Q. Who are we?
The University of Newcastle’s Coal River Working Party is a 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 Cultural Collections collaborations across the Hunter Regional communities.
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 group is part of the UON’s Library’s Cultural Collections and GLAMx Living Histories Digitisation Lab where students undertake Work Integrated Learning (WIL) placements. Part of the WIL placement includes attending and presenting at the HLH meeting, we find this is a good way for students to engage and network with the wider community, especially with sector professionals. Some of the work of members of the group and WIL students includes digitisation of archives and collections to make these available on the University of Newcastle Library’s Cultural Collections digital platform Livinghistories@UON .
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.
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 Livinghistories@uon . 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’