Businesses, Cement History, Local History

Kandos 1920

Just a century ago Kandos was described as “the rising little mining centre on the Mudgee line”. You get the picture? An industrial hub, still small, but growing. Only five years old. Even so its industry was impressive. The cement works were operative, with power house, kilns, mills, silos, ropeway, tramways, railway sidings, offices and dams; serviced by a limestone quarry, coal mine and shale works. Then there was copper. The CSA copper company (Cornish, Scottish, Australian) built a refinery near the cement works to process ore from their Cobar mine. At Clandulla the Kandos Coomber Mining Company extracted coal, and Daws and Company operated a lime-burning plant. On the other side of Rylstone there was the Morton Main colliery.

The town of Kandos however was not so complete. Certainly, most of the subdivisions had been surveyed and quarter-acre blocks offered for sale, but not many had been built on. Kandos consisted of a few durable houses among a large scattering of tents and shacks, surrounded by scrubby bush and partly cleared uneven tracks. The wider than usual main street was more improved – cleared, graded and surfaced with a daily spread of ash. The Mudgee Guardian was particularly impressed by “the row of splendid electric lights swung from lofty poles made of reinforced concrete” which presented “quite an ornament” for Angus Avenue.

Towards the end of the avenue there were two crescent shaped areas, recently cleared and fenced with concrete posts and interlocking chains, and furnished with ten garden seats, a generous enhancement by the company. It was the perfect venue for Sunday afternoon performances by Kandos Town Band, led by Mr Ford. But there wouldn’t be a rotunda for another decade, despite the Progress Association’s fund-raising hopes.

Some buildings stood out, foreshadowing a permanent town. The railway station with its extended platform and stationmaster’s cottage; Kandos Hotel, described proudly as “large and palatial…equal to anything outside Sydney”; the stark white Methodist Church high above the town (the only church in town); the Manager’s House on the same hill jostling for authority; Hillside Boarding House, predicted to be one of the largest and most commodious buildings of its kind ever constructed in a country town (it was never completed, and later referred to as cockroach castle); the solid, imposing two-storey Kandos Stores built in 1918, with residence and cantilevered verandah above, double-fronted commercial outlets below, and a concrete verge to display goods and welcome customers; and the Angus Hall in Angus Avenue, memorial to the late company Chairman, James Angus.

Mind you, there was plenty of activity in this emerging town of 1100 people. Given the small range of stores there was a surprisingly large range of products. H A McGrath draper, not only offered men’s, ladies’ and children’s clothes, shoes and hats, but fancy goods and dress materials. Madam Moston in her Paris House catered for children and ladies but also sold jewellery, sweet-toned hornless talking machines (think early record-players) and also offered lay-by. The newsagent sold tobacco, photographic, stationery and pharmacy supplies, as well as musical instruments. Reg Adams ran the post office with small goods (think Deli). Tattersall’s Billiard Hall had a hairdresser. Banks, auctioneers and builders, brick kiln and timber yard, got plenty of business. As did Sergeant Lucas at the Police Station in Angus Avenue. Besides Kandos Co-op, there were several butchers, baker, green-grocer, confectioner and refreshment rooms. Or you could go to the only pub, which was the place of choice for most workers.

Mind you, in July, the workers weren’t too enamoured of the publican Mr Falstein, when beer pots went down in size and spirits increased in price. The nearest pub was Rylstone but the men held out for five weeks and eventually won – larger pots for sixpence and spirits reduced to sixpence. “The proprietor announced that all drinks would be free until closing time. Great excitement prevailed and the rush for refreshment was so great that extra hands had to be requisitioned for the bar.”

Yes they were quite militant in those days, fighting for better pay and conditions, which later generations enjoyed for decades. Certainly they protected their own. When Herb Davis (or Davies) was dismissed over a “trivial” matter, the cement workers struck. There was an eventual compromise after the Labor Party and AWU intervened. Herb was reinstated at the same wage but in a different part of the works. Later in the year the quarrymen struck over the dismissal of a young lad, who was then reinstated.

As early as February 1920 the cement workers were agitating for a pay increase. The trouble was, the area was in severe drought, the company dams were empty and the company was importing 40,000 gallons of water by train daily. This went on till the clouds burst in June. It was a wake-up call. An empty forty million gallon dam was of little use in a drought. The company looked to the Cudgegong River and made plans to build a weir and pipe water to the works. It was a plan that met with strong opposition from council and farmers. The company persisted, compromised on the water they could extract, and built their weir and pipeline. That compromise proved a mistake. Years of water scarcity followed and the company eventually built another weir further up the river which we know as Dunns Swamp/Ganguddy.

In September serious industrial trouble threatened the cement industry at Kandos over a pay increase. The Board of Trade had already established that an increase was legit given the increased cost of living in the western districts. The works closed, the men went on strike anyhow (300 of them) and the General Manager Frank Oakden appealed to the government – the cost of cement must be increased. Given that there was a serious shortage of cement throughout the state and public works in particular were feeling the effect, the government agreed and the workers got their rise. In 1921 the company tried another tactic, offering the workers monetary incentives for best results.

Here we are a century later. Kandos is now an established town but without an industry (the cement works closed in 2011). It is a town which enjoys the bountiful legacy of the company that founded it and the workers who toiled for it – facilities like a championship golf course,  Olympic swimming pool, exceptional museum, and an idyllic camping and recreation area. Today the town is gravitating towards the arts and attracting tree-changers.

What will it be like in 2120?

The featured image is of Kandos Stores, captured about 1920.

6 thoughts on “Kandos 1920”

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