Site Name:Mount Keira- Kemira Colliery
Address:No 450 Mt Keira Road Mt Keira ( Tourist Road 1 )
GPS Coordinates:H 302696 E 6190344 HSL 200 Metres
Site Access:Site in private ownership.
Mount Keira, Screening Plant ca 1900
(Courtesy of the University of Wollongong collection)

What’s There

Original (1857) Bulli Seam mine portal, surface workshop/mine store concrete floor slab, a brick flue and brick chimney (both remnants of original underground haulage steam power plant,) brick detonator and explosives magazine buildings.

The first commercial mine in the Illawarra

The Mt Keira (later Kemira) Colliery is of major importance in the history of mining in the Illawarra – both for the fact that it was the first commercial mine in the Illawarra, and because over its 143 years of operation it was a prime example of the major changes which occurred in the organisation of work, coal mining equipment, and the transport of coal over that period. (For example, in 1965 the first successful fully mechanised retreat longwall mining system in Australia was installed at this mine – a method now standard throughout the industry.) Opened in 1848 by a retired sea captain James Shoobert, its first coal was hauled through bush to a nearby depot by ox-drawn carts/sleds. In 1849 the first coal left that depot by horse-drawn cart for Wollongong Harbour, to be loaded on the steamer “William the Fourth” – the first commercial shipment of coal from the Illawarra.

Trains to the Harbour

Over the next 30 years the mine and its coal handling were progressively developed as ownership changed several times, with coal eventually being despatched via a self acting rail incline to a depot at the base of Mt Keira – the descending loaded wagon pulled an empty wagon back up the incline and was then hauled overland from the depot by horse to the Harbour. In 1861 the horse drawn tramway constructed from the base of the incline to the Harbour was upgraded to a full steel rail line. In 1876 the above self acting incline haulage system was replaced with a steam powered endless rope haulage using small coal skips, and a Screening plant was erected at the base of the incline. In 1890 the rail line system was connected to the State rail system to allow full rail haulage of coal by other mines in the district, to the much-expanded Wollongong Harbour.

Australian Iron and Steel Takes Over

In 1937, in a major reflection of the development of the local steel industry the colliery (by then owned by Ebenezer Vickery and Sons) was acquired by Australian Iron and Steel along with Mt Pleasant Colliery, to supply the steelworks. Substantial development work (including high voltage power supply and new mining equipment) then followed, notwithstanding the onset of World War 2, and industry disputation generally. Much of the equipment was manufactured by BHP/AIS under licence. The process of mechanisation continued, including the replacement of horse-drawn coal transport underground, and in 1949 culminating in the end of the long established and traditional Contract system of mining.

Development – then Demise

Subsequent years saw new shafts and tunnels developed, equipment added, and output increased. Manning levels reached a maximum at 497 men in 1969, with a peak of 770,684 tonnes of coal being extracted in the year to November 1979. The name Kemira (deriving from Kem(bla) and (Ke)ira) was officially adopted for the complex on 7 February 1955.

The drastic downturn in the steel industry in 1983 saw major production reductions, and industrial disputation with two thirds of the workforce retrenched. Later, with economically viable reserves exhausted, the colliery closed in 1991, as the oldest operating coal mine in Australia.The site has been rehabilitated.


A Timeline – Mt Keira Mine


Australian Agricultural Company coal monopoly in NSW relinquished: other parties now able to develop mines.
James Shoobert opens a tunnel in the No 3 Wongawilli Seam at Mt Keira, having tried unsuccessfully to open mines further north
Shoobert opens the Albert mine in the No2 Balgownie Seam, the first mine in the Illawarra.
First commercial Illawarra coal shipment from Shoobert’s Albert mine loaded on to the paddle steamer William the Fourth in Wollongong Harbour


Shoobert Mt Keira property and mine purchased at auction by Osborne and Robson (August)
Osborne and Robson open Osborne Wallsend mine in the No 1 Bulli Seam above the Albert Mine
A self-acting wide gauge inclinehaulage constructed from the mine portal to the base of Mt Keira (Gooyong Street)


Mount Keira Tramway Act promulgation 23rd May
Tramway completed to Wollongong Harbour from base of incline with wagons drawn initially by horse to the harbour.


The self-acting incline haulage replaced with a narrow gauge endless rope haulage and small coal skips.
Rail system upgraded for steam loco haulage and further facilities erected at base of the incline including screening plant and locomotive service buildings.


NSW Government Rail (NSWGR) purchases section of Mt Keira line from the GR rail level crossing (Beaton Park area) to the Harbour.


Mr Keira rail line connected to NSWGR rail line by a loop line
Osborne family sells Mt Keira Mine to Ebenezer Vickery and Son


Vickery family sells Mt Keira mine to Australian Iron and Steel (AIS) together with the Mt Pleasant Colliery.
AIS restores Mt Pleasant Power House to provide electricity supply by overhead line to the Mt Keira pit top, the No1 shaft ventilation fan and man shaft winder.


Mt Keira connected to a high capacity electric power system supplied by overhead power line from AIS Steelworks.
Abortive attempt made to mine No3 Wongawilli Seam from outcrop of seam at Mt Keira pit top. Mining conditions proved to be extremely difficult.
Driving commenced of haulage tunnel (Kemira Drift) 4.6 km long from Kemira Valley to meet Bulli Seam in Mt Keira mine. Major inter-union dispute over work.
Kemira Tunnel dispute with bans and limitations resolved in favour of AWU over Miners’Federation when Kemira Tunnel Arbitration Act was proclaimed
Contract mining system ended as result of progressive use of mechanised mining using coal cutting and coal loading machines, mine cars and battery locomotives.


1946 attempt to mine No 3 Wongawilli seam had continuing problems with roof support and surface water entry flooding mine workings and was abandoned.
Slack coal dumped over bank at pit top as part of earlier mining practice recovered by AIS and taken to Port Kembla Steelworks for use as a boiler fuel (through to 1955).
Major upgrade of mine ventilation commenced with several new ventilation shafts sunk and additional mine ventilation fans installed over the following three years.
Kemira Tunnel completed, surface coal handling facilities erected, and in-mine rail coal transport system with 25t diesel locos and 10t mine cars from underground
Caterpillar mounted continuous miners and rubber tyred cable reel shuttle cars progressively installed replacing track-mounted coal cutting, and loading machines.
Name of Mt Keira mine changed to “Kemira” from Kem(bla) and (Ke)ira.


Coal transport in mine and from underground to surface tunnel using diesel locos and mine cars replaced by panel and mine wide trunk belt conveyor systems.
First successful fully mechanised longwall retreat mining operation in Australia commenced at Kemira mine.


Longwall mining ceased after the equipment had completed the extraction of eight longwall mining panels producing 1.2 million tons of coal (Feb).


Inclined access roadway driven from the Bulli Seam in the No1 Shaft/7Right area to access and mine the Wongawilli seam. Above seam coal bins and belt roadways excavated adjacent to the Kemira Drift. Project hindered by reductions in employees, 1982 sit in and planned mine closure in 1991 .
Economic downturn. Two thirds of workforce retrenched, and a sixteen day sit-in by 30 miners attracted national attention (Oct).


Final closure of Kemira pit top with removal of plant at Mount Keira and the Kemira Tunnel area and the sealing of entries at both sites (Sept).


Major rehabilitation of the mine site on Mt Keira completed.