Historical Society and Maitland Regional Museum talk Australian Tunnelling Corps

SUBTERRANEAN: The Australia's Tunelling Corps in WWI will be the subject of a lecture by Dr Janece McDonald. Picture: Australian War Memorial

SUBTERRANEAN: The Australia's Tunelling Corps in WWI will be the subject of a lecture by Dr Janece McDonald. Picture: Australian War Memorial

The Maitland and District Historical Society will host Dr Janece McDonald when she brings the stories of Maitland’s tunnelling Great War soldiers to the surface. 

The story of the Australian Tunnelling Corps, who were but a small part of the more than 4500 allied tunnellers in World War I, is one of the most harrowing and visceral of the bloody war. 

The unique military outfit specialised in the futuristic-sounding geological warfare.

Their missions on the Western front saw them tunnel beneath the salient to plant explosives and spy on the enemy by detecting their soundwaves through layers of rock with “geo-phones”. 

The hook for Dr McDonald and the historical society is that the Hunter Valley, with its long mining history, produced many of the tunnellers.

Dr McDonald, whose Maitland Regional Museum held an exhibition on the tunnellers in September last year, told Fairfax Media she hoped to raise publicity about their little-known but daring and important missions, and acknowledge the 130 or so local men who volunteered for the corps.

“The expertise of the Australian ­tunnellers was considered beyond all others,” Dr McDonald said at the time.

“Their expertise gave confidence to the British command who knew that if the tunnellers were assigned a mission they would go over and beyond to accomplish it.”

This talk will give an overview of the inception and feats of the Australian Tunnelling Corps and will focus on the role of eminent Australian geologist T.W Edgeworth David.

The British-born geologist discovered the Hunter’s coalfields in 1886 and was affectionately referred to by Maitlanders as “our genial professor”.

The expertise of the Australian ­tunnellers was considered beyond all others. Their expertise gave confidence to the British command who knew that if the tunnellers were assigned a mission they would go over and beyond to accomplish it. - Dr Janece McDonald

Since her retirement from the University of Newcastle, Dr McDonald has been able to concentrate on her passion for local and regional history.

She has authored and co-authored several books on Maitland’s history and is active in a number of heritage and community groups as well as chairing the committee that is driving the establishment of a Maitland Regional Museum.

The talk is open to members of the public, who are most welcome to attend.

The Society asks for a gold-coin donation to cover the costs of refreshments after the talk.

Dr McDonald will address the historical society at 5.30pm on Tuesday, October 4 in the Society’s Rooms at 3 Cathedral St, Maitland.

Contact details for the Maitland & District Historical Society are: Mobile: 0438 623299 Email: maitlandhistorical@gmail.com

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