The houses that we see today in the Bay are not the first houses built by Europeans. In the 1870s the New Wallsend Coal Mining Company began mining coal close to the water’s edge at the southern part of the Bay. Evidence of these early workings is still clearly present. By 1873 a manager’s residence and’ a number of good weatherboard shingled cottages for the workmen’ existed according to the Miners’ Advocate.
The number of houses grew and by mid-1875 a journalist from the Miners’ Advocate reported that there ‘were about thirty or forty houses within the boundary of the town, and some 100 inhabitants. He also noted the existence of a post office, a couple of stores, the butcher, a baker and a public house.
The New Wallsend Coal Mining Company laid out a subdivision, which they named the ’Township of Cowper’. Very few allotments in this subdivision were sold. However, it is from this venture that we get the street names that we see today in Catherine Hill Bay. Frazer, Hale and Montefiore streets were named after directors of the Company. Lindsley Street was named after one of the Company’s principal shareholders, John Lindsley. Clarke Street was named after the Rev William Branwhite Clarke who was an Anglican clergyman and a geologist. He is credited with first measuring the coal seam at Catherine Hill Bay.
Due to under capitalisation and the loss of the steamer the ‘Susannah Cuthbert, this coal mining venture collapsed. With no work the miners departed, as did the storekeepers.
Megan Martin in her work ‘Catherine Hill Bay- A development history ‘finds that The Newcastle Directory & Almanac for the year 1881 reports that Messrs Lamb, Knox and Parbury had purchased the plant, stock and houses of the former settlement and had re-erected most of the houses on their estate at Lake Macquarie entrance.’
Megan Martin holds that the claims made in the Lake Macquarie Heritage Study produced by Suters Doring and Turner in1992-3 stating that miners’ cottages in Clarke Street date from the 1870s are not correct.
The Council of Education District Inspector in September 1877 when marking in possible school sites on the plan of the ‘Township of Cowper’ showed the miners houses to be in Hale Street not Clarke Street.
So there never were miners’ houses in Clarke Street in the 1870s and the housing that had existed in the Bay was removed to Lake Macquarie entrance.
The houses that we see today in Catherine Hill Bay date from 1888-1889 when the Wallarah Coal Mining Company began operations in Catherine Hill Bay. Thomas Parton was appointed mine manager of this English Mining Company in September 1888. He sailed from England and began the construction of a new jetty in virtually the same location as the previous jetty. The new township was re-established on the site of the former ‘Township of Cowper’. This was Main Camp or Catherine Hill Bay.
There came to be three separate villages. Main Camp, Mine Camp and Middle Camp. The camps generally followed the areas where the coal was being mined. Mine Camp developed next, as the mine was about four miles north of the jetty and the miners had to walk to the pit before they could begin working “A”, “B” and “C” pits.
In 1906 “E” pit opened and the Wallarah Coal Mining Company built more housing at Middle Camp.
In the early days when mining was more labour intensive there was not sufficient housing so a number of other areas such as Slack Alley, Federal City, Moonee, Sawmill Camp developed. However, this additional housing was mostly built by the miners themselves, with the permission of the Mine Manager and in many instances was little more than “shacks”.
In the 1960s there was a change in the mine ownership, Coal & Allied becoming the new owners.
The housing stock was in a parlous state and the new coal company did not wish to undertake the extensive repairs needed. The coal company selected the housing along the established roads in Main Camp and Middle Camp and placed these newly surveyed properties onto Torrens title.
The occupants were told that they had to either buy the houses or leave. All the houses in Main camp or “the Bay” were sold for 350 pounds and the houses in Middle Camp being larger and newer were sold for 400 pounds. Houses that were not put onto title were demolished by the coal company as they became vacant. There are a few remaining houses in Slack Alley and Sawmill Camp that are still owned by the residents but on land that is owned by the coal company. Catherine Hill Bay ceased to be a “Company Town”.
The housing in Mine Camp increased during the Second World War when the Department of Defence built a number of houses for the RAAF personnel who manned the Radar Unit located at Mine Camp. These new houses were built in the style of miners’ cottages, presumably not to be obvious to the enemy. Following WW2, the Housing Commission took over this housing and rented the houses to locals. By the 1970s the housing stock had deteriorated and a bushfire destroyed what remained.
The Catherine Hill Bay Progress Association requested the coal company on a number of occasions to create a new subdivision as the children of the town wanted to continue living in the Bay. Coal & Allied refused these requests.
Ownership of the houses in Catherine Hill Bay remained fairly static until the later part of the century and the early part of the following century when more houses came on the market for sale due to the ageing of the original owners.
When mining finished in 2002 Coal & Allied and the development company Rose Corp applied to the State Government to have land that was zoned ‘conservation’ rezoned to ‘residential’ to facilitate 900 new residences at Catherine Hill Bay.
These were controversial and contested development proposals.
Rose Corp Part 3A Approval in 2008 was successfully challenged in the Land and Environment Court. A new subdivision proposal for 550 residences for the rebadged Rose group was requested in 2010 and approved in 2011.
Coal & Allied withdrew their original proposal putting forward a new proposal for 228 houses in 2007. Approval was granted in 2012.
Both these new developments were to be at the northern and southern ends of the town and to have no visual impact on the by then State Heritage listed township of Catherine Hill Bay.