Monday, February 11, 2013

Norman HALL, coal shale mining, and ghost towns

I appreciate my blog the most when people stumble across one of my ancestors, and reach out to make contact with me. I received an e-mail this week from Robert Curran regarding my great-grandfather Norman HALL (1796-1972). Perhaps I'll let part of Robert's e-mail explain:

"I was just scanning some old letters on the subject of kerosene shale mining sent to me by Norman Hall c. 1969/70. Wondering what ever became of Norman I googled his name and arrived at his death certificate on your blog. I have fond memories of Norman, with whom I corresponded for a while, and visited in Melbourne. I assume you are related to him. If the letters are of interest to you I can send you copies."

Golden. Robert was researching shale mining. A letter posted to the Sydney Morning Herald in 1968/9 on the topic (of which I know/knew next to nothing). Despite living in Melbourne, Norman became aware of the letter and wrote to Robert. This resulted in about 2 years of written correspondence and exchange of articles on the topic of shale mining, the boom towns that sprung around the mines, and the consequent ghost mines.

Norman was by profession a chemist (I was always told a coal chemist). While I have posted several letters on my blog written by Norman on the HALL family history, he wrote little of himself. This letter reveals his employment history (though it's not amazingly specific). For example, he refers at one point to working in the 'power houses' in Sydney, possibly now the Powerhouse museum in Sydney (this is speculation). Norman describes his evolving career, and his interest in shale mining.

Overall Robert had received eighteen letters, all which he scanned and provided to me before lodging the originals with Lithgow Library's local history collection.

I have chosen to transcribe the second letter here, as it is the one in which Norman describes himself and his interests in shale. It contains Norman's typical energy, name-dropping and word-craft evident in his genealogy letters. The letters also provide information on people Norman knew and worked with during his career in the energy industry.

Should anyone like to read all the letters, I have combined them into a single pdf - just send me an e-mail!

I can't believe these wonderful letters fell into my lap. Thanks Robert!!!



Norman Hall
Victoria
July 28th, 1969

Mr. Robert Curran
New South Wales

Dear Mr. Curran,

Many thanks for your kind letter of the 26th, inst. It was indeed good of you, seeing the writing is a complete stranger. There seems to be a very close bond between we who love these old places and it boosts one's confidence in our fellow men when such co-operation is so readily given.
So you may know with what manner of chap you are dealing, I will give a few points in my long (I am 75) career and the features which lead to my historical interest in Newnes & other 'ghost' towns.
The write was born in N.S.W. (it was then a 'colony') and for this first early years lived in the Gold Mining areas round Braidwood, Araluen & district where the precious metal was 'king'.
It was there that the mining 'bug' badly bit me. Later I moved to Sydney, became an industrial chemist & spent 32 years in the Power Stations in that City. This was, long before the advent of the Electricity Commission. My main work concerned the testing of fuels, coal, gas, oil etc. It was thus I acquired a fair knowledge of Coal Mining. At the same time I operated a 'private practice' & was Consulting Chemist to Babcock & Wilcox (the big boiler people). When the opening of Glen Davis was mooted many firms were anxious to 'get on the band waggon' so to speak - the retorts especially were the 'hot potato'. Babcock & Wilcox were an interested party and I carried out small scale laboratory & practical tests on shale samples from EVERYWHERE!
It is interesting to record that the richest came from the Beraemi distrct near Muswellbrook, some samples even showing as high as 163 gallons crude oil per ton! Newnes, Glen Davis & most others hovered around 100 gallons per ton!
At the same time, and by arrangement with B & W, I was engaged by the well known Consulting Engineers Sir George Julius, Pool & Gibson - for the same purpose.
Other - and independent tests - were conducted also by the Mines Dept. (whose chemists I knew well) - fortunately we all agreed on our findings.
I never knew WHO actually made the decision on what type of retorts were installed - but they were later subject to much alteration, mostly along the lines that John Fell had found necessary at the defunct Newnes. Sometime during the hey day of Glen Davis, I entered to Coal Industry as Chief Chemist to a non-profit research organisation set up by the Colliery Proprietors. This work took me far afield and included work at Glen Davis, both in the Coal Mine and the Shale Mine. Naturally, I became acquainted with a few of the technicians in the industry.

Here I must digress to point out that, while I was with the Power Stations I operated closely with an Engineer by the name of J.W. Lambert. He & I worked together for over 30 years!!!!!
Originally a Marine Engineer, he sought a job ashore, found one with the Commonwealth Oil Corporation at Newnes on design etc. His work took him to Newnes, Hartley Vale, Torbane etc. I must admit my interest at that time was lukewarm - what a lot I missed - Lambert has long since passed on.
The same Lambert met and married at Hartley Vale - a local girl.

All this time I was living at Burwood - you might say barely a stone's throw from Ashfield. However, for a short while I went to Wollongong to be near the Coal fields - there I became Alderman of the Greater City of Wollongong.
Meantime my wife had died, my children had grown up & married & I lived alone. Then, some 15 years ago, at the age of 60 odd I married a young widow living in Melbourne - and went there to live. Spent 5 years with I.C.I., then, joined the Fire Protection industry (as Chief Chemist) - and am still working. Perhaps I had better say 'employed' there!
Meantime, the Ghost Town 'Bug' had been biting so badly that I had to do something about it. I concentrated on a few Ghost Towns which I had a great love for. These were :-
Newnes, Glen Davis, Joadja Valley, Hartley Vale, Eucla and Araluen. (Eucla is the old overland cable station on the WA-SA border, Araluen an old gold mining town. I also included one Victorian Ghost Town - Walhalla.

In the least two or three years a tremendous amount of data has come my way - I have done literally HUNDREDS of photos - worn out 5 typewriters (that explains why this letter is so badly typed) and collected enough stuff to fill a museum - but, as you probably know ONE CAN NEVER GET ENOUGH! It reminds one of a 'Dope Fiend'!!!!!
Last Easter I made a tour of Hartley Vale, Araluen and Newnes. At Newnes I stayed with Jim Gale at the local pub & made many contacts etc. I also made a most valuable contact in a Mr. Eric Breedon who once lived at Newnes. He was a photographer and was kind enough to loan me his old negatives - they are really superb. I have historical documents relating to the building of the Newnes Railway, the early History of the Wolgan Valley and etc, as well as the Postal History.
Of Harley Vale I have far too little information. I visited it about 1930, and again last Easter. You may be surprised to know it was called by the locals ;THE DESERTED VILLAGE OF HARTLEY' as far back as 1930 - and the 'COMET' INN had then lost its license. Seeing it last Easter the old 'COMET' is as good as the day it was built & the sign 'COMET INN' still legible.
The mine workings were not accessible - better luck next time.
Of Joadja - unfortunately I have not yet got there - its on my next itenary. Most of my information has been gleaned from a book published by the Berrima Council entitled 'The History of the Berrima DIst,' Unfortunately it is out of print but I have the relevant pages copied out. Of later years (as you probably know) it has been taken over by an American lady (Pat. Lee) - she has published articles in the Womans Weekly (of all papers) with beautiful colour pictures - which I acquired of course - and very recently again she was 'on T.V.! giving a talk on Joadja. Perhaps you were lucky enough to hear that - I missed out. WHAT BAD LUCK.

You mention BUSHWALKING. -Well, when I was at the Power Houses mentioned previously I had a bosom 'mate' who was an ardent bushwalker. He and a friend (R. Else Mitchell - now Mr. Justice R. Else Mitchell of the N.S.W. Supreme Court) - and a noted historian frequently did walks through 'Ruined Castle' and right back through Joadja. I have some of his photos - he loans me the negatives whenever I need them. The name of my friend was JACK BARNARD - as he was a most enthusiastic bushwalker you may have known him!!!!

Among some of the short lived shale operations you have probably heard of that conducted by 'Bob' Fullagar at Mangararoo (I am not sure whether I have spelled that name correctly) - anyhow it's just outside Lithgow. Bob Fullagar was noted in the Coal Industry, being Manager of the State Mine at Lithgow - also Mayor of that Town. 'Bob' was indeed a rough diamond & ran his shale enterprise during World War II. Unfortunately for Bob, the shale 'cut out'. Bob, of course has long since passed on.

Regarding Glen Davis, - when the Federal Government decided to suspend operations, a nephew of mine (Bob Hall) who was on the staff of the Commonwealth Employment Agency was sent to the Glen to try and place the displaced workers. He was given considerable assistance by the then Manager (Mr. Clem Norcross) - he was formerly 'Carbonisation Supt'. At the final sale of all gear at Glen Davis I made it my business to be present & purchased several items of Laboratory Equipment. It was a sad sight - were I a women I am sure I would have WEPT!!!!!!
Among my friends at Glen Davis was the Chief Chemist - a chap named George Mapstone - most capable chap & a really good fellow. He is now in South Africa.
You must have realised by now Mr. Curran, that the writer is an exceedingly voluble person &, once started, is like the old motor car - difficult to stop. However, if this letter gets on your nerves you may have my full permission to consign it to the waste paper basket. Meantime, if there is anything I can do to help your interest do not hesitate to ask - I will do anything I possibly can to further our 'Historical Interests'.
For my part I must admit I do not know exactly what I want - if it is ANYTHING to do with the shale industry I am always agog!
If you can refer me to any publications or historical papers relative to Joadja, American Creek, Hartley Vale etc I will be eternally grateful & will reciprocate to the utmost of my ability.

Kindest Regards
(signed)
Norman Hall

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