The Southern Coal Company (SCC) was a major coal mining company floated in London to open a coal mine in the Bulli Seam, on the south eastern slopes of Mount Kembla.  In 1888 the SCC commenced the mining of the Bulli Seam from its outcrop, and the construction of an endless rope incline down the mountain side in an area that included Portions 311,123 and 320, Parish of Kembla, County of Camden.

The incline was designed to deliver the mined coal down the escarpment in small coal skips, using an endless rope haulage, to a screening plant erected at the base of the incline along with offices, steam locomotive facilities, sheds and workshops. SCC also undertook the construction of a railway line from the mine site to a jetty erected at Port Kembla.  These works were all carried out in the same period of time.[1] The standard gauge railway line terminated at Red Point, now known as Port Kembla.  There a jetty with modern design features and some 1400 ft in length was built by the Company, to accommodate the loading of large carrying capacity, ocean going ships from wagons hauled to the jetty by the company’s locomotives.[2]

In 1888 the Company also, in conjunction with a business partner, undertook the erection of a battery of beehive coke ovens adjacent to the railway at Unanderra.  Its purpose was to absorb the duff coal generated at their own mine under construction on Mount Kembla as well as from other mines in the area.  These coke ovens were known as the Australian Coke Making Company Ltd Ovens.  All of the items included in this large project undertaken by SCC were completed on schedule, except for the planned development of the underground workings of the mine itself, the principal reason for the project.

A Major Problem

In driving the main tunnels from the outcrop at the mine, while good quality coal was found at the outcrop, quality soon deteriorated as the tunnels developed.  The material encountered was later described by L.F. Harper,[3] (a well-known coal geologist of the time) as “very carbonaceous clay with coaly partings” caused by the presence of a Master Channel in the Bulli Seam, into which the tunnels had been driven.  While the SCC continued mining for some time, coal of saleable quality was not found and the plans to open a mine were abandoned.  As the coal initially mined was inferior, the first ship to use the Company’s jetty was loaded with coal purchased by the company from other Illawarra mines.  The underground and other developments on Mount Kembla themselves, and the infrastructure supporting the mining operations, were abandoned in 1890.  It was a curious situation for a major project.

In order to meet coal orders already accepted by the company and generate some revenue from their financial outlay at the mine site, coke ovens plant, railway and jetty, the company leased the abandoned Brokers Nose colliery at Corrimal, and quickly upgraded the plant at that mine to meet their accepted coal sales commitments. Much of the plant already installed at, and that being delivered for, the abandoned Mount Kembla mine, and associated labour resources were used to develop the mine operations at Corrimal.

Master Channel in the Bulli Seam
From  Harper, L.F. “The Geology and Mineral Resources of the
Southern Coalfields” 1915, p.87.

The steam locomotive sheds erected at the abandoned Mount Kembla mine were relocated to a site adjacent to the coke ovens at Unanderra, and the workshops and screening and incline haulage plant were dispatched to the Corrimal mine.  The remaining Mount Kembla mine facilities, including the railway line from that mine to the coke ovens plant at Unanderra was later removed.  In 1902 the Southern Coal Company was reconstituted, becoming the Corrimal Balgownie Collieries Limited.

Corrimal-Balgownie Colliery Miners, 1902
From the collections of the Wollongong City Library
and the Illawarra Historical Society P19667

In 1912 the coke ovens plant at Unanderra was closed, when the Corrimal Balgownie Collieries Ltd opened a coke ovens plant, adjacent to the Corrimal Railway Station.

Southern Coal Company Jetty – Port Kembla[4]
From the collection of Ron Cairns

The sealed brick and stone portals at the abandoned SCC mine remain to this day.  Additional steel structures have been recently added to these portals to satisfy current requirement for sealing of mine portals.  Earth cuttings can be found in undergrowth on the heavily timbered south eastern slopes of Mount Kembla that trace the route of the incline from the mine portals down the mountain side.  The site of the screening plant and workshops are believed to have been in the vicinity of Callistemon Road and Argyle Place, that adjoin the south western extremities of Staff Road, Unanderra.  There is no remaining evidence of the standard gauge railway line leading away from this area but some circa.1940 Wollongong City Council aerial photographs reveal sections of the rail embankment that existed.

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[1] Illawarra Mercury (IM) 21st June, 1888.

[2] Hoogendoorn W. Captain. “1898–1998 Roadstead to Port” 1999, pp.8-9.

[3] Harper, L.F. “The Geology and Mineral Resources of the Southern Coalfields” 1915, p.87.

[4] Harper, L.F. “The Geology and Mineral Resources of the Southern Coalfields” 1915, Plate X111.