Site Name:Coalcliff Coke Works
Address:Lawrence Hargraves Drive Coalcliff
GPS Coordinates:E 6208785 N313039 HSL 88.0 Metres
Site Access:Plant closed. Site not accessible
Panorama Coalcliff Cokeworks and Colliery, pre 1970
(From the Wollongong University Archives: D275 Illawarra Coke Company)

A Chance Discovery

The site of the Coalcliff Coke Works dates its history back to the discovery of coal in Australia. In 1797 shipwrecked sailors travelling overland to Sydney from the south coast came across and built a fire with coal the source of which was a visible seam of coal in a cliff face adjacent to the beach. It was the first authentic report of coal in the colony – but for a variety of reasons including transport access it was many years before the coal was exploited, through what came to be known as the Jetty mine, later the Coalcliff Colliery. Production commenced there in 1878. The jetty on which the mine depended at that time was very susceptible to rough seas and was heavily damaged on a number of occasions. Eventually a shaft was sunk further inland to access the jetty mine, and finally all operations were transferred to that pithead as the Coalcliff Colliery, with coal being shipped out by rail. That operation became the source of feed for a coke oven plant – the Coalcliff Coke Works – which commenced production in December 1914.

Plant Design

The plant was supplied with small coal (‘slack and duff’) by conveyor directly from the colliery. The coal was fed to a battery of fifty non-recovery ovens of a modified beehive coke oven design. (In non-recovery ovens the volatiles released from the coal during heating are burnt in the coking process rather than being recovered as by-products.) The ovens were of arched roof construction but rectangular in longitudinal section which, with doors at either end, meant that the product coke could simply be pushed out of the oven by a ram on to a hearth, for cooling by water. (Later developments saw coke collected in a coke car for quenching.) The firing system was simple, with a single stack on top of the battery for each pair of ovens.

Development and Innovation

Over the years of operation the operation saw numerous developments. In 1960 eight further ovens of the original type were constructed at the end of the existing battery. Firing modifications in 1970 saw half of the ovens connected to a common flue, resulting in half the battery stacks being removed. The remaining individual stacks were removed later also. In 2000, two of the original ovens were demolished, to allow the commissioning in 2001 of two prototype Thyssen design ovens of much higher heating efficiencies and productivity. Many other upgrades were implemented over the years, including particularly those directed at environmental improvements. Among those were the installation of custom-designed and locally manufactured charge cars to reduce charging emissions, and an award winning quencher stack of innovative design.

Coke Markets

The plant’s markets changed over the years also. Prior to 2000, the plant’s output was substantially for Australian consumption, only some 10% being exported. In the early 2000s however the demise of much coke-consuming industry in Australia meant that the company had to seek new markets, in which it was successful. In 2004, it exported 75% of its total production, one of its shipments for European consumers setting a record for Port Kembla Harbour at 56,000 tonnes. Even that however could not overcome the worldwide market reduction which commenced with the 2008 global financial crisis. Despite celebrating in 2010 the shipment of its millionth tonne of coke to a single Japanese customer, the plant was eventually unable to continue, and closed in 2013 after 99 years of operation.

Joining With Corrimal

The coking plant was constructed in 1913 under the direction of H.O. Hyde as chairman of the Illawarra Coke Company. While closely linked to the operations of the Coalcliff mine, it remained separate from that until 1954 when both the colliery and the cokeworks were purchased by Kembla Coal and Coke (KCC). Later, in 1984, KCC bought the Corrimal Coke Company to add to the Illawarra Coke Company. In 1991 the mine closed leaving the coke plant as the sole operation at the site. Then in 1996 a private company (ICC Holdings P/L) purchased the Illawarra Coke Company which by then owned the only surviving coke production capacity in Australia outside the steel industry, in the form of the Coalcliff and Corrimal plants. Corrimal was to close only a year after Coalcliff – but in its case having achieved one hundred years of operation.


A Timeline – Coalcliff Cokeworks Plant

Work commences on the erection of 50 non recovery ovens by the Illawarra Coke Co.Ltd.(ICC) under Chairmanship of H.O.Hyde
1914 a (Dec)
First coke produced. Plant linked to colliery coal storeage bin by conveyor for supply of duff/slack coal product.
Water storage dam constructed by colliery for supply to mine & coke plant
Cokeworks and colliery acquired by Kembla Coal & Coke Ltd. (KCC) a subsidiary of Broken Hill Assosciated Smelters Ltd.(BHAS)
Plant extended by adding eight (8)ovens to the original 50 ovens
1971 (April)
Half of the battery of ovens converted to a common ducting system.
1975 (Nov)
New quench tower built and installed, won Prince Phillip Award for achievement in industrial design. Also new coke car & road, settling pond, coke hopper & tunnel.
1980 (Sept)
New coal grinding & screening plant constructed
Coalcliff colliery closes
Demolition of Coalcliff colliery buildings commences
Coalcliff colliery buildings demolished mine portals sealed at Jetty & Coalcliff
1996 (March)
ICC Holdings Ltd. (ICCH)purchase the Illawarra Coke Co.(Includes Corrimal & Coalcliff) Ongoing technology and environmental improvements at the plant.
1998 (Sept)
New crushing & screening Plant installed.
2000 (Oct)
Nos 1 & 2 ovens demolished & 2 prototype Thyssen designed ovens installed
First oven push from Thyssen ovens. Productivity changes to improve coking process
New road truck washing facility erected to allow trucks to drain longer before driving on public roads.
Coke exports to Newcastle and Port Pirie.
Extensive site revegetation with native trees & shrubs. New water treatment plant & storage ponds built at top of plant site with water dissipator at bottom of site.
2006 (Oct)
Peabody Energy (PE) acquires 50% share in Illawarra Coke Company Pty a result of PE having purchased a Company owned by some directors of ICCH.
2007 (March)
Illawarra Coke Company reverts back to wholly owned private company when PE sells its interest in ICC.
First of locally designed ovens charge cars delivered and installed.
2008a (Feb)
Second of locally designed charge cars delivered and installed.
No.1 combustion stack refurbished
The one millionth tonne of coke delivered to Japanese customer.
2013 (June)
Plant closes and workforce consolidated into the Corrimal Coke works plant.
Wollongong University Archives: D275 Illawarra Coke Company (11032015)