HISTORY OF OUR TOWN
The Brown Coal Mine township started with very humble beginnings, yet it helped spawn the great electricity powerhouse that became the Latrobe Valley and the State Electricity Commission of Victoria. The town was renamed Yallourn North in 1950 as it was north of the growing company township of Yallourn. Production of electricity in the region using locally mined brown coal allowed the state of Victoria to free itself from the grasp of New South Wales electricity, and led to 100+ years of prosperity for the state. Yallourn North is still small and humble town today, however the positive impact the township had for all Victorians should not forgotten.
DISCOVERY OF COAL
It all started when an 1873 Department of Mines publication noted that prospector David Ryan reported a lignite find on the Latrobe River. It was left to Henry Godridge, the licensee of the Morwell Bridge Hotel and part time gold prospector, to find coal on the banks of the Latrobe in 1879 approximately 2.5 miles from David Ryan’s find.
Henry Godridge tried for ten years to persuade investors to join him in developing the deposits, without success, until eventually Melbourne financier Henry Playford helped form a syndicate to take out mineral lease number 773. Granted on August 8th 1887, this took in the mine and the area where the Brown Coal Mine township was to develop.
Andors (Andy) Anderson, a native of Sweden, was probably the first known settler. He was there in 1884, perhaps even earlier. He lived in his hut with its dirt floor and no door for 4O years, close by a creek that emptied into the Latrobe River. He died in 1924 and his land reverted back to the Crown. It was bought in the 1920’s by William Jones and shortly after that sold to William Cook and his wife Celia, who named it ‘Harmony Hills’. That creek still flows, forever carrying Andy’s name as Andersons Creek.
Andors Anderson on his property with Harmony Hills in the background
A SMALL TOWN, WITH A LONG HISTORY
The Town began to form around 1916 – it wasn’t a planned town, and there weren’t any typical homes as people made do with what was available. Cladding could have been timber slabs, bark, kerosene tins beaten flat, bags stretched over saplings then coated with cement wash till they were waterproof. Cooking and heating was on open fires. Water was drawn from wells using a hand operated monkey-tailed pump to raise the water. Tents housed everything, people, meeting places, churches, and the first school. The Education Department at that time would not provide a building because it was a mining town, and as such, would more than likely disappear. How wrong they were.
Mrs Meers and her daughters were the first women on the site in 1916. Imagine arriving by horses & wagon over terrible roads via Toms Bridge, setting up tents in the scrub with no water or other conveniences, all your neighbours were men, and your youngest child had to be kept in sight in case she got lost in the bush. Soon there were 150 men housed in a line of tents, bark or slab huts. 1917 saw the Meers family opening the first shop, a tin shed, the first of three shops they were to run along with a boarding house. They cooked good substantial meals for most of the men.
A typical home made from whatever material was available
The township was formalised with the official opening of the Post Office in September 1917. It was run by Mr C Savige at his General store.
There were many ‘shops’ being erected along with some rough dwellings, as people came from near and far to settle close to the mine in which they worked. Mr Watts opened the first bakery in their own kitchen. They started by making pies, ready at knock-off time for the miners. The local butcher killed his meat on the farm then transported it on a horse-drawn flat dray, covering the meat with gum leaf branches to keep off the flies, then he would use the tailboard of the dray as a chopping block. November 17th 1917 saw a Marquee, a large Circus like tent, erected by the Mines Department to be used as a school which officially commenced from the beginning of 1918. There were 16 children of school age and 5 under age, Miss Helen L Jones was the first teacher on the hill at the Great Morwell Mine School.
A timber school building was opened on the 26th November 1919 on the site where school No 3967 still stands today.
The little growing township was quite isolated by lack of roads or railway line. Morwell, Moe and Traralgon were only accessible by sturdy horse pulled vehicles, on horseback, or occasionally by bullock team. Morwell was the closest town, nine miles via Toms Bridge, a little nearer by going via a very poor road past the open cut mine entrance and on to Morwell through Morwell Bridge.
By 1920 water was being pumped up from the river to the township, filling a number of overhead tanks and the seven or eight underground wells incorporating monkey-tail pumps to raise the water. These wells were situated on what were planned to be street corners. Main Street comprised of many commercial buildings; boarding houses, a billiard room, two bakeries, a butcher, a barber, a hall and public marquee. Behind these on the west side were fourteen identical Mines Department huts built in 1919.
Meadows family bakery not only served the township of Brown Coal Mine, but was later to serve the new township of Yallourn. Purvis Stores No1 branch commenced trading in 1924, the forerunner of twenty branches throughout the region. Both these businesses were the source of work for many young people. Sly-grog shops, illegal bookmakers, two-up and card games flourished in the early days.
Like all small isolated communities they organised their own entertainment, dances and picnics being the main events. Money was raised in various ways through dancing and drama classes, tennis club, football or cricket club functions for both men and women.
People helped each other in sickness, fire, floods, and any other disaster. Strikes were around even then with many a family wondering where the next meal was coming from.
DEVELOPING A TOWN
In 1936 the frontage of Harmony Hills was sub-divided into thirty one ‘half acre’ blocks, and named “Cooks Estate”. These blocks were sold and built on by many individuals.
Crutchfields farm, now belonging to Mr. Rintoull, was sub-divided into Rintoull’s Estate, with Kelso Road being named after John Kelso Rintoull. George Baillie inherited land to the west of Rintoull’s estate and sub-divided it to become Baillie’s Estate. Baillie Street still carries his name. These estates allowed people living on Mines Department land to build on their own blocks, so the type of housing improved and the town spread out. A new road and bridge over the Latrobe River was opened in January 1940.
Yallourn North town layout circa 1950 with Baillie and Rintoull subdivisions identified
World War 2 arrived and the young and not so young went off to war. Yallourn Power Station, producing electricity, came under threat. An Army Camp was set up at Brown Coal Mine with ack-ack guns and searchlights. These, thankfully, never had to be used for anything other than target practice.
Once again the townspeople swung into action, raising money with the War Efforts Association by running the Queen Carnivals, assisting by sending letters, the Live Wire paper and parcels to all the boys ‘over there’, Prisoner of War camps included. Community singing and endurance dance competitions were also organised. In total the War Efforts Committee raised £3,682, a great deal of money from such a small area. Wars end saw many a welcome home dance.
In 1947 a competition was held to give a new name to Brown Coal Mine, and the choice came down to either Latrobe or Yallourn North. As there already was a Latrobe in Tasmania it was decided by the powers that be, the name would be Yallourn North. For years some of the older local residents resented the change, but as time passed it became accepted.
CHANGE AT THE COAL FACE
The massive slip into the mine at the edge of town in 1950 changed the town forever. This caused the township to be relocated further North West of its original site. A hastily erected Nissan hut was located beside the football ground to house the shops on a temporary basis. It later became our theatre and town hall and is still there on the same site to this day. In the early 1950s with the encroaching Yallourn North Open Cut, the State Electricity Commission reclaimed the properties that were known as Cooks Estate, and realigned North Road further to the North. The redesigned township was then clear of the open cut workings.
With the influx of workers after the War; the need for housing grew. The SEC built pre-fabricated homes in Yallourn North to house these workers.
Workers heading home along ‘pre-fab’ lined North road – 1950’s
Dotted along North Road were many small shops. Irvine’s lolly shop, Edwards corner milk bar. Other shops changed owners many times. Names known are – Seear, Wagner, Barter, Colvin, Pettifer, Gotts, Harris, Thompson, Bourchier, Unwin, Skinner, Baillie and Casey.
The Bank and Post Office were moved yet again, this time to the corner of Rossmore Avenue and North Road opposite the Rossmore Hotel, as a temporary measure.
Meadows built a new bakery at the end of John Street. A new butcher shop and Purvis Stores relocating to new buildings in North Road. The Police Station and residence were also relocated to the corner of Carmel Avenue and Reserve Street.
Land was set aside opposite the hall in Reserve Street to enable a more central shopping area to be constructed around a community park, later to become the Lions Park. The first shop in this area was the Post Office/Newsagent. More building continued over the later years finalising with a new medical centre.
The butcher shop traded under various names until closing for the last time in the 1990’s. The bank has closed and the Police Station has long since been only a private residence. With a new health centre in the shopping square the original Health Centre was removed and this area is now where the Narracan Retirement Villa’s have been built.
A Foodworks Supermarket now occupies the old Purvis Stores building. The Nissan hut became a picture theatre and now is the towns public hall named Monash Hall after the late Sir John Monash, 1st Chairman of the State Electricity Commission of Victoria .
With the demolition of the Yallourn township, it was deemed that the surrounding towns would share the facilities that were going to be lost to the local community. The Yallourn kindergarten building was relocated to Yallourn North and now is the Bowling Club building. The building of a new swimming pool and the George Bates football ground were other facilities that were gained.
Driving past the massive water-cooling towers of the Yalloum “W” Station then over the bridge, a realigned road now runs up from the Latrobe River into the town. Yallourn North Motors stands on the intersection of the old and new roads at the entrance to town. The Rossmore Hotel, which once had etched windows depicting the “Old Power Station”, has long since replaced the sly-grog shops.
A War Memorial and park has been erected next to Monash Hall across from the Lions Park. Yallourn North is now a far cry from the first beginnings in 1917. We are still a multicultural community as we were in the Brown Coal Mine days, living in a safe area with beautiful scenery and within easy reach of the major surrounding towns.
History compiled by The Yallourn North and District Historical Society
With assistance from the book The Old Brown Coal Mine – Kath Ringin ISBN 0 9588501 0 0