Black Diamonds

The well-known history of Bulli by William A Bayley opens with a quotation which illuminates much of Bulli’s past: from the Illawarra Mercury of July 1885 – “In Bulli we have a diamond mine of our own…Black Diamonds.” Its early development was associated with the growth of farming in the Illawarra. In 1815 the first cattle to be brought to the Illawarra were brought down a steep track cut through the bush to Bulli at the bottom of the escarpment by a party headed by Dr Throsby from Liverpool and guided by several local aborigines. Squatters and more stock followed, and the government soon commenced land grants to formalise ownership. By the 1840s Bulli had grown to be a centre on the road from Wollongong to Appin; the area was largely settled by graziers, and wheat had started to be grown. Before long, however, there was to be a new driver for growth, in common with much of the Illawarra – coal mining.

Bulli and Coal

The first formal application to develop a mine was made by a Captain Westmacott, a local settler, in 1850, only to be opposed by the then monopoly holder of coal production, the Australian Agricultural Company. While their action was contested by government, Westmacott did not proceed, and it was not until 1859 that a company – the Bellambi and Bulli Coal Company – was formed to progress development of a mine which commenced operations in 1861. From that time and for over a hundred years, coal was to remain a significant element of the ongoing development of Bulli, and a major influence on the lives of its residents.

Bulli, 1890 (Courtesy of the Wollongong City Library and the Illawarra Historical Society Collections)

Here feature two of the many remaining elements of Bulli which reflect on the nature of its history, and in particular the extent to which coal mining has been a major influence. The first is a reminder of the risks which have existed over the years – the memorial to the 81 men and boys who died in the Bulli Mine Disaster of 1887. The second is about how people lived – a restored cottage typical of the miners cottages which were common features of the Illawarra, and other mining areas throughout Australia. This too acknowledges risk – noting the more than 600 person who have died in mining accidents since the late 1800s.

Go to Bulli Mine Disaster Memorial.

Go to Bulli Miner’s Cottage.