Ahh the Hunter Valley – a glass of Semillon probably springs to mind, as do the iconic grapevines the region is renowned for. But while wine makes up a major component of why visitors explore the region each year, its history and the region go far beyond just a sip and swill.
Here are five things you may not know about the Hunter.
Long history beyond white settlement
Indigenous history in the Hunter region stretches back as far as 30,000 years. Wine Country notes: “The Wonnarua (“people of the hills and plains”) were the first inhabitants of the (Coquun) Hunter Valley, with the Worimi to the north eastern shores, and the Awabakal to the south eastern shores. Traditional knowledge indicates the Wonnarua occupation extends back to the early stages of the Dreaming”.
It’s also reported that together these groups developed a trading route connecting the Hunter Valley to Sydney Harbour.
Vine plantings and wine making began in the Hunter not long after European settlement in 1788.
Viticulture was encouraged in the penal settlement as those under the influence of heavier spirits tended to be more drunk and disorderly, and it was thought if enough wine was provided it would provide a moderate influence and “tame the savagery”.
The river was discovered by accident
It was a search for escaped convicts that resulted in the discovery of the Hunter River. This occurred in 1797 when British Lieutenant John Shortland mounted a mission for the fleeing crims. Once the river was found, the region soon became a valuable resource for timber and coal used to fuel the burgeoning Sydney steam ship industry.
A little grape gossip
The Hunter region is widely regarded as the founding point for Australia’s love affair with chardonnay. And according to legend, it was all courtesy of cutting “pilfered” from Penfolds.
The Newcastle Herald continues: “Murray Tyrrell wanted to make a chardonnay white, but Tyrrell’s didn’t have any chardonnay vines. So, one moonlit Pokolbin night in 1967, Murray climbed over a fence into HVD vineyard to filch some discarded vine cuttings.
“These cuttings grew into the vines that in 1971 produced the initial Tyrrell’s Vat 47 Pinot Chardonnay, Australia’s first commercially bottled and labelled chardonnay, launching a wine industry revolution. Tyrrell’s bought HVD and the Penfolds Vale vineyard from Penfolds in 1983”.
Mining a major player
Mining has always been a big element of the Hunter and surrounds. The region is actually famed as the birthplace of Australian coal mining which commenced at Nobby’s Head near Newcastle in the 1790s. According to NSW Mining this delivered the first ever coal shipment in 1799, which also marked Australia’s first ever commodity export.
Fast forward over 200 years and Newcastle remains the state’s largest coalfield, and Australia’s largest coal export port.
Meanwhile at Kurri Kurri in the South Maitland Coalfields, the Richmond Main Colliery also holds a special claim to fame. Although it closed down in 1967, it was once purported to be the largest vertical shaft coal mine in the Southern Hemisphere. The NSW Department of Environment notes: “The mine’s main shaft was 22 feet in diameter and bricked from top to bottom and has been described as incomparable with any other in the country, even in its final days”.
According to Geomaps the Richmond Main Colliery “also held the record for coal production in a vertical shaft mine, with 3,482 tonnes wound up a single shaft from the Holmesville seam. The mine closed down in 1967, having produced 14 million tonnes of coal over its lifespan”.
Situated in its own private vineyard, The Longhouse is the perfect base to explore all these features of the Hunter Valley and so much more.
Boasting three two-bedroom units that comfortably accommodate guests in refined Australian style, this architectural masterpiece is clad in timbers from a 130-year-old wool shed, and is designed by architecture students from across Australia.
You can learn more about our spectacular property or make your booking here.