Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Arsenic, Mining and the New England Pastoral Industry

Photo: Gordon Smith, Ottery Mine Remains.

Gordon Smith recently toured the mining areas on the westen side of New England's Northern Tablelands. You will find his photos here, here, here, here and here.

Gordon notes that tin and arsenic were mined at the Ottery Mine, not far from Emmaville, from the 1880’s. Here we see the remains of the brick condensation chambers where arsenic solids formed on the surface of brick walls (see pink substance at the lower right hand side of the photograph). Workers then scraped the arsenic from the bricks.

Arsenic was used quite extensively in gold mining to help extract the ore.

At Hillgrove east of Armidale, the soil around the old mine processing plants is still heavily impregnated with arsenic, as are the waters of Baker's Creek at the bottom of the adjoining Hillgrove Gorge. Traces of arsenic can be found in sediments along the Macleay River all the way to the river mouth.

Arsenic was also extensively used as a sheep dip.

My grandfather who came to Armidale as a farm labourer in 1907 described the practice this way.

"The next three years were spent partly on farms around Armidale but mainly on a sheep station south west of Uralla. It was my first experience with sheep and the primative means of combating worms in sheep. The one and only practice was to muster a mob of sheep in the late afternoon and starve them in the yards till early next morning. On the previous evening, up to 30 poor and wormy sheep were separated and given a drench. This consisted of arsenic boiled in water, the sediment being drawn off and the selected sheep were drenched. If not more than half were dead in the morning the drench was at the right strength. It was a crude and drastic treatment, but some years elapsed before an effective drench could be found for the greatest scourge of all Fluke (liver worm) and the Lung worm."

New England is dotted with small sites with arsenic impregnated soil where this practice was carried out.

Monday, February 26, 2007

The End of Armidale's Club Hotel

Photo: Gordon Smith, Armidale's Club Hotel has undergone a major refurbishment and is now the White Bull.

My thanks to Gordon Smith's New England photo blog for this story.

All those growing up in Armidale or who went to school or university there will remember the Club Hotel in Marsh Street.

Well, after a complete refurbishment it has now emerged as the White Bull. Gordon wonders, fairly, why White Bull and also why the Bull is red.

I must find out one day.

New England's Chinese - Introductory Post

Photo: Chinese miner testing wash for tin, Great Britain Mine, Emmaville, 1899. By 1899 tin mining in the Emmaville (Vegetable Creek) district had passed its peak and the number of Chinese had dropped from around 1200 to 200. The posed photograph was a conscious commemoration of the Chinese role in tin mining.

Growing up as a kid, I used to play in the Armidale cemetery. There, in the "other denominations" section I found a number of Chinese graves. I was curious because I knew no Chinese. Later I found out that the Chinese had played a significant development role in New England.

According to the Australian National Museum's Heritage Scroll, a small number of Chinese settlers arrived quite early. Numbers then increased significantly after transportation ended in 1840 as Chinese were brought in as labourers. According to Geoffrey Blainey's Tyranny of Distance early people movements were facilitated by a quite complex web of trading and shipping links between Australia and China.

From the discovery of gold, Chinese numbers increased very rapidly. The Chinese immigrants referred to the Australian gold fields as 'Xin Jin Shan', or the New Gold Mountain as compared to the now declining California fields, as 'Jiu Jin Shan', the Old Gold Mountain. By 1861, 38,258 people, or 3.3 per cent of the total Australian population had been born in China, a number not reached again until quite recently.

Chinese diggers quickly appeared on all the new New England fields from the Hunter to the Queensland border. As other minerals and especially tin were discovered, the Chinese moved there too. Those visiting Uralla should visit McCrossin's Mill Museum which has a major Chinese display, including the pictured Joss House.

The rapid increase in immigration caused tensions and resentments among the European population There was intermittent violence against the Chinese, including the famous Lambing Flat (now Young) riots of 1861 when, in the worst outbreak, 2000 European diggers attacked the Chinese, injuring 250 and destroying their possessions.

I know of no equivalent violence on the New England fields, although that may simply mean I haven't found it yet.

The pressure of public opinion against the Chinese caused the New South Wales Government to pass the Chinese Immigration Restriction and Regulation Act in 1861 to restrict the numbers of Chinese in the colony.

As the level of mining dropped, some Chinese returned to China. Those staying could not bring in wives from China because of immigration restrictions. Some found local girls, others died alone far from family.

Many Chinese went into retailing if which Inverell's still surviving Hong Yuen business is an example.

By 1900 there were at least 5 Chinese owned stores in Inverell - one of these was Hong Yuen. Hong Yuen began its life in the 1890s as a small business trading from a wooden shop. By 1899 the adjoining land had been bought and in that year the first part of the store as it is now known was built.

The first town outside of Inverell where Harry Fay established a venture was Moree in 1926, which began as a general store. In Texas, Harry Fay was encouraged by the local community to open a store and by 1932 he had a thriving business up and running. In 1936 a store in Warialda was to follow. Harry Fay also set about expanding his business back in Inverell.

When he originally purchased the store it consisted of a grocery section. To this he added a drapery department and showroom in 1925. By 1935 a men's and boy's wear department were also established.

Hong Yuen has always been a family owned and run business. Most members of the family have done their fair share of work. Two of Harry Fay's brothers were employed in the business, his children and grandchildren have also played their part. In 1974 Harry Fay died, and his sons became the governing directors (the business was already jointly owned by the eight Fay children).

Two years later, a massive fire destroyed all but the oldest part of the building in Inverell. Despite the tragedy, the community effort which went in to helping the cleanup reaffirmed that Hong Yuen was there to stay

Photo: Gordon Smith, Emmaville Post Office undergoing repair from hail damage.

Today some of the once thriving mining settlements in which New England's Chinese once lived are ghost towns, others sleepy settements.

Today Vegetable Creek, now Emmaville, north of Glen Innes has a total population of around 350 as compared to a peak Chinese population of 1,200. Yet the village still retains links to its Chinese heritage.


New England Australia's Chinese - Reference Post provides a list of posts on New England's Chinese along with some supporting references.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Labor's Newcastle Woes

In an earlier story I referred to the problems created for the ALP by the decision of three adjoining mayors in the lower Hunter to run as independents. In Newcastle itself, ALP problems were further compounded by the decision of the dumped ALP sitting member Bryce Gaudry to run again as an independent.

In a story next day on my personal blog looking at NSW as a whole, I said that my best election guess at that point was a hung parliament because of the independents.

I understand that polling shows a strong vote for Bryce Gaudry, a substantial vote for Mayor Tate, creating real problems for ALP candidate Jodi McKay. Definitely one to watch.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Pause in Posts

I apologise for the gap in posts.

I have been tied up on a major project. Regular transmission will begin again later in the week.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

NSW Elections - New England Seats

I see that Antony Green's usual valuable election guide is up on the ABC web site. This will make it a lot easier for me to analyse the elections from a New England perspective.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

New England and the 2007 NSW State Elections - more independents

Photo: Three mayors to stand as independent candidates in the coming state election - Greg Piper (Lake Macquarie), John Tate (Newcastle) and Peter Blackmore (Maitland)

Back in November I did a preliminary analysis of the New England seats in the NSW State Parliament. Following the 2003 election, the New England party distribution was ALP 9, National Party 8, independents 3.

The ALP's hold on the New England seats is looking shakier following the decision by the mayors of Lake Macquarie, Newcastle and Maitland to stand as independents in a regional alliance.

Adding to the Party's woes in Newcastle, the dumped NSW Labor MP Bryce Gaudry who currently holds the seat will stand as an independent candidate against the former television newsreader Jodi McKay who was picked to replace him at the March 24 state election.

NSW Premier Morris Iemma last year persuaded Labor's national executive to replace Mr Gaudry with Ms McKay as part of a push to bring new blood into state parliament. While the ALP presently holds Newcastle with a very substantial margin, its chances of holding the seat are now looking shaky.

In Newcastle, Lake Macquarie and Maitland, the Party is also dogged by the the fact that former Aboriginal Affairs minister and Swansea MP Milton Orkopoulos is now facing 30 drug and child sex charges. In Maitland, too, the ALP has a new candidate in Frank Terezini trying to establish a position in the electorate following the retirement of popular local member John Price.


My apologies to those who get two feeds on this. I made a gross error in the first post by misreading a date on some information I was using.