TIM ROBERTS: Fighting the Farrell fight

The fight for Blackbutt Reserve: Tom Farrell’s passion for the nature site takes centre stage in hi biography, A Powerhouse of a Man.TODAY, Blackbutt Reserve sits in the heart of Newcastle, a wonderful bushland and parkland for all communities to enjoy. Its tranquillity and natural habitat are a joy to experience. Yet few people realise what a battle it was to keep this choice land as a natural reserve.
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In his biography of Tom Farrell, author Christopher Mooney takes the reader through Blackbutt’s history, starting from Farrell’s original ambition to pass on his love of this area for his fellow community members to enjoy, to the more than 40 years of battles he and like-minded supporters sustained and finally overcame to make it happen.

From a young age, Farrell felt that Blackbutt had to be preserved for all future generations. He realised that to fulfil his wish, it was necessary for the public to own the Blackbutt land. The first opportunity occurred in 1932 when the Scottish Australian mining company that originally owned much of Lambton, New Lambton and Kotara released blocks of land for sale in what is now Blackbutt Reserve. Due to the Great Depression, only four blocks of land were sold. Farrell purchased an acre block in Grinsell Street, Kotara, for £45.

He also recognised that local council support was essential to provide sufficient funds to buy up the much larger Blackbutt total land area and gain community support for the land. He enlisted support to call a municipal conference of Hamilton, Newcastle, New Lambton, Wallsend, Carrington and Merewether councils to discuss the issue. The municipal conference passed a unanimous motion that the various owners of the Blackbutt area be approached with a view to donating land for a national reserve.

Although the mining company (the major land-holder) responded favourably, agreeing to make a free dedication of 75acres of land in the Blackbutt area, the councils could not meet the conditions set down by the company due to the difficult economic conditions. Thus, progress towards establishing Blackbutt as a national park was not possible for a number of years.

You will have to wait until next week to learn more, or you could buy Tom Farrell – A Powerhouse of a Man by C.Mooney.

with Peter Kofler

Professor Tim Roberts is director of the University of Newcastle’s Tom Farrell Institute for the Environment.

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