The Register of the National Estate Database (1998) described Mount Kembla as “… isolated and confined by steep topography” and noted that “a unique character and identity has developed.” Folded into the Illawarra escarpment, with its adjacent largely bushed State Recreation Area, the village and surrounding area has retained much of the character which led a Sydney Evening News reporter in 1870 to talk of scenery which was “..a mixture of bold coast, striking bluff and mountain top…teeming with luxuriant vegetation that the various plants seem to fight for every square foot of space…”. It was that luxuriant vegetation which led to cedar getters commencing to fell timber in 1810.
Sadly the most enduring memories of Mount Kembla are associated with Australia’s largest industrial disaster, the coal mining disaster of 31 July 1902, in which 96 men and boys died – an event regularly commemorated to the present day. But large scale coal mining was not the first industry in Mt Kembla – indeed the first coal mining was an outcome of the need for fuel for a kerosene works based on local shale deposits in 1865. Little remains of the kerosene operations – but the influence of mining has remained strong.
A Timeline – Mt Kembla Pioneer Kerosene Works and Mine
Rev Clarke finds oil shale at Mt Kembla
Chemist Benjamin Fawcett claims material he found in 1862 at Mt Kembla contains kerosene.
Subscriptions sought to fund testing of Mt Kembla kerosene potential — not successful
Firm (Graham & Mulholland) fund sample testing by Government Analyst — “50 gallons per ton”
Shale retorting plant installed, J Hamill manager of the “American Creek Pioneer Works.”
First Mt Kembla kerosene product brought to Wollongong
E Graham son of J Graham (of Graham & Mulholland) plant manager
Prospectus issued for new shale oil company (£50,000) — unsuccessful
J Graham sells interest to E Vickery and W Burall — to form new company
Competition from lower priced Hartley Valley NSW supply selling in Illawarra.
Pioneer ceases production
Oil price recovers, Pioneer re-commences production but struggles financially
W Burall seeks funds to develop mineral resource — unsuccessful locally, travelled to London. Raised £100,000 capital
Fire at kerosene plant
Fire at kerosene plant.
Kerosene plant closes
Mt Kembla Coal & Oil Co (MKCOC)formed to take over property of Kerosene Company and mine for coal
MKCOC granted approval for the construction of rail lines to Wollongong Harbour and Red Point (Port Kembla). Construction of a Rail line to Wollongong did not proceed.
Sixty men at work establishing the Mount Kembla coal mine site.
Rail from Mt Kembla mine to jetty at Red Point completed
Official opening of the Mt Kembla mine, included a ceremonial dinner underground.
110 men working at mine, 56 underground, mine ventilation furnace and chimney erected..
First shipment of coal from the Mt Kembla Mine despatched from Red Point Jetty (Port Kembla).
Mine employs 250 men on average, producing 20,000 tons/yr. Much industrial strife in reaching agreement on rates of pay for contract miners.
A second mine ventilation Chimney and Furnace in service 200 Metres North of the main mine entry
Work commenced on the sinking of the No1 surface to seam shaft west of the escarpment.
Sinking of the No1 shaft completed and in service as a furnace ventilation shaft
Mt Kembla mine erects plant to wash the small coal product at its the jetty
Mt Lyell Mining & Smelting Company Queenstown Tasmania erects a coke making plant at Red Point using Mt Kembla coal.
Underground explosion at the mine led to loss of 96 lives — still the greatest loss of life in any industrial accident in Australia
Electricity generating plant installed to provide power for surface and underground plant.
Mt Kembla Collieries formed to buy our MKCOC assets for £700,000.
Five electric coal cutting machines installed and giving good results..
All coal mined now being cut by machine.
Committee of Enquiry agrees to the removal of electric coal cutting machines. Fear of initiating a gas explosion. New man Transport road entry nearing completion.
Sinking of the No2 Ventilation shaft adjacent to the Cordeaux Reservoir has commenced.
The sinking of the No2 Shaft has been completed.
Mt Lyell coke making plant closed
A mechanical Ventilation Fan has been installed on No2 Shaft
New screening plant erected at the mine replaces the original plant..
Mt Kembla Collieries Ltd. dissolved and assets acquired by Australian iron & Steel (AIS). Nebo Mine development commenced above the site of the abandoned Pioneer Works.
Major upgrade to the mine incline coal handling system and erection of a rail loading coal bin.
Steam Locomotives, rail wagons and rail facilities at Cordeaux Rd Central Kembla removed from service. New Pit Pony Stables erected at the mine
Mine ventilation fan installed on No1 Shaft. Attempt made to introduce mechanised mining using rubber-tyred equipment proved unsuccessful..
Mine closed ending 87 years of continuous operation.