The Mayfield Website

Whatever happened to Shelley Beach?


Shelley Beach, or Shell Beach Park, was a coastline recreation area for the people of Mayfield, the last area of waterfront land from Newcastle to Sandgate that formed part of the Platt's Channel. It was filled in by B.H.P. in 1950 after a deal with the Local and State Governments that saw the channel being given to the company in exchange for land located at Shortland, upon which the University of Newcastle now rests. The machinations began on the 13th November 1941 and ended with the first shovel of fill being thrown on 21st April 1950.

The first mention of Shelley Beach is in the Colonial Secretary's Correspondence. John Laurio Platt, upon whose grant the beach lay, writes on the 28th June 1835 in relation to some wayward convicts that "he readily gave him the lend of a man to assist in having one thousand bushels of lime on the shell bank close to my house." It was in all probability an Aboriginal midden that contained evidence of thousands of years of Aboriginal habitation in the form of shells that had been harvested from the channel, it could also have been a burial ground. Platt used it as a wharf when he settled on his 2000 acre grant, with the original intention of exporting timber.

The story of Shelley Beach is also the story of how Mayfield and Newcastle lost all their waterfront land to progress and industry. We must ensure that the sanctioned environmental vandalism that destroyed an entire channel, a recreation beach, that irrevocably poisoned the South Arm of the River, and saw the entire waterfront taken from the people of the area, never happens again to any place and time. It calls us to endeavour to achieve some equilibrium between the goals of human industry and development and the needs of the natural world, upon whom we all owe our true living and prosperity.

I am greatly indebted to the following individuals, without whose stories and diligent historical work Shelley Beach would truly be lost to the imagination. Mrs Ellen Lane, Helen Marshall, Vera Deacon all provided recollections, the latter also collected the numerous Herald reports from the 1940s. Wendy Swan provided newclippings relating to the drownings of the Wilkinson and Bray boys in 1890.

Vale Shelley Beach

Gionni Di Gravio
Easter 2000


1st December, 1890
Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate

On Saturday afternoon, through the capsizing of a boat near Waratah, three boys - two brothers Wilkinson, and one named Bray - were drowned.

Three Boys Drowned

On Saturday afternoon general consternation was caused by the sad news that two brothers named George and Thomas Wilkinson, aged 14 and 11 years respectively, also Ernest Bray, aged 11 years, had been drwoned in the Hunter River, off what is known as the Mill Paddock, near Mr Jesse Gregson's residence Waratah. It appears the three boys, with others named Calvert and Ruttley, were playing with a flat bottomed punt on the river near the mangrove trees, when one of the oars fell overboard, and the punt commenced to drift out. Ruttley, aged 14, sprang out and reached the shore after a struggle; but the three deceased boys, who followed could not swim, and the two brothers sank at once. Bray was seen struggling by Mr A. Barnes, a dairyman, who bravely jumped in to try and save him, but without avail, as the boy was struggling terribly, and Barnes was compelled to let him go, to save his own life. The boy A. Calvert, aged 8 years, displayed great presence of mind by staying in the punt, and casting the anchor overboard, prevented it from drifting until he was safely taken off. Constable S. Daly and Sergeant G. Salter, upon being informed, at once wired to Inspector Brennan for assistance, and water-consatbles Hayes and Munday were soon on the spot with the small drags, and after some difficulty obtained a boat, when they continued dragging till night. Then they determined to go to Newcastle for the large drags, which had been in use for the purpose of finding bodies of the brothers Moore, and return on Sunday morning. Meanwhile, Messrs. Herival, Smith, Brumble, and Jacobson continued to drag all night, and about half past five found the body of the boy Bray, which was conveyed home, and about half past seven the bodies of the brothers Wilkinson were found, all of them not being far from the spot where the accident happened. The boys resided with their parents in Waratah, and the sad occurence has caused a gloom throughout the neighbourhood. The parents of the two brothers were almost distracted; also Mrs Bray, whose husband, Mr T.A. Bray, is at present away from home. He has been wired for, but it is feared will be unable to reach home in time for the funeral.

An inquest will be held today by Mr Martin, ditrict coroner.

2nd December, 1890
Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate

The Waratah Drowning Fatality: The Inquest

An inquiry into the cause of the death of the three boys, George and Thomas Wilkinson and Ernest Bray, who were drowned in the Hunter River on Saturday, was held in the Sir Robert Peel Hotel, Waratah, yesterday morning, before Mr G.C. Martin, district coroner, and a jury of 12. Mr Wm. Goodhew was elected foreman.

Constable S. Daly deposed that on Saturday, about 1o'clock p.m., he received information that three boys had been drowned in the river, near Mr Gregson's home. He at once telegraphed to Mr Inspector Brennan, Newcastle, and about 4 o'clock two water-police, with grappling irons, came out, and after some delay thry procured a boat from Mr Rummell, of Ash Island, and dragged for the bodies until about 7 o'clock p.m., but without success. The boat was then taken in charge of civilians, who continued to drag, and the next morning about 8 o'clock he was informed that the bodies had been recovered.

George Wilkinson, miner, deposed that he was the father of the boys George and Thomas Wilkinson, aged 14 and 10 respectively. They resided in Waratah. George was born in England, and Thomas in Inverell N.S.W. Witness had cautioned the boys against bathing in the river. He did not know that they had gone to the river on Saturday, until he heard they were drowned. He was at the river when they were dragging for the bodies.

Thomas A.E. Bray, solicitor's clerk, deposed that he was brother to the deceased boy, Ernest J Bray, who was 11 years of age, and was born in Waratah. His father's name was Thomas A. Bray. Deceased had been frequently warned about going to the river.

Benjamin Ruttley, aged 13, deposed that he lived in Waratah with his father, and attended school. He knew the three boys who were drowned. On Saturday morning, about 9 o'clock, he and the deceased, with other boys, went to the river near the mill paddock. They got into the boat, and were paddling about the river amongst the mangroves, when Ernest Bray got out and turned the bow of the boat away and gave it a shove. George Wilkinson had the oars, and started pulling. Ernest Bray had jumped in when he shoved off. Witness got frightened when George began pulling away, and jumped into the water close to the mangroves. He fell on his back in the water, but managed to getonto the bank. He then heard someone crying, and turned around, when he could only see Arthur Calvert in the boat crying. He did not see the three deceased boys tumble in, and did not hear any splashing. It took him about a quarter of an hour to reach the bank through the mangroves. When he heard Calvert crying, he ran for Mr Barnes, and when he came back he saw one of the boys holding his hands out of the water, but he sank soon afterwards. Some more people then came down, and one man put a rope around his waist and swam out to the boat, which was drawn ashore, and Calvert taken out. The boat was old and leaky, and witness got frightened because they were pulling into the middle of the river.

Arthur Calvert, aged 10, deposed that he resided with his father in Waratah, and attended school. On Saturday he was in the boat with the last witness, and the three deceased boys. They meant to go out into the water, and George Wilkinson and Ernest Bray had the oars, and were pulling down the river. Ruttley jumped from the boat when they were about 50 yards from the bank. He did not know why. Some of the boys shot the oars overboard, and as the wind was blowing, they got frightened. The Wilkinsons and Bray jumped out directly after Ruttley. They did not say anything when they jumped out. He would have jumped out also, but the wind carried the boat further away from the bank. The water was deep just there. Ruttley swam ashore, but the others went straight down and their hats floated on top. The boys did not cry out. Witness sang out to Rutley to go and and get Mr Barnes to come and pull the boys out. When they first started Ernest Bray shoved the boat off. Ruttley was sitting laughing in the boat, and witness thought George Wilkinson and Ruttley had some lark on to go out into the stream with the boat, and jump out, leaving the others in the boat. It was about five minutes afterwards Ruttley jumped out when they got into the middle of the river. Witness was sitting with his back to the others, and did not see who shot the oars overboard. He was sitting at the stern of the boat, and those who jumped out had to pass him to get into the water, but none of them said a word to him. He saw Mr Barnes come down.

By the jury: The boat was about 30 or 40 yards away when Ruttley jumped out. The boat was not leaking, but the water was washing into it over the sides. He thought it was Ernest Bray who said Ruttley and George Wilkinson intended going out into the middle, and then they would all jump out and let the boat go. When he was in the boat alone he sang out, and asked Willie Smithers, on the shore, who it was that shot the oars out, and he replied it was Tom Wilkinson.

To the coroner: Ernest Bray said that Ruttley and George Wilkinson intended to jump out and leave them in the boat.

Benjamin Ruttley (re-called) deposed that he had told the truth in his evidence.
The coroner read over the evidence of the boy Calvert to Ruttley, who denied having any lark on to leave the boys in the boat.

Frederick Rummel, a Government employee, deposed to assisting to drag the river for bodies, in company with the water-police, and afterwards with several civilians, until Sunday morning, when he found the bodies of the three lads not far from each other, the bodies of the brothers Wilkinson being about 10 feet apart, and about 70 yards away they found the body of Bray. About 10 yards from the bank the water would be about 6 or 7 feet deep, and about 30 or 40 yards from the shore, about 14 feet deep. Some parts were 20 or 30 feet, and other parts about 6 feet deep. He did not see the boys Calvert or Ruttley there.

This concluded the evidence, and coroner drew attention to the discrepancy in the evidence given by the boys Ruttley and Calvert, and said he though it was a terrible thing that one of them should have so perjured himself. He (the coroner) was inclined to believe the testimony of the latter, but the jury could not take any cognisance of this in coming to their decision.

A verdict of accidental drowning was returned.


Wilkinson tombstone

George Wilkinson
Died 2nd October 1923
Aged 82 Years
His Beloved Wife
Rebecca Wilkinson
Died 23rd June 1905
Aged 58 Years

In Loving Memory of Their Beloved Sons
George Aged 14 Years and
Thomas Aged 10 Years
Who Were Drowned at Shelly Beach Waratah
on the 29th November 1890

St Phillips Waratah Burial Register
[University Archives Shelf Location: B6118C]

George Wilkinson Buried 1st December 1890
Thomas Wilkinson Buried 1st December 1890
Ernest Bray Buried 2nd December, 1890 Accidently Drowned.

Australian Agricultural Land Sold Register
[University Archives Shelf Location: B5375 p.62 Platt's Estate]

Sale No.43
Date: 3rd April 1908 Private Contract
Purchaser: The Minister for Lands NSW
Location: Shell Beach
No. of Lot of Plan: 80
Purchase Price: 315 Pounds
Quantity: A R P [8,0,6; 220, 1, 33.5; 2,3,13]
Date of Deed: 12th March 1908
Reservation: Nil


Extract from Government Gazette -
No.38 of 3rd March 1939 Folio 1069

Notice Appointing Trustee Under the Public Parks Act, 1912.
In accordance with the provisions of the Public Parks Act, 1912, I, the Right Honourable JOHN DE VERE, BARON WAKEHURST, Governor of the State of New South Wales, with the advice of the Executive Council, do by this notice appoint "The Council of the City of Greater Newcastle" as Trustee of Shelley Beach Park, Shell Beach, Hunter River. P. 39-334.
Signed and sealed at Sydney, this 2nd day of March, 1939.
By Deputation from His Excellency the Governor.
By His Excellency's Comand,
COLIN A. SINCLAIR, MInister for Lands.

13th November, 1941
Newcastle Morning Herald p.2


"While the progress of industry is vital to the life of the city, it must also be remembered that recreation areas are also vital to the health of the community." said the Parks and Building Surveyor (Mr Patterson) at a meeting of the Works Committee last night.

He was commenting on an application received by the Broken Hill Pty Ltd for the purchase of Shell Beach Park, Mayfield. The company suggested a confernce with the Council.

The park, whichis a little more than 2 acres, is at the end of Tourle street. It is the only reserve within the Greater Newcastle boundaries that has a frontage to the Hunter River.

Mr Patterson said the council did not have the title to the land, but had been appointed trustees. "The council's trusteeship should only be surrendered after the matter has been subject to an exhaustive examination which leaves no alternative." he addded.

Mr Patterson recommended at this stage that the request of the company for a conference be granted.

It was decided to invite B.H.P. to meet the Works Committee.


21st January 1942
Newcastle Morning Herald p.2


A proposal by the B.H.P. Company Ltd to exchange Shell Beach Park for an area for an area of three acres on the corner of Bull and Tourle Streets, Mayfield West, will be considered by Greater Newcastle Council to-night. If the exchange is effected, the land will be converted into park and playing area.

The public rarely visits Shell Beach Park, the Works Committee was informed when it made an inspection of the site yesterday afternoon.

In addition, the company has agreed to fill in the low-lying portion of the area recently acquired by the council from the War Service Homes Commission, adjoining the B.H.P. property, to the same reduced level as its railway tracks. It is estimated that 400,000 cubic yards of filling will be required. The property has a frontage to the Maitland-road.

Assuming that the exchange of land is completed, the company is agreeable that Tourle-street should be extended nothward to the water frontage, but such extension will not go beyond the reclaimed southern shore bounding the existing arm of the Hunter River.

22nd January 1942
Newcastle Morning Herald p.2


A proposal by the B.H.P. Company Ltd to exchange Shell Beach Park for an area of three acres on the corner of Bull and Toule Streets, Mayfield West, was agreed to by the Works Committee of the City Council last night.

The committee adopted a suggestion by Ald. Quinlan asking the company to grant on acre of land fronting Platt's Channel for public recreation.

Ald. Higgins said that it had been reported that the Shell Beach Park was rarely used, but he knew of many people who visited the park.

The Chairman of the Works Committee (Ald. Dunkley) said the B.H.P. had a long range plan to reclaim land for industrial purposes.

It was stated that the company had also agreed to fill in the low-lying portion of land acquired by the council at Mayfield West and to extend Tourle-street northward to the water frontage.


29th January 1942
Newcastle Morning Herald p.2


Protests against the proposed transfer of Shelley Beach Park to the B.H.P.Co. Ltd were made by several aldermen at a meeting of Greater Newcastle Council last night. The council agreed to defer decision until the next meeting to permit several aldermen to inspect the park.

Ald. Higgins said that gradually the waterfront was neing filched from the people. "We intend to stop it if we can before it is too later," he said. "This is the only bit of recreation land of any kind between Newcastle Beach and Sandgate."

Ald. Shaw said the exchange of Shelley Beach Park for three acres on the corner of Bull and Tourle Streets, Mayfield West, was not an equitable transaction.

Ald. Jenner said the area offered by the B.H.P. was entirely unsuited for development as a park.

12th February 1942
Newcastle Morning Hera
ld p.4


By 10 votes to 9, Greater Newcastle Council last night agreed to the proposal of the B.H.P. Co. Ltd to exchange Shelley Beach Park for an area three acres at the corner of Bull and Tourle Streets, Mayfield West. The company has also agreed to fill in the low-lying portion of land recently acquired by the council at Mayfield West and to extend Tourle-street northward to the water frontage.

Ald Higgins urged the council not to surrender Sheeley Beach Park to the B.H.P. without a fight. The park, although small, was an admirable spot for people to fish and picnic. At very little expense it could be converted into an excellent park.

"This deal may suit B.H.P. but the people are up against it," he added. "The company in return proposes to give us a rocky area of land on which we would have to spend hundreds of pounds to make a park. It also promised to fill in the land we recently bought at Mayfield West, but it will be many years before that is done."

Ald Colman suggested that a further conference should be held with the B.H.P. and that council submit fresh proposals involving exchange of land.

Ald Williams said he was not prepared to barter with the company to give away something which belonged to the people. The B.H.P. had gradually taken from the people land by the waterfront. This was the last area of land remaining. The council would live to regret the deal.

Ald Norris said he supported the scheme because when certain reclamation work was done, Shelley Beach Park would be surrounded by industry and would be useless as a recreation spot.

Ald Griffiths pointed out that under the agreement the B.H.P. would spend 40,000 pounds in filling in the Mayfield West land - work which the council would be unable to do for at least 20 years. The three acres which would be given in exchange, although not exactly suited for development as a park, would at least make a buffer between industries and the residential area.

The Mayor (Ald. Young) said the final decision rested with the Government. Expansion of industry should be encouraged. The prosperity of Newcastle was built up by industry. South Australia was striving to tempt industries to establish themselves in that State.

Ald. Colman's amendment seeking a fresh conference with the B.H.P. was defeated by 10 votes to nine. The motion agreeing to the transfer of the land was carried by a similar vote.

20th February 1942
Newcastle Morning Herald


The Minister for Lands (Mr Tully) will be asked by the Waratah Official A.L.P. to reject the recommendation of Greater Newcastle Council for the transfer of Shelley Beach to the B.H.P. Company in exchange for other land. This was decided at a meeting last night.

The President (Mr J Murphy) said that Shelley Beach was once a popular spot for picnikers. It was the only place between here and Sandgate where people from Mosquito and Dempsey Islands could land. The Steel Works had gradually taken the bottom ends of Crebert, Kerr and Woodstock Streets. Ingall street was now the only way of access to the waterfront.

The Acting Secretary (Ald. R. Higgins): We put up a good fight in the council against the transfer, but we were defeated by one vote. The area is a public park and is still used by many people. For the principle involved we must not let it be taken from them.

Mr J. Smith felt that the recommendation would not be adopted. It was a landing place necessary for the people living on the river islands.

19th March 1942
Newcastle Morning Herald p.5


Tarro Shire Council Engineer (Mr W.R. Lindsay) submitted a report to the council yesterday on the construction of a public wharf at Ingall-street, Mayfield. He said that a copy of a letter from Messrs. N. and E. Towns had been forwarded to the District Surveyor , who had replied that the matter was more or less bound up in the application by Lysaght's Ltd. and the Broken Hill Pty Ltd., to reclaim and purchase land in the immediate vicinity below the high-water mark of the Hunter River channel. A letter from council had been sent on to Sydney, as the file relating to the application were at head office.

Mr Lindsay said that on Tuesday Messrs. Towns had interviewed him, and with them he had conferred with the District Surveyor. The reclamation and purchase of land in the immediate vicinity of the wharf, the removal of the existing wharf, and the extension of the roadway to the line indicating the limit of the proposed reclamation, and the construction of a new public wharf at this point were discussed, as it affected Towns's busines. Their objection had been withdrawn when the Lands Board indicated that provision would be made for the construction of a new wharf with proper access. The new wharf, which had just been completed, was unusable owing to its excessive height.

Mr Lindsay reported the matter to the President, and with the Town Clerk and Towns Bros. made an inspection the previous day, and latter interviewed Mr W.G. Wileman, of the B.H.P. Company. Mr Wileman indicated that he would look into the matter, and said he wished to meet the requirements of Towns Bros. The report was adopted.

28th March 1942
Newcastle Morning Herald p.6


Recommendation of the granting of an application by the Broken Hill Pty Co. Ltd for special purchase of portion of the area fronting Platt's Channel, Mayfield West, was the chief matter disposed of yesterday by the Land Board at its sitting in Newcastle.

Mr F.N. Boddington presided, with Messrs. W.E. Campbell and R. Cruickshank members. Mr H. G. Barrie, District Surveyor, represented the Lands Office; Mr A.A. Rankin appeared for the company.

The price was determined at 940 pounds. The Chairman said that the objection had been raised by the President of the Official Labour Municipality Assembly (Mr H.N. Coe), on the ground that the land should be retained for public recreation, but that there was no appearance in support of the objection. It had been represented to the board that objection was raised under the misapprehension that the proposal included Shelley Beach Park.

The Board recommended that there was no objection in the public interest to compliance with the application, subject to concurrence with the Department of Mines, Department of Works and Maritime Services Board, and to compliance with conditions imposed in a previous application.

11th May 1942
Newcastle Morning Herald p.3


Stating that there was a possibility that land between Hexham and Mayfield would be flooded in heavy rain and a breakaway caused through the isthmus at Stockton if Platt's Channel were filled, the Municipal Assembly of the A.L.P. decided yesterday to invite the Minister for Lands (Mr Tully) to make an inspection with a deputation.

The President (Mr H. Coe) said he had received a letter from the Under-secretary for Lands, stating that the B.H.P. Co. had applied for the reclamation of land near Shelley Park, Mayfield, below high water mark. It had been proposed that Greater Newcaste Council should hand over an area in exchange for a section at the waterfront.

Mr C. Griffiths was told that Platt's Channel was about 200 yards wide.

"Platt's Channel is the safety valve of the river in time of flood." said Mr J. Hammerton.

Ald. J Williams said it appeared that the B.H.P. Co. intended to use Spit Island as a wharfage front and fill the channel. Everything possible was being done by opponents to the proposal, to retain direct access to the water for the people. He claimed that the B.H.P. Co. had been "spoon-fed" in the early days of its history, and had become a dominating factor in the district.

Mr Griffiths said he was concerned about the future. If the channel were blocked, property in the vicinity of Hexham, Sandgate, and Mayfield would be flooded in heavy rain. If the river did not break its banks upstream in the event of a flood, it would break through at Stockton. Any possibility of the channel's being filled should be opposed. He moved that the Minister be asked to receive a deputation and inspect the locality.

Seconding the motion, Mr Hammerton said the Minister should be asked to ascertain the possibility of the harbour's silting if the channel were blocked. Walsh Island had been filled to protect Stockton.

The Secretary (Mr M. Thorpe) said a bank about 30 ft. high had been caused by slag tipped on the foreshore.

18th May 1942
Newcastle Morning Herald p.2


After hearing the views of a deputation in Newcastle yesterday, the Minister for Lands (Mr Tully) promised to have reports prepared on the Shelley Park proposal.

The deputation was introduced by Mr R. Cameron M.L.A. The area - is a little more than an acre in extent - is a beach reservation, fronting Platt's Channel. It gives access to that watercourse and the Hunter's River. Application for the reserve has been made by the Broken Hill Pty Co. Ltd., whose steel works and those of the affiliated industries are in that vicinity, linking Mayfield and Port Waratah.

The closure of the park, it was urged by the speakers, would be against the best interest of the people, who desired this outlet in a thickly populated suburb. It was stated that the company had also applied for 12 acres below high water mark in Platt's Channel. Access to this and the river was denied the public with exception of that available though the park, as far as Sandgate.

Another aspect the Minister was asked to consider arose out of a proposal of the company to deposit filling from the major industry in the channel. The result of such a step, the deputation held, was that there would be flooding of low-lying lands. Dempsey Island and Ash Island might also be affected. The weight of the spoil from the works would have the effect of pressing the mud into the channel. This material would be carried into the harbour and would necessitate additional dredging. During times of flood it was likely that with the restricted "get-away" the waters might be forced through to the ocean above Stockton North.

The Minister accompanied the representatives over the park and made a close examination of the surroundings, discussing with them various aspects of the matter. He said he would have full inquiry made into the position, and would have reports prepared by his maritime officers on the possibilities of danger such as had been represented to him.

Mr C. Griffiths, an executive officer of the Central A.L.P., was one of the deputation, with the President of the Mayfield branch (Mr M. Fitzgerald). Messrs H. Sheedy. J. Hammerton (delegates from the Assembly), Ald T. Breen (Greater Newcastle Council), W.E. Slattery (Stockton), T. Campbell (Mayfield), J. Youngberry (Waratah), and the Secretary of the Newcastle District Municipal Assembly of the A.L.P.(Mr N.H. Thorpe).

"When the official reply has been received from the Minister," said Mr Thorpe, "a special meeting of the Assembly may be called to deal with the matter."

26th July 1946
Newcastle Morning Herald


Sir - May 1. through your columns, ask Mr A. Fairhall, Liberal canidate at the forthcoming Federal election, if it is a fact that-

(1) He recently conducted a class of senior students through a series of lectures upon the subject of land ownership and reforms?
(2) Throughout his address he consistently advocated the land reform proposed and set out by Henry George in his book, "Progress and Proverty?".
(3) To quote from this book, Mr Fairhall believes "that poverty deepens as wealth increases and wages are forced down as production power grows, because land, which is the source of all wealth and the field of all labour, is monopolised?".
(4) Mr Fairhall, in winding up the study course, emphatically (and I thought most ably) subscribed to the remedy proposed by George, i.e., "This then is the remedy for the unjust and unequal distribution of wealth apparent in modern civilisation, for all the evils that flow from it. We must make land common property." "G"

Mr Fairhall, in reply, says:

From his phrasing of question 4, your correspondent is obviously well aware of my views. Regardless of his personal reason for wanting public confirmation of my interest in land reform, I am pleased to answer "Yes" to all four questions.

I have never been more convinced than I am at this moment that land and natural opportunities for the production of wealth covered by the term should be returned to common ownership. I can still find no moral basis for private ownership of land although there must be every protection of occupation and of property rights in the wealth which results from the application of labour to land.

It would be over-rationalising the situation to claim that such reform would cure all of our troubles, but I am convinced that it is the one basic reform without which all other reforms are powerless to improve the conditions of the average man.

If your correspondent is concerned lest his view be incompatibe with my advocacy of liberalism, I offer the opinion that there can be no true democracy without common ownership of the land as the source of all natural wealth.

My unalterable opposition to schemes of nationalisation and socialism to the Labour pattern arises from their threat to real property rights without touching the spurious claims of individuals to ownership of the earth.

What we need today as never before is an attack against the real cause of social injustice - that, surely must be the aim of honest politics.

There must be careful discrimination between the validity of claims to ownership of the earth provided by the Creator for the common use of all men at all times, and property rights which are the product of labour.


1st August 1946
Newcastle Morning Herald


Sir, - Surely Mr Fairhall does not expect anyone to take him seriously in his advocacy of the common ownership of land, as set out in his reply to "G" ('N.M.H." 26.7.'46). I recall his vote in the Greater Newcastle Council some three ago in favour of handing over Shelley Beach Park, a reserve on the Hunter River foreshores, to the B.H.P., when I and other Labour aldermen were fighting desperately to retain for the people this last vestige of public or commonly owned land on the Hunter River foreshore.

Mr Fairhall voted Shelley Beach away to the B.H.P. a few days (I think it was actually only three days) after he had publicly advocated common ownership of land while giving an address at a luncheon in the city. These facts can be verified from the files of the "Newcastle Morning Herald" and the records of the Greater Newcastle Council. I brought this inconsistency under the notice of the council and Mr Fairhall himself.

Mr Fairhall, as an endorsed Liberal Party candidate, knows he must abide by the policy of his party, and does he think he can persuade Messrs. Menzies, Fadden and company to declare for common ownership of land? If he can, it will be the political sensation of all time. I am afraid that, if Mr Fairhall persists in his advocacy of common ownership, he will be getting his ankles caned by his party bosses.

29th October 1947
Newcastle Morning Herald


From a town-planning standpoint there could be no objection to the closing of Platt's channel to give an increased industrial area on the south side of the south channel, the City Engineer (Mr Baddeley) reported to Greater Newcastle Town-planning Committee last night.

He was commenting on the proposal for the development of the Port of Newcastle submitted to the Regional Planning Committee by the President of the Chamber of Manufactures (Mr W.G. Wileman).

The report stated that the main question to be considered was whether the elimination of a natural waterway would increase the danger of flooding. The widening or depening of the remaining south channel and north channel might be necessary. The filling in of Platt's channel would be a convenient spot for the heavy industries to dump their refuse.

The reclaimed area, incorporating Ash, Moscheto and Walsh Islands, would provide a means of expansion for heavy industries
, but might not alleviate the potential shortage of industrial land for the small factory, particularly if the land was acquired under one ownership.

For that reason provision of industrial areas in other locations in Newcastle would still require consideration, the report added.

It had to be recognised also that the scheme would increase the flow of industrial traffic northwards and might call for a revision of the main roads system.

The three rail connections in the proposed scheme crossed Pacific Highway, and would need high level bridges, with a tunnel possibly for the rail connection adjacent to Waratah.

The provision of a shipping basinextending up to Throsby Creek was considered desirable as wharfage was likely to become scarce with industrial growth and the useof the port for export of primary produce brought by the Sandy Hollow railway.

Finally, said Mr Baddeley, the proposal to close the south channel ultimately was one which would require close research, and no indication could be given as to the economic practicability of the scheme.

Mr Baddeley's report was received.

11th November 1948
Newcastle Morning Heral
d p.1


An aerial view of the Hunter River area occupied by the B.H.P. Steel Works (left). The company is to acquire Platt's Channel (on the left arm) from the Government in exchange for land at Shortland. It is proposed to fill in the channel with spoil to form a site for probable industrial expansion.


The State Government is to exchange with the Broken Hill Pty Co. Ltd 372 acres of area at Platt's Channel for 382 acres of land at Shortland adjacent to the golf links.

The Government would also sell about 55.5 acres of land, in three separate lots, to the B.H.P. This land now houses important buildings and plant.

The exchange and sale of land was recommended yesterday by a Parliamentary Party sub-committee to Caucus. The recommendations were adopted unanimously.

The area at Shortland has been surveyed. It is sufficient for 1254 home blocks, 70 business sites, school and park and recreation areas.

The land will be handed over to the Housing Commission for what might become Australia's largest single home building scheme.

Platt's Channel is one of the channels of the southern arm of the Hunter River.

It is planned to close Platt's Channel and fill it with industrial waste so the mainland can be extended to take in Spit Island.

Early legislation to effect the exchange and sale will be prepared by the Minister for Lands (Mr Sheahan).


The Government will get the better of the deal. Most of the area being exchanged by B.H.P. is water. There are about nine acres of land, mainly foreshore land.

For every acre of water area the Government gives it will receive in return 1.09 acres of land from B.H.P.

The committee appointed by Caucus to investigate objections and likely problems comprised the Minister and Northern Parliamentarians, Messrs. F.H. Hawkins, J.G. Arthur, R. Cameron and G. Booth.

Speaking for the committee, Mr Arthur said all aspects of the proposal had been carefully examined. The Premier (Mr McGirr), Mr Sheahan and Minister for Works and Local Government (Mr Cahill) visited the North this year to discuss the proposal.

Feared Floods

"Some farmers at the other end of the Hunter, who feared flooding objected," Mr Arthur said, "People living on the foreshores along the channel also objected. Government experts more than once have conducted tests and surveys on the wisdom of closing the arm. Every consideration has been given to the claims by farmers and others, but the experts have found their fear groundless. In fact, they believe that closing this arm off will strengthen other channels."

Mr Arthur said people living along the foreshores who had to move would be cared for. He had no doubt that decent home would be found for them.

"Taking the matter from the general and long-range viewpoint, no really serious objection has been, or could be, raised against this plan," Mr Arthur added.

The exchange is part of a plan to provide additional land for industrial expansion.

Three years ago B.H.P. offered to buy the land if the Government was not prepared to accept the exchange. Shortly afterwards, the then Minister for Lands (Mr Tully) ordered a hydrographic survey to ascertain whether closing the channel would affect tidal waters.

The plan to reclaim Platt's Channel and extend the industrial area to Spit Island, which the company owns, except the eastern tip, is the most important resumption project since the B.H.P. made its original offer in 1913. The area on which the Steel Works now stands was then low, mangrove land. This was filled to permit the erection of the first furnace and rolling mills.

Through the years the company has reclaimed with an immense quantity of spoil the area that is the site of the Steel Works in its many branches and of allied industries.

It is estimated that filling in Platt's Channel will almost double the present industrial area. The channel is shallow and not navigable.

Spit Island is similar in type to most other low-lying islands that form the delta of the Hunter.

The tree-covered land at Shortland is bounded to the south by Wallsend Coal Company's railway, and the north by the Great Northern Railway. It is triangular, with the western base shirting the golf links at Shortland.

Apart from a small section of swamp, the area is a succession of light rolling hills, well grassed and with trees that should have a place in any suburb of the future. It could be, as tentative plans propose, a model suburb on most modern lines.

An area of 34.5 acres was leased to the Broken Hill Pty Co. Ltd for 50 years (till 1962) under the Newcastle Iron and Steel Works Act, 1912, in pursuance of an agreement between the then Premier (Mr McGowen) and the company. The land is described in the Act as being part of the Hunter River, part of Throsby Creek, and reclaimed ground abutting on same.

The Act also gave the company, on terms prescribed in it, the fee simple of 87 acres known as the reserve for Botanical Gardens at Waratah, and three acres owned by the Caledonian Coal Company and formerly used as a railway.

Other land was made available later.

Mr Arthur said that the leashold of some of the land in the 55.5 acres would expire at the end of this year. The land was occupied by important buildings and plant. Caucus did not discuss the selling price.

Aftermath of the 1955 Maitland Floods

The aftermath of the 1955 Maitland Flood

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