The industrial development of the Illawarra region (and agricultural development also) depended not only on the inherent ability to produce in the area, but also on the ability to transport product to other markets than the Illawarra itself.  Access to economically viable transport was central to development.  Virtually all industries of significant scale – from the earliest, the cedar getters – were transport dependent.

Early Timber Getters of the Illawarra
Courtesy of the Wollongong City Library
and the Illawarra Historical Society (P18110) Collections

That dependence was complicated by the topography of the region.  It comprises a narrow and relatively flat coastal strip progressively rising to the escarpment which defines the western edge of the region.  The coastal strip itself is much variable in width, with the foot of the escarpment virtually meeting the sea in some northern sections.

The escarpment is steep, and rises between 300m and 750m.  As discussed elsewhere the coast is rocky, and mostly open to sometimes rough seas.  So the provision of reliable transport for both people and products in and out of the region was no easy task.

Initially sea travel or quite arduous land travel were the two options available to freight and people.  For people, sea travel presented the hazard of seasickness travelling in small ships; for those who elected to undertake land travel by coach as an alternative, an early part of the journey required of all fit passengers a steep walk up a rough road rising nearly three hundred metres, on the northern exit from the region, Bulli Pass.

Bulli Pass, Halfway
Courtesy of the Wollongong City Library
and the Illawarra Historical Society (P03543) Collections

Freight on the other hand was largely dependent on shipping, through a number of privately built jetties.  Not surprisingly the people of the region agitated for a better service – and the alternative sought was railway.  This was in part influenced by the introduction by colliery owners of private rail systems to transport their output from mines on the escarpment to their jetties.  Demonstration of the success of that reinforced public preference for a public rail system connecting to Sydney, the main market for the region.

So ultimately two forms of rail were to serve the region.  The first comprised the private company railways running generally in an easterly direction from the mines on the escarpment, to private jetties, with their ‘loaded’ direction being essentially downhill or flat.  Some seven such systems were to be built over the years, delivering coal to jetties at Austinmer, Bulli, Bellambi, Wollongong Harbour, and Port Kembla.  The main trunk line, on the other hand, ran broadly north-south, traversing terrain with steep slopes, and in a number of areas, decidedly unstable hillsides.

The South Coast line, running from the Illawarra Junction in Sydney to Bomaderry on the northern side of the Shoalhaven River from Nowra, opened in 1887 but was the object of upgrading and rectification for many years.  These were due to both capacity increases, and also operational problems arising from the steepness of parts of the line, and instability of the slopes along which the line ran.  Following the completion of the line, some further private colliery lines were run, connecting with the main rail line rather than jetties as had been the case with the earlier private lines.

Rail Lines at Brighton Beach, Wollongong ca 1910
Courtesy of the Wollongong City Library
and the Illawarra Historical Society (P04884) Collections

The story of rail development in the Illawarra is a reflection of the development of the region as a whole, in both its private and public sector participation.  This story is at:

Colliery Railway Haulage in the Illawarra


Government Rail Lines in the Illawarra


This page and the related pages above used material from a number of sources including:

J Maynes, The Moss Vale – Unanderra Rail Link Illawarra Historical Society, Dec 1985.  Available at  261017

E.C Rowland, The South Coast Railway, Illawarra Historical Society, Wollongong nd.  Available at 261017

OF Jacobson Illawarra Mountain Railway, Illawarra Historical Society, Wollongong 1977.

C.C. Singleton, Railway History in Illawarra, New South Wales, Illawarra Historical Society,Wollongong, 65p. 4th edition.  First published in November 1964.  Fourth edition, with illustrations and photographs, 1984.

J.L.N. Southern A Railway History of the Illawarra BHP Papers, The broken Hill Proprietary Co Ltd, Melbourne, Dec 1978

Wikipedia, Maldon – Dombarton Railway Line .  Available at 261017

Gifford Eardley Transporting the Black Diamond Traction Publications, Canberra 1968.

John Oakes Sydney’s Forgotten Illawarra Railways Australian Railways Historical Society, Sydney, 2009