Delivery of coal from mine to ship in the Illawarra was largely shaped by the topography of the region, and the location of the coal seams being mined.  As noted elsewhere, colliery rail lines were commonly in an easterly direction down from the escarpment to the sea.  Mine operators were thus aided by gravity – in most cases coal from a mine mouth high on the escarpment being able to be sent down an incline without traction power, to be transported thence by different rail systems.  In at least one case, loaded coal wagons were able to be delivered to the shipping jetty totally under gravity, with empty wagons being hauled by horse back up to the mine mouth.

The South Coast (government) rail line was completed in 1887.  Before that time, a number of operators had developed means of transporting coal to their jetties; after the arrival of the trunk rail line, coal transport was largely from mine to the main rail line, for transport to Wollongong Harbour or Port Kembla Harbour, or north to Sydney.  A brief description of the main early rail systems follows.

Mt Kembla Colliery Incline ca 1912.
(From the collections of the Wollongong City Library and the Illawarra Historical Society P02251)

Thomas Hale’s Mine

Thomas Hale in 1858 opened the second mine in the Illawarra , and in association with it built a wooden, standard gauge horse-drawn railway to a jetty he constructed at Bellambi Point.  It was however short-lived, closing and being abandoned in 1863.

Osborne-Wallsend Mt Keira mine

In 1859 the Osborne-Wallsend mine at Mt Keira developed a 3’ 8½” (1130mm) gauge (initially wooden) tramline for horse traction of coal to Wollongong Harbour from the base of their incline at Mt Keira.  While this was the first mine to construct such a line, it was not the first to take up the use of steam traction.  In 1861, the company upgraded the line to steel; it was not however until 1879 that steam traction was adopted, with locomotives using the ‘standard’ gauge of 4’ 8½” (1435mm).  The line ultimately became redundant with the decline of Wollongong Harbour as a coal port in the early 20th century.

Taylor & Walker’s Mine

Taylor and Walker owned a mine at Russell Vale, and in 1861 developed a jetty at Bellambi Point, serviced by a horse-drawn railway from their mine.  It was to be of an even shorter lifespan than Hale’s, closing in 1864.  There are  conflicting reports regarding the Hale mine and the Taylor and Walker mine and their respective jetty use, and more information is given here.

Mt Keira Mine Incline, ca 1880
(From the collections of the Wollongong City Library
and the Illawarra Historical Society P02224.)

Bulli Colliery:  The First Locomotive in the Illawarra

The Bulli Coal Company in 1863 built a horse-drawn standard gauge tramway system from their Bulli Colliery to what was then Bulli Point (now Sandon Point).  In that same year they built a self-acting tramway from their mine down to the base of the escarpment, horses being used to return the empty wagons.  Six years later they bought the first steam locomotive in the Illawarra, one manufactured by Vale and Lacy in Sydney and only the second made in the colony.  It weighed 32 tons, had 35hp motive power, and was given the name Bulli No 1 or Bulli Pioneer.  The following year they ordered a second unit (the fourth built in the colony) duly named Bulli No 2. 

South Bulli No 1 – First Locomotive in the Illawarra
(Courtesy of Bulli Black Diamond Museum & Heritage Centre)

The Sydney Morning Herald wrote in praise of these engines:

The South Bulli line was in service for many years, from 1863 to 1936.

Rail System at the Bulli Mine, 1873
The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser
(NSW : 1871 – 1912) p 498 Sat 18 Oct 1873, from Trove

Mt Pleasant Coal Company – First Steam Haulage to Belmore Basin

Also in 1863 the Mt Pleasant Coal Commpany built a horse tramway (including two inclines) from their mine to Belmore Basin.  It was of the smaller gauge (3’ 8½” or 1130mm) that had been used earlier by the Mt Keira Mine.  Unlike that group though, they did not change when their line was converted to steel, with steam traction – leading to Belmore Basin later having mixed gauge trackwork (incorporating a third rail).  Their upgraded line was from the base of the second incline to the harbour, and was completed in 1884.  Mt Pleasant mine ceased production in 1933.

Locomotive shed at Mt Pleasant Colliery, 1904.
(Note the engine on the right, built in Sydney that year.)
(Courtesy of JLN Southern Collection)

Mt Kembla Coal and oil Company – First Coal on Rail to Port Kembla

Mt Kembla commenced work on their standard gauge line to Port Kembla (and the first jetty to be constructed there) from Mt Kembla after the arrival of their first locomotive for construction purposes in 1881, the 12.5km facility being complete in 1882.  The line was later resumed by the State government, and leased back to the company for its use.  It was one of the lines which the Illawarra line had to cross as part of its construction.  The line itself is still in use after several changes of ownership.

Rail to Hicks Point Jetty – North Illawarra No 1 and No 2 Collieries

The North Illawarra Coal Mining Company developed two mines in 1884, North Illawarra Nos 1 and 2.  No 1 was located at Coledale to the north of Hicks Point (or Brickyard Point) and No 2 at Austinmer to the south.  No 1 Colliery’s delivery system was based on a horse tramway of standard gauge, the loaded wagons being taken to the jetty by gravity and returned to the mine using horse traction. It is not clear whether the line was still in operation when the Illawarra line came through.

North Illawarra No 2 Colliery used a more complex system, with locomotives drawing wagons from the bottom of the mine’s incline, to the jetty.  The line in fact passed under the Illawarra main line, then under construction.  The Hicks Point jetty was abandoned in the 1890s and the use of these transport systems ceased.

Austinmer Colliery and Workshops, ca 1885
(Courtesy of the Wollongong City Library
and the Illawarra Historical Society P16421.)

Hopes for a Lake Harbour

In 1890 hopes were high for the development of a harbour in Lake Illawarra (in association with a smelting plant (hyperlink to Dapto Smelter site) on the shores of the lake).  The Illawarra Harbour and Land Corporation was set up in 1890 with the objective of developing the ‘Ocean View’ colliery south of Mt Kembla, and a 10.6km railway (the eighth crossing of the Illawarra line) connecting the mine to a jetty in the soon-to-be developed lake harbour.  The crossing was opened in 1895 but no coal was ever shipped – with the demise of the lake harbour scheme, the mine and jetty scheme was abandoned in 1902.

Coal Transport After the Advent of the Illawarra Rail Line

The lines noted above were put in place before the Illawarra Rail line was completed in 1887 – although the North Illawarra No 2 line noted above went under the main line then under construction.  Where the colliery lines crossed the main line, triangular connections were provided over ensuing years.  From 1887, most new colliery rail lines connected the mine facilities to the Illawarra line, to allow coal to be railed to Wollongong Harbour, Port Kembla or, in several cases, to Sydney.  One however did go – initially – from mine to port – the Southern Coal Company’s Mt Kembla mine.

Southern Coal Company:  this company in 1887 built the second major jetty at Port Kembla, in expectation of its handling the output from the mine it was developing at Mt Kembla.  Unfortunately mining operations at that site proved to be infeasible, and the company cast about for an alternative source of coal.  It purchased the Corrimal Colliery, and to allow shipment of coal to its new jetty, built a line from the mine to the Illawarra line.  The company was allowed ‘running powers’ on the section of Illawarra line track between its new (colliery) line, and the line to Port Kembla built earlier.

Corrimal Colliery ca 1900
(Courtesy of the Wollongong City Library and the
Illawarra Historical Society P16547)

Collieries which connected to the Illawarra line included

  • Corrimal (as noted above) in 1888
  • Metropolitan in 1890
  • South Clifton in 1891
  • North Bulli in 1902
  • South Clifton Tunnel Colliery in 1908
  • Coal Cliff in 1909
  • Excelsior (Thirroul) in 1909
  • Balgownie in 1913 and
  • Wongawilli in 1916.

Thus not long after the turn of the century a comprehensive system for rail coal transport existed throughout the Illawarra.