Coalfields Local History Association Inc.


by Brian J. Andrews OAM

John William Delaney, better known as 'Jack' was born in Lithgow 97 years ago on January 17, 1919. During his life Jack's twinkling eye and his story- telling charm made him one of the Hunter's most prominent historians.

Jack's move to Cessnock with his parents and older brother, Ted came in 1923. Only 4 years old at the time, Jack arrived in the Coalfields came on the same day (September 1st) of the Bellbird mine disaster that killed 21 men. He would later thoroughly explore this event as a historian.

Attending school in Cessnock and at Maitland Marist Brothers, Jack's days as a student ended when he left to help support his family, aged fifteen. He joined the Railway Department as a station porter at South Maitland.

Fighting for industrial awards whilst working his way up to become station-master, Jack eventually took up an executive position as a traffic controller.   

His dedication to the region's past extended right through his life - when he died in 2010, he was still compiling the history of every Post Office located in the Cessnock local government area.

Dedicated to the Hunter region's past, Jack complied more than thirty books, pamphlets, and audio tapes of the region's pioneers. As a historian he was a keen conversationalist, compiling an extensive oral history of the region's miners, winemakers and business people - many of the subjects of these recording are now deceased, making the recording all the move valuable.

No matter whatever Jack produced, whether they were books, journals or audio recordings - Jack never enforced copyright, ensuring they were always freely available to all.  

Brian Andrews' first contact with Jack Delaney came November 11th, 1984, at the Andrews Family Reunion at Mulbring, when Brian was chairman of the successful reunion of 1100 family members - Jack was there with his cassette recorder, producing one of his hundreds of recording.

Twelve years later, 1994, shortly before Brian retired o live in the Coalfields, he was contacted by Cessnock History Society to take on the role of Secretary, as their secretary had left the region to take up farming in the State's north - west. This bought Brian into a renewed contact with Jack Delaney. 

Aware of Jack's valuable contribution to the City of Cessnock's history, Brian nominated Jack for an award, even though Jack was living in Stockton, for a Cessnock 'Australia Day' Award - Jack was rewarded with an 'Appreciation Award'.

Within a couple of years, in fact 1996, Brian Andrews was contacted by the Kurri Kurri High School to investigate taking over the school's disused museum - known as the 'Sir Edgeworth David Museum’. It hadn't been used or several years - covered by a thick layer of dirt and dust, and its interior had been penetrated with a creeping vine throughoutthe interior.

Unfortunately, the Cessnock Society already had its own museum at Wollombi, and to take this on would be quite a demand.  However, Brian convinced eight Society members that it was worthwhile, and for two or three months they worked every weekend at completely clean all the exhibits, the floor, walls and curtains.

Finally, in 1996, The Edgeworth David Museum opened. A duty roster was made up and publicity given in the local press. It was an extremely difficult start - the Cessnock Society was not happy. So the nine members who had cleaned and restored the then 25 years old Kurri Kurri Museum, formed themselves into a new History Society - the Coalfields Heritage Group - this was in 1997.  The Cessnock Society gave them $50 to make a start.

That was 19 years ago - during that time the museum has made remarkable achievements. Local historians, now all deceased were impressed with our progress and attitude to recording the region's history - they donated their collections to the museum's archives - Jim Comerford, Ken Marheine, and Jack Delaney. The museum proved an ideal setting for these three historians to regularly visit and use the museum as a perfect location to further compile their history among good company.

Other private collections followed - namely the Percy Sternbeck photo collection of some 5,000 photos, dating from the mid 1970s - many have been used to illustrate this oral collection. As community organisations folded, such as the Dapper Tapper ladies’  (dance group), the Kurri Kurri Apex Club, Kurri Kurri Retired Nurse's, Matron Pikes' family, Public and Catholic school magazines, and the Cessnock Probus Club (ladies), all donated their records, photo collections and photo albums to the museum.

Not only did Jack Delaney deposit all his audio tapes, his coal mining history binders, his Catholic history of all Cessnock and region, all of the public school of the same area, and his research into the Cessnock wine industry - these are all regularly used by the museum's visitors.

A visitor recently wanted to know of the local Mistletoe Farm public school - sure enough it was all there in Jack Delaney's work.

The majority of the museum exhibits on display during the Launch of the Voices of the Hunter Project came from the Sir Edgeworth David Memorial Museum at Kurri Kurri.

This speech was given at the Launch of the Voices of the Hunter Project on 22 July 2016 at the University of Newcastle Library by Lexie Matthews.