Site Name: Jetty Mine Coalcliff Colliery Darkes Forest Colliery
Address: Lawrence Hargraves Drive beneath the Seacliff Bridge Lawrence Hargraves Drive Coalcliff Darkes Forest Road Darkes Forest (West of Princes Hwy. Maddens Plains)
GPS Coordinates: E 6208074 N 313677 HSL 2.0 Metres E 6208785 N313039 HSL 88.0 Metres E 6210036 N 308372 HSL 366.0 Metres
Site Access: Mine closed. Sealed mine entries can be accessed with difficulty. Mine closed. Site not accessible Site not accessible
Ship at jetty, 1878.
(Courtesy of the Wollongong City Library and the Illawarra Historical Society Collections)

Shipwrecked Sailors Find Coal

Just north of the present village of Clifton where the escarpment meets the sea, a seam of coal can be clearly seen in the cliff face. This is the area where coal was found in 1797, and used to light a fire for warmth by sailors whose ship had gone aground in Bass Strait. The ship (the “Sydney Cove’’) had been beached in February 1797 on an island in Bass Strait. William Clarke, the Supercargo of the ship set off soon after in a longboat with sixteen others, to reach help at Sydney Cove. The longboat was lost in heavy seas on the east coast of Victoria and a decision was made to continue on foot. Starvation, exhaustion and encounters with hostile natives reduced their number to five and this small group reached an area in the vicinity of Coalcliff in May 1797, where they found coal and lit a fire. On the next day Clarke and one other man proceeded on to Sydney Cove and reported their discovery to Governor Hunter who despatched Surgeon Bass to the area. Bass confirmed in his report the presence of a coal seam 20 ft (6.1m) above high water level at Coalcliff. He also found on shore nearby the blood-stained clothing and bones of the three exhausted men left behind. Despite the discovery, the difficult access to the area prevented the development of a mining industry in the area for many years.

Surface facilities and jetty ca 1910.
(Courtesy of the Wollongong City Library and the Illawarra Historical Society Collections)

Early Owners

Ownership of the land on which the coal lay changed several times from the 1840s eventually being acquired by Mr (later Sir) Thomas Mitchell. Unable to develop the property, he passed the land to his son, Campbell Mitchell. He also was unable to open a mine, and in 1876 the property passed into the hands of Alexander Stuart (later Premier of NSW) and his partners.

Building the Jetty

In April 1877 an adit was driven into the seam and work commenced on the erection of a jetty, reaching 500 feet (152m) out into the sea. A timber slide was built to lower the wooden jetty piles over and down the cliff face and a rough access was made down the cliffs with ladders to provide access to the mine and jetty below. The deck of the jetty adjoined the face of the cliff above sea level, to form a very small working area where a screening plant, storage area and bin, boiler plant, workshop, stores, stables and offices were erected.

The First Coal

The first shipment of coal departed the jetty in the chartered steamer the “Eagle’’ on 11 January 1878. In June of that same year a violent storm washed away a substantial section of the jetty requiring major reconstruction. A second adit was established at the mine to improve the ventilation of the workings and in 1878 a ventilation shaft was sunk from the surface above the cliffs with a furnace at the base of the shaft in the seam.

Jetty and screening plant from north
Jetty and screening plant from south 1900
(Courtesy of the Wollongong City Library and the Illawarra Historical Society Collections)

Small Ships

The company had built for them two small steam colliers (40m, 250 tons) to operate to Sydney from the jetty, considered too dangerous to be serviced by sailing ships. One of these (the “Hilda”) sank in Port Hacking in 1893, while the other (the “Herga”) continued service through the life of the mine. (A replacement ship (the “Undola”) commenced in 1910 but in 1918 went down with all hands just south of Sydney, thought to have struck a German mine.)

Seas at the jetty
(Courtesy of the Clifton School of Arts Collection)

Jetty Damage

Despite ongoing repairs and modifications to the jetty, sea storms in 1881 and 1904 caused considerable damage to the jetty, creating delays to both production and shipping. Problems in the mine workings created by faults, dykes and surface water flooding the workings proved to be financially disastrous for the mine employees and mine owners.

Mine buildings from the jetty
(Courtesy of the Clifton School of Arts Collection)

The opening of the South Coast rail line in 1888 compounded these problems by creating strong competition from other Illawarra collieries who had the option of transporting their coal by rail to markets in either Wollongong or Sydney.

The Vickery Family

In 1886 Alexander Stuart died with the property passing to his partners who in 1890 formed the Coal Cliff Coal and Land Company Ltd. In 1892 the colliery was acquired by Ebenezer Vickery and in 1902 passed to E. Vickery and Sons Limited and in 1909 the Coal Cliff Collieries Limited Company. (All three companies were largely controlled by the Vickery family until 1936.)

Joining with the Coalcliff Mine

In 1909 a shaft was sunk to the west of the jetty adjacent to the South Coast Rail line and on completion of the shaft sinking the underground workings of the Jetty and the Coalcliff mines were joined together. The developing Coalcliff and remnant Jetty mine workings were ventilated by a “Schiele” mine ventilation fan that had been installed at a Jetty mine seam entry in 1899.

In 1912 the jetty ceased to be used as a means of shipping coal from the Coalcliff mine. The entries to the Jetty mine were sealed with concrete in 1992, and remnants of the mine site are visible beneath by the Seacliff Bridge.

More information:

The Coalcliff Colliery

In 1892 the Jetty Mine was acquired by Ebenezer Vickery with plans to sink a shaft at the nearby Stoney Creek adjacent to the recently completed South Coast Rail line. With the demand for coal continuing to decline due to the 1895/1896 depression, the sinking of this shaft was deferred. In 1902 the ownership of the mine was transferred to E. Vickery and Sons Limited and in 1909 to the Coal Cliff Collieries Limited Company. These changes were merely legal issues with the venture remaining at all times, firmly in the hands of the Vickery family.

Coal Cliff Collieries Limited

The Coal Cliff Collieries Limited Company, formed in 1909, took over the leases and assets of the original Coal Cliff Company with the aim of developing a mine that was both efficient and profitable. While the shaft proposed earlier was being sunk and the pit top site was being developed, the Jetty Mine remained in operation and the underground workings of the new (Coalcliff) and old (Jetty) mine workings were linked together under ground.

Modern Facilities

The surface plant for the new mine was very modern and the latest technologies were adopted. In October 1910 the mine shaft and winding equipment was commissioned and in 1916 a direct current (DC) power station building was erected and generating plant installed to provide surface and underground lighting and a source of electric power for mining equipment installed underground. Extensive rail sidings were established with half of the coal mined being allocated to satisfy a contract with the NSW Railways.

In 1912 the jetty ceased to be used as a means of shipping coal having been replaced by access to the State railway line adjacent to the mine site. The entries to the Jetty mine were sealed with concrete in 1992, and remnants of the mine site are visible beneath the Seacliff Bridge.

Coal Cliff Colliery.
(Courtesy of the Wollongong City Library and the Illawarra Historical Society Collections)

New Coke Ovens

In 1913 the Illawarra Coke Company Limited commenced construction on a battery of 50 very modern beehive coke ovens on the western side of the State Rail line. Although the Illawarra Coke Company Limited and the Coal Cliff Collieries were two separate companies, the colliery provided the coal, electric power and fresh water for the coke works plant. The coke works was under the control of Mr. H.O. Hyde with the first coke produced from the plant in December 1914.

Expansion and Development

The Coal Cliff mine expanded rapidly and in 1919, with 337 men employed underground, the capacity of the shaft winding plant, to accommodate the handling of both men, materials and coal mined was proving to be a major problem. To overcome this problem, in 1920 a cross measures drift was driven from the surface east of the winding shaft to the coal seam to provide an access for both men and materials and create an additional mine ventilation intake airway.

During 1926/27 major alterations were made to the mines power supply system installed in 1916, by replacing the direct current power supply with a 50 cycle alternating current system and the erection of a new power house building.

Problems in Development

In April 1928 Vickery & Sons engaged consultant D.A.W. Robertson who carried out an audit of the company’s operation and recommended major changes to improve the productivity of the mine and the expenditure of a large capital expenditure on plant and equipment.

Industrial unrest during the period 1929 to 1931 and the Great Depression delayed the implementation of Robertson’s recommendations; however in 1935 a new coal screening plant was erected on the surface and in 1938 new pit top buildings and dust collecting plant was installed. Shortages of materials, capital funds and industrial unrest during the World War 2 created delays in fully implementing the recommended changes. Progress in introducing mechanised mining was slow due to the militant attitude of the mining unions on one hand, and reluctance by the mine owners on the other to commit large amounts of capital funds whilst these attitudes existed in the Miners Unions.

Government Intervention

In March 1944 the Coalcliff mine was placed under the control of the Commonwealth Coal Commission (CCC).The background to this action was that in March 1944 the Commission was given, authority under powers provided by the Coal Production (War Time) Act No1 to take control of any mine in the interests of defence. The reasons for the CCC choosing the Coalcliff Colliery as opposed to other mines on the coast resulted from a dispute at Coalcliff that had spread to other mines causing wide spread stoppages and loss of coal production. The issue involved was the pillar extraction methods employed by the Coalcliff mine and the effect these methods were having on the health of the miners being exposed to excessive quantities of airborne coal dust created by this mine’s method of pillar extraction. This issue along with others affecting the whole of the mining industry at that point in time whilst addressed were not completely solved by the establishment of the CCC.

The CCC ceased its control of the Coalcliff mine in March 1947.

Commencement of Mechanisation

Following the termination of the above control of the mine some mining equipment suited to the adoption of a mechanised mining system was installed, with limited success in the 1948 to 1951 period. This equipment included duckbill type coal loaders, coal cutters and rigid flight conveyor assemblies and was withdrawn after a short period as a result of unsatisfactory production results.

In 1954 Kembla Coal & Coke Pty Ltd. purchased the Coal Cliff mine and the adjacent Illawarra Coke Company Ltd. and commenced a £5,000,000 major upgrade of the mine.

Major Upgrade

Extensive modifications were made in upgrading both the underground and surface facilities to provide the support services and plant required for the successful introduction of modern mechanised mining systems.

The upgrade of the mine included a new mine fan installed on a 1500 feet (460ms) deep upcast shaft sunk in the Darkes Forest area, a new inclined cross measures drift providing both rail access from the mine surface to underground and the installation of a single flight cable belt drift conveyor 10,500 (3200 ms) feet in length and designed to deliver coal to a 400 tons per hour capacity Coal Preparation Plant.

Coalcliff Mine Surface Facilities, and Illawarra Coke Works
(Kembla Coal & Coke Company Publications)
Darkes Forest Mine Surface Facilities, 1972
(Kembla Coal & Coke Company Publications)

A 2000 ton capacity raw coal storage bin and a washed coal product storeage bins of 1600 tons capacity were installed on the surface. The direct rope mine haulage system and wide gauge rail track installed in the drift was designed to handle men and materials and heavy lift machinery movements to and from underground.

Largest Underground Coal Mine in Australia

During the 1970s a programme to further increase production began and included the sinking of three additional upcast shafts with mine fans installed and the construction of several large underground storage bins to complement the operations of an extensive mine wide underground trunk conveyor belt system.

In the 1960’s the Coalcliff mine became the largest underground coalmine in Australia, employing 988 men and achieving an annual production in excess of 1.7 million tonnes.

Darkes Forest

In 1971 a completely new mine was created at Darkes Forest to mine the western reserves of the Coalcliff mine leases. An access shaft was sunk, Administration and Bathhouse buildings were erected and a fully automatic personnel carrying lift and a mine ventilation fan installed on the shaft.

The Darkes Forest mine operated as a completely separate entity, dependent however, on the Coalcliff surface facilities and that mine’s underground and surface infrastructure for the supply and delivery plant and materials to and from underground. All coal produced by the mine was delivered by the Darkes Forest/Coalcliff underground panel/trunk conveyor systems to the Coalcliff Coal Preparation Plant at Coalcliff.


Both the Coalcliff and Darkes Forest mines closed in 1992, ending, in the case of the Coalcliff mine, 114 years of operation.

The mine site buildings and facilities were demolished with the exception of the brick Power House building.

The Coalcliff mine site mine site has been rehabilitated, the brick Powerhouse building remains standing, and the mine seam entries facing the sea at the old Jetty mine site have been sealed and are now overshadowed by the Seacliff Bridge.

The Coalcliff Mine
(Courtesy of the Clifton School of Arts Collection)
Coalcliff Miners
(Courtesy of the Clifton School of Arts Collection)


A Timeline – Jetty Mine

1797 (May)
Five crew from ship Sydney Cove find coal at Coal Cliffs
1797 (Aug)
Surgeon Bass confirms seam of coal at Coal Cliffs
Land in Coal Cliffs area owned by Sir Thomas Mitchell
Monopoly on coal mining granted to the Aus. Agricultural Company terminated
Sir Thomas Mitchell dies, land ownership passes to his son Campbell Mitchell
Mitchell sells land to Hon. MLA. Alexander Stuart (later Premier of NSW)
Adit driven into seam near sea level and jetty 152 metres in length erected
1878 (Jan)a
First shipment of coal despatched on steamer “Eagle”
1878 (June)b
Jetty washed away in storm severely damaged requiring major repairs
Second entry made and furnace shaft in service for mine ventilation
Jetty damaged again by storm, lengthy delay to production and work for miners
A. Stuart dies; partners create the Coalcliff Coal and Land Company (CC&LC)
The South Coast Rail line opens from Sydney to Wollongong.
CC&LC sell the mine to Ebenezer Vickery.
Mechanical ventilation fan installed at the Jetty Mine
Colliery owners name changes to E.Vickery and Sons Ltd.
Jetty damaged. Mine workings intersect faults and flooding from surface water
Mine shaft sunk to north west of Jetty mine, near to the S Coast Rail line and Shaft underground development workings linked to the Jetty mine workings
Earlier Vickery company name changed to Coalcliff Collieries Ltd
Jetty taken out of service as a despatch means of exporting coal.
The Coalcliff Colliery closed.
Mine entries at Jetty and Coalcliff Colliery sealed and buildings demolished.