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Mount Keira

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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.

In 1825 James Stares Spearing was given a promise of grant for two properties of 1000 acres each, on the slopes of Mount Keira. These properties were called Paulsgrove. In 1835 the Spearings sold Paulsgrove to Colonel John Leahy and Leahy changed the name to Mount Keira Estate. According to Henderson, Colonel Leahy "renamed Paulsgrove after the nearby 'Mt Keera'." The grants were finally issued in 1841 to Robert and Charles Campbell. Keira is an aboriginal name meaning large lagoon or high mountain. The aborigines called the mountain "Djera" meaning wild turkey.

Land grants

John Hubert Plunkett and 'Keelogues' later known as 'Gundarin'

West of Wollongong and near Mount Keira, an area of 1,280 acres was granted to John Hubert Plunkett on March 12, 1837. This was in virtue of a promise of a grant to Gregory Blaxland dated 5 March 1830, and was called 'Keelogues' or 'Gundarin'. (Lindsay, 1994)

James Stares Spearing and 'Paulsgrove' later known as 'Mount Keira Estate'

Lying between the grant to Mr Plunkett and the Town of Wollongong is an area of 1000 acres which was promised as an additional grant by Governor Brisbane in September 1825. This was owned by Mr James Stares Spearing who had an excellent farm and orchard, over 15 acres, under cultivation. The Para Creek ran through this property which was known as 'Paulsgrove' and later known as 'Mount Keira Estate'. (Lindsay, 1994, Cousins 1994)

On his arrival in Australia Spearing received promises of two grants, each 1000 acres, from Governor Brisbane. The first grant extended roughly from Foley's Road to half way up Mount Keira, and from the Technical College in Lysaght Street, North Wollongong to Wiseman Park. The adjoining portion extended from Cross Roads to Mount Keira township and south almost to Figtree Hotel. (McDonald, 1988)

Early residents

James Stares Spearing of 'Paulsgrove'

The 1828 census shows that James Stares Spearing "came free" to Australia on the ship Harvey in 1825. He was then about 47 years old.

On his arrival he received from Governor Brisbane promises of two grants, each 1000 acres, which became portions seven and eight of the Parish of Wollongong and are described previously under 'Land Grants'.

James Spearing soon took possession of these estates which he named 'Paulsgrove'. He built a home near the north-western end of Yellagong Street, West Wollongong and by late 1826 he was well established. (McDonald, 1988).

A statement was found in a report in the N.S.W. Calendar and Directory of 1835, describing settlement as follows: "Several persevering colonists have laid out much money there (Illawarra) under considerable disadvantage. Mr Spearing has opened a very fine tract at great expense; this gentleman's garden is celebrated for the fruit sent from it to Sydney." (Lindsay 1994, p. 20)

In 1827 Spearing married Harriet Overington to whom a grant of 1920 acres was promised. This was Portion 113, Parish of Wonona, usually referred to as 'Bellambi 'or 'Palamba'. This property became included in the Spearing estate.

The 1828 census credited Spearing with 400 acres cleared and 250 acres cultivated, 5 horses and 50 horned cattle. He also had a flock of 750 sheep which was the only flock in the district. He became the principal agriculturalist of the district in the early 1830s.

James Spearing left the Illawarra in 1835 and the 'Paulsgrove' properties were conveyed to Lt. Col. John Thomas Leahy who changed the name to 'Mount Keera'. The grants for the property were finally issued in 1841 to Robert and Charles Campbell who subdivided the estate into a large number of small lots which were sold over many years. After leaving 'Paulsgrove', James Spearing lived in Sydney for a time before returning to England and setting up as a gentleman. (McDonald, 1988)

John Plunkett of 'Keelogues'

Gregory Blaxland had a property of 1280 acres promised to him in 1830. John Hubert Plunkett secured this grant, and the deed was issued to him on 12th March, 1837. Mr Plunkett was a member of a distinguished family of Irish patriots and had been the Solicitor General for the Colony.

John Plunkett took a prominent part in local affairs, particularly in issues involving the aborigines, education and navigation. He was the Superintendent of National Education in New South Wales and he was a member of the Committee of Management of the Illawarra Steam Packet Company. (Cousins, 1994)

He sold the estate for 13,000 pounds four years after its purchase to a Mr Wood who was the first chairman of the Illawarra Agricultural Society.

James Shoobert

James Shoobert was a pioneer in coal mining at Mount Keira. He was a retired Sea Captain and a Justice of the Peace who also discharged public duties as a Magistrate. He opened two tunnels on the slopes of Mount Keira a short distance below the present mine and named them 'Albert'. On the 27th August 1849 the first load of coal was transported down from Mount Keira to Wollongong in horse drawn coal carts. "The coal carts formed part of a procession led by a band and followed by horsemen. The procession also included the owner James Shoobert, miners and a large gathering of townspeople." (Spires 1990, p.1)

The first shipment of coal was in the steamer "William the Fourth" and it soon found a market with the millers and manufacturers of Sydney.

On the 18th February 1856 the Mount Keira House and Grounds were put up for auction and sold. The Illawarra Mercury on 28 January, 1856 advertised the property as: "Valuable and Very Desirable Freehold Property near Wollongong comprising The Mount Keira House and Grounds the Mount Keira and Albert Coal Mines, Cleared Farms, sites for ornamental cottages."

"Mount Keira House and Grounds. Comprising 80 acres of cleared land, watered by a creek which has never been known to fail, including the splendid garden, orchard and vineyard, planted with the choicest fruit trees and vines, now in full bearing and great perfection. The cottage is commodious, and suitable for a large family and has been occupied up to 1st January by a girls school." (Illawarra Mercury, 1856)

Early industry

The 'Paulsgrove Diary' clearly illustrates the early agricultural industry at Mount Keira. It was written by an overseer for Mr Spearing who was living at 'Paulsgrove' in 1833. "The diary shows the acreage to have been, in 1833 and 1834, about 40 acres. The hillside at Mount Keira had fields of wheat, maize, barley, oats, rye, rape, turnips, onions, potatoes, peas and tobacco. There was also a well kept orchard containing peach, apricot, nectarine, plum and pear trees, as well as grape vines. There was also a large pig run. There were two watermills on Para Creek, running through the property. These were later replaced by a windmill." (Cousins 1994, p.87)

Mr Spearing had 20 convicts at 'Paulsgrove'. The diary records their daily tasks as being ploughing the fields, sowing, reaping, grinding the grain at the watermill, pulling out stumps, cross burning, and burning off generally. They also drove sheep and cattle. There was also a blacksmith, a shoemaker and a tailor on the estate.

Mr Spearing sent quantities of wheat, pork, maize, potatoes and whale oil to Sydney. The whale was washed ashore at Bellambi in 1833. The shipping was done by two 14 tonners the 'Bee' and the 'Sarah', sometimes from Wollongong, sometimes from Bellambi. There were no stores in the Illawarra at the time so the Captains of the trading ships acted as agents buying supplies in Sydney for Illawarra settlers. (Cousins, 1994)

The Osborne Wallsend Colliery - now Kemira Colliery

The Kemira Colliery is the oldest producing coal mine in Australia. It was opened in 1857 by William Robson for its owner Henry Osborne. The mine worked the Bulli Seam for the first time on record and the brickwork over the early tunnel is still visible next to the Mount Keira Portal.

On the 16th April, 1857, 3.5 tons of Keira coal was carted to the wharf at Belmore Basin by bullock team, to be transported to Sydney in the S.S. Illawarra. The Illawarra recorded the event as follows: "We have much pleasure in recording the perfect success of the trial of the new coal from the mine at Mount Keira, henceforth we understand to be called 'Osborne Wallsend'" (Spires, 1990)

The management of the mine was very satisfied with its prospects and in May an advertisement in the Mercury appeared asking for 20 teams to convey coal from the mine to the wharf at 6/- per ton. By September the coal mine was in operation and 150 tons had been consumed in Wollongong alone. Also 60 tons a week were used by the steamers and a considerable quantity was sent to Sydney. Keira coal gained a reputation for being superior to any other coal. (Cousins, 1994)

During its earliest stages mining at Mount Keira was fairly primitive, as was its method of delivery to the wharf. It was hauled by bullock teams down the steep Mount Keira track and old road. As the mine progressed a Main and Tail Rope Haulage installation brought coal to the surface and this early development included a skip incline. Henry Osborne, noting that hauling coal by bullock dray to the wharf was less than efficient, petitioned the Government to be allowed to build a tramway from the mine to the harbour.

Upon Henry Osborne's death in 1859, the Osborne Wallsend Coal Company was formed. Members of the company were William Robson, William Jackson, John Nixon and Andrew Tulip. The company owned two steamers, the 'Kurrara' and the 'Kanabooka' and the company was formed after arranging a 25 year lease from the Osbornes.

In 1867, Tulip, Nixon and Jackson sold their interest in Osborne Wallsend Colliery to Robson and Spiers. Four years later Robson and Spiers retired and the mine reverted back to the Osborne family. The Osborne's further developed the mine and also erected several coke ovens producing coke using slack from the colliery.

In the 1870s the reputation of the Mount Keira coal was spreading and large shipments were made from Sydney to India, China and other parts of Asia. In 1833 a new ventilation shaft was sunk.

During the 1870s and 1880s work at the mine was irregular and flags were raised at Flagstaff Point and Flagstaff Hill when colliers arrived to call the miners to work. "Under these conditions overall growth of output was slow and at the turn of the century the area still had a general rural atmosphere. Most of the mineworkers were local born and part time farmers. A coal boom in the late eighties saw men brought in from European countries, and houses were built closely adjacent to the mine so that these people could be housed." (Spires, 1990)

Early transport

Mount Keira Road

In April 1834 the Governor, Major-General Sir Richard Bourke, visited the Illawarra in reply to a petition presented to him by a number of inhabitants asking for roads and safe harbours in the district. Surveyor General Mitchell set about implementing the Major-General's instructions to open the district by road and to improve its communication with the Sydney market.

As a result of Bourke's visit Mitchell planned the Mount Keira Road, which partially followed O'Brien's Road but provided an easier descent into the district by way of Mount Keira, coming out at West Wollongong at the cross roads. This road followed the present Mount Keira Road and was the main approach to the coast for many years.

In 1834 Mitchell wrote to the Colonial Secretary "Mt. Keera is the hill behind Mr Spearing's land, and the situation being almost desirable for a passage to the Illawarra both with respect to that of most of the farms and Sydney and also Wollongong. I examined the ground, and although it is covered with thick brush I succeeded in marking a line by which an easy and immediate ascent may be made without much labour, there being little rock in the way." (Marshall 1963, p.7)

The Mount Keira Road and other coastal roads were laid out in 1835-1836 by convict labour.

In the early days of its operation the coal from the Osborne Wallsend Colliery was hauled by bullock teams down the steep Mount Keira track and old road. Henry Osborne petitioned the Government to be allowed to build a tramway from the mine to the harbour. He was allowed to build part of it and the tramway terminated twelve chains west of the heart of the Princes Highway. A further petition was made by the Osborne Wallsend Coal Company to extend the tramway to the Belmore Basin. The petition was granted and an Act of Parliament cited.

The tramroad was opened in May, 1861 and "commenced at the foot of the incline, extending over and through lands of the late Henry Osborne passing under a reserved road near Macquarie Street, leading through the Mount Keira estate, and through the lands of Andrew Thompson and extending through land known as "Bustle Farm"…..and terminating at a point four chains and fifty links north-west of the north-west corner of Harbour Street. Thousands of tons of coal was hauled along this tramroad to the wharf at Belmore Basin by horse teams." (Spires 1990, p.7)

In 1878 the horse teams used for hauling coal along the tramroad to the wharf were replaced by steam locomotives. These locomotives, the Keira No.1 and Keira No. 2. were the first locomotives to work on the South Coast. They were ordered by Frank Osborne of the Osborne Wallsend colliery and shipped in 1878. They ran for 8 years before the New South Wales Government Railway between Sydney and Wollongong was opened. For the whole of their service they worked between the screens at the foot of the incline, and Wollongong, including Wollongong Harbour. The locomotives ceased running in 1954 when the line was closed. (Spires, 1990)

Mount Keira - Historic buildings

Mount Keira Osborne Wallsend Tramway Bridge

Location: South east corner of Osborne Park, Cliff Road, Wollongong East

The remains of the Tramway Bridge that was built to transport coal from Mount Keira Osborne Wallsend Mine to steamships in the Wollongong Harbour. This portion of the line officially opened on 29/9/1864. The tressles are intact and in fair condition but the bridge decking is missing. (City of Wollongong Heritage Study, 1991)

'Longleat' c1862

Address: 2/5 Allen Street. Mount Keira

This is a two storey home built along simple Georgian lines. The lower floor is constructed of solid freestone blocks, on the upper floor sandstock bricks were used. It has corner stones of sandstone and walls 18 inches thick. The interior was originally cedar and at one stage there was an attic window. (Ali, c1981)

Mount Keira Public School and Residence c1877

Address: Mount Keira Road, Mount Keira

This school is located on land donated by J & F Osborne in 1875. It is a Gothic Revival style of building built of freestone. The roof was originally shingles but these have been replaced with corrugated iron. The exterior has had no additions but the interior has been modified. (Ali, c1981)

In 1877 Mr Mansfield, the Government's architect, was asked to prepare plans for a freestone school building to accommodate 110 pupils, with a teacher's residence of four rooms and a kitchen. Mr George Osborne's tender was accepted and work was finished in November 1877. (Mount Keira Public School Centenary Booklet, 1961)

The residence for the headmaster of the Mount Keira School was erected alongside the newly constructed stone Mount Keira Public School. The cottage was constructed from freestone, the roof was originally shingles that were later replaced with tile like material. The front verandah has been enclosed. (Ali, c1981)

Mount Keira - Environment

Mount Keira is 469 metres above sea level, and it is characterised by the Illawarra Escarpment landscape. The natural beauty of Mount Keira gives an unspoiled backdrop to the City of Wollongong. Mount Keira is part of the Illawarra Escarpment. The vegetation is made up of a mixture of rainforest (closed forest) and sclerophyll forest (open forest). Early logging removed most of the oldest and largest tall forest trees in the area but there is a stand of Turpentines "as tall as sixty metres and over two metres in diameter" near Mount Keira. (Cox & Outteridge, 1990; Environment Illawarra, 1992)

Mount Keira, and the Illawarra, are important phyto-geographical areas. Mount Keira is a crossover point with a number of species reaching their northern and southern limits within the area. Those at their northern limits are temperate species such as the eucalypts Yellow Stringybard (Eucalyptus muellerana) and Gully Gum (Eucalyptus smithii). Subtropical species such as White Bolly Gym, (Neolitsea dealbata) and Red Kamala (Mallotus philippensis) can be found in the rainforest of the lower foothills of Mount Keira. (Environment Illawarra, 1992)

The Mount Keira Summit Park includes the whole of the summit of Mount Keira. The plateau sloping to the west consists of a capping of Hawkesbury sandstone resting on the less durable rocks of the Narrabeen group and the upper coal measure. The massive nature of the Hawkesbury sandstone has resulted in the sheer cliffs on the seaward escarpment.

Plant species found in the Park include the protected species Waratah (Telopea speciossisma) and rainforest species such as Turpentine (Syncarpia glomulifera) and Pittosporum undulatum. Schlerophyllous species such as Eucalypus dendromorpha are also present. There are areas of tall open forest in gulley areas of the Park. These gullies contain rainforest elements that include tall Eucalypts and Turpentines, up to 30 metres. (Cox & Outteridge, 1990 p. 40)

The escarpment forests provide a habitat for a large number of fauna species, some of which are rare and endangered. The following species are listed in Mill's 1990 Flora and Fauna Study of Mount Keira:-

  • Carpet and Diamond Python ( Morelia spilota)
  • White-bellied Sea Eagle (Haliaeetus leucogastel)
  • Emerald Dove (Chalcophaps indica)
  • White-throated Needletail (Hirundapus caudacutus)
  • Cicadabird (Coracina tenuirostris)
  • White's Thrush (Zoothera diurnal)
  • Crested Sprike-tit (Falcunculus frontatus)
  • Rufous fantail (Rhipidura rufifroms)
  • Peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus)
  • Gang Gang Cockatoo (Callocephalon fimbriatum) (Kevin Mills and Associates 1990, p. 6)

In the Cox and Outteridge survey of Mount Keira Summit Park only 2 species of small mammals were caught. These were Antechinus stuartii and Rattus fuscipes. One Brush Tailed Possum (Trichsurus vulpecular) was spotted and numerous scats and diggings from the long nosed bandicoot were identified.

A total of 26 bird species were also identified, in this survey, in a four hour bird watching session. Lyrebird scratchings were found over the entire park indicating a large population of Lyrebirds. A large flock (about 20) of Gang Gang Cockatoos came into the park in the early hours of the morning to feed. The bird-life sited in the Mount Keira Summit Park survey were:-

  • Lewins honey eater
  • Rufous fantail
  • Brush Cuckoo
  • Brown treecreeper
  • Magpie
  • Brown thornbill
  • Laughing kookaburra
  • White throated tree creeper
  • Grey shrike thrush
  • Wattle bird
  • Golden whistler
  • Powerful owl
  • Wonga pigeon
  • White headed pigeon
  • Eastern spine bill
  • Grey backed silvereye
  • Satin bowerbird
  • Sacred kingfisher
  • Pied currawong
  • Australian raven
  • Varied sittella
  • Superb lyrebird
  • King parrot
  • White browed scrub wren
  • Grey fantail (Cox & Outteridge, 1990)

 Mount Keira - Timeline

Cedar getters in the Mount Keira locality
Allan Cunningham, botanist, climbs Mount Keira
Mount Keira Road formed
James Shoobert opens the "Albert" coal mine
Three Mount Keira properties sold - Brightenville, Kelvin Grove and Mount Pleasant
Mount Keira house and lands sold
Osborne Wallsend coal mine opened on present site at Mount Keira. First Osborne Wallsend coal tested in steamer "Illawarra"
Peter Murphy grows Egyptian wheat at Mount Keira
Mount Keira Tramway Act passed
First National School below the mine opened in an old house. It was also known as the 'Slack Heap School'.
Steam sawmill at Goondarin Creek
Mount Keira miners advocate railway to Sydney
New school premises built.
Illawarra's first steam locomotives take over haulage of coal along tramway (BHP Review).
Railway line from Sydney to Wollongong completed
Wesleyan Church built to replace two others
T. Shipton builds first two storey house at Mount Keira
Telephone to Mount Keira Post Office.
Airshaft to mine completed
School of Arts built
First motor car at Mount Keira
Robertsons Lookout opened
First motor bus at Mount Keira (A.S. Brown)
Electric light at Mount Keira
Post Office Store destroyed by fire
AI & S Pty Ltd buys the mine for coke feed in Port Kembla steelworks (BHP Review).
Church destroyed by gale force winds
Mount Keira Scout Camp opened
Diesel loco used underground at Mount Keira Mine. First in Australia
Digger’s Rest home for twenty four RSL veterans is opened.
Start of work on Kemira Tunnel (BHP Review).
Mine face operations fully mechanised, bringing contract labour to an end in the colliery (BHP Review).
Wollongong Rotary make an attempt to open Mount Keira Summit to the public
The Osborne-Wallsend colliery (known locally as Mt. Keira) changed its name to Kemira Colliery - a combination of Kembla & Keira.
Kemira Tunnel completed, and coal discharged to new coal handling plant on AIS's private rail line (BHP Review).
AIS donate remainder of Mount Keira Summit Park
Keira Sportsground officially opened
Official opening of Queen Elizabeth Drive and Mount Keira Summit Park. Saturday 23rd May, 1959 at 3pm.
Mt Keira Public School centenary.
New eight bedroom wing opened at Digger’s Rest Home.
A sixteen day ‘sit-in’ at Kemira colliery after 189 retrenchments is unsuccessful.
A $15M upgrade for Mt Keira Summit Park is announced.
Kemira Colliery closed permanently.
Mount Keira lookout restaurant, the Mountain Top, opens.
Refurbishments at Mount Keira lookout open, after works undertaken by Council and the local Rotary club.
Council adopts a new flood management plan for the Allan’s Creek catchment area.
Rock falls on the cliff face at Mount Keira prompt geo-technical investigations by the National Parks and Wildlife Service.



Ali, Anne C., Illawarra Region : Historic Buildings and Sites, [ Wollongong , N.S.W.] : A.C. Ali, c1981

BHP Review, Vol 62/3, June-July, Melbourne : The Broken Hill Proprietary Company Ltd., 1984

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

Cousins, Arthur, The Garden of New South Wales : a history of the Illawarra & Shoalhaven Districts 1770-1900, [New ed.], Wollongong, N.S.W. : Illawarra Historical Society, 1994

Cox, Stephen & Outteridge, Chris, 'Faunal Survey and Study of the Natural Resources of the Mount Keira Summit Park.' in Environmental science studies in ecology, 1990, Wollongong, N.S.W. : Dept. of Biology, University of Wollongong, 1990

Local Studies Cuttings File

Environment Illawarra : the Keira Green Corridor , Wollongong, N.S.W.: Wollongong City Council, 1992.

Illawarra Mercury, Wollongong, N.S.W. : Illawarra Newspapers Holdings, 1856-

Kevin Mills and Associates, Flora and Fauna Study, Lot 2 Dp789097, Mount Keira, City of Wollongong, Woonona, N.S.W. : Kevin Mills, 1990.

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

Marshall , K. & Marshall, M., The ups and downs of the early roads to Wollongong. 1815 – 1888, Wollongong, N.S.W. : Illawarra Historical Society, 1963

McDonald, William Graham, The Paulsgrove Diary : Illawarra 1833 -1834. Wollongong, N.S.W. : Illawarra Historical Society, 1988

McDonald, William Graham, The Oldest Road, Wollongong, N.S.W. : Illawarra Historical Society, 1979

Mount Keira Public School : centenary, 1861 – 1961 , [s.l. : Mount Keira Public School], 1961

Mount Keira Scout Camp : 50th Anniversary Booklet : 1940 -1990, [Wollongong : Scout Camp], 1990

Spires , Robert, History of Kemira Colliery, 1857 – 1984, [s.l. : s.n], 1990

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