Willunga, Mintaro and Chinkford Slate Quarries

Willunga is considered by many visitors as being the most picturesquely situated township in the colony—viewed either from the road on the north, or the hills at whose base it in built. Within a short distance of the township the traveller cannot fail to notice the magnificent gum-trees in the beautifully-wooded park-like section, the property of Mr. T. S. Kell, J.P., whose residence is situated within it. This gentleman deserves the thanks of the community for preserving the timber intact, as it adds considerably to the snugness and ‘rus in urbe’ appearance of the township.
Willunga itself contains several streets, pretty well lined with houses, the most conspicuous being Mr. Malpas’s—a fine two-storey building, with a handsome covered balcony. The house stands at the corner, at the entrance of the township, and is the principal store. At the opposite corner (though another street) is Messrs. Sara & Sons, builders, a very well built two-storey house, with workshop at the back. The other buildings worthy of notice are the Alma Hotel, Oddfellows’ Hall, Telegraph Office, Police Station and Court-House, Mr. Bassett’s residence and schoolhouse. The Roman Catholic Church is very prettily located amongst a thick group of gum-trees, and is distinguished by having a tower. A new schoolhouse has recently been erected close to the church. The Wesleyan Chapel is the largest edifice in the township, and is a very neat building, well finished both inside and out. Then the Bible Christian and Primitive Methodist Chapels (completing the number of religious edifices) may have the same remarks applied to them as to completeness of finish. There are also many private residences that strike the visitor; but enough has been written to show that a view of Willunga gives a traveller an idea of a thriving township.
The slate quarries are situated in the hills, and are from two to three miles from Willunga. The roads leading to them are very steep, and exceedingly bad in winter. The principal quarry is the Delabole, which is worked by a company of share holders—some local, and many resident in Adelaide. In going to them the visitor has to pass through Captain Atkinson’s ground, and proceeds for a distance of about three miles. He then reaches a very neat Wesleyan Chapel, and sees below him a number of cottages. The slate quarries too, are visible at the sides of the slopes. Upon descending he notices three plateaus rising one above the other formed from the ‘debris’ of slate. On these the men stand who are engaged in preparing the slate for the various purposes to which it is applied. Mr. H. Malpas, one of the Company, having kindly given us a letter to the manager, we were at once taken in hand by that gentleman, and nothing could exceed his courtesy and attention. There are three openings in the quarry, which is situated at the side of a hill. These openings are made in a line some considerable distance apart, and rise one above the other at the base of the hill. The greatest expenditure is in the “opening in.” When the part to be opened is decided on blasts are bored until an excavation has been made from the top to the bottom, some 50 feet high and 30 feet inward. These excavations are sufficiently wide to allow the men to work freely. When the cut is complete the layers to be worked upon are before the operators.
The layers run nearly west to east. In quarrying the men first of all find a join, and insert a blast. This moves a huge piece of, say 4,000 solid feet, more or less, out from the side of the hill. The men then get at the top of this mass, and insert between the layers or flakes what is called a “plug and feathers.” This consists of two flat thin pieces of iron laid together. They are driven in the seam, and when in a chisel is inserted between them, causing them to assume the functions of a wedge. This is done in three places at the same time, and the blows given at the same moment by the workmen. The plates are about nine inches long, and their insertion at the top is sufficient to detatch (sic) a piece of slate several inches thick and 2[0]0 superficial feet in extent. We saw a piece of that size that had just been separated, and which was to be split into three and cut into sizes convenient for removal. The process of removal is effected as follows:—We mentioned before that there were three quarries, and a plateau to each quarry, one above the other. Across the gully strong chains are slung, with pulleys attached, through which are chains worked by winches. The slate is lifted by their means on to trucks, and run on a tramway to the end of the plateau, which here slopes gently towards the lower platform. The slate is then carefully tilted off the truck and slides down the slope on to this lower plateau, where the workmen saw it into pieces and fashion it according as required. We saw several orders under way, consisting of flagging for verandahs, &c. The practice is for the foreman to obtain the dimensions of the room, verandah, or passage. These are sent to him at the quarry, and the pieces are cut here so as to be ready for laying down at once.
The slate used for roofing is not the same as the flagging, but is found in finer flakes. We were initiated into the process of preparing the roofing slates, and thus it is done:—In the first place, the operator selects a number of thinnish pieces of slate, and a flat bit of iron, something like a chisel except that it is about four inches wide at the edge. He places one of the pieces against his knee and inserts the chisel in one of the seams, which are exactly the width of a slate apart. Three or four blows along the top, skilfully given, quickly inserts the chisel, and this being repeated in several places, the flake separates like a flake of pastry. Less than half a minute suffices for the operation. When a sufficient quantity are split, the next thing is to cut the pieces, which are of all shapes and sizes, into the required dimensions. This is done by means of a thin bit of iron, fixed on a wooden frame, edge upwards. The operator seats himself at one end, and, holding the slate in his hand, and resting it on the iron, he takes a notched click, with a spike in end used as a gauge. Practice tells him how many slates the slab will make; for instance, one piece we saw was cut into rectangles of 24 x 12, 22 x 11, 18 x 9, and 16 x 8 inches. These slates are marked by means of the notched gauge, both as to length and breadth, the spike at the end making a scratch. The operator then lays the slate (after marking one of the sizes), and with an instrument something between a knife and a chopper, hacks off the edge level with the iron on which it is laid, and which acts as a ruler. An expert hand with good material can cut about 200 slates a day. All the roofing squares are cut on the lowest plateau, and it is from thence that the carters convey the produce of the quarries to Adelaide. All the flagging slate receives its ‘finishing touch’ on this lowest platform, on which is erected a blacksmiths shop, where most of the tools are manufactured. Numerous springs in various places supply all the water needed. The sawing of flag slates is simplified by means of water and sand in the same way as in stone-cutting in town.
There are many other quarries adjacent to the one just described, but it would be only a repetition to go into detail, as their appearance and modus operandi are precisely similar. They are for the most part private property, and are known as Bastian’s, Kernick’s, Martin’s, and one or two more whose names we did not learn. Complaints are made on account of the Government insisting upon sending home money to England for galvanized iron when these magnificent quarries have a boundless supply of slate of the first quality; for notwithstanding the large quantity recently furnished towards flagging Adelaide footpaths, the Delabole Company have only paid their working expenses, which of course is owing to the enormous coat incurred in opening out, tramways, providing houses for the workmen, and in doing other etceteras which absorb capital. For the spirited manner in which the Company has invested its money in developing this branch of colonial industy (sic) it deserves thanks. If it was properly encouraged many more hands might be profitably employed, and a paying dividend gladden the hearts of the proprietors. The Delabole employs about 20 men, who are paid by what is known as ‘piecework.’ The overseer is a highly intelligent man; he has had 20 years’ experience of slate quarrying, and was employed at the celebrated Delabole in the old country.
There are several quarries of building stone, and Messrs. Sara & Sons are the principal customers to them. They have had several large contracts under Government, including the Currency Creek Viaduct and a bridge at Normanville, besides the Wesleyan Chapel at Willunga. They have also recently obtained the contract for the new Court House at Clarendon. They employ about 20 men, and their premises hare been mentioned at the beginning of this article.
This far-famed quarry is distant about three-quarters of a mile from the Township of Mintaro, in a westerly direction, and is easy of access, the roads leading to it being perfectly level in all directions for some distance. It was opened in 1856 by the present occupier, Mr. Thompson Priest. The breadth and length of the quarry at the present time is about 90 by 250 feet. The stone from it is of a deep blue colour, with exceedingly smooth surface, so much so that it requires but very slight polishing for billiard or bagatelle tables. Stone of different degrees of softness or hardness can be obtained for every description of work. It is worked into monuments, tombstones, headstones, tablets, fountains, &c., and can be worked in floral or sculptural designs in the most elaborate and artistic manner. Wine tanks have been formed from it capable of holding 1,500 gallons. The 12 tanks used by the Kapunda Company—11 feet by 9 inside—were from this quarry, and are used by them in their acid process. Troughs of all descriptions, door-sills, lintels, and steps are likewise fashioned out of its produce. The steps of the new Insolvency Court came from this quarry, and slabs could he procured from 20 to 30 feet in length if required, and from 1½ inches to 4 inches in thickness. The slate is used for door linings and window linings, also in the place of sideboards. Flagging can be taken out any size that a person would wish. The most of the flagging used by the inhabitants of Gawler and Kapunda was from this quarry, as also all that laid down on the public footpaths in these places. The flagging is from 1¼ inches to 1¾ inches, and the average weight 100 feet to the ton. Flagging from this quarry was exhibited at the International Exhibition in London in 1862, and received honourable mention; also at the Grand Exhibition. Adelaide, 1867, when a medal was awarded, and presented by H.R.H. the Duke of Edinburgh. The stone from this quarry can be and is used for every description of building purposes, even for roofing, as several places in the Township of Mintaro are roofed with it. It is available for ornamental mantelpieces, and, in fact, everything that stone can be used for. The top of the quarry produces a material that will stand fire, and it is used for that purpose.
The number of hands generally employed in quarrying and cutting is about 12. The enormous blocks of stone are raised from their beds by screw power and manual labour on to tram carriages, and are then drawn by horses to the sheds or working ground. A great number of drays are employed throughout the year in the cartage of stone, the same being taken in all directions within a radius of 100 miles from the quarry.
This quarry is situated in the valley of the Gilbert, in the Hundred of Saddleworth, about one and a half miles from the Chinkford Post-Office, and proposed site or the Railway Station. The slate is of superior quality, and from its composition it is eminently suitable for all purposes to which flagstone can be applied. It is unlimited in quantity. The quarry is the property of Mr. Johnson Benham, who has leased it. The lessee has however, not worked the quarry since red rust appeared.