Most people in Newcastle and the Hunter were looking forward to a relaxing long weekend, planning a few days off. As we now know it was anything but a relaxing long weekend.
The Newcastle and Hunter Region will never forget the weekend when storms and floods closed down the heart of Newcastle, the Pasha Bulker went aground on Nobbys Beach and the levee system around Maitland was pushed to its limit.
On Thursday night, June 7, 2007, the Bureau of Meteorology warned of potential extreme weather conditions with a low pressure cell developing just north of Newcastle.
Over the next 12 hours this low generated gale force south easterlies that buffeted the city until midday on Friday, June 8, redeveloping in the middle of the afternoon as a line of thunderstorms that ceaselessly battered Newcastle throughout the evening, causing life threatening flash flooding in low lying area.
There was disastrous damage caused by the flooding but more was to come. At 2am on Saturday, June 9, a second low hit the city.
A family of four and a nephew were killed when a section of road collapsed under their car as they drove along the Pacific Highway at Somersby on the Central Coast. Two people died when their four-wheel drive was swept off a bridge by floodwaters at Clarence Town and a man died near Lambton when he was swept into a storm-water drain.
The following day, a man died when a tree fell onto his vehicle at Brunkerville. Another man died during a house fire that, it is believed, was started by a candle being used during the blackouts caused by the storm. The total death toll rose to ten.
Newcastle has its very own castle turret on top of The Hill in the form of the Leading Light Tower or Beacon Tower. It was one of two built to assist captains in bringing their ships safely into the port. The coast around Newcastle is littered with hundreds of shipwrecks and the pair of towers built in 1865/1866 helped to increase the safety of vessels entering the Hunter River.
The Leading Light Tower (or Beacon Tower) on the corner of Tyrrell and Brown Streets on The Hill looks a little like an old shot tower, but it’s not. It’s one of the navigational towers that was built in Newcastle in the mid-19th century to allow safe navigation into what was then quite a treacherous harbour
Listen to Carol Duncan’s interview with heritage strategist Sarah Cameron.
“At that time transportation by sea was pretty much the only way you could get goods in and out of Newcastle so the beacon tower – originally one of a pair built in 1865 – was important to allow captains to bring their vessels into the port unaccompanied and to safely navigate the heads.”
Sarah Cameron – Heritage Strategist
In an era of satellite navigation, the tower is low-tech. “It really does look quite medieval but at the time it was pretty high tech. We were really starting to invest in the port. After many shipwrecks the NSW government recognised the importance of trying to protect goods coming in and out of the harbour and to facilitate the expansion of our coal export trade which was really starting to gain momentum.”
This one was built in 1865 but there were two. “The other one was down on Tyrrell St towards to beach so a ship would come around Nobbys head, line up the two towers and once they got them into a line they knew that they were clear of the reef. However, it was designed in Sydney, perhaps not designed by local maritime engineers and there were problems with its effectiveness.
After the loss of a number of ships on the notorious Oyster Bank, the lights became known by mariners as the ‘misleading lights’. Navigators argued that the towers were too close together so the margin of error was around 200 feet. In a big sea, that 200 feet could be crucial. In 1917 the government put in new towers in Church Street and the harbour foreshore where they remain to this day but they’ve been moved around and are now modern structures,” said Sarah.
Built in 1865, the Cawarra disaster happened just the year after the foundation stones for the Lead Light Towers were laid: “Yes, this tower was originally only seven metres tall. It was ineffective once the parsonage was built down on Tyrrell Street and obscured the view of this top tower from the heads. So James Barnet, who was the colonial architect of the time, rebuilt it on the same base but extended it to 20 metres.”
“Barnet was the government architect of the day and he’d have had a team working for him. He was responsible for many of the great buildings in NSW including Sydney’s Customs House, Darlinghurst Courthouse and the Australian Museum.” Sarah adds, “You can see his trademark in this tower in that it looks like a castle or chess piece. It’s quite whimsical and fitting for New-Castle! Architecturally it is quite a folly, you have to wonder why anyone would bother.”
The tower used to have a roof over it and a burner in the bottom of the tower which was lit at night so that when ships were entering the heads at night the slot windows would illuminate from within.
“This one has survived which is great for our city as it’s a real icon. The other one of the pair was demolished although the base is still in the front yard of a house down the hill so the archaeological resource remains. It was actually in the garden of the harbour master.”
The doorway to the tower has now been sealed so any maintenance by council engineers has to be done via a cherry picker, but the harbour master was responsible for ensuring that the towers were lit, and stayed lit.
Other navigation devices at the time included the obelisk on Obelisk Hill and Flagstaff Hill which is where Fort Scratchley stands.
“The lighthouse at Nobbys was built in 1854, so there was a whole series of navigational infrastructure put in by the colonial government in order to expand the port and make sure that our coal export trade was able to provide economic benefits to the nation.”
The French barque Adolphe is just one of many shipwrecks that litter the entrance to Newcastle Harbour, yet 110 years after the disaster, this vessel is still one of the most visible. Carol Duncan spoke with Deb Mastello of the Newcastle Maritime Centre. [ABC Radio 2014]
A walk along the 2km stretch of Stockton Breakwall known as the Shipwreck Walk will allow you to see the remains of the Adolphe – yet the remains of The Sygna wrecked in 1974 are expected to be gone within the next decade.
Having sailed from Antwerp, the Adolphe was ultimately heading for Sydney to load wheat, however in large seas the ship came to grief on Newcastle’s notorious ‘Oyster Bank’ in 1904 after colliding with the wreck of another vessel, the Colonist, whilst being manoeuvred in to port by the tugs ‘Hero’ and ‘Victoria’.
The terrible irony of the story of the Adolphe is that it shouldn’t have actually come in to Newcastle at all.
In 1904 there were competing tug companies working in the port and the company that had chartered the Adolphe used its own operators.
When the Adolphe arrived off Newcastle, the captain waited in vain for the tug operators to arrive.
Eventually, the Adolphe was readied to be brought in to port by a competing tug company and it was on the way in that the message was seen at Nobbys Signal Station from the owners of the Adolphe to NOT enter Newcastle, but to continue straight past onto Sydney.
In large seas, the Adolphe was hit by three waves – the first of which broke the rope securing the Adolphe to the Victoria; the second save pushed the Adolphe toward the Oyster Bank (already littered with wrecks); and the third wave lifted the Adolphe and deposited the ship on top of several other wrecks including the Colonist, the Wendouree and the Cawarra. The Cawarra disaster in 1866 itself remains one of the worst in Australian maritime history.
While the loss of the Adolphe was a terrible loss for the company, all 47 persons on board the ship were safely removed and indeed the Australian Consul-General for France came to Newcastle to officially recognise the work of the lifeboat crew.
The rescue of the ship’s crew has gone down in local maritime history as one of the most remarkable in local waters.
Pleased to be able to share – my great great grandfather Henry Martin, far right, holding the boat.
This is taken in the water around the Pilot Station where he worked as crew of the “Victoria” Lifeboat. (Olive Hoggan’s (also her gr.g/father) photo.)
Henry Martin d.1899, No 2, Pilots Row, Newcastle, now called the Boatmens Cottages on Nobbys Rd. opposite Fort Scratchley. The 1st rescue while working on the “Victoria”, we have record of, is the “City of Newcastle”.
The little boy in the photo is Charles Henry Martin, son of Henry Martin, so dates the photo to approximately 1880.
Anyone who is keen on Newcastle’s history owes a great debt of gratitude to Ralph Snowball.
End of Dyke, Newcastle, NSW, 19 July 1900
Thousands of his glass negatives have been preserved and digitised by the University of Newcastle Archives and Cultural Collections and browsing through them on Flickr is bound to lead to hours disappearing down this fantastic historical rabbit-hole.
Photo: Ralph Snowball collection held by the University of Newcastle
Zaara Street Power Station was situated on Zaara Street, in the city of Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia. It was built to supply power for the New South Wales Government Railways (NSWGR) in 1915, when the first turbo-alternator of 2.5 megawatts was commissioned. The installation of additional plant in 1920 led to a generating capacity of 28.5 megawatts (MW).
Surplus capacity in the Railway Commissioner’s power grid was sold to municipal councils and other bodies responsible for the supply of electricity to the general public. Zaara Street Power Station was connected to the grid of the Electricity Supply Department of the Newcastle Borough Council in 1917, and supplied much of Newcastle’s electricity needs throughout the 1920s. Later known as the Newcastle Electricity Supply Council Administration (NESCA), the Newcastle Borough Council also operated a small power station with two alternators and a capacity of approximately 2.6 megawatts. Built in the 1890s, ‘NESCA’ Power Station was situated approximately one mile from Zaara Street, and closed in 1953.
Zaara Street Power Station was demolished in 1978, and all railway facilities in the vicinity were redeveloped into what is now known as The Foreshore. No traces of the power station have survived on the site.