Interview Transcript from Illawarra Stories Wollongong City Libraries Oral History Project –
Interviewer: Jo David
Interview date: 4 November 2016
Jo: Welcome to the Dapto Oral History Project. Today we’re talking with Fred Moore of Dapto. Fred was born in Cobar NSW on the 5th of September 1922 and he came to Dapto in 1952? Is that right Fred?
Jo: Yes, thanks for talking to us today. So, Fred you came here to work on the mines, you’ve got a long history of working in mines, haven’t you?
Fred: Yeah, nearly all me life and different mining and shaft sinking and stuff like that, but always been involved with mining nothing else.
Jo: Yeah, yeah.
Fred: And ah…
Jo: You’ve seen a lot then?
Fred: I started work at 14, ah in the Fort Bourke mine in Cobar and um, I worked there for a number of years till the war came on. And I tried to get in the Army but each time I was an essential worker and [laughs] But then ah, I came to Lithgow. My [people] family came down, they lived in Lithgow. And I had me, uncles and that there and I was on a, um, shaft sinkin’ and other things there for a good while and then I came down here and ah, started working in 1952 but I worked in other places around you know but mostly mining and ah various things an, an moves you about a bit.
Jo: It was hard work, was it Fred?
Fred: It was all hard work yeah, it was ah, hard work and dangerous work, very dangerous a lot of people get killed or their legs torn off or, see I’ve seen all that and worked with mates that’s been killed. You know, it’s um…
Jo: Have you ever had a close call?
Fred: Plenty a times, yeah, many a time we had there, and I’ve been injured a few times. Had um, leg injury and finger chopped off and stuff like that you know. But they’re minor to what other men have had you know, they’ve been crushed and pelvis and everything, an’, yeah, it’s ah, it’s very, very dangerous work. But the safety of it, is in later years, the miner’s cardinal principle, the miner’s federation was safety and you’re responsible for your own safety. You know, to see that you don’t, if it’s dangerous, you either can fix it or you get out of it. An’ wait till it’s, you know, can, something can be done, until other help comes.
And there’s big falls happen, and in fact in Nebo. There was a creep there, what they a call a creep, and there was 32 acres of ground before they could get it under control and then they had to move away. And there’s still machinery and stuff buried down there and cables and everything.
Jo: Is there really? Yeah, okay.
Fred: And gate end boxes and few skips and all that was buried you know. 32 acres is a long thing and it’s a creep which keep comin’ and comin’ all the time, and eventually we’d broke it all. But we had to move into another part of the area of the mine, you know. So, I dug it out and ah, that was always dangerous an, and heavy stuff. We used big, ah, steel girders and big thick props, you know, and that to hold it up but the floor’d started to bump up and crush towards the roof and, ah, we were in more bother ‘n we break it off. And, miners are skilled, they can work with it and know what to do, you know, otherwise it’s ah… But in the hard rock mining, you work on the stopes instead of the pillars and it’s uh, different type of mining and deeper shafts and…
Jo: Okay, is that what they did at Nebo?
Fred: Yeah, they, they done a lot of things at Nebo, that ah, other pits didn’t do, because it was on the crusher all the time. Some pits had only timber and they could have breaking or stub. But Nebo had to have steels all the time to hold it. And in later years well then, they had roof bolting and ah, in the roof and a different type of mining different machinery. And see, but ah, generally we just had horses and other things to pull the stuff around and, do things, but it was the sort of mining.
But safety was, as I said the cardinal principle of the Miners’ Federation which I was in for many years and I was made a life member while I was still working in that thing you know… done so much all the years. And uh, we ah, some mines would have a mirror and a thing on it, ‘You are looking at the person responsible for your safety’ yourself you know you don’t take it cheap. And no drinking, no smoking underground and if you drank well you’d be sacked on the spot and if you were smoking well you could get 3 months gaol you know because you could blow the place up.
Jo: Yeah, it wasn’t just your safety it was everybody’s safety.
Fred: That’s right, it’d blow the mine up and uh it’s quite possible with a naked light because Nebo was a very, very gassy mine and Kembla had blown up only next door and killed 96 men and boys.
Jo: Mmm, was that while you were at Nebo?
Fred: Yeah, that’s still that’s only about as far as from here, we worked about from here to ah, the shopping centre you know, away just cut up through the bush track and you’re there, you know.
Jo: Okay, yeah.
Fred: So, ah, it was all on the one thing and the seams right along here along the coast. There was 27 mines including the Burragorang Valley one time, you know.
Jo: Wow, that’s a lot isn’t it?
Fred: Yeah, they all went see they went ah right along like here Avondale and Wongawilli, Dumbarton and ol’ ah Kembla mine, you know, and South Kembla, something like that. Then Nebo and then Kembla, Mount Keira, right up the coast, Corrimal up to Helensburgh. And Helensburgh was the other one that was built after old Balmain quarry, so it was the first one on the escarpment.
Jo: Oh okay, I see.
Fred: Helensburgh. And they called it the Metropolitan Colliery.
Jo: I imagine in the mining fraternity, the people working in the mines were quite close, were they?
Fred: Absolutely they were close and ah, the women played a wonderful role. We had the Miners’ women’s auxiliaries, and they looked after the men when they were in the hospital, and they’d visit them and help the wives and that and any babies they’d help out and, so they were a group people.
Jo: Looked after each other.
Fred: Stuck together and looked after another, and most of them lived in villages like Mount Kembla was the village there…
Jo: Okay, of course.
Fred: Balgownie all them right out in Bulli you know.
Jo: Yeah, yeah miners’ cottages.
Fred: Yeah, and the women played a vast role, you know. And the men had all the old slogans. The miners’ Federation was formed in 1915 actually, and then they changed the name of it after the accord came in some years ago and now it’s the ah, CMFMEU colliery and mining and forestry engineering, you know.
Jo: Oh, I see
Fred: So, the government more or less changed that around and ah, that became there, but the men always- and they always had slogans, you know, they carried big banners and beautiful tassels on them and everything you know, you know, ‘not a penny off the pay, not a minute on the day’ you know, [laughter]
Jo: Okay, that’s good one.
Fred: That was a thing they used to… you know a penny was a, penny when you were shovelling and all that sort of thing, and not a penny of the ah, pay not a minute on the day, and then the old ones you know, united we stand divided you fall. And the ol’ Wobblies, or the I.W.W’s International Workers of the world they started all that going before the miners’ were formed, you know, they worked in the coal mining industries and that.
Jo: And what did you call them? Wobblies.
Fred: Yeah, the International Workers of the World they were known as Wobblies. And everywhere, they ah, would go then with the banners, you know.
Fred: With the banners they would have then, ah, ‘United we stand, divided we fall’. They knew that if you stayed together you had a chance but if they could break you up into little groups, they’d annihilate ya and a couple [laughter] of them said, they were the slogans you know, and all these things, and ah, safety was the cardinal principle of it. And ah, that was it, and ah they formed that.
And they fought for, in the earlier days, for bath houses. In Wongawilli you used to have to walk right up the escarpment, you know, right up till, you know the war years early days. And they used to, instead of walking and carrying all their tools up to, right around they sent the transport thing in, and the men set, but their time started at the top not the bottom, you know. At the bottom their time would start there, but when they got to the top to work you know, that’s when the thing is there, but their time started at the bottom, you know and that was it, and ah, they won that. But prior to that they’d get on and their time didn’t start until they got to the top and when they went in the portal that was when their time started. But they won the right that okay we’re here and we’re ready for work and it’s your responsibility to get us up the thing, you know, and either that or we walk up you know again. So that transport was one.
And ah, people I interviewed them in the older days you know like there for the history of the books I was doin’. Or we were doin’, anyhow, me mate an’ Patty Gorman, he’s the editor of the miners.
Jo: This was um, ‘At the Coalface’?
Fred: Yeah, and ‘Back at the Coalface’ and those books, and plus I was on the Andrew Denton show. We were talking about the mining an’
Jo: I saw you on that show.
Fred: Did ya? Yeah. [laughter] Yeah, and all the ones that ah, we put the miners up front in it, you know. Then we had the Maydays, big Maydays. They went back to the 1800s, the Mayday, the first Mayday was at Barcaldine in Queensland you know, it started off in Australia, but it was formed in America and then become worldwide. So, it was the International Workers Movements, we fought for all them things.
Jo: So, did you have to fight hard for, at Nebo for certain things or were they a fairly good mine to work for?
Fred: No, it was a very, very hard company, the BHP, and they had their own cadet miners, they trained them for what they wanted, and they were harsh at times. And the older men that had worked there worked in the industry for many, many years, these young cadet miners were trying to tell them. An’ there was safety involved and there was arguments and some fights, an’ they’d blow the no work whistle, you know an’ we’d be having a meetin’ they’d blow the whistle. But when they blew the whistle we had a policy that if Kembla, they blew the no work whistle on Kembla, the two pits went home together, if we blew the no work whistle at Nebo-
Jo: Okay, you went out together-
Fred: so, they stopped it then. But they’d blow it while men were still in the mine and they were work whistlin’, some had to go in with logos and bring the men out that was working on the, the other shifts you know, so that was a, a very dangerous tactic that they tried to introduce but eventually that we broke that down, an’.
But in the earlier days the old miners had no bath houses, they had nothing. They just walked to work in the soppin’ wet and ah, walked into the pit and back out again. And if anyone was badly injured, they’d leave them in there till the end of the shift, you know, couldn’t carry them out. An’ then they’d come out and then they got transported out. Gradually ambulances and that made tracks to go up.
But Wongawilli only had a little ol’ track goin’ right up the side like a goat track and they used to take the horses up, walk ’em right up to the top, walk ’em down, shoe ’em and all that sort of thing. So that was general in most of the pits you know. Nebo was the same, they used to put the horses, take the horses in, work ’em.
But, ah, the mining union, it was ah, a great organization and it helped other things, helped everything, like we set up, helped set up Greenacres schools and all them sort of things you know, and the miners played a big role in that. I was on the committee actually and um, we bought ’em furniture ‘n stuff, you know like tables and set it all goin’. And we started Greenacres all from played a big part in the Miners’ Women’s Auxiliary, and the union itself they put a big picnic on every year at Christmas. And the mothers loved it because if they took the children somewhere else, everyone would be lookin’ an’ doin’ and they couldn’t enjoy their selves like. They used to take them for Christmas to the scout camp and the mothers and everything would come. There’d be about three or four big bus loads, everyone turned up and all the pupils.
Well then, we used to, I used to wait at the thing for them and then we had the band about, you know of the miners’ band, pick about a dozen blokes. And they’d play and they’d be a big way up there near, maybe from here to nearly to Fairley’s, you know down there and ah, we would give ’em. And when everyone was ready the teachers would line ’em up they called them students, you know. And they’d be all gettin’ excited you know. Waitin’ because they were all goin’ ta see. Just there and then he said. ‘Right, Fred.’ And I would get the okay like that and the band would be ready and as they were coming up towards it, they’d strike up the Colonel Bogey or something and the, the kids march and the teachers would tell ’em the best marchers would get an ice cream, well everyone got one but they were marching. And some of them were 20 and 30 year old you know.
Jo: Oh, were they?
Fred: Yeah, they were there, but their ah, intelec… although Cedric Carter, he was there, and he was a football, um you know, um cheerer on running around there and he was their mascot, you know.
Jo: So, it was the union that put this on was it?
Fred: Always the union put it on.
Jo: Oh wow.
Fred: And it was paid for by the men, the men would just, you know, they would ah, pay it in their stump. We had it, every fortnight we paid our union dues and there was always a charity or something. And in the earlier days before the ah, changeover of the currency, we used to just get a pay packet you know. Early days it was fortnightly and then we won the right of weekly, you know, pay was good. But the Red Cross would come up, everyone would come every pay day and take their turn and they’d have boxes and things and we had all loose change in our pay packet, you might get, for the fortnight you might get 30 pound and 7 and 6 or something you know. So, the blokes would all throw the loose change in like that as they went past. And ah, they had wonderful name the miners, to ah, they were like in the earlier days, the vanguard of the people you know, they always was there in the mining towns and the co-op stores everyone relied on the miners.
Jo: On the miners, yeah.
Fred: And the earlier days before the compensation come in there were still plenty of miners around that remembered it, you know compensation didn’t come in till about 1926 or 7 and if people got killed or anything they had to take up a levy to get ’em buried and that you know, so we won all them things and today the mining industry’s only a shell of what it used to be you know. It’s, the miners are not there but they got big machinery, longwalls, an’ so I ah, was a long time…
Jo: It’s a different world now.
Fred: Yeah, that’s worldwide see. So, I represented the union at every level, on a, on a district, state, national and international level you know, I was overseas.
Jo: Do you think a lot of people nowadays don’t quite understand how, how much the unions fought for the rights?…
Fred: No, they don’t because the government is trying to break the unions so they can put in cheap labour and do away with penalty rates ‘n, we won all that. See the wealthy people in the coal mining industry, they were usually, the coal mines were ship owners or steelworks an’ they were massively wealthy you know. And they were gettin’ the coal out for nothin’ you know, other places in the world had to buy it an’ bring it up. And just bore a hole or a shaft and they were there, they got it openly, you know. An’ like the BHP for instance, they traded under the name of Australian Iron and Steel in one part. They had six mines in the area, you know. They had Wongawilli, Nebo, Kimera, Kembla, you know, and then they took over Corrimal and Bulli you know, so they were big mines and ah, they got all the coal.
But the women as I said now, I repeat that, that they were the strength of the people. The miners got there, and they never knew, anytime that the miner went to work whether he was going to come home and they’d be worried and they’d hear the whistle blow and it was a great strain on ’em. And a miner never knew, and that was the slogans for many years and still is today, he never knew if he’d walk out, get carried out or blown out you know. And there’s many, many a time the whistle would blow and there’d be someone killed, you know. I’ve worked alongside people an’ they’ve lost their legs, an’ been crushed an’ died on the spot, you know. And we couldn’t do nothing. They’d bring ’em out, they’d take a stretcher in and um, bring people out.
Jo: Mmm, it must of been amazing.
Fred: Yeah, ah, just they can’t do nothing more for him, he’s gone. Many a time but, they’d get ah, as I said an arm torn off or a leg crushed ‘an, you know. It was always…
Jo: They wouldn’t be able to work again after that, though would they?
Fred: Ahh, look never worked again, no, they were paid off you know and been crushed. Yeah, it was bad…
Jo: You certainly were lucky, weren’t you?
Fred: Yeah, in lots of ways, but, different things, crushed an’ you know, like ah, me leg there one time, and I got bone straightened out you know, and keep goin’, so we got, in a lifetime I was very lucky you know, but I never smoked and never drank much, very little in me life you know, an’ finished up having five children so, [laughter] I never had any money-
Jo: You did pretty good.
Fred: any spare cash.
But a lot of the ol’ ah, miners and this was talking about reconciliation and all this today and refugees an’ people hating one another. The miners worked of all nationalities; you know. Now after the war they brought German miners who were skilful. I’ve been in the Gelsenkirchen, an’ Dortmund an’ Duisburg an’ that, in the Ruhr Valley you know. And I’ve met a lot of their miners and knew them, and you know, and ah, when they were here and they come from on them pits. But at all things we even had people that was a prisoners of war, a German and, or an Australian bloke like Harold ‘Doc’ Spence, we used to call him, he got taken on Greece an’ Dave Bowen and different ones that was there, and they were taken by the Germans and they came out and they was all in the crib room together talking about it you know.
Fred: But there was never no animosity. And I was the president of the lodge at the time and the Germans fellas came to me and they said ‘Fred’ and Italians, Cypriots, all nationalities, see their all involved in mining somewhere like the Cypriots you wouldn’t think, but there’s big, great big copper mine in Cypress they worked on that and they come here and I remember one, Frank Kirshner, he was a German bloke, and he came to me an’ representin’ the German fellas and he said ‘Fred we want to let you know that we’re not here to break conditions, they wanted us to, but we know that if bein’ miners, if we break the conditions we’ve gotta work under bad conditions too.’ They said, we backed you an’ they backed up and we all became a strong movement of safety and everything, you know, and then we had all nationalities. At one stage they said there was 42 different nationalities that worked in the mines throughout the years and it came to that you know. The Finns were good miners. The Cousin Jacks from Cornwall ‘n all them sort of places you know, an’ we all worked together an’ ‘harm one, harm the lot’, you know. Yeah.
Jo: That must of had something to do with it, the conditions that you worked in no matter where in the world.
Fred: In the world the miners were the same and they were everywhere in the world. They’re the vanguard of people you know, like in England in Durham an’ Northumberland’s an’ those places they were the salt of the earth you know me, they worked. And the same in Germany you know, the German miners an’ there’s a big place called Bochum, that’s their headquarters and we were there an’ Gelsenkirchen was another big mining area, Duisburg you know, massive big mines and they’ve been there for years and they got a big museum there.
And the Romans they’ve been there an’ they’ve been in Cologne all around there and in the early days, hundreds years before. And it showed you, in the old mining museum in Bochum that it was ah, all the old ah, Roman stuff that they found in the old mines. Wooden things and you know, and all that and ah, those sort of things is handed down you know, an’ they worked and work and there are dangerous industries and explosions.
An’ the Soviet Union I worked in the ah, went there and went underground in Tula and in the Donetsk coal basin and they’re massive mines you know. They’re big but all nationalities worked together and that’s why I can’t understand now, with Estonia and, and these places all fightin’ because the miners wouldn’t be because they worked together, all together and they were the ones that made the conditions, you know.
Jo: It’s a shame we can’t take a bit of a lesson from them isn’t it?
Fred: Yeah, and that’s right you know, and they were great things and the Russians they worked and ah, there and the Germans and in Leningrad ‘n Tula there they threw the people down the shafts and everything, but they retrieved them all an’ the wars over they brought them all up and set the mines up to work again, you know, massive big mines in the Soviet Union.
Jo: Well that’s the amazing, thank you so much Fred, the, such a great history to, to record.
Fred: Yeah, I raved on a bit there, but ah …
Jo: No, that thank you so much for sharing it with us. It’s very important.