology and media.  For example see the extraordinary 3D Virtual Time Machine work of Charles Martin. This wide disciplinary approach lets other narratives be explored so that further research can be undertaken to generate new knowledge and ideas.

Convict Lumber Yard rendered by Charles Martin 2013
3D Convict Lumber Yard rendered by Charles Martin 2013 (click for a larger view)

Q. What are our aims?

Most of our stories are either lost, incorrectly recorded or forgotten, and the location of important tangible physical and documentary evidence for our achievements need to be found, documented and made publicly accessible. These achievements have helped shape the world we live in, as well as our land and the peoples of Australia.

The aim of the Hunter (Living) Histories Initiative is to therefore help restore Newcastle and the Hunter Region’s significant history, and historic achievements back into the Australian story. The aim of the group is to achieve positive outcomes for history and heritage in the Hunter region.

With the Hunter (Living) Histories Initiaitive (HHi/CRWP) the original aim was to protect Newcastle’s culturally important landmarks in the Coal River Precinct, that were only placed on the NSW Heritage Register since 2004. The overall vision is to then create an Interpretive Centre and Heritage Park to express Newcastle’s unique Aboriginal, convict and industrial heritage and a management plan for the entire site.

We also seek to inspire a renaissance in new and symbiotic approaches to energy and cultural innovation across the regional, national and global community, as well as provide a tangible bridge between ancient Aboriginal wisdom and custodianship of the land and western science.




To achieve recognition for Newcastle and the Hunter Region’s contribution
in the making of the Australian nation.

To have Newcastle and the Hunter Region’s important historic sites nationally recognised

To ensure our legislative frameworks are working effectively for our heritage


To locate, and physically (or digitally) repatriate archival records
of historical research importance to the Hunter Region


To research, investigate and verify historical evidence


To inspire, and share knowledge and expertise to promote
the importance of heritage to communities


Q: What do you think is the most exciting aspect of this project?

To see community, business and government create wonderful opportunities for our Region through work on historical resources. Such exciting projects have been the recreation of Newcastle in 1825,https://hunterlivinghistories.com/2017/04/17/newcastle-in-1825/ and the broader project to create a virtual time machine for the whole region https://hunterlivinghistories.com/category/3d-virtual-hunter-project/ Others include the Virtual Victoria Theatrehttps://hunterlivinghistories.com/category/victoria-theatre-3d-project/  as well as uncovering the world of women’s histories and the role they played in shaping the worldhttps://hunterlivinghistories.com/category/histories-of-hunter-women/


Q: How can people interact with this project – where can they see it / read more?

People can go to the HLH website to learn more about the projects  https://hunterlivinghistories.com/ and also access the digital collections online at Living Histories Digital Repository . Members of the community are also welcome to attend HLH monthly meetings and there are details on the websitehttps://hunterlivinghistories.com/about/meetings/ All our online resources and research are open to the community and available in high resolution free of charge.


Q: Can members of the public contribute to this project in any way?

We are pleased to hear from members of the community who are researching the region’s history to support and share projects on our website. We also encourage collaborations, as often students can also get involved in community projects and build their knowledge and expertise in a practical way.  We also encourage people to donate to our Vera Deacon Regional History Fund here:https://uoncc.wordpress.com/vera-deacon-fund/ to help provide paid employment for our dedicated volunteers, many who are young professionals, who help digitise and prepare materials for free access across our sites and digital platforms.

I’m still confused!

Don’t worry, have a look at these series of panels created by the late Mr Keith Davey as a ‘Beginners Guide to the Work of the Coal River Working Party to 2005’

2 thoughts on “About

  1. I have a map of the “Coal Harbour and Rivers on the coast of New South Wales – Surveyed by Ensign Barrallieg – In His Majesty’s Armed Surveying Vessel – “Lady Nelson” – By order of Governor King 1801″ If this map is of any use and can be copied please let me know. Ken

  2. I am interested in any former residents that were in the United States from 1830 to 1865 and may have participated in the American Civil War; many people don’t even know there were any. I have confirmed and researched some 500+ and have acquired free bronze grave markers for over 45 of them. I am working on 12 right now to get markers for.

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