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Newcastle Herald
Newcastle Herald

So many memories of Lake Macquarie's history have been lost

The rickety Coal Point jetty in front of Toronto's historic Ebenezer mine. Picture: Courtesy of UON Special Collections.

UNKNOWN Lake Macquarie is an intriguing topic.

But how much do we really know about a place?

Are there still any secrets?

Let's explore some interesting facets of our beloved lake, including the fact that it's Australia's coastal saltwater lake, or lagoon, with even a submerged petrified forest at Fennell Bay.

Take Coal Point, for example, represented by today's remarkable, undated main picture of the long gone, rickety wharf once there. It helped give this particular lake suburb its name.

The timber structure symbolises the Ebenezer Colliery (1841-circa 1900) it serviced on the edge of the lake. From here, workers loaded coal skips into small waiting vessels to take across to Reid's Mistake (Swansea Heads) for transhipment to ocean-going vessels bound for Sydney.

Also later known as the South Hetton Colliery, the mine was started by the enterprising missionary, the Reverend Lancelot Threlkeld, who broke the fossil fuel monopoly enjoyed by the Australian Agricultural Company since 1830. It's regarded as the first commercial coal mine in Lake Macquarie.

The famous pit under the promontory had several owners over the years, but the site was abandoned and described on the Deed family's historic 1907-1908 survey map of Lake Macquarie as having a "demolished coal jetty chute".

All that remains of the pit and its crudely built jetty is a man-made pile of stones offshore at Biraban Reserve not far away.

No trace remains either of Lake Macquarie's two rival zoos, one at Carey Bay and the other at Blackalls Park. Both stopped operating in the 1950s.

The inland paddle steamer Anna Maria. Picture: Wayne Patfield Collection

Many might be surprised to learn there's a link between Toronto and Britain's short-lived monarch, Edward VIII, better known before he became king in 1936, as the Prince of Wales. The popular prince, before his flirting with the Nazis and becoming involved with the notorious Wallis Simpson (and abdicating), visited Toronto as part of a whirlwind tour of Australia in 1920.

He stayed overnight at a home with terraced gardens called Craig Royston, in Brighton Avenue. Surprisingly, it still exists.

What's more, the waterfront property was up for sale only a few months ago after being in the same family for 55 years. The historic house is said to be named after the home of Scottish folk hero Rob Roy.

Meanwhile, an iconic Hunter River vessel (pictured) strangely ended her days virtually incognito, plying Lake Macquarie waters.

The stern-wheel paddle steamer Anna Maria (from 1863) once carried all types of cargo between Paterson, Morpeth, Clarence Town and Newcastle, before being used to carry steel to build the new Paterson rail bridge.

In 1909, while the riverboat was lifting cargo, a larger girder fell and pierced its hull. It sank and, despite measuring almost 92ft (28m) long, was salvaged.

According to Morpeth shipping writer Wayne Patfield, her last job was carrying large cast iron pipes between Carrington and Woodville in 1930.

She was then sold to Les Cox, of Wangi Wangi, but minus her steam engine and whistle. These were sold to Turton's Brickyard at East Maitland. Patfield's research showed the vessel was then towed to Lake Macquarie to be used for a work platform for a gravel and shell grit dredging plant. Her boiler supplied steam to power the plant.

She must have been a very sturdy vessel. It's believed she was built in England, then knocked down to be shipped to NSW and reassembled. This was then common practice.

The Anna Maria operated between 1933 to 1937, but was blown ashore at the western end of Wangi Bay in 1938. Late the following year, she was cut up for scrap as World War II loomed.

Another probably largely unknown tale from Lake Macquarie's past concerns the giant timber structures towering over bush on the Catherine Hill Bay ridgeline from early 1943.

Now completely gone, but once standing about 45 metres tall, these twin towers were part of the new top-secret radar station 208 that guarded the approaches to Newcastle's heavy industry and the largest seaplane base in the southern hemisphere at Rathmines.

Two concrete Nissen-style huts, called igloos and painted khaki, stood beneath the twin sentinels. They complemented similar radar sites at Ash Island and atop Mount Tomaree, at Port Stephens

The lake's RDF base operated until January 1945.

The Bay radar station came into being after a Japanese submarine shelled the sleeping city of Newcastle in 1942.

Power was supplied by a generator at a time when the lake coastal mining village had no electricity or street lights.

While on mining, only a few obvious traces survive today, like the often overlooked colliery headframe wheel beside the busy Charlestown intersection of the Pacific Highway and Dudley Road turn-off.

Erected here in 1973, it's a reminder of the Raspberry Gully mine workings, or the 'Charles Smith' pit off Kirkdale Drive, which gave the suburb of Charlestown its name.

Other "unknown" facts include that then remote Swansea, back about 1860, was said to be a virtual Chinese settlement because of the number of Chinese fishermen living there.

Or that the developed western tip of Lake Road, Swansea, was once the hub of major shipbuilding in World War II.

And that Aussie film star Mel Gibson made his screen debut in the 1977 film Summer City at Catherine Hill Bay while fighting bushfires.

Speaking of films, who can forget when Blacksmiths Beach was transformed in June 2008 into a film set, to recreate the 1944 D-Day Allied landings at Normandy in France?

Amid the 'battlefield' smoke and under a grey sea and sky was actor Hugh Jackman shooting his blockbuster prequel X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

There were probably more sightseers (behind barricades) than actors as they shot film scenes. It might have eventually only lasted seconds in the credits on the movie's release, but, hey, how often do you get Hollywood in the Hunter?

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