Firstly, I would like to say that I am no expert the topic of Kurri Kurri having come from a Coastal dwellers lifestyle, growing up at Stockton the holiday resort for hundreds of Coalfields people over many decades.

As kids we wondered why all the people came from those funny named places such as Cessnock, Kurri Kurri, Neath (they said it had a beach) or Minmi (they said it had a breakwater). Us kids living on the Coast were always amazed at the role up of these people from the Coalfields every Christmas in what we saw as some sort of ritualistic event.

Some years ago that I spoke to a well-respected person from Kurri Kurri who said that he had purchased a van at Stockton Caravan Park. It dawned on me that even now the beach is a favourite place for the people of the Cessnock district.

In my early years of marriage I lived at another Coastal town, Dudley a mining village. It was in 1971, thirty (50) years ago that my life changed forever. I had just joined the NSW ambulance service and was posted to the town of Maitland. The daily trip from Dudley to Maitland was too much so I looked for a new home. And so it was that my family moved to Kurri Kurri in October 1971 instigating what was to become a major change in my life.

Since that move, the Cessnock and Kurri Kurri district has become my life and the progressive people I associate with on a daily basis inspire me to continue on my path of improving this community’s lifestyle. I have only been here forty (50) years.

A Mr David Dunlop was one of the first white settlers who established a property at Cessnock in around 1821. One of Dunlop’s better traits was his respect for the Aboriginal communities that lived around the Wollombi Valley.

It is interesting to note that Cessnock’s early history was steeped in agriculture. For example there were established wheat crops and vineyards as early as one hundred and fifty (160) years ago. It wasn’t until the discovery of coal in the late 1800’s at East Greta Junction only ten (10) kilometres from Kurri Kurri that this district became known as the ‘Coalfields’ of the Lower Hunter. The term ‘Coalfields’ is entrenched in people’s minds throughout the Cessnock and surrounding districts
and has become a natural term for those describing the area even today. After the discovery of coal in the late 1800’s at East Greta Junction, Coal Towns sprang up quickly as transient miners fought for better living standards. Heddon Greta, part of Cessnock was one of the earliest Coal Towns with a Pub, the oldest Pub in the district.

Kurri Kurri in fact never had a coalmine but was built after coal employees protested about their poor living standards. The town was surveyed in 1901 and proclaimed in October 1902. In 2002 the town of Kurri Kurri hosted its Centenary. An interesting argument about the origin of Kurri Kurri’s naming amongst local historians still rages today. The most accepted and probably accurate one is that Kurri Kurri is the name given by the local Aboriginal people meaning The Very First (or) “first time once upon a time”. It is understood that Kurri Kurri was so named because it was the first planned Crown Town in NSW.

Anyhow, back to our history. As the mines moved further west towns known as Weston, Abermain, Neath, Aberdare, Bellbird, Pelton, Paxton and Pelaw Main sprang up as the great Edgeworth David Coalseam unfolded. It is said that the Coalseam was the richest in the world. Coal became a major part of Kurri Kurri’s heritage from the early 1900’s until the end of last century. In fact there is now only one mine currently operating in the district.

While the miners tilled the soil underground an energetic group of agriculturalists worked the rich soils of the Pokolbin area to grow grapes for the purpose of wine production. Early pioneers of the once fledgling, but now prominent industry included Busby, Tyrell, Drayton, Tulloch and Lindeman. But it was fifty (50) years before the discovery of coal that the wine industry began. Many of the early pioneer’s names are entrenched throughout the industry and carried on by family wine businesses today. These businesses have outgrown “King Coal” and are now flourishing and providing new job opportunities for the Cessnock district particularly in the areas of hospitality and tourism.

Now, let’s look at the perceptions and legacies of those bygone days of coal. The perceptions of our community still sticks to this day of small unpainted timber cottages built by miners who when pushed, moved on leaving poor European heritage. The mine owners and managers were the lords of the district but when the mine was worked out they simply packed up and moved on leaving behind a scarred landscape for future generations to repair. This is known as our “European Heritage”. I call it an eyesore, which retards our image. Today, the Kurri Kurri district is reinventing itself and trying to set a new, more vibrant future for its’ citizens.

Our pioneers were exceptional in conquering the great north road and the development from Morpeth into Pokolbin for the wine, timber and grain industry. Today tourism, clean industry, viticulture and retailing are the prime employers. But we still have a long way to go to win over this country’s’ perception of the Hunter Coalfields as did Newcastle as a steel city.

As leaders of the Cessnock district we are charged with the responsibility of changing these perceptions.

History, by nature is evolutionary and progressive. We need to look forward to the future and respect our past, not to just continue to live in it.

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