My say

Why does Kurri Kurri Exist (My say)

It was 47 years ago last May that I had my first taste of the Coalfields, in particular Kurri Kurri.
As a young Ambulance Officer with the NSW Ambulance Service, I was transferred to Maitland Ambulance Station to work.
In those days and as far back as the founding of Kurri Kurri in 1902, Kurri Kurri’s roots were historically linked to the Maitland Community.
It is interesting to note that there has always been conflict or competition between Cessnock and Kurri Kurri, with most folklore blaming the two warring coalfields Rugby League sides for the animosity.
I reject this theory as my own research indicates that Kurri Kurri was founded by demands placed upon the government of the day back in 1901, by residents of the villages surrounding today’s township, namely Stanford Merthyr, Pelaw Main and Heddon Greta emanating from the East Greta Coal Seam.
The town was surveyed by the Maitland Lands Board as a new “Crown Town“. The original council met in the East Maitland Courthouse before council chambers were even considered in Kurri Kurri. Most business transactions were directed to Maitland, as was the continued development of the East Greta coal seam and the railway line.
In 1906 the Kurri Kurri Shire was amalgamated with Tarro Shire. It wasn’t until many years after the establishment of the township, that it was eventually amalgamated with Kearsley Shire ( the only communist council in Australia) thereby linking Kurri Kurri to the Cessnock community for the first time. The resultant Rugby League duels are probably the result of the two tribes venting their frustration to forced shire boundary changes.
My move to Kurri Kurri came about as a direct result of extremely cheap Real estate in the area. From 1966 onwards the once prosperous coal mines were closing down leaving the town with very high unemployment.
The opening of the John Renshaw Drive in the mid 60’s directly linked Kurri Kurri to Newcastle reducing the travelling time by more than 15 minutes.
This allowed many retrenched coal miners access to the BHP workforce of the late 60’s and 70’s.
It wasn’t until the establishment of the Alcan Smelter in 1969 and textile factories in Kurri Kurri that the economy of the town looked secure once again.
During those days I searched the lower Hunter for a low cost home. Cheap homes in Maitland ranged from $10-15 thousand dollars, land prices were around $5,000 while in Kurri Kurri you could purchase a reasonable old mining cottage for around $5,000 and land for the council rates owing on them.
I purchased my 1st home in Kurri Kurri in October 1971.
At last the great day arrived. I had sold my house by the sea at Dudley and moved to the wonderful little country town in the Lower Hunter, Kurri Kurri.
They say Kurri Kurri means “The Very First”. Well it was the very first time I experienced a super hot October westerly. As we moved into town the local bush was ablaze with spring bushfires and being hurried along by one of Kurri Kurri’s now famous westerly blasts.
My family said to me, why did you leave Dudley to come to this hell hole, the roads here are next to nothing, there is no curb and guttering, no city support services? They asked “What does this town have to offer a young family”?
I couldn’t answer their questions in those days, but over the next eight years I was to settle into a community with strength of character I had not witnessed in Newcastle.
Over the past 44 years the fights to save Kurri Kurri Hospital are legendary,
Kurri Rugby League team rose to be number one in the Hunter Valley with three Premierships and the town’s elevation to No. 1 town in NSW under the Tidy Town banner in 1993 cemented my loyalty to the town.
During the last 47 years of slow progress, approximately 10% more of town was curbed and guttered. Victoria Street and Mitchell Avenue became four lane roads and the shopping precinct at last took the shape of a regional shopping centre, and the now famous Murals commenced appearing in 2002. Our town is now on the world mural town maps.
Kurri Kurri exists today because of the fighting spirit of the early pioneers and the new resident’s determination to see improvements in the town.
The town today is still controlled by outside influences that don’t have a vested interest in the town’s future.
Coal property, crown land and environmental reserves surround the town stifling development for future housing and indirectly restricting the advancement of the business district.
With the recent upgrades of roads to Maitland, Newcastle and the Hunter Expressway to Newcastle and Sydney, Kurri Kurri can look forward to future prosperity not only in domestic housing opportunities but also in business development.
The history of Kurri Kurri is steeped in political one sidedness where the people of the Kurri Kurri community have been used to shore up Federal, State and local government politics. It is a credit to the strength of the community that this political posturing hasn’t turned the town into a ghost town like other mining communities.
Kurri Kurri exists because of a strong community spirit, strengths that many people in the community take for granted these days. It was genetically implanted in families by the original miners of the area. Scots, Welsh, Geordies and Irish. These families lived in an era when every penny earned and every little bit of progress had to hard won.
I am proud of the fact that I moved to Kurri Kurri in 1971 and then in 1984 built a new home.
Kurri Kurri had in the 1980’s close to 1,000 women working in the textile industry, 60% of the male population working in the coal industry while the rest worked for Alcan and Newcastle industries.
These days the textile industry has moved on leaving few opportunities for women.
Newcastle industry has downsized the coal companies have moved west, HYDRO has closed; with Wine Country, Rutherford and Beresfield/Thornton industrial precincts providing any future job opportunities at present.
Kurri Kurri’s future lies in the development of residential areas (1800 home sites under development), and new industrial development to support future job opportunities. Kurri Kurri’s political leaders, business leaders and community leaders must work together so that the future of Kurri Kurri is as secure as it was back in the days when Richmond Main Colliery alone had 1200 employees.
Kurri Kurri will continue to grow into the 21st Century but as a vastly different community to that which we have lived in and known for the past 116 Years.

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