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Thursday, 9 April 2015

Clean, Cheap and Cheerful?

The poster in our prompt shows a man and his horses delivering coal, and urges people to order their supplies. I'm grateful to Maree for posting this photograph of a poster for Wonthaggi Household Black Coal on a blog she wrote in 2010, whilst cycling around Australia.   I think the poster depicts a happy cat in front of a raging hearth. 'Clean,cheap and cheerful' is not quite the image we have of coal these days!  Maree says she saw  the poster on the wall of the Wonthaggi Library back in 2010.

Poster thanks to Maree's blog,  at
According to the web site of  Museum Victoria

"The State Coal Mines at Wonthaggi were established as an emergency measure to provide urgently needed black coal for the Victorian Railways during a protracted strike by New South Wales coal miners. Opening on 22 November 1909 on coal seams that had earlier been proved by a Government drilling program, the mine dispatched its first consignment just 3 days later with the coal being taken to Inverloch by bullock wagons for loading onto ships. A branchline from Nyora on the South Gippsland line was built in 1910 by the time production was in full swing. As further shafts were opened up, production increased from 41,000 tons in 1910 to reach a peak of 662,000 tons in 1930.
Initially the mine was highly profitable but production declined in the 1930s as larger seams were worked out and the mine was hit by industrial strife. Although operations became unprofitable, the Railway Commissioners opted to subsidise the mine in order to provide a guaranteed coal supply and the State Coal Mines remained in operation until 1968 when regular steam locomotives operations were finally phased out."

The following two photographs come from the Museum Victoria web site:

  • Rail trucks at State coal mine, Wonthaggi, circa 1919.
  • Date: circa 1919

  • Steam locomotive hauling coal from State Coal Mine, Wonthaggi, 18 July 1928.
  • Date: 18/07/1928

 When my husband's grandfather Joseph Henry Featherston became engaged to his wife-to-be Grace Eleanor Calwell, the following paragraph appeared in the Ballarat Courier of 11 March 1916: 

The engagement is announced between
Grace E Calwell, second eldest
daughter of Mrs M. W. Betteridge and
the late Mr Dan Calwell, of Bolwarrah, to
Joseph H. Featherston, Victorian Rail-
way, Bairnsdale, eldest son of Mrs and
the late Mr Joseph Featherston, Eureka
Street, Ballarat East.

Joseph Henry was born in 1982, and according to his birth certificate, his father Joseph was an engine driver at that time. His ancestors from Weardale in County Durham were lead miners, but grandfather Ralph  somehow escaped the mining life and became a joiner before he and his wife Mary emigrated to Victoria in 1853.  In 1919 Joseph Henry's occupation is given as fireman, and then on subsequent electoral rolls between 1924 and 1949 he was a driver. According to his daughter-in-law Mary, Joe worked on the Victorian railways, driving the trains that brought coal from Wonthaggi back to the cities of Melbourne and Geelong. Perhaps he drove the train pictured above.  The hard work took a toll on his health and he died in 1951 aged only 59, with his wife Grace outliving him by almost 25 years.  Here is a photograph of Joe with his new granddaughter Ann, taken in late 1949 or early 1950.

Joseph Henry Featherston and granddaughter Ann. RIP to them both.

I visited Wonthaggi just a couple of weeks ago.  Unfortunately I didn't have time to visit either the mine or the library, but I did manage to take a photograph of this large mural above one of the town buildings, depicting a steam train crossing a trestle bridge beside the Bass Coast on route to Melbourne. The banner on the train is advertising the Workmen's Club Picnic, and coincidentally we enjoyed dinner at the nearby Wonthaggi Workmen's Club that night. The trains don't run to Wonthaggi any more, but the bridge is still there, now converted into a rail trail that we rode over on our bikes.  

To read more blogs about coal, horses, workers and other related matters, just haul your load over  Sepia Saturday #274


I found this photo last night while scanning some old negatives to computer. It shows Joseph presumably relaxing on the beach at Ocean Grove near Geelong with his wife Grace and daughter Dawn, although he looks a lot more relaxed in the photo a couple of years later with his granddaughter!  Sadly we have no photographs of Joseph as a younger man.

pps. I just remembered another family connection to coal, sort of, in that my grandparents in Christchurch NZ lived across the road from a Mr Wendelken, who was a coalman. My mother wrote in her life book that Mr Wendeken "was always 'dirty', the coaldust covering him from head to toe - his eyes staring out of his blacked face as he lugged the coal sack on his back, up the path and round the back, to upend it with a crash into the coal box, a specail little house attached to the shed. When Mr Wendelken eventually retired he became a transformed person - always clean, and quite friendly". No photos, but I think Mum painted a good word picture.


  1. Awww, just think that baby was once just a little baby and the grandfather was holding her. Sigh. Anyway, we used to burn coal in our furnace and there was nothing clean about it. Guess I could post a picture of that for sepia saturday this week.


    1. Jo Featherston9 April 2015 at 21:23
      Sad to think that 'baby' Ann died of lung cancer in 2002, aged 52, so even younger than her grandfather Joe, and she had never smoked, let alone worked in a coal mine!

    2. That seems so unfair and yes, it's sad. We never know where these babies are going to end up in their lives. I just had two new grandchildren and I think of that now, not so much when I was having my own babies.

  2. I want to know where the name Wonthaggi came from, or did you tell us before? Nice to have that mural very much in the style that was prevalent during the mining town's heyday.

    1. It means 'home' in the local aboriginal language. The town itself was only really established at the same time as the coal mine in 1910.

  3. It takes some clever marketing to advertise coal as "cheerful." I have some photos of my family who were railroad men, and they always looked dusty, so they must have been around a lot of coal.

  4. How can coal be clean? Loved Maree's blog about cycling around Australia. What an adventurer.

  5. I had a coal stove for years...we burned hard coal, and it was STILL dusty. I learned about spring cleaning back was for a reason, believe me!

  6. Black coal was hard coal & supposedly burned clean without dust or smoke & left no soot behind - according to everything I read in my research online. But personal experience is the true test & it sounds like it didn't quite live up to its hype!

  7. "Cheerful" is an odd description for coal, and it is odd that they didn't mention anything about heating. They must have just wanted a "C' word that wasn't too long (like convenient & comfortable).

    1. Maybe 'cosy' would have been a good alternative ☺

  8. I've read about people picking up the fallen coal on railroad tracks.

  9. It looks like Joseph wasn't planning on going for a swim! So formal.
    I have photos somewhere of the beautiful trestle rail bridge next to the beach at Kilcunda.

  10. I recall drying my hair by the coal fire at my Scottish uncle's home and thinking it was a rather romantic thing to do (I was a teenager and prone to romantic flights of fancy - plus we didn't have a fire of any sort at our home in Canada). Apparently white blonde hair was not so white when it was done drying.

  11. Joseph’s job would have been very hard and dirty and undoubtedly shortened his life, but how sad for Ann to die of a such a disease. The lottery of life.

  12. Black coal. Does it ever come in any other color?
    It happens that I know about Weardale as my wife once had a holiday cottage there, a former lead miner's row house in Wearhead, still heated by a single ancient coal fire. A bleak treeless high land but beautiful open landscape. There is a fine industrial museum on the site of the last lead mine. It was terrible harsh work for men and boys too.

    1. They mine brown coal, aka lignite here as well as black. We have visited Weardale too and have been down the mine.

  13. Sitting on that sand looks so uncomfortable. I can feel it now Alright when you're young But what an essential job driving a coal train was. You think of all the people who would benefit from that in the long run. A good subject for a kid's story. Travel with a lump of coal and see where it goes and who it helps, and these days the damage it does !