Quarry a tough slog for work­ers

The Bal­lina break­wall was built in the 1890s from stone cut out of Ri­leys Hill

The Northern Star - - LOOKING BACK NEWS 17 - CON­TACT: Pre­pared by Geoff and Mar­garet Hen­der­son for Rich­mond River His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety, 02 6621 9993. info@rich­his­tory.org.au. Mu­seum at 165 Molesworth St, Lis­more, is open 10am–4pm Mon­day–Fri­day; Re­search room open 10am–4pm Mon­day and Wed­nes­day.

RI­LEYS Hill, a small set­tle­ment on the Rich­mond, will al­ways be re­mem­bered in lo­cal his­tory for at least two things, its quarry and its dry dock.

In the 1890s, the Bal­lina Break­wa­ter was un­der con­struc­tion by the Pub­lic Works De­part­ment. A mas­sive amount of stone was re­quired to build the break­wa­ter. Most of this stone came from Ri­leys Hill, and it was a ma­jor un­der­tak­ing to quarry it out and take it to Bal­lina.

The Rich­mond River is full of shoals and nav­i­gat­ing th­ese can be very treach­er­ous.

Around 1860 a Cap­tain Ri­ley is said to have had his ship stranded for three weeks on the shoals. At the point on the river where this hap­pened there was a promi­nent hill that acted as a marker for nav­i­ga­tion. It be­came known as Ri­leys Hill and it is here the quarry opened about 1890.

It closed in 1911.

Stone was blasted from the hill­side, then taken by rail­way track to the wharf, where it was lifted by mas­sive cranes onto punts for the trip down river to Bal­lina.

Many of the men who worked at the quarry had pre­vi­ously been em­ployed on the Lis­moreMur­willum­bah Rail­way, where they were used to rock-cutting, tun­nelling and mov­ing the huge pieces of stone.

Th­ese men were also used to mov­ing around the state fol­low­ing th­ese jobs.

Some were mar­ried and wives and chil­dren fol­lowed them, so pro­vid­ing a com­mu­nity. Most lived in tents but there were also shacks, and the un­mar­ried men were ac­com­mo­dated in a kind of hos­tel.

The chil­dren went to the school at Ri­leys Hill. Some of th­ese fam­i­lies later set­tled in the area but most sim­ply moved on to other ar­eas fol­low­ing the avail­able work.

Looking at the fam­ily de­tails of some First World War sol­diers who were born in our area tells us how th­ese fam­i­lies moved on from one place to an­other – the birth places of their chil­dren show the de­tails.

The sec­ond im­por­tant el­e­ment at Ri­leys Hill, its dry dock, was be­gun in late 1899 or early 1900.

It was ex­ca­vated out of solid rock and this too found its way to the Bal­lina Break­wa­ter. At the dry dock, the stone was lifted by a 10-tonne steam crane mounted on a rail­way track that moved back and forth as blast­ing took place. The smaller ma­te­rial was lifted out by pick and shovel.

A Cof­fer Dam had to be built at the river end of the dock to al­low a gate to be in­stalled. The whole op­er­a­tion took sev­eral years of hard work and is a fine ex­am­ple of engi­neer­ing skill. The gate it­self worked in such a way that, when it was closed, the pres­sure ex­erted on it from the river made it close even tighter.

The dock was built with slop­ing sides so ves­sels of dif­fer­ent sizes could be ac­com­mo­dated.

Horses were used to drag the trucks laden with spalls (smaller stones) to wait­ing punts. Trucks were hinged and loaded at a slight in­cline. As they reached the punts, the horses would swerve away at right-an­gles, the driver would re­lease a lever and the load would tip into the punt.

It is re­ported that only one load was lost over the en­tire pe­riod of quar­ry­ing!

It showed the in­ge­nu­ity of our early engi­neers. Of­ten they had to make do with what equip­ment they had on hand, as it was a slow process to get new equip­ment even from Syd­ney. Most heavy items had to come from over­seas.

Th­ese men, how­ever, were mas­ters of their trades – black­smiths, iron moul­ders, engi­neers, car­pen­ters, and many more. Most had served their ap­pren­tice­ships at places like Birm­ing­ham in Eng­land – if they did not have some­thing, they adapted or made it!

SLOW-GO­ING: Ex­ca­vat­ing Ri­leys Hill dry dock in about 1900 of Have some­thing his­toric in­ter­est? to hear We would live from you, email tracey.hordern@ north­ern­star.com.au

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