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Page Sections: Land Grants | Early Residents | Early Industry | Early Transport | Historic Buildings | Environment | Timeline | Bibliography


Traditional Custodians of Illawarra Land

Local communities of Aboriginal people were the original inhabitants and Traditional Custodians of Illawarra Land. Their dialect is a variant of the Dharawal language. Before European settlement, the Aboriginal people of the region lived in small family groups with complicated social structures and close associations with specific areas. Suburb boundaries do not reflect the cultural boundaries of the local Aboriginal community. Traditional Custodians today are descendants of the original inhabitants and have ongoing spiritual and cultural ties to the Land and waterways where their ancestors lived.​

Parish of Woonona County of Camden

The name Bulli appears to have been first recorded in the Sydney Gazette of 22 April 1815 when it was reported that one of a party searching for lost cedar-getters was at a place called "Bolye", thirty-five miles south of Port Jackson. In 1823 reference was made to a small land holding at "Bull Eye".

A 300 acre grant was promised to Cornelius O'Brien on 31 March 1821. His quit rent of six shillings a year was to commence on 1 January 1827. Cornelius O'Brien's house was the only one in this part of the district for some years. It was on the property of Cornelius O'Brien, and his neighbour William Bowman, that the township of Bulli was built. In 1841 the estate of Bulli, consisting of 900 acres, was offered for private sale. Later the estate was subdivided into farms of from 25 to 165 acres. For many years the name Bulli was used for all the country from Wollongong north to Coal Cliff. The original Aboriginal name for the area was Bulla or Bulla Bulla, meaning "two mountains" (Mt Kembla & Mt Keira). Other meanings of the name Bulli have been given as "white grubs" and "place where the Christmas Bush grows". (Place names of the Wollongong Region)

Land Grants

Cornelius O'Brien

In response to Cornelius O'Brien's application for a grant of land Governor Macquarie's successor, Sir Thomas Brisbane, granted him three hundred acres. The Grant was selected in the vicinity of Bulli and the deed was dated 31 March 1821. The grant extended to the sea between Bulli Point and Woniora Point in the east; it was bounded on the north by James Christianson's grant; on the south by Farrell's grant and on the west by the mountain range. In 1836 the land was sold to Robert Marsh Westmacott.

Cornelius O'Brien migrated to Australia at the age of sixteen. He was married to Catherine Browne. In the intervening years between his arrival in Australia, and his application for a grant, proof was evident of his owning cattle. In the "Sydney Gazette" of October 18, 1817 it is listed that, as a contractor to the army, he supplied two thousand pounds of beef to the government. (King, 1965)

Peggy McGawley

In 1828 Bulli was known as Bowman's Estate. Bowman was the grantee, and the Estate consisted of three hundred acres. The only residents of Bulli were Peggy McGawley, Cornelius O'Brien, and the Gerraty brothers ( James and Patrick). The latter occupied a grant of one hundred acres adjoining McGawley's.

In late 1820 four convicts ran away from their master at Appin and travelled down over the Bulli mountains to Peggy McGawley's. Here they stole a fowling piece, and then went to the adjoining farm where the Gerraty brothers lived. Peggy McGawley sent a little girl by a short cut to tell her neighbours that the bushrangers had taken a gun from her house and were out for mischief. Jim Gerraty shot and killed one of these convicts. The convict was buried at the corner of Peggy McGawley's Point north of the Bellambi jetties. (Young, 1989)

Other grants to be made in the Bulli area were one of three hundred acres to William Bowman; one of one hundred acres to George Tate; and small grants to R M Westmacott, P Callaghan and John Kelly at Woonona. (Lindsay, 1994)

According to Royal Australian Historical Society data, the town of Bulli stands on original land grants to Cornelius O'Brien, William Bowman and George Tate. (Illawarra Mercury, 1/6/94 p.21)

Early Residents

Alexander Ross

In July 1868 the board of the Bulli Coal Company donated fifty pounds and land valued at one hundred pounds for the establishment of a public school. The land was on the western side of the road just north of the Company railway.
Alexander Ross, manager of the Bulli Coal Mine, occupied the Chair. After the opening, Bulli Coal Company entertained about two hundred children to tea and buns in the playground and three hundred parents and friends to tea in the tent erected for the occasion. Alexander Ross, Richard White and Samuel Smedley were appointed members of the school board on 1 October 1869.
In the 1880's the Bulli Coal Company Directors granted a sum for the purchase of prizes which were presented on 23 December - break up day - by Alexander Ross. Prior to the presentation the "pupils gave recitations and otherwise entertained an interested audience….". (Ninety Years On, 1959)

G S Turnbull

The coal mining village of Bulli obtained an official Post Office on 1 October 1869. It was situated near the present corner of the Princes Highway and Hobart Street. Post Master G S Turnbull received and despatched the mail. Turnbull's salary for running the Post Office was £12 per annum.
Post Master Turnbull erected a new Post Office building in 1879. It consisted of a large room adjoining his general store and let to the Postal Department in conjunction with another three rooms used for the existing Post Office. The Telegraph Office was moved from Bulli Point to these new premises and J H Miller became the Post and Telegraph Master. Turnbull's services to the community were recognized when he presented with an address at Wilson's Assembly Room in 1879. (Roberts & Smith, 1993; Illawarra Mercury, 30/5/1879)

Early Industry

Bulli, a small coal mining township located at the northern end of the Illawarra district, first came into prominence in 1850 when Captain Westmacott made formal application to open up the Bulli coal field. The powerful Australian Agricultural Company promptly opposed the proposition but the Crown Law Offices refused to admit that the latter company had a monopoly and informed Westmacott that he could proceed with his plans without official interference. However, little seems to have been done insofar as actual mining was concerned, and the scheme was eventually abandoned.

Further delving into the mountain side occurred about 1859 and a company, known as Bellambi and Bulli Coal Company, was formed with a capital of thirty thousand pounds. Operations commenced at the Bulli Mine in 1861 when a tunnel or adit was driven into the seam about four hundred feet above sea level. The workings were connected with the sea-board by a standard gauge tramway. The line was officially opened in 2 June 1863. The first ship loaded with Bulli coal from the new jetty was the "Ironside". The Ship left with a cargo of seven hundred and fifty tons.

In about August 1878, a second mine known as the "B" Pit, was established on the hillside to the north of the old Bulli workings, near the famous Bulli Pass. The "B" Pit had a very chequered history and after a period of about seven years the mine closed.I

n 1879 an article in the Town and Country Journal stated that "the Bulli mine is the most important mine in the Illawarra, and its development is proceeding at an astounding rate. The company are working a fine seam of coal, by the inexpensive process of a single adit or tunnel. Not fewer than three hundred and fifty hands are now employed".

On 23 March 1887 the company gained world-wide notoriety in connection with the explosion at Bulli Mine. Eighty one persons were killed. Rescue work was immediately organised and the parties worked with great courage in clearing away debris and fallen ground to gain access to the mine. (Eardley, 1954)

Early Transport


One of the first pioneers to cut a track down the mountain slope to the Bulli vicinity was Dr Charles Throsby in 1815. He was travelling with a party of two whites and two aborigines, and was investigating whether the land at the foot of the escarpment was rich in grass and water as he had been told by the aborigines. Amazing enough, by 1828, the pioneers had found a way to take bullock drays down the mountain.
Determined efforts by the pioneers led to gradual improvements in negotiating the steep descent. The original Throsby track, which lay less than a kilometre to the south of today's Bulli Pass road, was used from 1815-1844. Eventually, in 1867, today's Bulli Pass was built. The Pass was not bitumen surfaced until 1926. Wheeled vehicles began using the road in 1863. Prior to that date, carriages had to take the road built by Deputy Surveyor General Perry in 1852, which led from Mt Keira through Broughton's Pass to Appin. Perry reported at the time that the road down the mountain at Bulli was both difficult and dangerous.
The new road down Bulli Pass was shorter and safer than Rixon's Pass, and provided Bulli residents with a greatly improved method of travelling by horse-drawn coach via Appin to Campbelltown to meet the Sydney train. (Wood, Anne, 1999)


The Bulli Coal Company constructed a horse tramway of standard gauge between the incline of Bulli Colliery and a jetty on Bulli Point in 1861. In May 1867 it operated its first steam locomotive, the first in the Illawarra district.
Bulli Coal Siding was close to the site of the North Bulli Colliery Crossing where the isolated portion of the Illawarra line, opened in 1887, crossed the old private line of 1867 to Bulli Jetty.

Bulli Station was opened on 21 June 1887. The yard had the usual crossing loops and goods siding arrangement until 1916. During the duplication of 1923 the western platform and brick station building were added.

A triangular connection between the two railways was opened on 9 August 1890. (Singleton, 1970)

Historic Buildings

Bulli Family Hotel

The Bulli Family Hotel opened its doors for business on September 6, 1889. This grand old building is a classic example of the Federation Filigree style of Australian architecture. The Architect was William Kerwood.

George Croft, a wealthy landowner, was the first owner of the hotel. The hotel was very grand for its day. It contained twenty eight bedrooms, an assembly room, a dining room, a billiard room, parlours and a bar. There were electric bells connecting the upper and lower floors, and the water supply, which came from three underground wells, was pumped up into iron tanks for the convenience and comfort of the guests in the apartments.

The first licensee of Croft's Hotel was William Tory Dickson, who leased it from Croft for nine years. Of the many distinguished guests who visited the hotel at that time, the most notable was Sir Henry Parkes. During the period 1901-1910, Henry Stokes held the license of the hotel. The street adjoining the Hotel is called "Stokes Lane".

Today the Bulli Family Hotel, garbed in its heritage colours, still stands proudly on the Princes Highway as a prominent landmark.(Wood, 1999). The charming and distinctive external appearance of the building has changed little in over one hundred years. It is a key townscape element and part of the Bulli streetscape. It has a high level of architectural significance as one of the best examples of this type of Victorian period hotel in Australia. (City of Wollongong Heritage Study, 1991)

Denmark Hotel and Stables

This building is located at 202 Princes Highway, Bulli. It is a two storey building with a look out tower. It is a rendered masonry building with a corrugated metal roof, lace veranda and the rear section is built of timber boards (older). The rear lodging quarters of the original hotel (1877) were retained when the two storey front section was built in 1886. It was previously a stop over hotel in association with the Cobb & Co Coach.. It also operated as a tourist hotel in 1896. It is a landmark building, with architectural and townscape value.

Methodist Manse and Church

These buildings are located at 96 Princes Highway, Bulli. The church is a small sandstone Victorian Gothic building with a tile roof. The Manse is a single storey brick house with a corrugated metal roof. The church was built 1864/5, and opened on the 7 May 1865. The church spire was rebuilt to the original design in 1962. The manse forms a valuable element within the Church precinct.


The sequence of sedimentary rocks in the Bulli district is Wianamatta Shale, Hawkesbury Sandstone, Chocolate Shale, Narrabeen Sandstone, Upper Coal Measures. The influence of parent rock and topographic shelter is very apparent on the type of vegetation that grows in different areas of the district.

Vegetation on the Escarpment in the Bulli area consists of mixed heathland, mature eucalyptus forest, remnant rainforest, dry sclerophyll and wet sclerophyll. Species present include Eucalyptus seeberi, Banksia serrata, Eucalyptus Sieveriana, Banksia ericifolia, Cargillia australis and the tree-fern, Alsophila australis.

Fauna found in the area include the lyrebird, Satin bower-bird, Red-necked pademelon, Rec-necked wallaby and Long-nosed Rat Kangaroos. (Gordon, 1985; Davis, 1936)

Sandon Point

Sandon Point is located at the southern end of Thirroul Beach between the Illawarra Railway line and the Pacific Ocean. The site encompasses the northern slopes of Bulli Point and covers an area of approximately 61 hectares. Three creeks flow in an eastward direction through the site, Hewitts Creek, Woodlands Creek and Tramway Creek. The site is highly valued for its significant coastal wildlife habitat and local aesthetic appeal.

Flora and Fauna species sighted at Sandon Point

Vegetation - Large areas of remnant vegetation community bordering the creeks are representative of the Sydney Coastal Estuarine Swamp Forest Complex, which is listed as an Endangered Ecological Community; Hibiscus diversifolius is regionally rare in Illawarra; Melaleuca stypheliodes is uncommon north of Corrimal; Eucalyptus robusta is uncommon north of Bellambi; Crinum pedunculatum is regionally rare in northern Illawarra; Isachne globosa is the largest population recorded in the district and is regionally rare

Birds - Brown Quail are breeding on the site; Southern Emu-Wren and White-cheeked Honeyeaters have been identified as resident 'refugee' species at Sandon Point wetlands; Australasian Bittern; Lewin's Rail; Latham's Snipe; Cormorant use the area of Tramway creek lagoon; Cattle Egrets; White-faced Herons and the Australian Night Heron.

Mammals - short beaked Echidna; Eastern Pygmy Possum; Bandicoot; Large-footed Myotis 'Fishing bat'

Reptiles - Eastern Water Dragon; She-oak Skink; Swamp Snake; Weasel Skink

Amphibia - Brown-striped (Marsh) Frog; Bleating Tree Frog; Leaf Green Tree Frog

Fish - Short-finned eel; Striped gudgeon; Mosquito Fish; Sand Mullet (Tramway Wetlands Planning Committee, 2003)


 Bulli - Timeline

Cornelius O'Brien settled at Bulli Point
Cattle stealing was said to have been carried on to some extent at Bulli.
Robert Sommerville opened a sawmill in July
About this time a company known as the Bellambi and Bulli Coal Company was formed.
A Sunday school was in operation, it was taught by Messrs. Sommerville and Salter in the house of Mr & Mrs Salter.
A School of Arts called Bellambi & Bulli School of Arts was opened.
A Roman Catholic School was conducted by a Miss McNamara in a slab building.
The Bulli Coal Company officially opened its mine on the mountainside west of Bulli Point.
Overseas trade started when the Ironside carried the first shipment of coal to Shanghai.
Wheeled vehicles began using the Bulli Pass.
The Uniting Church was built for the Wesleyans of the Bulli district.
The miners campaigned for extra pay as compensation for the larger coal skips which had been introduced by the Manager
Bulli Pass Road was built
The board of the Bulli Company donated fifty pounds and land valued at one hundred pounds for the establishment of a public school in July
Alexander Ross, Richard White and Samuel Smedley were appointed to the School Board
The Bulli Post Office was opened on 1 October 1869
Bulli grew to have five stores
Archbishop Polding travelled to Bulli in July to bless a new school-church being erected
The Bulli Mine Disaster occurred on the 23 March 1887 - 81 men died.
The Wollongong to Clifton section of the South Coast railway was opened
The Bulli Hotel opened its doors for business on the 6 September 1889
The abandoned Bulli "B" Pit was reopened by Messrs. Williams and Garlick on 11 February 1891
The first shipment from Bulli Pass collliery was made on 2 June 1892
Bulli District Hospital opened on land given by Mrs George Organ
The "B" Pit was renamed the Bulli Steam Coal Company by a Mr Evans
Bulli Shire proclaimed on 15 May 1906
In April severe gales raged off the South Coast and swept away the greater portion of the Bulli Coal-loading jetty.
Bulli Shire Council secured a town water supply for the Bulli area about 1910
An electricity supply was obtained from South Bulli Colliery for lighting homes and streets
Shire of Bulli amalgamated with the City of Wollongong, Central Illawarra and the Municipality of North Illawarra to form the City of Greater Wollongong
Bulli hospital opened.
About this time the Australian Iron & Steel Company undertook the formidable and costly task of re-organising and modernising the old Bulli Colliery and its outmoded rail transport system
Bulli show society formed. The first annual show was held at Slacky Flat the following year.
Baby health centre opened.
Bulli branch of the Wollongong City Library opened.
Bulli Woonona RSL club opened.
15 bed female ward opened at Bulli hospital. This year also marks the centenary of Bulli Public School.
Bulli Miner’s Cottage advertised for sale as a development site. Eventually deemed to be of heritage significance and purchased by Wollongong City Council.
Ray Hannah, a Sydney car dealer buys a tract of land stretching from South Thirroul to East Bulli, which will eventually become the site of an application for large scale housing development at Sandon Point.
Conservation plan for Bulli Miner’s Cottage released, with the recommendation that it become a Miner’s memorial museum.
Development application lodged for subdivision generating 14 house sites at Hill Street Bulli. This application is the first stage in a proposed housing development by Stockland’s. The application causes immediate controversy.
100th anniversary of Weber’s Lookout, Bulli Tops.
Council rejects stages 2-6 of the ongoing Sandon Point development application. Stockland challenges this decision in the Land and Environment Court. The court eventually decides in favour of the development, subject to a number of conditions being met.
A Commission of Inquiry recommends scaling back the development at Sandon Point.
Production ceases at Bulli Tile and Brick works. Industrial Heritage assessment carried out, deeming the site top be of local industrial heritage significance.
The NSW government grants conditional approval for continuing development at Sandon Point, subject to its being scaled back to 181 lots in total with 60% of the development area to be retained for open area and public space.
Development consent granted for a new Southern Gateway Tourism and Information Centre at Bulli Tops.
In a landmark decision, the Land and Environment Court overturns state government approval for further Sandon Point development on the basis of climate change considerations
Southern Gateway tourist centre to go ahead after a $13 million funding injection from the Federal Government
Cavion's Scrap Yard relocating to Nowra after Bulli site was purchased by Woolworths for development (Illawarra Index)
The inaugural Bulli Markets held at Bulli Harness Club were well attended in April (Illawarra Index)
Bridge over intersection at foot of Bulli Pass is being constructed (Illawarra Index)


Bulli Beach Tourist Park, Wollongong City Council, 2001

City of Wollongong Heritage Study, Council and McDonald McPhee Pty. Ltd., [Wollongong, N.S.W. : Wollongong City Council], 1991

Davis, Consett, Plant ecology of the Bulli District, [Sydney : Linnean Society of N.S.W., 1936-1941]

Eardley, Gifford Henry, The Bulli Coal Mining Company, N.S.W., [s.l.] : The Steam Tram and Light Railway Research Group of the Australian Railway Historical Society, 1954

Gordon, David F., The Illawarra Escarpment Park : a proposal for extensions to the Illawarra Escarpment State Recreation Area, Wollongong : Illawarra Environment Centre, 1985.

Illawarra Mercury, Wollongong, N.S.W. : Illawarra Newspapers Holdings

King, Norman Spencer, Cornelius O'Brien : pioneer of Bulli, Wollongong : Illawarra Historical Society, 1965

Lindsay, Benjamin, Organ, Michael & Doyle, Peter, Early Land Settlement in Illawarra: 1804 - 1861, Woonona, N.S.W. : Illawarra Historical Publications, 1994

Ninety Years On :  celebrating the ninetieth anniversary of the opening on 7th July 1869 of Bulli Public School 1869-1959, Bulli, N.S.W : The School, 1959

Place names of the Wollongong Region, Wollongong : Council, 2008

Singleton, Cyril Corbet, Railway History in Illawarra New South Wales, Wollongong, N.S.W. : Illawarra Historical Society, 1984

Tramway Wetlands Planning Committee, Sandon Point : a community vision : bushland management strategy 2003 and beyond, Illawarra, N.S.W.?] : Tramway Wetlands Planning Committee ; NIRAG, [2003].

Wood, Anne, Tales from our streets : a photographic history of Illawarra, [Wollongong, N.S.W.] : A Wood, 1999.

Young, Frank et. al., Old Pioneer's Reminiscences of Illawarra : (1830's-1920's), Wollongong, N.S.W. : Illawarra Historical Publications, 1989

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