Longwall roof supports, South Bulli Colliery, 1975
(Courtesy of the Wollongong City Library and the Illawarra Historical Society Collections)

In 1861 Messrs. Taylor, Walker and Longmore (TW&L) leased land from Henry Osborne at Russell Vale about one and a half miles from a successful mine owned by Thomas Hale, and opened a mine. While Walker had some previous mining experience, Taylor and Longmore were farmers who became miners in their own mine. After encouraging production results in 1861 and early 1862 the partners obtained approval in 1862 for a rail line from the mine. That was constructed from the mine to enable both bullock and horse drawn wagons to be hauled to and from the Bellambi Point where a jetty was erected. 

Early Problem  

In September 1864 TW&L were declared bankrupt and ceased mining. This was also at a time of a State wide economic depression and a turn down in the coal trade. Following the mine’s closure the Osborne Bellambi Co-Operative Coal Mining Company was floated, with plans to raise the funds needed to take over the assets and liabilities of the TW&L and continue mining. These plans were not realised and the decision was made to sell the saleable assets of the company. The mine was to remain idle for twenty years. 

The Advent of South Bulli 

In 1885 the mine, rail line and jetty, in a derelict state, were leased by the Osborne family to a syndicate headed by Messrs. Saywell and Wilson who had formed the South Bulli Coal Mining Company to reopen the mine. Mine plant recovered from the abandoned Ringwood Colliery in the Southern Highlands, where Saywell had been a part owner, was installed at the mine, and a rail line from the mine was constructed, with capacity to accept haulage by steam locomotive, to a jetty erected at Bellambi Point. 

In 1887 the South Bulli New Tunnel Colliery (SBNTC), known more generally as the South Bulli Colliery was opened on 12th November. The optimism of the time was reflected in the celebrations of the day, hundreds of people gathering to partake of the “..superabundance [of inner man supplies] provided by the Company ”. The latter included roast bullock, sandwiches and “other eatables”, and casks of ale provided by three local hotels.   

The first coal was shipped by sea in that same year. Details of the capital expenditure outlaid to establish the mine, the operating costs and the estimated profit from the mine were provided in a press statement by Mr. Wilson a Director of the SBNTC and Manager of the Colliery. The data indicated the undertaking to be most profitable, and showed also the dominant role of labour costs in the mine’s overall cost of operation.  

Thomas Hale’s Mine

At this point, it should be noted that in 1857 a local business man Thomas Hale, had opened his Woonona mine a short distance to the north of the (later) South Bulli Colliery on land owned by Henry Osborne who acquired a half share in the mine in 1859. 

Coal from the Woonona mine was hauled in wagons by bullock and horse teams along a tramway to Bellambi Cove, where Hale had erected a jetty, the first to be constructed in Illawarra. Hale had been successful in establishing overseas export markets for his Woonona mine in both China and the USA.

The Woonona mine closed in 1863 as a result of financial difficulties related amongst others, to geological conditions encountered in the mine and the sinking of one of several vessels owned by Hale.

The Bellambi Coal Company and the Model Colliery     

The Woonona mine plant, tramway and jetty remained idle for twenty five years, until Joseph Mitchell and Woolcott-Waley approached the Osborne family in 1888 to reopen the mine and were offered a 50 year lease of 770 acres (310 ha) that included the earlier Woonona mine holdings. Mitchell and Waley were well known as coal contractors, engaged in purchasing coal and supplying ocean going steamers to the coal mining companies.

Mitchell and Waley established the Bellambi Coal Company (BCC) in 1888 and raised £60,000 in capital funds to reopen the Woonona Mine, naming the mine the Model Colliery.

The BCC purchased new and additional plant to complete the construction of the facilities required to establish a mine capable of producing 450 tons a day. As coal contractors and board members of the BCC, Mitchell and Waley made an offer to the Board of Directors of the company of a guaranteed price per ton for the purchase of all coal produced by the mine over a period of ten years. That offer was accepted.

New Rail and Jetty

With Joseph Mitchell in charge of the development and operation of the mine, changes were made to the mine access entries, and new plant was purchased for the incline haulage system and screening plant. A standard gauge rail line following closely along the route chosen earlier by Hale was constructed, and a new jetty was erected at Bellambi Point. The jetty was to play a central role in the company’s operations for many years. Whilst the mine was named the Model Colliery by the BCC, it was to remain known by the community as Hales/ Woonona colliery and later as the Bellambi Colliery.

The Model (Bellambi) and South Bulli Collieries Tramways and Jetties.

In 1893 the partnership between Mitchell and Waley as coal contractors to both the Bellambi and South Bulli mines was dissolved by mutual consent, with the coal contracting business of that partnership being taken up by the BCC. Joseph Mitchell moved out of the BCC to take up other roles in the local mining industry and Waley was appointed General Manager of the BCC based in the company’s Sydney Head Office. 

Joining South Bulli and Bellambi.

In 1902 South Bulli mine (bought by Ebenezer Vickery in 1890) was purchased by the BCC and this led to the progressive linking of the underground workings of the Bellambi and South Bulli Collieries with Mr. Thomas Cater at that time appointed as the manager of both mines.

In 1904 the South Bulli mine replaced the existing steam driven Waddle 20ft (6.0 m) diameter mine ventilation fan with a 26ft (8.0 m) diameter Walker Indestructible fan with the required capacity to ventilate both the South Bulli and the Bellambi mines.

Mine portal, South Bulli Colliery ca 1915
(Courtesy of the Wollongong City Library and the Illawarra Historical Society Collections)

At the South Bulli mine between 1908 to 1931 Gibson’s Tunnel was opened in the Balgownie Seam at the pit top and linked to the Bulli Seam above by an underground drift roadway. That enabled the underground to surface haulage systems, mine portal exit and surface incline haulage handling large capacity rail wagons (established in 1876) to be progressively abandoned. The older systems of haulage from underground to surface were replaced over a period by the underground to surface haulage system exiting the mine from Gibson’s Tunnel. This system was designed to deliver the coal skips to an endless rope inclined haulage system and a screening plant erected at the base of the incline. This work was completed in 1931. In the 1960’s the endless rope incline haulage system was replaced by a Decline conveyor belt.

Rapid Development

In 1909 a relatively high output capacity electric power generating plant was installed to meet the increased needs of the mines installed plant. This plant was also used to provide a domestic power supply to residents of the Shire of Bulli.

Power Generation Plant, South Bulli Colliery ca 1909
(Bellambi Coal Company, 1909)

As demonstrated by this development, the company and its mines were by 1909 well established, profitable and progressive. The company marked the occasion by publishing a descriptive and well-illustrated volume titled The Mines of the Bellambi Coal Co. Ltd, Southern Coal District, New South Wales. This depicted the full span of the company’s operations from underground coal extraction to the coaling of large ocean liners with whom the company had supply contracts. Selected photographs may be found here

Sawmilling   

In 1917 the Sassafras Saw-Mill and Timber Company erected a mill on top of and a short distance west of the escarpment, adjacent to Bellambi Creek. This mill was erected under the financial guidance of senior staff members the South Bulli Colliery including Mr. A. E. O. Sellers the Superintendent of the colliery.

The sawmill provided the roof support bars and pit props to both the South Bulli and Bellambi mines and sawn timber for the local and metropolitan building industry. All timber from the mill was delivered by an overhead flying fox system from the top of the escarpment to the Model mine screening plant. The pit timber was unloaded and initially taken underground by the Bellambi mine and the South Bulli mine, and as required when the mine workings of these mines were linked together. The sawn timber was unloaded from the flying fox into rail wagons and transported to a rail siding on the South Coast Rail line.

The End of the Bellambi Mine

The Bellambi mine closed for the last time in 1917, having suffered a number of earlier shutdowns and restarts, and whilst having had a long term supply contract to a customer in Germany, that was disrupted as a result of World War 1. It had seen nearly thirty years of continuous operation. 

Ongoing Upgrading    

In 1923 an application was made to the Water Board Authority by the South Bulli mine manager to sink a ventilation shaft on the Water Catchment area. Approval being granted, the sinking of the No1 shaft commenced and intersected the Bulli Seam in 1929. 

In the period 1928 to 1943 a new bathroom was erected at the mine, a 1500kW power generating plant was installed and an Aeroto Mine Ventilation Fan was installed on the No1 Shaft.

Mechanisation

In 1947 two scraper loaders were installed as the first step in introducing a mechanised system of mining. These scraper loaders were removed in 1954 and in the period 1947 to 1959 progressively replaced by Arcwall coal cutters and coal loaders, rubber tyred shuttle cars and continuous miners. In 1959 the hand mining Contract system ceased.

In the 1960/62 period the demand by local and overseas markets for coking coal of Bulli Seam quality increased and in anticipation of this demand a major modernisation of the mine commenced. This plan included the construction of a modern 650tph coal preparation plant (washery), and the installation of a mine wide underground trunk and panel conveyor belt haulage system complete with coal storage bins.

The installation of retreat longwall mining units in the Bulli Seam commenced in 1965 and whilst it did not achieve the desired results, the original equipment was replaced in 1975 with another retreat longwall package that was much better suited to controlling the roof conditions encountered in the mine. Ultimately two longwall units were operated in the Bulli Seam. In this same period conventional mining of the Balgownie Seam commenced and was replaced in 1965 with the longwall system.  

In the 1976/8 period the No4 ventilation shaft was sunk west of the existing mine entry portals and a man hoist winder installed along with surface bathroom, administration and lamp cabin facilities. This site was established to provide a principal means of access in and out of the mine by the employees and staff as opposed to travelling to and from the original mine entries on the escarpment.

Ownership Changes

In 1985 Austen and Butta Ltd (A&B) acquired the assets of the BCC Pty. Ltd. including the South Bulli mine . In 1992 A&B sold the total assets of the mine to the Shell Company. After completing a five year plan of mining the colliery in 1999, Shell sold the mine to Allied Coal Pty Ltd. 

Allied Coal carried out some mining for a relatively short period before placing the mine on care and maintenance in 2002 and later in that year, sold the mine to Bellpac Pty. Ltd. and engaged Thin Seam Mining Pty.Ltd to mine the Balgownie Seam from Gibson’s Tunnel on contract. Thin Seam Mining Pty Ltd. was placed in receivership in 2003 after only negligible mining of the Balgownie Seam.

Over the life of the South Bulli Colliery the mine has had many changes in ownership and has been responsible for some of the most progressive developments in mining practices in the area. These changes are noted in more detail in the timeline accompanying these notes. It had been a significant producer, having produced 500,000 tons in 1914 “..with men, boys and horses.”. By 1990 that had increased to just under 3,000,000 tons. 

At the time of preparing this information the mine is currently owned and operated by Wollongong Coal Ltd. a subsidiary of Jindal Steel and Power Ltd. (India)

Images of South Bulli Mine 

A selection of images of South Bulli mine and its operations, over various periods, may be found at 

Images 1887 – 1909 (Link 4)

Images 1910 – 1939 (Link 5)

Images 1940 – 1959 (Link 6)

Images 1960 – 1975 (Link 7).

 

TIMELINE

A Timeline – South Bulli Colliery

1861

Taylor, Walker and Longmore (TWL) lease land from Henry Osborne at Russel Vale

 

1862

TWL build rail line to and Jetty at Bellambi Cove and commence mining

 

1864 a

TWL declared insolvent – mining ceases

 

1864 b

Osborne Bellambi Co-operative Coal Mining Company formed to keep mine open

 

1865 a

Company fails to obtain funding, mine assets sold, mine closed

 

1885 b

Saywell and Wilson granted lease to reopen mine. Build new rail line and Jetty

 

1887

Mine opens as South Bulli New Tunnel Colliery and first coal shipped from the jetty

 

1890

Mine sold to Ebenezer Vickery

 

1898

Jetty washed away

 

1902

South Bulli Mine purchased by the Bellambi Coal Company from Ebenezer Vickery

 

1903

BHP Company erects a cokeworks adjacent to Bellambi Rail Station. Coal supplied by South Bulli mine. Coke shipped to Port Pirie South Australia

 

1903 a

Oil flame safety lamps in use at the mine

 

1903 b

Mr. R. J. Cram rebuilding washed away jetty

 

1904

Steam driven “Walker’’ designed mine ventilation fan 26ft (8m) in diameter and capable of producing 600,000 cubic ft. (17,000 cubic metres )of ventilation air at a water gauge of 6 inches (150mm) installed at the pit top to replace the earlier ‘’Waddle’’ designed mine fan. This fan ventilated both the South Bulli and the Bellambi mines. .

 

1905

Rebuild of jetty completed by R.G. Cram

 

1908 a

Two of company steam locos collide near the Jetty. 1 loco driver dies of shock

 

1908 b

Road accident at rail level crossing of the Bulli road. 1 person killed, 8 injured

 

1908 c

Record output of 1850 tons achieved on June 4th.

 

1908 d

Company operating a fleet of 4 coastal colliers to transport coal to Sydney

 

1908 e

New Collier SS Bellambi takes on its first shipment at the South Bulli jetty

 

1908 f

Gibson’s Tunnel (named the West Tunnel) opened in the Balgownie Seam at the pit top to replace original 1887 tunnel entry. Haulage system to haul coal through an inclined drift from the Bulli Seam to the surface. A new Bulli seam to surface, incline endless rope haulage system under construction

 

1909 a

New mine screening plant erected at the bottom of the incline and above U/G to surface Incline endless rope haulage installation completed and run for the first time.

 

1909

First of 300 new coal wagons on order arrive from Goninan & Company

 

1909 b

s.s. “Resolute” wrecked on the Bellambi Reef.

 

1909 c

Gates installed at level crossing of the main Wollongong to Bulli road

 

1909 d

Electric power generating plant in service

 

1911

s.s. ‘’Marjorie’’ towed off the Bellambi Reef

 

1913 a

Light house erected at South Bulli jetty in service

 

1913 b

Domestic power supply commenced to the Shire of Bulli

 

1914 a

Bellambi Colliery closes. This colliery located adjacent to South Bulli. Later the mine workings of these two mines joined to become the South Bulli Mine

 

1914 b

No1 and No2 steam boilers installed.

 

1915

Bellambi Colliery partially reopened

 

1916

Bellambi Colliery closed

 

1917 a

Bellambi Colliery reopened

 

1917 b

Bellambi Colliery closed.

 

1917 c

Underground man transport system placed in service.

 

1917 d

Sawmill erected behind the escarpment at Bellambi Creek to supply pit for the South Bulli and Bellambi mines and sawn timber builders a timber suppliers

 

1917 e

No3 and No4 steam boilers installed

 

1918

s.s. ‘’Undola’’ departs Bellambi jetty 20th Dec. reported missing 23rd Dec.

 

1919

Air brake coal wagons railed to Sydney for the first time

 

1923

Application lodged to sink a ventilation shaft in the Water Catchment area

 

1927

Official opening of the Southern Mines Rescue Station at Bellambi (8/7/1927)

 

1914 b

No1 and No2 steam boilers installed.

 

1928

Mine bathroom opened

 

1929

No1 Mine Ventilation Shaft strikes coal at 1050ft (320 ms) below the surface

 

1931 a

Partial changeover of North West Tunnel to the West Tunnel and Surface incline

 

1931 b

All coal handled via the West Tunnel and endless rope incline haulage completed

 

1935 a

Bellambi cokeworks closed.

 

1935 b

First Arcwall coal cutter commences operating

 

1936

Second Arcwall coal cutter commences operating

 

1939

1500kW Turbine power plant installed

 

1940

Aeroto type mine ventilation fan installed at the No1 shaft

 

1941

South West Tunnel ceases coal production

 

1943

Underground man transport system extended further underground

 

1944

New boilers installed at the No1 Boiler Plant

 

1944

Call up issued to employees 18-25yrs of age.

 

1947

5 weeks strike Kemira Tunnel dispute

 

1948

5 weeks strike Kemira Tunnel dispute

 

1947

Two scraper loaders commenced on production

 

1949 a

West Tunnel closed down

 

1949 b

Four Mavour and Coulson coal loading machines placed in service

 

1949 c

s.s. ‘’Munmorah’’ wrecked on Bellambi Reef

 

1953 a

Bathroom completed at the pit top (brick construction)

 

1953 b

Last shipment from jetty completed ( SS Tuggerah 603 tons)

 

1954 a

Crushing plant in service at the screening plant

 

1954 b

Lighthouse at the Jetty taken out of service

 

1954 c

Sinking of No2 Ventilation Shaft completed and Aerex mine fan installed

 

1954 d

Two scraper loaders cease operations /p>

 

1954 e

A Jeffrey L600 coal loader, a model 20U Jeffrey coal cutter, two Jeffrey battery locomotives, and 6 ton capacity drop bottom mine cars installed to commence the mechanised system of mining.

 

1955 a

Coal crusher installed at pit top and decline conveyor to screening plant in service.

 

1955 b

Automatic telephone system installed

 

1955 c

Two bays of the jetty removed on 18/8 to prevent public access. On the 20/8 the jetty was washed away.

 

1956

A second Jeffrey L600 coal loader was installed.

 

1959 a

A Lee Norse oscillating head continuous miner (the first in Australia) was installed along with a Joy Continuous miner, a Joy Roof bolter and 4 Jeffrey cable reeling Shuttle cars.

 

1959 b

Contract mining ceased

 

1960/62

A major upgrade of the mine facilities commenced and included plans for the construction of (1) coal preparation plant, (2)The installation of a 600 tons per hour capacity single flight underground to surface conveyor belt 6.56km in length and the construction of underground coal storage/feeder bins

 

1962 a

A Joy continuous miner with roof bolting rigs and 4 Jeffrey cable reeling Shuttle cars were installed.

 

1962

First shipment of coal to Japan as part of a 2yr contract to supply 410,000 tons

 

1962 b

Underground storage bins and a rework of the pit top area workshops, office and man transport facilities completed.

 

1965

A fully mechanised retreat longwall mining unit installed in the Bulli Seam

 

1967

Mechanised mining of the No2 Balgownie Seam commences in addition to the long established mining of the No1 Bulli Seam above

 

1969/70a

Colliery separated into two mines, “A’’ mine in the Balgownie Seam and ‘’B’’ mine in the Bulli Seam

 

1970 b

A second retreat longwall system installed in the ‘’B’’ mine (Bulli Seam) with varying degrees of success

 

1970 c

A fully mechanised retreat longwall mining unit installed in the ‘’A’’ mine.

 

1971/2

Underground to surface belt 600 tph conveyor belt system 6.5 km in length installed over the Christmas holiday break period

 

1972

450 tph coal preparation plant in service

 

1975

A Taiheiyo retreat longwall package was installed in the’’B’’ mine resulting in greatly improved reliability and daily output production.

 

1976/78a

A No4 Ventilation Shaft was sunk. A shaft man hoist winder installed along with surface bathhouse and administration buildings. This site was established as the principal means of access by employees to and from the mine.

 

1978 b

Refuse from the Coal preparation plant being placed on an adjacent 60 hectare site to assist in the development of the Russell Vale 18 hole golf course

 

1985

Austen and Butta Ltd. acquire the assets of The Bellambi Coal Company Pty. Ltd. and become the owners of the South Bulli Colliery.

 

1992

Austen and Butta sell the total assets of the South Bulli mine to the Shell Company

 

1997

Shell completes a 5yr plan of mining and sells the mine to Allied Bellambi Collieries Pty. Ltd.

 

1999

Ownership of the mine changed to Allied Coal Pty. Ltd

 

2001

The Gibson’s Tunnel in the Balgownie Seam at the pit top rehabilitated, in preparation for mining under contract to Allied Coal Pty. Ltd. by the Thin Seam Mining Pty. Ltd. Company of the USA.

 

2002 a

Allied Coal Pty.Ltd. Longwall operations in the Bulli Seam of the South Bulli mine cease. Continued mining determined by the Company as uneconomical.

 

2002 b

Allied Coal Pty Ltd. places the South Bulli mine on a care and maintenance basis, to be overseen by the Thin Seam Mining Pty. Ltd company of the USA on behalf of Allied Coal Pty. Ltd.

 

2002 c

Bellpac Pty. Ltd. purchase the South Bulli mine.

 

2003

The Gibson’s Tunnel mine closed. The Thin Seam Mining Pty. Ltd company in receivership.

 

2004

Bellpac Pty Ltd. sell the South Bulli mine to Gujarat NRE Mining Pty. Ltd.

 

2005

Gujarat NRE Australia Pty. Ltd rehabilitate the underground mine workings, and commence mining as the NRE No 1 Mine Colliery

 

2014

Problems in the Gujarat NRE group lead to mine layoffs etc.

 

2015

Mine ownership currently held by Wollongong Coal Pty. Ltd. a subsidiary of Jindal Steel & Power Ltd. India

 

2015

All mineworkers laid off as a result of delays in obtaining Government approvals