Mining giant evicts lifelong tenants


By Allen Myers

CATHERINE HILL BAY, NSW — On a windswept hill, next to the Catherine Hill Bay cemetery, Stella Evans and her husband live in the house Stella's father built. Stella was born in the house 55 years ago and has lived there all her life. Coal and Allied, a subsidiary of the multinational giant CRA, plans to force them out and bulldoze the house by January 31.

Glen and Kath Russell and their two children, Jodie, 14, and Matthew, 12, live in a small weatherboard cottage down the hill from the Evans house. A dirt track runs past the side of their home and up the hill to the cemetery, where Glen's grandmother, Eleanor Rossiter, is buried. Glen was raised by his grandmother and moved back in to look after her in her old age (she died in 1992, aged 93).

Coal and Allied plans to put a bulldozer through the Russell house too. And seven other families in "the Bay" fear that the company has them in its sights as well.

Catherine Hill Bay, today a village of about 250 people, was established by the New Wallsend Mining Company in 1873. Coal mining is still the main economic activity.

From 1889 to 1957, the Wallarah Mining Company owned the mine and the land around it. The company built houses on both subdivided land, along the main road through the village, and non-subdivided land.

In 1963, as part of an industrial agreement, J. & A. Brown Collieries (which had taken over from Wallarah) gave residents the option of buying their houses and the land on which they were built. Most did so, but the offer applied only to residents on the subdivided land.

In the 1970s, J. & A. Brown was taken over by Coal and Allied, which in turn was taken over by CRA in 1993. Although CRA is known as a mining company, it quickly sold off the mines and the washery, and the jetty and ship used to move the coal to market. It retained the land it owned in and around Catherine Hill Bay, including land on which 11 houses stood.

Early this year, the Lake Macquarie Council, which covers Catherine Hill Bay, announced it would discontinue the sanitary pan service at the end of 1994, and residents would be required to install septic systems.

In February, a Coal and Allied representative left the Catherine Hill Bay Progress Association with the impression that the company would pay for septic tanks on the land it owned, but this has not yet happened on any of the properties. One pensioner, who said he could no longer cope with the indecision, left his home, which was bulldozed. This left a 79-year-old woman living alone in the area, and she too left in September.

According to Meg Kehane, secretary of the Progress Association, Coal and Allied's only "explanation" of the eviction notices it issued to the Russells and Evanses last month is the desire to "correct historical anomalies" in land use.

Bay residents, not convinced that "anomalies" are more important than their neighbours, picketed the 150th anniversary celebrations of Coal and Allied in Newcastle on October 31.

The practice of bulldozing houses on company-owned land predates CRA's ownership, going back at least as far as 1967. This largely unspoiled area of the Wallarah Peninsula has obvious attractions for developers, who could turn a quick profit by spoiling it.

Having the land "free" of people would obviously make it easier to sell the land at the right time at the right price. In the past, this consideration has been in conflict with the mining company's need to have housing available for its workers. Once CRA rid itself of the mine, however, land speculation could become the dominant consideration.

As it happens, developers are now moving in in a big way. At Pinny Beach, a few kilometres north of Catherine Hill Bay, a massive housing development is under way that would more than double the population of the region. The Russells, Evanses and the other seven families living on CRA-owned land must be wondering what will eventually rise to replace their homes.

Even those Bay residents who own their land could be excused for worrying about the future and the pressures that may come to bear. Recently, Coal and Allied has declared that it will no longer provide the local fire brigade access to a water pump it has used to fill its truck.