Remains of a boiler
(Photography by Peter Grant)
The port town of East Pillinger was established at Kelly Basin on the shores of Macquarie Harbour by the North Mount Lyell Copper Company in the late 1800s. The North Mount Lyell Company was formed by James Crotty in 1897 in direct competition with the Mount Lyell Company.
After formation Crotty quickly set about building his own company’s infrastructure including the mine at Linda, smelters at Crotty, port and industrial facilities at East Pillinger, a settlement at Darwin and a railway to connect them all.
The population of the area grew rapidly. By 1898 hundreds of men were employed constructing the railway and company facilities. At East Pillinger these included three long wharves, a sawmill and brickworks, an ore crushing plant, railway and shipping terminus, workers huts, mess hall and company offices.
A government town, complete with stores, hotels and a police station was established at West Pillinger, adjacent to the company town at East Pillinger.
The population of East Pillinger peaked at about 600 in 1902. At this time there were 80 dwellings, 25 businesses, three hotels, a Catholic church, coffee palace and shipping agent’s office. The licensee of the Shamrock Hotel, Mr Percy Waxman, built a hall which provided a venue for various events such as church services, balls and performances by the Blind Musicians Company. A library was well patronised, athletics meetings were held and a slipway was built by the Kelly Basin Aquatic Club. In 1901, the Pillinger Cricket Club was formed. A State School was built, with enrolments numbering 65 at the start of the 1902 school year.
A large number of Strahan piners and their families - Doherty, Abel, Timbs, Grining, Fisher and Jones - made Pillinger their home, spurred on by the large contracts being let for railway sleepers, mining timbers and sawmill timber. Pillinger also offered the opportunity to live in relative comfort closer to their place of work, even if only for a brief period.
The prosperity wasn’t to last. James Crotty died in 1898 in London and with him went much of the vision for the North Mount Lyell Company. The company merged with its competitor, making half the infrastructure redundant.
Strahan was chosen over East Pillinger as the preferred port. Some people remained at East Pillinger harvesting timber and servicing the ships and trains that called in from time to time. The company gradually dismantled and removed most of the buildings and railway infrastructure.
Trains continued to operate until 1925, mainly transporting firewood and mining timber to the mines. The following year, the track was removed from the stretch of line between Kelly Basin and Darwin. Following the cessation of rail services, only one shop and one hotel stayed open. Only two families remained. The last of these - the Crossans - left in 1943.