Soap Box

Slate site steeped in history

Tiles from the former Chatsbury Slate Quarry were used for roofing in a number of buildings in Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne and Brisbane – and a Taralga local has shared a slice of that history in a recent talk at the Goulburn Soldiers Club.

Organised by the Goulburn District Historical and Genealogical Society, the talk on the quarry – better known as ‘Slatevale’ – was presented by Daily Telegraph cartoonist Warren Brown on 18 August.

An author and columnist, Brown and his partner Tanya Creer purchased the Chatsbury Slate Quarry five years ago, and they are keen to share the history of this piece of Goulburn’s past.

"We've become so overawed with the place – I learn something new about it everyday. I'm determined to write up its history," Brown said, adding that he knew nothing about quarrying and slate at that time, but was struck by the beautiful product.

They own an extensive collection of photographs (some of which are published here), and have even met people who travelled back from overseas to visit the quarry where they used to work.

“The history of the quarry is astonishing – we're forever finding someone wandering up the driveway whose great-grandfather worked here and want to have a look. We've had people travel out here from Wales – believe it or not – for the sole purpose of visiting the quarry," Brown said.

Society spokesperson Heather West said the quarry on the Middle Arm Road, 20km from Goulburn, employed many locals in the district at the turn of the 20th century – from the 1890s to the early 1900s.

The Saints Peter & Paul (Old) Catholic Cathedral that used these tiles still stands near the quarry site that attracted many Welsh miners in the early 20th century.

"I think of those miners they brought out here from Wales and wonder, ‘What would they have made of summer here?’ The bloody heat, the bloody brown snakes, the bloody funnel-web spiders," Brown said, adding that stories abound of the Welsh miners singing as they returned across the paddocks from the Chatsbury Hotel.

 High quality slate

West said the quality of the slate was extremely good and “assessed as the best available in Australia”.

“Many huts were built of slate to house the workers and a one-teacher school operated there until the 1950s,” West added.

West said once cheaper alternatives such as corrugated iron, and concrete and terracotta tiles came to the market, slate became less popular, and the high cost of production forced the quarry out of business.

"It's a sad and frustrating tale – the quarry should have been a tearaway success but for The Great War," Brown said. “The government was buying iron ore for steel for weapons hand over fist, copper to make brass for ammunition – but slate? Not much demand for slate during a war I'm afraid.”

Life was tough, if not gruelling, when the quarry first opened.

"Every now and then you learn about some rather unsavoury aspect of the quarry's past – there were several grisly deaths here, crushed by falling slate, the steam boiler blew up, scalding a fellow to death, one poor bloke burned alive when his petrol lamp blew up, " Brown said.

“During the early days of quarrying at Slatevale, the workers needed to divert the Tarlo River from its original course, to prevent the quarry filling up with water,” West said.

“The diversion is still in place with the steep edges of the river lined with slate to help prevent erosion. The Tarlo River still flows along this diversion, but the actual quarry has long been filled with good quality water, in some parts to a depth of 24m,” she said.

With a change of ownership some three decades back, large pumps were used to remove the water to see the extent of the slate deposit left.

The property has changed hands several times and below is an old video by a real estate agent several years ago.

Today, some of the Chatsbury slate adorns:
• The Greek War Memorial on the Remembrance Driveway of the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.
• The Cockington Green bridge and waterfall feature in Canberra.
• The Water Gardens of the Chinese Embassy in Canberra, when it ran short of imported slate.
• The La Casa Italiana restaurant on the corner of Auburn and Verner streets, Goulburn.

More reading
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Art gives defunct quarries new life
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The inspiring heights of yesteryear
‘Eco’ quarry house nominated for award
Quarry gains international fame through TV show
Underground quarry lake popular amongst tourists



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