ABC Newcastle (Newcastle)
Day Shift -18/12/2007 – 02:10 PM
Presenter: Jenny Bates
Producer: Brooke Bannister
Interviewee: Gionni Di Gravio, Archivist, Newcastle University
Newcastle University Archivist Gionni Di Gravio discusses the Archives of the Australian Agricultural Company (A. A. Coy.) held at the University Newcastle and their usefulness in researching local community issues such as the recent community campaign to save Mayfield Pool.
The Australian Agricultural Company’s records show how a handful of privileged individuals were granted one million acres in northern New South Wales by the Crown.
The Company was formed in London in 1824 following negotiations with the British Government for a grant of 1,000,000 acres of land in New South Wales on the proviso that they invest in the development and improvement of the land.
The Company was incorporated by Act of the British Parliament in 1824, and shortly afterwards commenced pastoral and coal mining activity, extending from the Hunter to the Manning River.
They commenced operations in early 1925 at Port Stephens, and in 1826 at the request of the British Government agreed to take over the coal mines. In consideration of this, the Company received a further grant of 2,000 acres of land in Newcastle. The land East of Brown Street and the Terrace (now Terrace Street) was reserved for the Government Township and it is on this portion that the principal part of the City of Newcastle now stands.
Amongst the Company’s extensive Crown grants were lands close to Newcastle that have since been developed into the present day suburbs of Bar Beach, Cooks Hill, Hamilton, Broadmeadow, and parts of the Newcastle Central Business District and the Hill.
As Newcastle’s population grew from the 1850s, demand for land, and rising land prices led to the Company’s subdividing its Newcastle lands into housing and commercial allotments, at first in the inner city area, and later (with the establishment of BHP) in Hamilton and Hamilton South. The Company’s records documenting the process of subdivision and urban development are held in the Cultural Collections (Archives) and date from 1824.
As settlement in this infant City of Newcastle spread in a westerly direction, the Company commenced in the early fifties to subdivide and sell its land (reserving, of course, the mineral rights), the standard size of the allotments being one quarter of an acre (66ft. x 165 ft.).
The principal offices of the Company, Argyle House, were situated in Wharf Street Newcastle (the site of the Fanny’s nightclub).
Unfortunately for Newcastle and the Region the substantial archives were removed from Newcastle to Canberra in 1956. The papers from the London Head Office of the Company were also sent to Canberra in 1966. They now reside in the Noel Butlin Archives Centre at the Australian National University.
The departure of these important archives was the catalyst for the creation of a local history collection at the Newcastle Region Library in 1957. A similar situation was played out in the 1920s (involving our archaeological heritage) with Aboriginal stone artefacts collected along the river by Daniel F. Cooksey and C.W. Loch. They pleaded with Newcastle Council to erect a suitable Museum building to house them. Their proposal to safegueard this region’s archaeological heritage was laughed off by the Councillors. The result was that 5000 significant Aboriginal artefacts, known as the Cooksey Collection, providing the first documented evidence of Aurugnacian culture in this country (30,000 years +) were sent to the British Museum. We did not get a suitable Museum for Newcastle until 1988. This forms a compelling argument in having suitable archival quality repositories for the region’s important archives and manuscripts for research use that local people can get to easily without incurring great cost in travel to learn about their land and its history.
This was no more evident in the recent campaign to save Mayfield Pool. The portion of the A. A. Coy.’s records held at the University were a wonderful resource in tracing the ownership of Mayfield’s last piece of recreational waterfront land, Shelly Beach. The A. A. Coy. had acquired John Laurio Platt’s land, (including the shell bank) around 1839, hoping to mine coal there. They erected the original Argyle House on the hill, which was to serve as their Manager’s residence. It was later sold to the BHP. The Shell Bank or Shelly Beach was sold to the Minister for Lands on the 3rd April 1908.
In the 1940s the BHP began a campaign to acquire Shelly Beach so that they could fill in Platt’s Channel to create more industrial land. Most of the south arm of the Hunter River formed the agricultural background of Mayfield. It’s beauty gave it the distinction of being at one time the Toorak of Newcastle. BHP eventually swapped the land at Shortland, upon which the University is located, with Shelly Beach, the last piece of recreational waterfront land for the Mayfield community. Read the accounts of Ellen Lane and Helen Marshall to see what a beautiful place it once was. The first shovel of fill went in on the 21 April 1950.
With 16 or so years with no local watering hole, it is understandable why the Mayfield kids were clammering to have a swim in the pool donated by BHP in November 1966. The study of history from the original archival records help place an entirely new complexion on the issue of a gift of a swimming pool to the local community. We also see why it is so important to retain such public infrastructure for future generations.
Gionni Di Gravio