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Captain in industry - The story of James Hebbard

Monday, 18th January, 2010

* James Hebbard * James Hebbard

By Paul Armstrong

The winter winds blew cold air through the windows of the train as it stopped at Terowie. "Disembark, all disembark" echoed down the platform as people in all manner of dress left the train and gathered at the station office, most of them encircled around the crackling fire, awaiting their luggage. It was 1884.

A man of good stature and bright gleaming eyes waited without complaint for his belongings. The chill winds never abated as he and other men gathered and discussed the long coach journey to the Silverton fields. "Six days, it will take gentlemen," came the reply from the coach office attendant's window.

The road east was well used and rutted, for near two hundred horse or bullock teams plied their trade on the road each month. The men introduced themselves in turn, a strong voice said "James Hebbard" as he offered his hand to the others in friendship as their long journey began.

Upon his arrival in Silverton, James entered the employment of the Hen and Chicken mine. The name now seems hilarious but in those times it kept him busy, fed, gave him wages and improved his education about the mines of the greater west.

Though very young, he had experience in mining near Bendigo and also studied Engineering and Surveying at the school of mines. Now at 20 years of age, this bright youth with the first showings of a moustache worked extremely hard and continued to study when possible.

After a period of time, he had worked at the Purnamoota mine, and then became manager at the Britannia and Scotia mines near Mount Gipps station house. It was by now apparent that James Hebbard was a studious hard-working man, a man well respected for his thinking ability and willingness to see reform where needed in the industry. After a short term at the Junction Mine and the Gold Mine Company near Orange, he was offered the job of Inspector of mines. Sensationally there was a ruckus about his employment that even reached the dizzy heights of State parliament. It was resolved when he re-sat his application exam and clearly topped the class of 40 other applicants for the job.

Intellectually he was not one to mess with and did not suffer fools lightly; it may have come across as arrogance but there was no doubt at all that his vigor was at all times pointed at the safety, health and revolutionary mechanical changes required in the mining industry. He was, as they say, ahead of his time. At age 24 he married his sweetheart Olivia Pope. He retained his Inspector of Mines work until late 1901. He was then manager of the Central Mine and his standing in the community really stood out, as his technical improvements within the industry gained him great favour amongst the leaders of many other companies.

He became Chairman of the B.H. Mine Managers' Association, President of the Australian Institute of Mining Engineers and continued his love of music. This included playing in an orchestra, being the Conductor of the B.H. Choral Society and for 20 years conducting the Wesleyan Choir. This enabled him in the early years to also take part in many of the Hospital Sunday concerts in Central Reserve (now Sturt Park), long before it was green. He and his wife took residence in the Mine Managers House in Piper Street; this magnificent home became an icon of the splendid architecture in the early Federation period. The Hebbard family were well looked after by a coachman, cooks and a house keeper and over the years were hosts to State Governors, Bishops, Politicians and numerous mining officials and town dignitaries.

At work he helped in the further experiments with the floatation separation techniques, is credited with introducing hard hats into the industry in 1908 and the use of respirators. He was deeply concerned with the health and safety of the workers and was an instigator in the use of the Change House on the Line of Lode. During and after World War One he and other friends helped the returning soldiers and were instrumental in getting them housed and cared for, if in ill health.

He also partly involved himself in the housing of the work men, especially in the South near the mine leases. In 1925 James and Olivia moved to Adelaide, they went on a world cruise trip and then returned to their new property. James set himself up as a consultant and worked well into old age, he died in 1941 aged 79, Olivia died in 1947 aged 85.

Late in life he gave an interview with a reporter from the Barrier Daily Truth, which in part read; "In the early days ownership of property was not assured. I bought one piece of land, then the State Government asked us to relinquish the rights, as they deemed Argent Street to be the main street, not Beryl, as it was then proclaimed by the locals. I sold it for 1,000 pounds, the land was then taken over and the very large Commercial Hotel was built on my corner land." (Now the Astra building). "If you owned a block you had to build on it, a house of no less value than 10 pounds!"

His legacy to us is the magnificent heritage Mine Managers Residence and of course Hebbard Street out in his beloved South. From 1940 to 1984 the old home was used by the St. Anne's Home of Compassion and also an orphanage was located on the property. It was vacant and left to wither in the weather over the later years. The Mine Managers Residence was saved from demolition in 2004 and $1.5 million was spent on its preservation. It then won a Heritage Award. It is under the management of Southern Cross Care and remains a city icon. I sincerely thank the writings of Mr. Jim Fiddaman, Library Archives and the BDT Archives.

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