|The view of Bulli and
Wollongong from Sublime Point
Former coalmining village which has retained its identity
despite its suburbanization.
The old coalmining village of Bulli, now considered a
northern suburb of Wollongong, is located 70 km south of
Sydney via the Princes Highway.
When Captain James Cook sailed up the eastern coast of
Australia in 1770 a number of people aboard the Endeavour
recorded their impressions of the shoreline. It is from the
journals of the ship's botanist, Joseph Banks, that we have
a description of what Bulli looked like before Europeans had
even set foot on it:
'The country today again made in slopes to the sea...The
trees were not very large and stood separate from each other
without the least underwood; among them we could discern
many cabbage trees but nothing else which we could call by
any name. In the course of the night many fires were seen.
Originally inhabited by the Wodi Wodi Aborigines the
first Europeans in the area were escaped convicts. On a more
official note, the small sailing boat of explorers George
Bass and Matthew Flinders overturned at Towradgi just to the
south of Bulli in 1796 and they encountered large numbers of
Aborigines in awkward circumstances (see entry on
In 1797, the area was traversed by the survivors of the
wreck of the Sydney Cove. The ship beached on the Furneaux
Islands in Bass Strait. Seventeen of the crew set out by
boat but were again wrecked at Point Hicks in Victoria and
continued the journey by land. Only three survived the
arduous trip to Sydney. George Bass undertook an eight-day
trip with two of the survivors intended to seek out two
crewmen left behind in the Illawarra (their bodies were
found, presumed murdered by local Aborigines) and to
investigate the survivors' reports of coal south of Sydney
which Bass found at Coalcliff just north of Bulli.
The name 'Bulli' derives from an Aboriginal word thought
to signify 'two mountains'. It was used from 1815 to
describe the area from Bulli south to Mt Keira. That year
Charles Throsby opened up the Illawarra to settlement when
he hacked a path down the slopes of the Bulli mountain in
search of pasture for his cattle.
Cedar-getters had been inf the Illawarra since 1812 and
were to be found in the Bulli area by 1815. They cut the
timber where it fell and carted it to the beach for shipment
to Sydney, or hauled it up the Bulli pass for transportation
by bullock train to Parramatta.
The first permanent settler was Cornelius O'Brien who
established a farm in 1823 on the land that stretches inland
from Sandon Point, now one of the Illawarra's best-regarded
surfing spots. He used convict labour and, with the help of
local Aborigines, carried out fishing and whaling.
In 1837 O'Brien sold his land to Captain Robert
Westmacott who extended his land, bred race horses which he
raced in the first local horse races, founded a brickworks
(an industry still operative today), co-founded a steamship
company which travelled to and from Sydney, cut a superior
path down Bulli Mountain which is still in use today as the
Bulli Pass, made many sketches and paintings of the local
area, helped organise the first local agricultural society
and established the first coalmine in the region. He was
however ruined by the depression of the 1840s and returned
A mine was opened in 1862. Miner's cottages were built
and a tight-knit community developed with hotel, Wesleyan
church and shops. By the end of that decade it was the most
productive mine in the district employing nearly 100 men.
The Bulli Coal Company laid a rail track from the mine to
Sandon Point where the coal was conveyed to ships.
For the workers, there was no set weekly wage and no
benefits. They were only paid for what they produced. Weekly
contributions were paid into a fund to help the men and
their families who lost their income as a result of
sickness, injury or death. They formed the Illawarra's first
trade union in 1879. As a result, management closed the
mines, evicted workers and brought in non-union labour.
On 23 March 1887 an explosion killed all 81 men and boys
working in the mine, leaving behind 50 widows and 150
children. The mine reopened later that year and the township
continued to develop.
With a population greater than Wollongong, Bulli had a
railway station, bank, courthouse and other amenities.
Slowly it was overtaken by Wollongong so that today it is no
more than a northern suburb of the third largest city in New
The mine was closed down in 1987 after 125 years of
operation. A number of old timber cottages, shops and other
buildings survive from the nineteenth century.
Things to see:
There is a tourist information centre in Wollongong, tel:
(02) 4228 0300.
|Bulli Miner's Cottage
Bulli Miner's Cottage
About 1 km south from the bottom of the Bulli Pass the
highway passes under a railway overpass which bares a sign
declaring your entry into the 'Black Diamond Township' of
Just beyond the overpass, to the right, at no.200, is The
Bulli Miner's Cottage. Built some time before 1842 it
provides considerable insight into the typical material
circumstances of a 19th-century miner's family. Remarkably
seven children and their parents lived together at one time
in this small structure. It has been described as "a very
rare substantially intact survivor of a building style
common to Bulli in the mid to late nineteenth century".
The cottage is of a rough-hewn slab construction with
pit-sawn plank walls of hardwood timber. The roof, once
shingled, probably with ironbark, is now of corrugated iron.
There are a number of mining artefacts and furnishings from
the mid to late nineteenth century and, behind the cottage,
the memorial wall recalls over 600 men who have lost their
lives in the region's mines from 1887 to the present. How
many died before then is not known.
Adjoining this building is the Denmark Hotel, built of
locally-produced bricks. Sadly run-down but now being
restored, the inn was erected by Danish immigrant Peter
Orvard. It consists of a central building dating from 1886
and lodging quarters at the rear that were originally
extensions made in 1878 to an earlier inn Orvard built in
1877. The 1886 upgrade was to cater to the growth of trade
brought by the approaching railway. It ceased to function as
an hotel in 1907.
Bulli Uniting Church
On the other side of the road is the district's
oldest-surviving building, and the oldest Wesleyan stone
church in the Illawarra, the Uniting Church, built in 1865
on land donated by William Somerville.
Continue along the highway to the traffic lights at the Park
Rd intersection. The restaurant on the north-eastern corner
was designed by noted architect William Wardell. It has
recently been restored and looks much as it did when it
opened in 1888 as a bank. Inside are photographs and
ornamentation dating from the late nineteenth century.
|Bulli Family Hotel
Bulli Family Hotel
Just past the lights, to the right, is the Bulli Family
Hotel, undoubtedly the most impressive building in the
district. Opened in 1889 this huge three-storey High
Victorian public house is one of the township's most
prominent landmarks. At the time of its construction it was
common for visitors to the area, most of whom arrived via
the newly completed railway line or down the bush track
known as Bulli Pass, to stay at both Bulli and Wollongong.
Customers included two governors-general and noted
politician Henry Parkes who addressed a public meeting here
in 1893. Classified by the National Trust in 1977, the Bulli
Family Hotel remains largely in its original condition. The
beautiful cast-iron balcony, fluted iron columns, elaborate
moulded trim and frosted bar windows with original
inscriptions have been preserved and the 'Bulli bricks' with
which it was built are still intact.
Park Rd and Bulli Mining Disaster Memorial
East along Park Rd are some old cottages, a shop and, to the
right, just before the railway bridge, the old station
master's residence, all dating from the late 19th century.
On the far side of the bridge, to the left, is a small park
wherein lies an obelisk erected by the government in the
wake of strong public sentiment over the Bulli Mine
disaster. It bears the names of the dead.
St Augustine's Church of England
Continue along Park Rd to St Augustine's Church of England.
62 miners were buried in this brick building with leadlight
windows, designed by Edmund Blacket in 1882. Unfortunately,
later extensions encroached upon the old graveyard which was
eventually displaced by a columbarium. The parish hall was
built in 1899.
Park St East
Further along Park Rd are a number of more substantial
buildings with iron lacework verandahs erected for the
middle class in the early twentieth century. Near the end of
the road is St Joseph's Catholic Church (1900) and convent
(1904). The school was built in 1882. It was originally
situated adjacent the first Bulli Catholic Church (on the
highway) and moved to this site in 1906.
|Black Diamond Heritage
Black Diamond Heritage Centre
Return along Park Rd and turn left into Franklin Ave. To the
right is the eastern platform of Bulli railway station which
was built in 1887 and saved from demolition in 1989 by the
community. For those interested in the history of the area
and its buildings the Black Diamond Heritage Centre is open
here on Sundays from 10.00 a.m. to 4.00 p.m.
|A steam train outside the
Black Diamond Heritage Centre
Historic Buildings - South Bulli
There are a number of historic buildings along the highway
south of Park Rd, including some old cottages and
parapet-fronted shops on the eastern side of the highway,
the Masonic Temple (1885) and, if you turn right into
Hospital Rd, Bulli Hospital (1893). Farrell Rd which runs
out to the sea contains some beautifully restored federation
houses and further south along the highway is the former
police station, originally a courthouse which was built in
1882 to avoid the long trek to Wollongong Court.
After visiting Bulli head north along the highway to the
bottom of Bulli Pass. If you turn right here you can visit
Thirroul and return to Sydney via Lawrence Hargrave
Drive. This road hugs the impressive coastline and allows
you to wend your way through some attractive old coalmining
Alternatively you can return to Sydney via Bulli Pass. It
is hard, when it only takes a few minutes, to imagine how
slow and precipitous the trek up the Pass once was. One
thing that can be appreciated, as you rise above the coastal
plain, is the beauty and density of the sub-tropical
rainforest which stood densely on either side of the
original track. The views are magnificent but are most
safely contemplated from the lookouts atop the Pass.
Bulli Pass Scenic Reserve
When you reach the top of the Pass, take the second right,
signposted for Helensburgh, Campbelltown and Bulli Pass
Scenic Reserve. You will be quickly confronted with a choice
between a road to the far left (the Old Princes Highway) and
one that more or less goes straight ahead (signposted for
Campbelltown). Make sure you take the branch to your left
(signposted for Helensburgh and Bulli Pass Scenic Reserve).
This curves around under the Appin Road and through a
cutting. Immediately at the end of the cutting a sign
directs you to turn right to Bulli Pass Scenic Reserve.
As you turn off the highway you can either drive straight
ahead into the carpark of Panorama House or turn right along
a track that leads, after 500 m, to the Scenic Reserve where
there is a cafe and a lookout perched vertiginously at the
edge of the escarpment, furnishing spectacular views over
the Illawarra coastline spread out below. It was here on
October 19, 1920 that a ceremony was held to officially name
the new coast road from Sydney to Melbourne the Princes
Highway, after the then Prince of Wales.
Walk back along the driveway to Panorama House. Adjacent
the carpark is a clearing. At its eastern edge, near the
cliff, is the start of a 1.5-km bushwalking track to Sublime
From this quite stunning vantage point you can see a massive
sweep of coastline with the Illawarra stretching out below
on the flatlands between the mountain and the deep blue of
the sea. Experience it and realise that few places on
Australia's east coast can match this scenery which compares
with the Carmel-Monterey region of California.
Governor Lachlan Macquarie wrote of 'this grand prospect'
when he stood near this spot in 1822 during a trip to the
'On our arrival at the summit of the mountain, we were
gratified with a very grand magnificent bird's eye view of
the ocean, the 5 Islands, and of the greater part of the low
country of Illawarra...The whole face of the mountain is
clothed with the largest and finest forest trees I have ever
seen in the colony'. However, he also noted that most of the
red cedar had already been 'cut down and carried away to
Today there is a kiosk, toilets, picnic and barbecue
facilities and two walking tracks at the southern edge of
the clearing which lead down the precipitous escarpment or
back to Bulli Pass Scenic Reserve.
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