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Port Kembla

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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.

Port Kembla - History

Port Kembla was originally known as Red Point. It has also been referred to as "Kembla Bay" and "Five Islands Bay". The residential and industrial areas of Port Kembla are situated on 2200 acres of land granted to David Allan in 1817. The land was called "Illawarra Farm".

In 1883 a port was opened to ship coal brought from the mine at Mt Kembla. Because of its association with the jetty serving the Mount Kembla mine, the area previously called Red Point became known as Port Kembla. The earliest reference to this name seems to have been in 1892. The new harbour was named Port Kembla by William Burall who opened the Mt Kembla Colliery and constructed the tramway between the colliery and the jetty. Kembla is an aboriginal word meaning "plenty of wild fowl".

Land grants

David Allan was one of the first five land grantees in the Illawarra, Allan was originally promised land in the Airds district of New South Wales in October 1813, by Governor Macquarie. It was 1816 before Deputy Surveyor Meehan located land for the grant, which is shown as Portion 53, on the Parish of Wollongong map. The land was described as 'bounded on east by ocean, north by Tom Thumb Lagoon, Allan's creek, a line southerly to Illawarra Lake at Griffin's Bay, then easterly to 'Red Point".' (Dowd. p. 11)

Allan named his property 'Illawarra Farm'. On 1st November, 1827, Illawarra Farm was sold to Richard Jones. Richard Jones sold it to William Charles Wentworth in 1828. Wentworth renamed the property 'Five Islands Estate'. The present day Steelworks is now located on a section of this grant. (Dowd, 1960; Port Kembla Public School : Heritage Assessment, 2002)

Early residents

Captain Bishop

In 1826 Captain Bishop and a small attachment of the 40th Regiment was established at David Allan's property, Red Point (now Port Kembla). Bishop was the Civil and Military Commandant of the Five Islands District. Because of the increasing numbers of bushrangers and 'vagabonds' now roaming the area, it was felt that the presence of this regiment was needed to protect settlers from attacks by these outlaws.

Bishop's duties also included returning any escaped convicts to Sydney, and ensuring no cedar was taken illegally from the government. Eventually the Regiment was moved to Wollongong, and located where the courthouse and goal fronting the harbour were later built. (Catterall, 1994; City of W'Gong Heritage Study. Vol 2, 1991)

David Allan

David Allan was appointed Deputy Commissary General of the Colony in 1813. He arrived in Sydney on June 11th of that year, on board the 'Fortune', a male convict ship. He took up his land grant (see above) in 1816, naming it 'Illawarra Farm'. Allan's time with the Commissariat Department was short lived. He and Governor Macquarie argued about the manner in which Allan carried out his duties, and he was eventually dismissed from the post after continuing to issue Promissory Notes when expressly forbidden to do so by Macquarie. In January 1819, he was replaced by Deputy Commissary General F. Drennan.

Allan continued living at 'Illawarra Farm', grazing cattle. A report from the period 1819-1820 states that Allan had 2,340 sheep, 850 cattle and 20 horses. After his dismissal from government service, Allan and his wife and family of 9 sons and 3 daughters, left the farm and returned to England on the 'Surrey'. Allan retained his holdings, leasing them out for general farming. The farm boasted a 'good' cottage and offices. Allan's cottage was occupied by his managers Mr. and Mrs. Wholohan, with 2 rooms of the cottage occupied by soldiers of the Military Station, Red Point. Allan's farm was sold on 1st November, 1827 to Richard Jones. (Catterall, 1994; Dowd, 1960)

Early industry

Aboriginal Commercial Fishing

In June 1876 the Illawarra Mercury recorded that George 'Trimmer' Timbrey and Billy Saddler had requested and obtained a fishing boat from the Colonial Secretaries Office, Sydney. Timbrey and Saddler were two of the Aboriginal fisherman who fished the Hill 60/Fishermen's Beach area. They sold the fish they caught to local and Sydney markets.

The Aboriginal fishermen fished this area up until the Second World War.

Blackfish (Luderick) was the main fish caught. The fishermen chipped a hole in the volcanic rock adjacent to the beach, making holding pens. The fish were kept in these holding pens until the train transporting them left from Port Kembla railway station. Some of the local residents would also truck the fish to Sydney or Wollongong for the fishermen. Wednesday was 'Government Day', when the proceeds of fish caught that day was taken by the government as payment for the fishing boat and gear given to the fishermen.

During the World War II years, the Aboriginal fishermen left Hill 60, and at this time the first white men applied for permission from the Army Commander to work the beach. Nowadays, very little industrial fishing takes place here, but before the War, the enterprise was highly successful, producing sufficient fish to supply the Sydney and local markets. (Dallas, 2000; Catterall, 1994)

Port Kembla Harbour

In 1882, the Mount Kembla Coal and Oil Co. built a private jetty at Port Kembla, with a rail link to the Company's mine at Mount Kembla. Because of its association with the jetty servicing the Mount Kembla mine, the area became known as Port Kembla, rather that Red Point. (Port Kembla Public School Heritage Assessment, 2002)

The first shipment of coal from Port Kembla was on the 'S.S. Arawata' which took on approximately 2000 tons of coal on 27th February, 1883. Seven years later, the Southern Coal Company built a jetty at Port Kembla, which was linked by rail to the State Rail system near Unanderra. In 1889, a total of 233,438 tons of coal shipped from these private jetties.

As the Coal Company extended during 1880s, it constructed several buildings near the end of the railway line and jetty. These buildings were occupied by a number of company employees and their families. In the late 1890s the Mount Lyall Company erected a Coke Works at Port Kembla. Around this time the colliery, and other commercial interests in the area, proposed an artificial harbour.

The Port Kembla Harbour Act was passed on 23rd December, 1898. The Act allowed for the building of 2 breakwaters, which would give protection to the many ships that were now visiting the port. In 1900, the Public Works Department resumed nearly 500 acres for harbour works. Stone from local quarries was used, with work commencing in 1900. For every linear foot of breakwater required 100 tons of rock! A small boat harbour was built from stones too small for the breakwater.

In 1908, a low level jetty was built by the newly established Electrolytic Refining and Smelting Co. (ER & S) and was known as No. 4 jetty. It was to be used for general cargo loading and unloading. (Catterall, 1994; Port Kembla Public School Heritage Assessment, 2002)

In 1928 Hoskins' Iron & Steel leased land south of No. 1 jetty and built No. 2 Jetty. No. 2 Jetty was continuously used until the opening of the Inner Harbour, when it became redundant.

The years 1940 to 1960 saw such an increase in shipping traffic, that it was recognised that a secondary harbour was needed to cope with the extra demand for docking and loading space. The State Government eventually agreed to proceed with construction, and dredging commenced in the 1950s The Inner Harbour opened on 28th November, 1960. (Catterall, 1994)

Australian Iron & Steel (AIS) / Broken Hill Pty Co Ltd (BHP)

In 1927, Charles Hoskins entered into an agreement with the State Government to build a steelworks at Port Kembla, as part of the building of the Unanderra - Moss Vale train line (See Kembla Grange page). Hoskins acquired land near Cringila, and in 1930 operations began at Port Kembla with one blast furnace which had a daily capacity of 800 tons.

In July 1935, AIS began negotiations with BHP to merge the two companies. This merger became effective on 18th October, 1935.

Australia's first hot strip mill was officially opened by Prime Minister Robert Menzies in 1955. During the 1950s, BHP was involved with the State Government in the construction of the Port Kembla Inner Harbour. (Catterall, 1994)

Electrolytic Refining and Smelting Co. (ER & S)

ER & S began operations at Port Kembla in 1907. It was the first industry established at Port Kembla. Initially the refinery was used to treat 'Blister Copper', brought in from Mount Morgan and Mount Lyall, with the first batch of copper produced on 11th February, 1909.

ER & S specialised in treating gold, silver and copper ores from various centres throughout Australia. Platinum, Palladium and Selenium were also treated. In September 1990, the company was sold to CRA and is now known as Southern Copper.

The company's smoke stack is a landmark of the Port Kembla industrial skyline. It stands above all the buildings in this industrial area, at a height of 650 feet above ground level. Building of the stack began in 1960. It was built by Tileman and Co of concrete (9,800 tons), bricks (220,000) and steel reinforcement (531 tons). The total weight of the stack is 14,000 tons. (Catterall, 1994)


Early transport


Private railway lines

In 1882 a railway was constructed by the Mount Kembla Coal and Oil Co from Mount Kembla colliery to Port Kembla first jetty (7.5 miles), at a cost of 3,000 - 4,000 Pounds. In the same year a rail incline was built from the pit tunnel to the valley below.

In 1887 the Mount Kembla signal box was built at Unanderra where the colliery line crossed it. In 1889 a second crossing was opened for the Southern Coal Co. The Australian Coke Co established its ovens adjacent to this second crossing. They were served by a siding built in October 1889. (Stone, 2002; Singleton, 1984)

Government railway lines

The first mention of the Dept of Railways in the Port Kembla area was on 7th February 1912 when it was decided to add a siding at the junction of the Southern Coal Company's line.

The rail line to Port Kembla opened on 3rd July, 1916. Until 1920 the line was used solely for carrying goods. The first passenger services commenced to Wollongong on 5th February 1920.  (Catterall, 1994)


In 1889 construction began on a bridge over Tom Thumb Lagoon to connect Wollongong and Port Kembla. The bridge was built by volunteers and completed in 1902 or 1903. The bridge was constructed of rough bush timber and was was approximately 3 feet (1 metre) wide. During spring high tide the bridge would sometimes be underwater. Before the bridge was built, men coming to Port Kembla from Wollongong to work had to cross the channel either by wading across or using a flat bottomed punt.. (Catterall, 1994)

The Public Works department made a decision to build Military Rd in 1907. A motor bus service was established in 1913. (Port Kembla Public School : Heritage Assessment, 2002)

Port Kembla - Historic buildings

Historical Military Museum

Situated between the eastern breakwater and the north beach (M.M. Beach) Built around 1930. This is a 4 storey brick and concrete structure, gun pill box and air raid shelter. It is a good example of functional architecture, originally built as a lookout disguised to look like a block of flats. (City of W'Gong Heritage Study, 1991)

E.R. & S. Assay Office - Military Road, Port Kembla

The Assay Office was built in 1910 for the Electrolytic Refining and Smelting Company Pty. Ltd. The office produced tests for various ores such as copper, silver, gold and platinum. The building represents the early technological and industrial development of the Wollongong district. The building is constructed of brick with a corrugated metal roof. (City of W'Gong Heritage Study, 1991)

Steelworks Hotel - Corner Jubilee and Wentworth Streets, Port Kembla

Built in 1890, and originally named the Great Eastern Hotel. Constructed of brick with tiles on the exterior lower floor. A verandah with its wrought iron lace has been removed. In 1921 it was purchased by Tooths, and later, the Lindsay family. It was renovated in 1938. It was the first hotel overlooking the harbour. This is an imposing landmark of the area, dating back to the beginnings of the town as a Port and industrial centre. (City of W'Gong Heritage Study, 1991; Ali, 1980)

Hill 60 Military Installations - Military Road, Port Kembla

Illowra Battery (Military Reserve)

Built in 1910, these early fortifications once housed a steel gun from the H.M.A.S. Adelaide. The gun is now at Port Wakefield, South Australia, with only the mount remaining at Hill 60. The battery once housed munitions and explosives. (Ali, 1980)

Gun Emplacement. Illowra Battery

This is a concrete bunker connected to an underground tunnel system. Hill 60 is honeycombed with tunnels. The site of a World War II gun emplacement, which is of military historical significance. This is one of many gun emplacements which are part of the military precinct. All fittings have been removed. (City of Wollongong Heritage Study, 1991)

Military Installations - northern end M.M. Beach, Port Kembla

Breakwater Battery

One of two gun emplacements with related underground facilities. The emplacements once housed 6" (inch) ex-naval guns. Of Military historical value, and part of the coastal defence network and military precinct. (City of W'Gong Heritage Study, 1991)

Concrete Tank Barriers

High concrete tetrahedrons originally placed on beach to prevent tank movement. These were originally located at Berkeley Harbour.  (City of W'Gong Heritage Study, 1991)Port Kembla Primary School - Military Road, Port Kembla.

The school was originally founded in 1890, The existing 2 storey building was built in 1916. It was designed by the Government architect. The building is indicative of industrial development and associated population growth at the turn of the last century. This is a rare public building that dates the industrial growth period of Port Kembla. (City of W'Gong Heritage Study, 1991)

Port Kembla is located approximately 10.5 kilometres south of central Wollongong. It is bounded on the east by the Pacific Ocean. To the north its boundary lies at the northern most aspects of the Steel Works along Springhill Road. On the West, the boundary of the suburb lies along Shellharbour Road, Warrawong and the boundary of the Steel Works to Cringila. To the south the boundary lies along Parkes Street, and Cowper Street, then Surfside Drive to Kemblawarra.

Port Kembla - Environment

The general area of Port Kembla is formed on inter-bedded quartz-lithic sandstone, siltstone and claystone of the Illawarra Coal Measures. The Coal Measures are exposed at the headlands and rock shores, with coarse marine quartz Holocene sands. Upon settlement, much of the land was cleared for grazing and the foreshore of Port Kembla Harbour is based on disturbed land with introduced rock and soil fill.

On the coastal strip, sand dunes support a variety of native and exotic vegetation, with Banksia and coastal heath predominating. Hill 60 rises steeply above Fisherman's Beach to a peak of 71 metres above sea level. The area around Hill 60 is heavily infested with Lantana and Bitou Bush. There are a number of active clean up and regeneration groups now working at restoring the area to its original condition. In particular, the beaches of the area and Hill 60 are of important archaeological significance, containing many Aboriginal shell middens and artefacts. (Dallas, 2000)


 Port Kembla - Timeline

Red Point named by Captain James Cook
Bass and Flinders land near Red Point
Governor Macquarie's grants 2,200 acres to David Allan.  Names property 'Illawarra Farm' - Steelworks now on this site.
Captain Bishop,1st Commandant, Civil & Military of Illawarra (Five Islands) appointed, living quarters at Red Point, on Allan's grant
Illawarra Farm sold to Richard Jones
Richard Jones sells 'Illawarra Farm' to William Charles Wentworth - renames it "Five Islands Estate"
Headquarters of military detachment removed from 'Red Point' to Wollongong, accommodated in tents.
Southern Coal Co. opens jetty at Port Kembla to ship coal from its mine at Mount Kembla
Steelworks Hotel built (Great Eastern Hotel)
Dept. of Public Instruction received application for establishment of public school at Port Kembla - Provisional School established - 29 children.
Construction of 48 foot diameter gun pit commenced on Flagstaff Point. 6 inch breech loading pneumatic disappearing gun mounted
Mount Lyell Company erects Coke Works
Red Point becomes known as Port Kembla
Decision to develop Port Kembla as the deep water port for southern coalfields, rather than smaller Wollongong Harbour
Port Kembla Harbour Act passes - allows 2 breakwaters to be built to protect shipping
Mt. Lyell Co. establishes coke ovens alongside Mount Kembla Colliery jetty - operated until 1925
Bridge across entrance to Tom Thumb lagoon opened - provides easier access from Wollongong to Port Kembla
Work commences on Port Kembla's eastern breakwater
Port Kembla Provisional School (part-time) becomes a Public School (full-time) - 50 pupils
Wollongong and Port Kembla provided with reticulated water supply from Cordeaux Reservoir, built by Wollongong Municipal Council
Reid's Hill quarry opens
Work commences on Port Kembla northern breakwater
G. & C. Hoskins, steelmakers of Lithgow, acquire land at Port Kembla
Land resumed at Hill 60 by Commonwealth Government
Electrolytic,Refining & Smelting (E.R.& S.) works opens at Port Kembla.  Works able to refine blister copper, previously sent to U.S.A.
Public Works Dept resumes nearly 500 acres for harbour works at Port Kembla
No. 4 Jetty completed by Public Works Dept to handle materials for E.R.&S.
Port Kembla Ambulance service established
Port Kembla Surf Club established - 100 members
Coke works, Port Kembla, built for Mt. Lyell Co. incorporated a coal washing plant
Guinery's Hotel Port Kembla built
St. Steven's Church of England established in Military Road
Methodist Church, Wentworth Street, Port Kembla established
Police Station opened.  Constable Somerville first policeman at Port Kembla
Freight train runs; New Port Kembla line opens;  Port Kembla station proposed
Port Kembla Hotel opened
Port Kembla Public School opened on 30 June 1917
Metal Manufactures Ltd commences operations at Port Kembla
Foundation stone laid for St Patrick's Roman Catholic Church
Charles Hoskins became sole owner of Hoskins Iron & Steel Co. Ltd. (Illawarra Index)
Passenger train service at Port Kembla begins
Australian Fertilizers Ltd commences operations at Port Kembla
Charles Hoskins died. Succeeded by sons Cecil and Sidney Hoskins (Illawarra Index)
Licence granted for Commercial Hotel
No. 1 blast furnace at Steelworks, Port Kembla goes into production
A.I.&S. formed to be based at Port Kembla (Illawarra Index)
A.I.S. No.1 open hearth furnace operational, together with 6 soaking pits, bloom mill, rail and structural mill
A.I.& S merges with BHP
Lysaghts Works Pty Ltd commences production
Commonwealth Rolling Mills Pty Ltd commences production
St Andrews Presbyterian Church opened 26 October 1940
Port Kembla Public Library opens in former Presbyterian Church building
National coal strike (Illawarra Index)
Immigration programme commences - displaced persons from Europe. Workforce exceeds 5000 (Illawarra Index)
No. 3 Blast furnace comissioned (Illawarra Index)
Hot strip mill commenced (Illawarra Index)
No. 2 open hearth commenced - 31 furnace commissioned (Illawarra Index)
Inner Harbour opened on 28 November (BHP Review, Vol 54/2, July, 1978, p. 9).
2K electric furnace commissioned (Illawarra Index)
New Public Library opens, cnr. Wentworth and Church Streets, Port Kembla
The 135 ft high brick stack, located in front of Metal Manufacturers Ltd, demolished (Illawarra Index)
Five aboriginal families move in to recently completed cottages near Coomaditchie Reserve (Illawarra Index)
New branch office for the Australian National Line officially opened (Illawarra Index)
The first train hauls a load to the new coal loading jetty at the inner harbour (Illawarra Index)
Steelmake exceeds 3,000,000 tonnes. Workforce exceeds 15,000 (Illawarra Index)
Port Kembla Coal Loader opened (Illawarra Index)
Port Kembla District Hospital officially opened (Illawarra Index)
New footwear factory (Robin Bros) begins production at Port Kembla (Illawarra Index)

Official opening of Hill 60 Lookout (Illawarra Index)

Aboriginal boxer, Roy Burns, dies at Coomaditchie (Illawarra Index)
New Port Kembla Baptist Church opened (Illawarra Index)
No. 5 blast furnace commissioned - A.I.&S. no.2 plant tonnage oxygen plant 800 t/day (Illawarra Index)
Salvation Army church hall burned down (Illawarra Index)
Steelmake exceeds 4,000,000 tonnes. Workforce exceeds 20,000 (Illawarra Index)
First female metallurgist employed at AIS (Illawarra Index)
Electrical trade apprenticeships with Port Kembla's heavy industry offered to teenage girls for the first time (Illawarra Index)
Huge seas cause damage to Port Kembla harbour (Illawarra Index)
Serious labour shortage has prompted AIS to recruit 600 British workers (Illawarra Index)
English for Migrants courses introduced at Port Kembla steelworks (Illawarra Index)
John Lysaght (Aust) Ltd fined $400 for an infringement of the Clean Waters Act, 1970 (Illawarra Index)
Lord Mayor Ald. Arkell officially opened a branch of the ANZ Bank at AIS (Illawarra Index)
July 7 - no.1 open hearth ceased production (Illawarra Index)
Port Kembla Senior Citizens Centre Allen Street officially opened (MSS 1187)
Maldon-Port Kembla railway project announced by Premier (LCF)
Government cancelled Maldon-Dombarton rail link project (Illawarra Index)
Port Kembla Culture Festival ran from 1-7 October (LCF)
Whiteway Theatre destroyed by fire (LCF)
Port Kembla High School becomes Illawarra Snior College (LCF)
The first of two giant oil rig platforms (Esso) sails from Port Kembla Harbour (LCF)
Port Kembla loses its last bank (LCF)
Port Kembla Bowling Club closes its doors (ANZNewsstand)
Port Kembla Public School closes (ANZNewsstand)
New Port Kembla School opens (LCF)
Former Commonwealth Bank building and First Station listed on the NSW State Hertiage Register (www.heritage.nsw.gov.au/)
Hill 60/Illowra Battery listed on the NSW State Heritage Register (www.heritage.nsw.gov.au/)
RSL Club Port Kembla celebrates 85th year - oldest RSL sub branch in Australia (ANZNewsstand)
Port Kembla Cricket Club celebrates 90th anniversary (ANZNewsstand)
Port Kembla Pool reopens after refurbishment (LCF)
The new wave-to-energy plant designed by Dr Tom Denniss leaves harbour to final position offshort (ANZNewsstand)
Port Kembla Leagues Club celebrates 50th anniversary (ANZNewstand)
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Ali, Anne Croston. Illawarra Region Historic Buildings and sites : illustrated register. Vol II. Sub-Region. 1981.

BHP Review, Vol 54/2, July, Melbourne : The Broken Hill Proprietary Company Ltd., 1978.

Catterall, Kathleen. A living history of Port Kembla. Living History Team. 1994.

City of Wollongong Heritage Study. Study Report. Vol. 2/5 Appendices. Wollongong City Council. 1991.

City of Wollongong Heritage Study. Provisional Inventory Data Sheets. Vol. 3/5 Built items. Wollongong City Council. 1991

Dallas, Mary. Hill 60, Port Kembla : Conservation Management Plan. Vol. 1 – Report. Mary Dallas Consulting Archaeologists, 2000.

Dowd, B.T. The first five land grantees and their grants in the Illawarra. Illawarra Historical Society. 1960

Dykes, Owen. Port Kembla : a brief history of the Port from the earliest days 1770-1992. Missions to Seamen, Port Kembla. 1992.

Port Kembla Public School : Heritage Assessment Graham Brooks and Associates and Port Kembla Copper Pty Ltd. 2002.

Singleton, C.C. Railway history in the Illawarra. New South Wales. Illawarra Historical Society. 1984.

Stone, K.C. (2002). A profile history of Mount Kembla. Rev. Ed.

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