Plans to Open a Mine

In 1861 plans were announced to open a coal mine at Bulli. The Bellambi and Bulli Coal Company (BBCC) was formed and purchased 470 acres (190 hectares) of land previously jointly owned by George Somerville and Dr B O’Brien. Both of these men had earlier driven exploration tunnels into the Bulli coal seam.

The company’s plans included a screening plant at the pit top, located 122 m above sea level an incline tramway down the escarpment from the pit top to the plain below and a rail line from the base of the incline to Wollongong Harbour,later it was decided to build the rail line to a jetty to be erected at Sandon Point rather than the Harbour.

Bulli Jetty

Bulli Jetty, 207 m in length, was erected at Sandon Point and an order placed for a new steamship, to be named the “Waniora’’, to transport the coal to customers. The Waniora was the first collier built for the Illawarra trade.

Bulli Jetty

Mine Opened

In 1863 the mine was officially opened and the first shipment of coal was loaded from Bulli Jetty on to the collier “George.”

Storms Damage the Jetty

The history of the Bulli jetty being washed away mirrored that of all of the other exposed sea jetties built along the Illawarra coastline.

In 1864, a 90 m section of the jetty was washed away and the jetty was out of service for four months, with the repair costs amounting to £2,000.

In 1867, the jetty was partly washed away again and four employees working on the jetty were swept into the sea and drowned.

In 1912, a 60 m section of the jetty was washed away.

The 1863 opening was by means of a tunnel into the Bulli coal seam, named the “A Tunnel”.

Mining was carried out with great difficulty due to the presence of a range of geological features . The main tunnel intersected intrusions of dykes, cindered coal and roll stones and, after driving some 1.6 km in a north west direction and on a rising grade, the tunnel intersected a major dyke (an igneous intrusion). The tunnel was driven on through the dyke until the seam was recovered in its full height, however, it was accompanied by a considerable quantity of methane (explosive) gas issuing from the coal face.

Further mining in that area was suspended until the mine ventilation system was improved and safety lamps were issued to all miners working in this area.

Western Areas of the Mine

In 1864 the western extremities of the mine’s leases had been worked out and the NSW Mines Department granted a lease for an area to the north west of the main tunnel. To access this area, given the name the Hill End, a roadway was driven from the main haulage tunnel.

Mining of the Bulli seam in the Western and Hill End and South West Districts was accompanied by cindered coal and stone rolls. This created delays in production and affected the profitability of mine.

In 1880 a second tunnel entry was driven into the Bulli seam to the north of the original tunnel entry. This became known as the Bulli No.2 tunnel. The provision of this second tunnel improved ventilation of the mine workings and the access of the main haulage roadway to the surface.

Balgownie Seam Mining

The Bulli seam is the upper seam in the Illawarra coal measures and is often called the No.1 seam. The Balgownie seam is the second seam in the Illawarra coal measures and is typically located 20 m below the Bulli seam. The Balgownie seam is often called the No.2 or 4ft (1.2m) seam.

In 1882 mining of the Balgownie coal seam commenced. An inclined drift was driven down from the Bulli seam workings to the Balgownie seam and a staple shaft was sunk between the two seams to provide ventilation of the latter’s seam workings.

Bulli Colliery Pit Top Area circa 1870
Furnace Ventilation Shaft

The workings in both the Bulli seam and Balgownie seam were initially ventilated by a furnace shaft located adjacent to the A Tunnel Bulli seam entry. In 1885 a furnace shaft was sunk on the mountain side above the mine pit top surface area down to the Bulli seam and a staple shaft was sunk to the Balgownie seam to include the workings in that seam in the mine ventilation system.

Remains of Furnace Shaft located above the Pit Top Area
Miners’ Union and the “Battle of Bulli ”

The establishment of Miners’ Unions in the mining industry circa 1880, created major problems for both management and miners. In 1886 a six-month strike commenced at the Bulli mine. This action by the miners led the colliery owners to employ non-union labour to work the mine. The “Battle of Bulli” took place in this period with the miners, their wives and children preventing non-union labour, with some exceptions, from being employed at the mine.

Bulli Mine Explosion

The miners returned to work in January 1887 after accepting strict conditions of employment and pay rates imposed by the owners. In March an explosion in the Hill End district of the mine resulted in the death of 81 men and boys. This incident had a profound effect not only on the families of those killed, but also on the community and the mine owners. Further information on the explosion may be found here.

Prior to the explosion the company was already in a difficult financial position as a result of having to operate the mine for many years in very difficult geological conditions. Whilst the mine resumed work on a restricted production schedule in the latter part of 1887 the expenditure involved in restoring the mine and recovering its customer base created further impacts on the company’s financial situation.

These circumstances led to the company being placed in liquidation and the mine being offered for auction in 1894.

Bulli Coal & Coke Company

In 1895 the mine was purchased by Mr George Adams (well known otherwise for his association with Tattersalls) for the sum of £10,000.

Six years earlier, George Adams had opened a coke making plant at Sandon Point. Following his purchase of the mine he renamed the company the Bulli Coal and Coke Company, and approved an expenditure of £10,000 to continue the day to day operations of the mine and the ongoing prospecting activities being carried out in an attempt to define the future of the mine, given the difficult seam conditions encountered over the past 23 years.

Prospecting Roadways and Boreholes

In 1904 work commenced on the driving of two prospecting roadways, spaced 20 m apart, in a south-west direction away from the major dyke. This work involved driving through the barren ground accompanying the remnants of the Bulli seam comprised in the main, by stone rolls, dykes, faults and cindered coal.

In early 1908 a public meeting was arranged by the Chairman of the Bulli Shire Council to support the Bulli Coal and Coke Company’s application for assistance from the State Government in funding the sinking of one prospecting borehole.

The company explained that it had spent £10,000 in the period 1904 to 1908 prospecting the seam with little success and, as an alternative to closing the mine, was seeking the support of the local community and the Premier for funding to sink a borehole in the west of the property to continue its further prospecting. This support was granted by the Premier and the sinking of a borehole commenced soon after.

In the latter part of 1908 the underground roadways, after having been driven 1.6 km, had recovered the full height of the Bulli seam. A borehole sunk 1.6 km to the west of the prospecting roadways, and a second borehole sunk 1.6 km further north, had both struck clean coal at a full seam thickness. These findings indicated that the mine did have a future and enabled the further development of the mine to be directed to the south-west area.

Additional Mines Opened

The expenditures involved earlier in prospecting the mine property, and geological constraints imposed on production from the mine, caused the Bulli Coal and Coke Company to search for other options for the continued operation of the company and these included the opening of a number of relatively small mines on the company’s property.

Evidence has been found on mine plans of some working of the Bulli seam adjacent to the main mine portal. It is assumed this mining was carried out by the company following the 1887 explosion.

Bulli No.3 Mine (aka Corn Beef) was located in the Bulli Pass area. It was a mine that had varying degrees of success under a number of owner/operators including the Bulli Coal Company.

Bulli No.4 Mine was a small mining operation opened in the Balgownie seam to the south of A Tunnel.It was operated on a lease basis and closed after one year.

Broadhead’s Tunnel located north of mine main tunnel was a prospecting tunnel driven under the direction of Mr Broadhead who was the manager of the mine. The tunnel intersected cinder close to the surface and was abandoned.

Improvement of the Mine

Improved prospects for the mine’s future led to the purchase of mine plant and equipment, an increase in both the number of persons employed and the annual production of the mine. Following the recovery of the seam major changes were made to the mine’s underground layout, mine haulage and ventilation systems to support the development of the mine’s workings to the south west.

Electricity Generating Plant

In 1914, a 400 kW capacity steam powered generating plant was installed and a power supply was extended underground for lighting, haulages and mining equipment.

This plant enabled an electrically driven ventilation fan to be installed underground to support the furnace shaft system of ventilation. This arrangement did not provide a significant improvement in the ventilation of the mine.

In 1916 an electrically driven ventilation fan was installed on the surface at the furnace shaft to replace the underground furnace and its supporting fan. A man transport system, powered by a Main and Tail surface mounted haulage, was installed to provide an underground Man Transport system. A tunnel was driven in from the outcrop of the Balgownie seam to the south of the original mine tunnel entry to link up with roadways in the underground workings forming part of the transport system.

In 1925 the sinking of the No.1 Shaft behind the escarpment was completed and a mechanical ventilation fan driven by electric motor was installed.

No.1 Shaft located west of the Escarpment

Coal Cutting Machines

The introduction of electrically powered coal cutting machines in Illawarra coal mines was a matter of concern to the miners, mine owners and the Mines Department Inspectorate. These electrically powered machines did not have acceptable standards of flameproof enclosure for the drive motors and control switchgear and the ventilation in the working places of these machines was considered inadequate. These machines were introduced into Bulli Colliery in 1916 and withdrawn from service in 1917 following a directive from the Chief Inspector.

From 1918 onwards the mine operated with a work force ranging from 200 to 300 employees despite the Bulli Coal and Coke Company being in liquidation for an unspecified period/s of time until 1936.

Australian Iron & Steel Purchases the Mine

As part of the Australian Iron & Steel (AI&S) company’s plans to increase its steelmaking capacity at the Port Kembla Steelworks, AI&S purchased the Bulli Colliery from the Liquidators of the Bulli Coal and Coke Company in 1936. Work promptly commenced on the developments required to modernise the mine and adopt the mechanised system of mining.

Modernisation of the Mine

Work commenced on the sinking of a No.2 Shaft to improve the ventilation of the mine and in 1944 excavation commenced on a Cross Measures Drift being driven on a fixed bearing and rising on a grade of 1:139, for a distance of 3.7Kms to intersect the Bulli seam. This drift was driven from a site lower down the escarpment where a new pit top would be established. The AI&S collieries 33Kv overhead transmission line power system was extended to the mine and No2 Shaft sites, to supply the planned underground and surface plant installations.

The new mine site infrastructure included a bath-house, offices, lamp cabin and a Coal Handling Plant (CHP). A railway line was laid from the CHP to rail sidings located in the Sandon Point area, passing over the Princes Highway and South Coast Railway line by overhead bridges.

On completion of the No.2 Shaft, the mining plant required to start up two mechanised mining units, was lowered down the shaft, reassembled and placed in service.

Cross Measures Drift

The Cross Measures Drift was completed in 1951 and 10-ton capacity mine cars were being hauled by 25-ton diesel locomotive to and from underground. In 1953 the original Bulli mine site was abandoned and the new site commissioned as the permanent mine site.

Bulli Colliery buildings at New/Cross Measures Drift site 1960

Modernising the Mining Equipment

The first mechanised mining units installed comprised on-track coal loaders and coal cutters. These machines were replaced in the 1950s by off-track continuous miners and shuttle cars (trucks). The shuttle cars loaded coal into on-track mine cars that were hauled by battery locomotive to a marshalling yard to be hauled to the surface in trains by diesel locomotives.

Belt conveyors were installed in the 1959/60 period. The shuttle car loaded coal on to the Mining Panel/Trunk conveyor belt system with the coal being unloaded into an “above seam” coal storage bin. At this mine a second small capacity rapid loading storage bin, was used to load the coal into ten-ton capacity mine cars for haulage to the surface by diesel locomotive.

Flat top materials trolleys were used for transporting supplies and mining plant in and out of the mine along with enclosed personnel transport cars drawn by diesel and battery locomotives. That  system of transport was later replaced by small capacity diesel powered personnel cars travelling to and from each working panel.

Drift Surface Area, Coal Handling Plant and 25-ton Diesel Haulage Locomotive in 1960

Mine Closure

As the planned development of the mine advanced to the north-west area of the mine stone rolls in the floor of the seam became more frequent and hampered the ability to achieve acceptable production levels.

In 1985 the decision was made to cease work on the sinking of a No.4 Shaft in the north-west area and close the mine, which by then had operated for 124 years. Some 16,554,859 tonnes of coal were produced in the last 27 years of its life.


Dr. O’Brien opens O’Brien’s Mine, a small mine in the Bulli Seam on adjoining properties owned by O’Brien and George Somerville
Messrs. O’Brien and Somerville advise the Press of their plans to form a company and open a mine in the Bulli seam on Somerville’s property.
1861 (a)
The Bellambi and Bulli Coal Company (BBCC) formed with plans to construct a rail line to Bellambi Point. 600 acres (242ha) of land purchased by the BBCC from O’Brien & Somerville. Somerville joins the BBCC as Director.
The Bulli ”A” Tunnel was opened and mining commenced 400ft (122ms) above sea level.
A level area created at the pit top to erect a coal screening plant and a gravity powered Incline rope haulage system complete with 600yds (550ms) of wide gauge rail line from the pit top to the base of the incline.
The BBCC advised its intention to construct a rail line from Bulli to Bellambi Point where a jetty would be erected. Approval for the rail line was assented by the NSW Legislative Council. Despite this approval the project was abandoned in favour of erecting a Jetty at Sandon Point following objections by Thomas Hale.
The Bulli Mine was officially opened. The Company was referred to as the Bulli Coal Company. (BCC). The wide gauge rail line system on the incline was extended to link up with the jetty erected by the BCC at Sandon Point. Full wagons gravitated from sidings at the bottom of incline. Wagons hauled back to the sidings by horse.
Jetty 680ft (207m) in length built on the northern side of the Sandon Point headland. In May of 1863 the first cargo was dispatched in the Brigantine ”George”. Purchase order placed in the UK for a screw Steamer to be named ” Waniora”.
A severe storm washes away 300ft (90m) of the jetty along with wagons and plant. Jetty out of service for four months. Cost of repairs, £2000.
Western extremities of the mines leases worked out. Application for new lease granted. Access roadway to lease area intersect arm of major dyke. Hill End District created.
Jetty washed away, 4 men drowned. Design improvements to the jetty commence, along with short term repairs to return the jetty to service. Both the repairs and design improvements were completed in 1867.
1867 (b)
Steam locomotive (first built in Australia) in service hauling wagons to and from the incline and Jetty
The mines daily production capacity reached 600 tons and 80 men were employed
1878 (a)
The original 1861 “A” tunnel entry divided to create two roadways a short distance from the surface. One, the main haulage roadway, driven in north westerly direction to skirt along a major downthrow fault. Roadway followed the seam rising on a 1:20 rising grade and after several dykes intersected a large and disruptive dyke 1.5 miles (2.4kms) from the surface
1878 (b)
The Bulli No 3 mine opened north of the existing mine site with a separate incline leading down from the mine to a Screening plant adjacent to the rail line to the Jetty
1878 (c)
Tunnel north of the original tunnel entry driven from surface to link up with the main endless rope haulage roadway underground. Surface mounted endless rope haulage engine relocated to be adjacent to the new tunnel to improve both the mine main haulage system and ventilation of the mines workings
Mining in the western and Hill End districts of the mine supported by Main and Tail haulages delivering skips to the crest of the main haulage roadway and endless rope haulage system
The driving of the new tunnel to the South West commences from an entry made adjacent to the original A Tunnel entry.
Inclined drift entry and staple shaft driven down from the Bulli to the Balgownie Seam west of the A Tunnel Bulli seam entry.
Main Tunnel roadway intersects major fault 1.6kms from the surface Driving through fault commences and after completing a drivage of about 1mile (1.6kms), the seam was recovered with methane gas issuing from the seam
1885 (a)
Furnace Ventilation shaft sunk to improve the ventilation of the Western District workings of the mine
1885 (b)
Bulli No3 mine closes
Miners form a Union for the first time, and is met with strident opposition by the mine owners. Industrial unrest and strikes follow.
Mine Owners employ non-union labour to work the mine
Miners, wives and children disrupt the arrival of non- union labour (The Battle of Bulli)
Miners return to work, in January after accepting strict conditions of employment.
1887 (d)
On March 23rd an Explosion in the Hill End District kills 81 Men and Boys.
1887 (e)
In July the mine resumes production using safety lamps for lighting and testing for gas in the Hill End District
1887 (f)
South Coast Rail line opens Clifton to Wollongong. The Bulli mine rail line to the Jetty modified at its level crossing and signalling features added.
Total of 200 men employed at the mine approximately 180 of these men underground
Balgownie Seam being mined by a small number of men
Mr. G. Adams establishes the Bulli Cokeworks (40 Ovens) at the Sandon Point purchasing small coal for the plant from Bulli Colliery.
Naked lights introduced at the mine. Some miners leave as a result.
Bulli No3 aka Bulli Pass mine reopens
Bulli Pass mines closes. Problems with Bulli Coal Co. and access to rail line & Jett
Mine in liquidation (date unknown) Mr. G. Adams purchases the Bulli Coal Company, changing the name of the Company to the Bulli Coal and Coke Company. Adams approves £10,000 expenditure at the mine.
Prospecting roadways being driven underground to the south west and boreholes being sunk to recover the seam and extent of workable areas of the Bulli seam.
Company seeking assistance to funding the sinking of more boreholes. Mine to close in the absence of this support. Funding granted.
1908 (b)
Prospecting tunnels recover the seam. Boreholes (2) confirm seam at full height in the North and South West of the prospecting tunnels. Future of mine now very promising
Despite several changes of name and ownership the Bulli No 3 mine is closed. Sydney Trams converted to electric traction, market for the mines product ceases.
Bulli No4 mine opens in the Balgownie Seam John Spinks Lessee.
Sixty metres (60m), of the Sandon Point Jetty washed away
Bulli No4 mine closes.
A 400kw steam powered electric generating plant installed at the mine.
L.F. Harper Report 1915 pg. 161.The mine is now being developed after passing through 1.0 mile (1.6km) of Cinder intersected by basalt dykes stone rolls etc.
A 56 inch (1.42m) diameter Sirocco mine ventilation fan driven by an electric motor installed on the surface at the Furnace Shaft located above the mine pit top
New Tunnel entrance driven in from the surface in the Balgownie seam to accommodate a man transport system to carry men in and out of the mine.
Electrically powered coal cutting machines installed at the mine withdrawn by order of the Chief Inspector of Mines. (Potential source of a methane gas explosion.)
The sinking of a surface to seam No1 ventilation shaft commences west of the escarpment. Unique concrete shaft lining system designed by Colliery Manager
Shaft sinking completed. A 98inch (2.5ms) diameter Sirocco mine fan installed and operating.
Mine employing 324 persons underground and 92 on the surface
Mine purchased by Australian Iron &Steel Ltd. (AI&S) from the Bulli Coal & Coke Company in liquidation.
AI&S call tenders for the sinking of a No2 ventilation shaft
The sinking of the No2 Shaft 20ft (6.1m) in diameter completed
The AI&S Collieries 33Kv power supply system reaches the mine and No1 Shaft site
Work commences on the driving of a cross measures drift 3.6km in length on a fixed bearing and a rising grade of 1 in 139, to intersect the Bulli Seam.
Mining equipment required to commence the mechanised system of mining in two mining panels, dismantled, lowered down the No2 shaft, reassembled, and put in to service.
The Contract system of mining ceases at Corrimal
Excavation of the Drift completed, 25ton Diesel locomotives, 10-ton mine cars and battery locomotives now operating on 3ft 6 inch (1067mm) gauge rail track. A Direct Rope Haulage installed underground to service the 4 North District of the mine is located adjacent to the mine car marshalling yard at the inbye end of the Drift. Overhead bridges erected at the Princes Highway and the South Coast rail line to enable coal being hauled by locomotive to rail line shunts laid east of South Coal Rail line in the Sandon Point area. Coal hauled to the Port Kembla Steelworks using AI&S Locomotives.
Access through the Drift enabled more on track mining equipment to be installed and additional mine working panels to be opened.
Caterpillar mounted Continuous Miners (CM) in service to replace track mounted cutters and loaders. CM initially loaded coal into track mounted 10-ton mine cars, at the face. Continuous Miners progressively replace all on track cutter and loader mining units. Battery locomotives and mine cars used as required
Existing No1 Shaft mine fan replaced with 157inch (4.0m) Aerex Fan
Joy 10SC cable reeling Shuttle cars introduced to replace mine car loading at the face by the continuous miner
The Conveyor Belt system of coal haulage progressively installed throughout the mine
Development of the Western area of the mine workings intersected a 280ft (85m) upthrow fault in the seam and work followed that included the driving of a 1 in 4 Conveyor belt conveyor drift roadway, excavation of a staple shaft for coal storeage and the driving of a 1 in 20 Men and Materials access drift.
A third rising drift 1000ft (305m) in length, driven on a grade of 1in 4, excavated across the above fault to provide a mine ventilation return airway.
Work commences on the sinking of the No3 Ventilation Shaft
1965 (a)
Sinking of the shaft completed and a mine ventilation fan installed. (Doubts exist as to this Fan ever having been put into service as part of the mine ventilation system.)
1965 (b)
A fire in the 8 Right District of the mine results in the death of four men,
1968 (a)
Starting procedures for the No3 Shaft Mine Fan prepared by AIS Collieries Ventilation Engineer.(See comment in 1965a above)
1968 (b)
Proposal to upgrade No1 Shaft Mine 157 inch (4.9m) diameter Aerex Mine Ventilation Fan approved. ACIRL engaged to carry out performance tests on the Aerex fan
1972 (a)
Approval of expenditure granted to add a second Rotor to the Aerex Fan
1972 (b)
Performance tests on Aerex Fan after the fitting of second Rotor prove satisfactory
Booster fan installed underground in a new development area.
1985 (a)
Sinking commences on the No4 Bulli Shaft
1985 (b)
Plan to sink the No4 shaft abandoned after some 18m of sinking as a result of the company reaching a decision to cease all future mining in that area of the Bulli Colliery holding.
1985 (c)
All plant on site at the No4 shaft removed and shaft back filled, site rehabilitated.
Press release dated 10th February ”Bulli Colliery will close in May of this year.”
Press release 15th May ”Bulli Colliery ceased production and closed after 124yrs.”
1988 (a)
In March the Department of Mineral Resources granted approval to seal the Bulli No’s 1,2,3 and Furnace Shafts
1988 (b)
In May the No 1,2,3 shafts had been sealed, and mine surfaace area plant and buildings demolished and the site rehabilitated
Rehabilitation of the No4 shaft site undertaken by the BHPbilliton assosciated, Illawarra Coal Company
A final inspection of the revegetation of the No4 Shaft site was completed, and the rehabilitation and removal of all plant at the mine site completed