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David "Jack" Prout (1907-1987) - Bellbird Miners' Lodge Secretary, Recorded 5 December 1983. Part 1/2
Recorded 05 December 1983.
Part 1 of 2.
Known as “Jack” Prout. Born at old Lambton, 1906 [sic], and moved to Cessnock at the age of 8 in 1915. Bellbird Primary School started in 1912. There were three teachers and three rooms at Bellbird Primary, the first Teacher was Miss Carroll who dealt with the kindergarten, Mrs Wilson dealt with intermediate class and the Headmaster was William Grey who finished off their education. Bellbird school yard is the same size as now but it was heavily timbered in those days, with a pan system toilet.
Travelled to Cessnock by train, as that was the principal means of transport, got to Bellbird by the two horse bus run by James Crosley, met all trains and went no further than Bellbird. People travelled by horse & sulky mostly. Crossley went in the morning to catch the 6:55 train, then the one at midday and one that came in at 6:10 of an afternoon, cost 5 shillings to go on the bus. It was a bench style horse bus and could take about 12 people. Ran until Ditton started bus from Cessnock in 1917.
Crossley also worked as coal carter in between his bus route. The majority of people in the town owned fuel (coal) stoves, Miner's Oven. Some had the open grate, they weren’t enamelled and they blackened and the women would polish them.
Ditton ran his motor bus in 1916 and it was 2 shillings a ride and the war was still on at this time, and he ran around 5 or 6 trips a day. Les Hill joined Ditton when he got a bit old, and had the Ditton & Hill motor bus Company. Then they had some competition from Keith Essie, after the war, Essie's buses ran around 1918-19, he had the new and improved buses that ran on petrol, with pneumatic tires. The early road at Bellbird, in summer or dry times it was just a cloud of dust and potholes, and in the rain it was clay, it was a gravel road.
Started work at Bellbird in 1923, six weeks before the disaster, he was meant to start afternoon shifts in the pit, his father worked as rope splicer at East Colliery, his father said he should be on the surface until he was used to the atmosphere and what goes on, so his father spoke to the manager and got him to change his location to the surface either on afternoon shift or day shift, if not for that Jack would have lost his life.
Essie ran in competition against Ditton & Hill but it wasn’t profitable. Ditton & Hill carried on, but they were struggling, when George Ryder came to Cessnock, he was the chairman of the Sydney Terminal. Ryder didn’t have any money, he married a woman by the name of Scott, her father was a worker at Bellbird, and he had a fair amount of money, staked Ryder and be brought Ditton & Hill out. When Ryder took it over the population increased, and buses became very profitable.
Stan Barksby brought Keith Essie out, since he couldn’t compete with Ryder’s on the Bellbird route so he began a bus run to Aberdare, the hospital and Nulkaba. About one in thirty had a car, a majority travelled by train, bus and the horse and sulky were one of the main means of travel. Early Bellbird was simply timbered, and you could easily hear the bellbird along by the creek and that is how it got its name. There used to be bullock teams that came from Millfield and Wollombi, in later years they were run by the Mitchells’ and the Kings’.
Peter Doyle owned horse and coach and did a run to Wollombi, he had stables approximately where Yeatman the Baker was. Got to school by bike, and travelled by train to East Maitland High School, left the bike at the railway.
When the Bellbird Disaster occurred the Colliery had two tunnels into the seam, the main No. 1 and a mile to the south they had a new tunnel called No. 2 tunnel. They connected in two areas underground. When they sealed No. 1 off they got a drill about a 12 inch Bore and they bored down. They pinpointed it by survey, and drilled down to the entrance where they two tunnels connected and poured sloppy cement in and let it set for a while then put more in and continue until they sealed off the No. 2 tunnel from the No. 1 tunnel. The men from the No. 1 tunnel had to come and work in the No. 2 tunnel and had three shifts, three production tubes, day, afternoon and dark, which is how they maintained it. This is when Jack started underground. The coal was carted across by skips by rope. They lost two months of work without pay after the explosion.
Toby Kempe had the corner shop, there was a paper shop towards Cessnock near the hotel, had two barbers then, Anderson, Goodwin, Clarke and Hamel, the earliest was Anderson. The barber shops ran from the hotel up to the corner. Dillon's winery was at Bellbird, they had a vineyard on the way to Mount View, just called Dillon’s Cellars. Had two blacksmiths - Lonergan's blacksmith across from the BP garage, and McDonald's blacksmith half way to Pelton, old Jack McDonald’s brother.
When Jack retired there were over 600 men working there including surface hands. Until mechanisation came the pit became old and was subject to spontaneous combustion, sections were sealed off, and the company’s treatment was disgraceful.
The manager Matherson was followed by Colvin at Bellbird Colliery. Colvin had been the manager at the coal mine in India. The Hetton-Bellbird Company that owned the pit reticulated power and generated the power at the pit, the engineer was Cooke, and at the powerhouse was Bill Penman’s father, Harry Day, and Wolfram. Power connected to houses in early 1920’s Bellbird collected for the use of the power, Caledonian Collieries took it over eventually.
There was an 18 month lockout in 1920. All the south Maitland pits were idle, with the exception of Millfield Greta, they continued because they paid the rates to the miners. The reason for the miner’s lockout was due to the coal companies wanting a 12.5% reduction in labour, the union refused but Miller had the sense to say he would continue to pay the ordinary wages and so they continued to work.
Jack and another man went rabbit trapping during the lockout, out at Gloucester then Yaris 15 miles from Wauchope. Then out to a cattle station. When summer came they got work on the cattle station until winter when they went to Comboyne Mountain for the rabbits. While up on the mountain they got work at a saw mill. They were working there when Norman Brown was shot by the Police. The man who owned the sawmill was Maychim and he was the mayor of Wingham. Then got work as a labourer on a dairy farm.
Received a letter from mother that his father was afflicted by Bright's disease, a terminal illness, and that they had seen the manager about work on the pit. His mother wanted him to return before his father died, but Jack was reluctant as he loved the bush life, he put in for a block up there, 150200 acre block all dairy farms, there were 20 up for sale and you had to have 400 pound before application considered, at East Maitland Land Board Office. He didn’t get it, he came back to work at home off and on until he was 57 years old.
David got cabled out to work at State Dockyard and worked there for three months, dockyard wasn’t profitable because no one would work. David worked on most of the lighthouse ships, worked on the Cape Don, the Cape Llewellyn and the Cape York. They were three layer ships that would take things to the lighthouses. They were well constructed and all built at the dock yard. He was one of the Painters and Dockers. He was a painter in the boiler room amongst a heap of criminals. They did not work though. David was on casual wages, he got ¼ the wages he used to get at the pit. The other workers used to take home paint, brushes, concrete and other things in their bags.
Then David worked at Buchanan-Maitland Colliery, a perfect colliery, the ventilation was that good you had to wear a sweater in winter, there was a lot of gas there but the ventilation was that good it would take it all away. Everyone worked in knee boots/rubber boots because it was so damp. Before getting a job at the Buchanan Colliery he was the Miner's Lodge Secretary, Bellbird, when Geordie Russell was there. The manager was George McGeachie, who had to find out about him before he could give him work.
End (Tape 226/Side A) part 1 of 2
SubjectBellbird Colliery (N.S.W.)Bellbird (N.S.W.) -- History.BusesCessnock (N.S.W.)Ditton & HillBellbird DisasterProut, David John Henry, 1907-1987PersonJack DelaneyDepicts or Relates ToLes Hill (1893-1974) -- Cessnock. Recorded 6th November 1983. Part 1/1.George RyderCreatorProut, David John Henry, 1907-1987Delaney, Jack, 1919-2010CollectionVoices of the HunterPlaceCessnock, NSWDate Created5th December 1983Location Bellbird Colliery, NSWIdentifier226A