Although I was born in Maitland, my parents moved to Cessnock N.S.W. when I was 3 years old so I think of Cessnock as my home town.
In those days, coal-mining was the principal employment and most of my school friends had fathers working in the pits. The haze of coal dust fell over the town and most of the time we lived dreary lives. Except for the trips to Maitland to visit my grandparents, I had little knowledge of the surrounding area. I found this account of life in Cessnock on Trove and it brought back memories for me.
The building of the Great Northern Road in 1830 contributed greatly to the development of Cessnock from its beginnings as a private estate, to what it has become today. The junction of this road to Singleton and Maitland was a convenient overnight stop for Wollombi teamsters and it became a crossroads for produce travelling to and from destinations like Morpeth and points north-west. With fresh water provided by Black Creek and, in 1856, the establishment of the Cessnock Inn at this crossroads, the growth of a settlement here was inevitable. In due course, in 1874, the area became known as just Cessnock, rather than Cessnock Estate or Cessnock Inn.
SUBURBIA: This Week – Pardon Us, Do We Smell Lavender?
Cessnock stands on the banks of a concrete drain. The drain is called Black Creek. It has always seemed unobtrusive when we’ve been there, but townsfolk, who know it in every mood, have nicknamed it Lavender.
As stormwater canals go, it is rather fascinating. It winds along behind Vincent-street shops, is crossed by numerous little private footbridges, and eventually-down towards the railway station-goes right in under the street, comes out back of some buildings on the other side. and disappears. It carries away tide waters which once would have flooded the town in heavy weather, and it is just as susceptible to rubbish as Throsby Creek.
At the start of Wade Street, in “the heart of Cessnock,” the Lavender or one of its tributaries turns up under a suspension bridge. When the stormwater canal was dug out, it severed a street. Nearby residents got together, and, with cables from a mine, built the bridge to link the street up again. It saved them having to detour to get home. The bridge, with weeping peppercorns beside it and a trickle of water below, has a fetching quality. Though the jarring effect is probably dangerous to the spinal column, people have a lot of fun running across the quivering boardwalk. We were told we shouldn’t miss out on this minor thrill. So we tried it. Two women, going into a house on the other side. stared at us as though we were screwballs. We waited until they went inside. Then we trotted back again. The result is that, if we were Ogden Nash, we would now be proclaiming to a vast audience of American readers that, of all the suspension bridges one is ever likely to enjoy as well as need, We nominate this suspension bridge as the suspension bridge most likely to succeed.
In Wade Street lives Mr. Charles Raisbeck, artist brother of West Maitland mezzo-soprano, Rosina Raisbeck, who now sings at Covent Garden. We called twice, but Mr. Raisbeck was not at home. We found him perched on a ladder in Wollombi Road, painting the name on the awning of a new butcher’s shop. Mr. Raisbeck migrated to Cessnock from Maitland in 1939. Except for four years in the Army, he has lived there ever since. He began his military career as a transport driver, and wound up as a corporal in an intelligence outfit, working on illustrated maps. The maps were not the only outlet in the Army for his artistic talents. On rest days and in off-duty hours, he painted portraits and landscapes around the camps, using both oils and watercolours, and getting plenty of requests from khaki cobbers for “a picture to send home to Mum.” On the musical side, he played the cornet in a unit band, the mouthorgan in service entertainments, and the saw in an Array dance orchestra. The musical saw was a riot with troops, especially when he prayed the mouthorgan at the same time with a “Look, no hands” attitude. He played the solo part on the saw and used the mouthorgan for the accompaniment, in jazz and ballads. “When did you take up the musical saw?” we asked. “When I was 16,” Mr. Raisbeck said. “Did you ever play it as an accompaniment for Rosina?” “Oh, yes,” he said. “Quite often.”
Like Newcastle, Cessnock has a one-street shopping centre. It’s commercial lane, Vincent-street, is long and thin. In it, we noted the beautiful brick entrance to a small neglected area which was meant to be a park, the generally uninspiring window displays, with ancient dummies featured the shop that sells everything from crochet work to boxing gloves and guns, the unimpressive cafes and the impressive butchery where men chop orders on a battery of blocks, while girl assistants attend to customers. We also noted that Cessnock is mad about murals. Milk bars and cafes have them in series around the walls: paintings of seas, lakes, rivers, and cities viewed across harbours. A drapery store has a palmy beach scene above its shelves. A fish shop has murals of an unidentified lake and in the windows of a butcher’s shop views of the Pyramids and Nile. It’s all like escapist travel talk. There isn’t a mural to be seen of a pit top or any phase of the mining industry.
Another kind of mural is the panorama called “Cavalcade of Road Transport” which, slowly fading, is painted on the facade of a bus depot at the foot of Vincent Street. Against a background we guessed was intended to represent a road from Lake Macquarie to Cessnock, it shows five buses in progress. The first, marked 1900, is an open, long-pew buggy drawn by four horses. Next, marked 1910, is a double-decker, still with an open top and four horses. Then there’s an ugly 1920 jalopy, an advertisement for remoulds, and better buses of 1930 and 1940. It was in Vincent Street (and not on a bus) that we saw the glamorous miner. He disappointed us because, at that stage of our visit, we were still looking for some of Cessnock’s imagined rough colour. He looked so highly-polished and sophisticated you could have sworn he came out of the pages of “The New Yorker”, a tall young man who’d no doubt changed into his Sunday best and forgotten to take off his shiny black safety helmet. -IAN HEALY.
Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate (NSW : 1876 – 1954), Saturday 15 May 1948, page 3