A committee of local people is raising funds to have a life sized bronze statue of a pit horse erected in our town.
Having reached their initial target of $100,000, they were able to engage well known sculptor Brett Garling to undertake the project. With Brett’s involvement and advice, the project was expanded so that the statue will now include a pit horse, skip and wheeler. Work on the statue has commenced and is expected to be completed by the end of 2019.
Fundraising will continue to enable the statue to be produced and installed, and the site works completed.
For information on how you can contribute, please use the “contact” page or telephone the Kurri Kurri Visitor Centre on (02) 4936 1909.
- To establish a lasting memorial to the pit horses that worked in coal mines in the South Maitland Coalfields
- To provide an educational display that demonstrates and informs about the important role of pit horses in coal mines
- To create an outdoor art installation that demonstrates a significant component of local history
- To acknowledge the skill and training of pit horses
- To celebrate the strong relationship between miners and pit horses
- To attract visitors to the area
- To add to the visitor experience in Kurri Kurri by complimenting the Murals Project
BACKGROUND – THE STORY OF THE PIT HORSES
The Northern Coalfields had hundreds of horses working down the mines. Clydesdale crossed with thoroughbred mares produced the ideal 16 to 20-hand specimen. They started working aged 4 to 5 years, only males selected for pulling power, strong hind quarters and deep chest. An expert broke them in at a paddock resembling underground workings, pulling skips and snigging timber etc. When the breaker was satisfied the horse obeyed voice commands it was given to a wheeler for normal working conditions. Miners would not tolerate flighty or headstrong horses as they could injure workers in a confined area. Horses which worked in mines with tunnels came out everyday after work. They were thoroughly cleaned and checked for injuries, fed at the stables and then allowed to wander freely in a paddock until next morning. At mines with shafts their lives were a little different.
At Richmond Main Colliery, the Coalfields’ 2nd deepest at 900 feet, they soon got used to descending 2 at a time in a double cage for 40 seconds. They soon adapted to the mine’s noise, smell and working conditions. Their work started Sunday 3pm; 100 to 120 removed from a grassy paddock to return to the colliery. They knew the way, while someone operated the gates. At pit bottom a stableman checked them. They were fed, watered, then harnessed by 7am. Soon after, all underground mineworkers arrived by cage 50 at a time. Each wheeler collected his horse. They brought 2 empty skips to 4 miners and collected 2 full skips.
Strata pressure affected Richmond Main more than all other pits on the Coalfields. When coal was removed the floor rose in areas and the ceiling lowered, making hazards for the horse. They became very nervous when the roof started moving. Miners soon relied on the horses for warnings. They would have saved many lives over the years. They wore head protectors, but the undulating floor caused the skip rails to warp. Horses suffered many injuries to their legs.
Pit horses knew their work better then their handlers. They could count, they knew when it was knock-off time and they when it was Friday afternoon. They had safety and health regulations and filled an essential role. Mines could not operate without them. They were fed the best feed and Vet checked regularly. Special care of their feet was important. They had to keep between skip lines and sometimes it was very dangerous. Two full skips were enough for the horse going downhill. A good wheeler looked after his horse by inserting sprags in the wheels to slow the skips downhill and then removing them for uphill. Poor timing with the sprags would result in serious injury to the horse.
Miners considered these gentle giants their workmates and never tolerated anyone mistreating them. Each had a distinct personality; their injuries and deaths were sadly mourned.
Each coalmine nominated 4 to 6 horses for the annual race to become the fastest Pit Horse on the South Maitland Coalfield. The Pit Horse Derby, which the media nicknamed “Melbourne Cup of the North” was run at Cessnock from the 1940’s. It created tremendous interest and raised much needed funds for the hospitals etc. Top Sydney jockeys came to Cessnock to ride them.