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

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.

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 and 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 Explosion, 1950

In 1950 an explosion occurred in the Cross Measures Drift. Information may be found here.

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.


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