The House at Killy Pit

Betty Williams

We lived in Killingworth, (a suburb of the city of Lake Macquarie, NSW) in the house which had been the residence of the mine manager when Killingworth Colliery (Killy Pit) was in production. The mine was opened in the 1890’s and I guess the house was built at that time. It was a big weatherboard house with an open verandah with a rather lovely wooden rail around three sides. Wide steps led down from the front of the house, then a path led out the gate and down to the Pit. The house was built on the top of a hill, which had been flattened out to a large plateau. The hill sloped down on all four sides. There was an inner yard, fenced off. There had once been a tennis court there, but now it was covered in lupins.

The outer yard was very big and enclosed by a paling fence. It was home to a horse, a cow and poultry which roamed free during the day and were housed at night in the “chook house” to keep them safe from foxes. (The pet lamb stayed mainly in the inner yard – the pet kangaroo came later!) There was access for cars, and the “dunny cart” which would come into the outer yard. The “duuny man” would lift the flap in the “dunny” and exchange pans. A wary eye and alert ear were kept on those days so you were not caught “sitting!”

The mine had closed in 1910 after an explosion underground and re-opened four years later. However it closed again during the Depression. It was now the late 1930’s and whilst the mine was no longer producing coal it was operational as a  waggon maintenance centre. My father was employed as an electrical welder, his first full-time job since the Depression. While there was a mine manager he did not occupy the old mine manager’s house. As my father had a wife and five children this large residence was offered to him for rent. I think it must have been a reasonable rent and in addition the electricity came from the mine free of charge.

My Father was an electrician and made good use of his skills – he made a four-panel electrical radiator with copper casing (now in the Newcastle Museum) which was used for heating the lounge room as we listened to the wireless. He also made a hot water service, which meant we had hot water over both the sink and the bath.

However, while we may have been free and easy with the electricity, it was not the same with water. The bath water was certainly used by more than one body. There was no reticulated water then and we relied on tanks. There were four ordinary tanks as well as a big old iron engine boiler and water from this was used on the garden. Every now and again it would be emptied and we children would climb inside and scrub it out so there was not too much rust. This was done when it seemed pretty sure that it would be filled up again quickly. Sometimes when we had prolonged periods without rain there was very little water in either the tanks or the boiler.

Dad was quite skilled as a bushman. He was born in Denmark and had jumped ship in Newcastle when he was just seventeen. He just loved the Australian bush, so he well knew the dangers posed by bushfires, and did what he could to minimise the effects a bushfire would have. However, to hose the house down and fill the gutters with water was out of the question with no reticulated water. So, each winter, the family would endeavour to clear the slopes around the house of undergrowth. This happens to be a cherished childhood memory. On many weekends we would burn a patch off and then throw some potatoes in the burning embers. Have you ever had potatoes roasted in their jackets in burning embers? Try it sometime! It would probably be hard to do now as it really needs to happen in the bush in winter and “burning off” is not allowed now anyway. However, the practice stood us in good stead at the time.