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Jim Comerford (1913-2006) - General Secretary of the Miners Federation. Part 1/2.
Recorded 10 August 1984
Meeting held at Kurri at the Cessnock Historical Society.
Introduction given by a schoolfellow at Maitland High – W.S. Parkes (Stan)
Jim had to leave school early because of family circumstances – Jim is remembered as "the little boy at the back on the left who was interested in history and English". Their memorable teacher was W.H. Martin.
Stan and Jim were unemployed agitators during the Depression. They also joined forces for the writing about Greater Cessnock.
They also worked together on Mines, Wines and People (coauthored with Max Lake).
Stan said to Jim "Don’t forget we’ve got some work to do before 1988 – we’ve got more to do with Mines Wines and People – its sequel." To which Jim answered, "Stan, how bloody long do you think we’re going to live?"
Stan went on to say that Jim was not only a good scholar but also a good bringer together of people. Jim has chaired a variety of meetings.
Jim begins his speech introducing the topic of "Folk Tales".
He talks about the mining tradition in East Fyfe coalfields in Scotland – grave yards there so back to the 11th century. He cites one grave stone from the 17th C which says "Here lies the bones of Bibbin McGee, lost at sea and never found."
Tales from their grandfathers in Northumberland, Durham, Stafford there is a continuous tradition in those areas. Jim suggests that there is nothing like that in Australia, possibly because it is so much younger.
In Australia (particularly the Hunter Valley) we are a mixture of Welsh, Scots, English and native born. You could tell where a man worked by his accent. The Welshman from Stanford, the Geordies from Hebburn, the Australians from Pelaw Main and the Scots at Richmond Main.
The Welsh set up their male voice choirs, the Scots set up their pipe bands and the Australians set up their brass bands – they ran parallel but never came together. Doncaster Brass Band was a brass band that has been going for about 90 years as has the colliery. The tradition continues.
Jim says the Australian Coal Industry is the most destructive coal industry in the world. It migrates from place to place, where there is easy coal to get. It migrated from Newcastle to Wallsend, from Wallsend to West Wallsend, from West Wallsend to Greta, from Greta down south to the Cessnock and Kurri area producing about 65% of Australia’s energy requirements.
Colliery horses: pit horses. One called "Dumpy" – a well-known horse who served for 15 years pulling skips from the Cathedral down to the wharves at Newcastle for the coal to be loaded.
"Sharpo" was rescued from a mine disaster at Hamilton in June 1889 where 20 men were killed. "Sharpo" died four days later but they "stuffed" him and took him around the district shows.
In 1968 Jim was involved in the closing down of the Wonthaggi mine – the State Mine management offered the little ponies to "good homes".
The 1949 Coal Strike – the flooding due to heavy rain – there was a pit top meeting with the horses underground – the flooded open cut broke through and drowned every horse. Jim relays the concern the men had for what had happened to the horses than the job ahead of them of clearing the debris and bodies. This was at Aberdare Extended. This story is rarely told. These stories should be told in the coalfields folk lore.
The Aberdares and (Stanford) Merthyr are named after the Welsh – Rothbury, Pelaw Main after the English.
In England in January 1862 there was a disaster in a single shaft mine where 202 men died when that shaft was blocked. It led to legislation that a mine had to have 2 shafts. One way in and one way out.
Women – Folk Lore In 1909 they sent 15 motor cars from Sydney to Newcastle to get Peter Bowling – leader of the miners. They got him in leg irons on him before he went before a court. The women got together a petition with 9,000 signatures protesting about his treatment. Known as the Leg Iron Strike.
The women held a meeting to walk before the men who were striking on the wharves. The soldiers armed with Gatling guns in open trucks came up from Sydney. They challenged the troops to shoot them first.
The Rothbury Riots – They brought some of the wounded police to the hospital and Jim’s mother called a pit top meeting of the women who could stand up in the hospital and demanded that "these bashers" get kicked out. The hospital staff said they were running the hospital not the women – they left the hospital in their night gowns.
Some women came out to Australian mines believing their husbands or fiances were still alive and they’d arrive only to find they’d been killed in a mine disaster. They then married someone else. At Mt Kembla there is a disastrous story of one man trying to save another.
The poem "Buttai"– Fred Biggins from Cessnock – written in the style of The Sentimental Bloke by C J Dennis. A tale of the northern coalfields.
Poets - Wallace Meagher. He lived at Stanford and went to Maitland High to University. The reality of the coalfields doesn’t appear in his work. He committed suicide at 18 at the University. A lot of his work is in the Archives at the University of Newcastle. Jock Graham comes from Ayrshire – from Burns country. "Blood
on the Coal" and" Dark Roads" – steeped in the tradition of Burns and Lawson. The University of Newcastle has copies in the Archives Dept. Jock had his leg severed in a mine accident in 1928 at Richmond Main. He was also one of the rescuers in the Bellbird disaster.
Jock became a winding engine driver at Hebburn No. 2 on the vertical shafts.
His work is published in Kurri Times, The Cessnock Eagle and The Common Cause.
Finn Grainger is also a highly respected penman in the Kurri area.
Tommy Crawford – Save Democracy League – The Cooperative Movement. The entertaining debates between Crawford and Barclay on Friday nights in Vincent Street. Weston Workers Club. Long Jack Dean (possibly a Wollombi family). Tallest soldier on the Weston Front – he worked at Hebburn who always picked the 4ft seam. He’d go in like a corkscrew. He was very anti – war. Jim reckons Jack was 7ft tall.
Harry Lauder – 2 brothers – Bill and Jock worked at Richmond Main. Lauder’s Junction. John Brown proposed the toast at the dinner held for Harry when he visited Newcastle.
Idris Williams – one leg, one eye and one of something else. Lay preacher in Wales. Lost the leg in the Western Front and the eye at Wonthaggi. Idris was a communist who knew more about the Arbitration System than the arbitrationists. He got stuck into the BHP. "They’re so powerful, they spread their testicles everywhere!"
Bill Parkinson – Eunice Shakespeare
Bill Mahon – a shy bloke and mining general secretary (Pelaw Main) – diffident and like a public servant.
Pongo Grant – secretary – a good vaudeville singer at strike concerts and on the hospital board. Matron Flanagan -
Jim at Aberdare Central which was partly mechanised. The miners couldn’t do overtime. "Squeaker" Lacey – his nose rested on his bottom lip - as terrific bloke.
Jimmy Campbell – Meg his wife finds out someone else was getting more than Jimmy – she finds a way of sorting out his pay.
End (Tape 327/Side A) SubjectStrikes and lockouts -- Coal mining -- New South Wales -- Personal narratives.Coal mines and mining -- New South Wales.Australasian Coal and Shale Employees' Federation -- History.Miners Federation (Australia) -- History.Coal industries. Trade unions. Australia. Miners FederationMiners' Federation of Australia.Coal miners -- Labor unions -- Australia -- History.Comerford, Jim, 1913-2006PersonJack DelaneyDepicts or Relates ToStan ParkesCreatorComerford, Jim, 1913-2006Delaney, Jack, 1919-2010CollectionVoices of the HunterDate Created10th August 1984Location Rothbury Colliery, NSW Aberdare Central Colliery, NSW Wonthaggi, VIC Hebburn No. 2 Colliery, NSWIdentifier330A