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Stanwell Park

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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.

Stanwell Park - History

Stanwell Park was possibly named after the village of Stanwell on the south side of London. Stanwell Park was also known by the aboriginal name 'Little Bulli'. Bulli means 'two mountains' and referred to the mountains on either side of the village. 'Little' was because Bulli already existed.

Will's Geographical Dictionary of Australian Colonies, 1848 notes that 'Stanwell Park' is situated at 'Little Bulli' on the sea coast in the County of Cumberland, NSW. This suggests that the farm may have been called Stanwell Park while the locality retained its old name.

Land Grants

Mathew Gibbons

In 1824 the Colonial Secretary's Office approved the granting of 1,000 acres to Matthew Gibbons. The grant was known as 'Little Bullie' and later Stanwell Park. The area Gibbons preferred was called 'Watermolley' (Wattamolla) but he was only given a certificate of occupation to this land.

The grant of 'Little Bullie' was actually made official in 1832. The deeds of the land were not actually issued to Gibbons by the Governor until August 1833. (Adams, 2005)

Early Residents

Mathew John Gibbons

Gibbons was born in England in 1765. At the age of 22 he was sentenced for petty theft in England and in October 1789 he was transported to NSW on the 'Suprize l', part of the second fleet. Gibbons arrived in Sydney Cove in June 1790. He was a servant, clerk and steward to Major Francis Grose, the founder and commander of the New South Wales Corps. Gibbons was officially accepted into the NSW Corps in 1793. After twice returning to England Gibbons and the rest of his family returned to Australia in October 1822.

Around 1825 Gibbons established a stockyard at 'Little Bullie' in the care of John Paid. In 1828 Gibbons reported that 10 acres of land had been cleared and were under cultivation. The property at this time had 4 horses and 71 cattle. Matthew John Gibbons died on 22 July 1835. (Adams, 2005)

John Paid

John Paid was a convict transported to NSW for petty theft. He was assigned to Mathew Gibbons who sent him to Stanwell Park 'Little Bullie' to cultivate the land. John Paid soon decided that bushranging was a far more lucrative occupation. He became known as 'Wolloo Jack', leader of a bushranger gang that terrorised the Stanwell Park and Appin areas during 1827-28. He was caught and sentenced to death in June 1829. (Adams, 2005)

Major Sir Thomas Mitchell

Major Mitchell was Surveyor-General of Australia. He purchased Stanwell Park and "all the Coal Cliffs to Clifton in the 1840s". Major Mitchell built the first house at Stanwell Park. (Adams, 2005)

Lawrence Hargrave

Australia's greatest contributor to the early science of Aeronatics. He was born at Greenwich, England on 29 January, 1850. The family arrived in Sydney on 15 December, 1865. Lawrence was an apprentice engineer at the engineering shops of Australian Steam Navigation Company.

He lived at 'Hillcrest' at Stanwell Park for six years and died in 1915. In November 1894 Lawrence Hargrave succeeded in lifting himself to a height of sixteen feet above the ground using four box kites. His invention of curved surfaces to give lift was adopted by all future aeronautical designers. This work gave impetus to the development of the aeroplane. (Walker, 1984)

Early Industry


Mathew Gibbons used the land at Stanwell Park to run small flocks of sheep and cattle. This small farm was run by the convict Jack Paid who had been assigned to Gibbons. (Adams, 2005)


Early residents worked on the construction of the railway or found work at the Helensburgh and Coalcliff coal mines.

Early transport


A road from Wollongong to the Coal Cliffs was opened in 1868 but it was of very poor quality and in some sections was hardly more than a track. (Adams, 1986?)

In the late 1880's a five horse coach use to bring visitors along the dustry road to Bald Hill, Stanwell Park and along the cliff road. On the return journey all the passengers had to walk up the long road to Bald Hill.


In 1888 the first railway line to Stanwell Park was opened and the direct Wollongong to Sydney connection was completed. (Illawarra Mercury, 22/3/1984)

Stanwell Park Viaduct - Stanwell Park Creek Gorge

Location: Between Stanwell Park tunnel and Stanwell creek tunnel.

Built to span the deep gorge, it is the largest of its type in Australia. The Highest point is 215 feet and was constructed using five million bricks. It is crossed everyday by train services to and from the Illawarra. (Ali, c1981)

Lawrence Hargrave Memorial

Location: Lawrence Hargrave Memorial Park, 234/340 Otford Drive, Bald Hill

Memorial to Lawrence Hargrave - aeronautical pioneer and resident of Stanwell Park. He experimented with kites and gliders. He was known as the 'Father of Australian Aviation' and the memorial was erected in 1940. (Ali, c1981)

Historic Buildings

Lawrence Hargrave House - 'Hillcrest'

Location: Railway Crescent, Stanwell Park.

This residence was inherited by Lawrence from his brother Ralph. He built Hillcrest overlooking Stanwell Park Valley between 1876 - 1883. The residence is a single storey colonial Georgian design, made from stucco bricks. It has an iron roof, the interior wood is cedar and the fireplaces are marble. After Lawrence died the property was left to Mrs. Margaret Campbell. (Ali, c1981)


"Stanwell Park occupies an amphitheatre shaped valley, with steep forested slopes rising 300m to the plateau." (Short, 1993) It is surrounded on three sides by the Illawarra escarpment and by the ocean to the east. Progressive development of the catchment over the years has transformed the area from a natural rainforest to an urban area.


Stanwell Park has a temperate climate with a distinct maritime influence. Summer and autumn are characterised by moderate to high temperatures, high humidity, onshore winds and peak rainfall. (Sydney Water, 1999)


As progression is made from inland towards the ocean the geology changes from quartz lithic sandstone to quartz and lithic "fluvial" sand, silt, and clay, and medium to coarse grained "marine" quartz sand with shelly layers. (Sydney Water, 1999)


Vegetation in the area includes:

  • Heath - Found on the sand dunes and gentle slopes adjacent to Stanwell Park Beach
  • Open Forest - occurs on the slopes and in gullies and includes species such as Blackbutt, Turpentine, Grey Ironbark and Smooth-barked Apple.
  • Reedland - occurs on the margins of the southern lagoon of Stanwell Park and includes Native Reed and Swamp Oak. (Sydney Water, 1999)


There are two main creeks in the Stanwell Park area:-

  • Stanwell Creek - flows through two small dams on the top of the escarpment, before flowing over the escarpment into the southern valley of Stanwell Park. The channel of the creek is steep until it reaches the southern end of Stanwell Park Beach and widens into a lagoon. The lagoon is periodically open to the ocean.
  • Hargraves Creek - begins on the escarpment in scrubland adjacent to the Southern Freeway. It flows into a large rock pool and over the escarpment. It enters the sea at the northern end of Stanwell Park Beach. The mouth of the creek is periodically open to the sea. (Sydney Water, 1999)

 Stanwell Park - Timeline

Colonial Secretary's Office approves the granting of 1,000 acres to Matthew Gibbons at 'Little Bullie' later Stanwell Park
A stockyard was established at 'Little Bullie' in the care of John Paid
John Paid sentenced to death for his activities as a bushranger
Matthew Gibbons Grant at 'Little Bullie' made official
Deeds of 'Little Bullie' issued to Matthew Gibbons by the Governor
Matthew Gibbons dies
Lawrence Hargrave born in Greenwich, England
Company formed to work the coal seam on an estate formerly the property of Sir Thomas Mitchell.
The Hargrave family arrives in Sydney
Section of Illawarra Railway from Bottle Forest to Stanwell Park survey protracted
Mr Hargrave arrives at Stanwell Park
Railway blocked. Fall of thousands of tons of earth at Stanwell Park
Lady Carrington and children staying at Stanwell Park
Stanwell Park Station first listed in time table
Lawrence Hargrave, Australian pioneer in aeronautics, on 12 Nov 1894, lifted 16 feet into the air by string box kites
Mr J L Hargrave to start on a 12 month trip to Europe
Tourist Union seeks resumption of roadway from the railway to the beach at Stanwell Park
Platform removed from the east to the west side of the line. New siding being constructed in place of the platform. Siding to be 794 feet long.
Railway siding at Stanwell Park nearly complete
Land resumed at Stanwell Park for public park
Business and residential lots to be sold between the railway station and the beach
Land sale - Roman Catholic Church and Episcopalian Church secure sites
Boarding house of 22 rooms being erected
Stanwell Park popular with tourists
Railway commissioner at request of Bulli Council, to provide a siding and additional accommodation at Stanwell Park. Add 66 feet to "present platform". Erect new platform for "up" (Sydney) train passengers. New office for Stationmaster and 2 runaway sidin
New railway station, residence and sidings costing £5000 to be installed. Work commenced
Railway station improvements. Goods siding available to the public.  Station Masters office to the extreme south end of platform with goods siding opposite. Overhead bridge wanted to avoid the walk to the end of the station to cross at the north end
Helensburgh and Stanwell Park Surf Bathing and Life Saving Club erect dressing sheds on the beach. Bridge over Stanwell Park Creek being built by R B Cram
Stanwell Park Life Saving and Surf Bathing Club has 135 members
Governor and Lady Chelmsford visit Stanwell Park by motor car. Children staying at Hillcrest
3000 to 4000 tourists at Stanwell Park on Eight Hour Day
Helensburgh people travel to Stanwell Park Episcopalian Church Sunday School picnic
Launching of new life boat "Grace Darling"
Stanwell Park Estate Company making roads on subdivision to sell land
Episcopalian Church Rev. W Newmarch, Rural Dean of Wollongong, laid the foundation stone for the new Episopalian Church Hall on Saturday 20 December, assisted by Rev. W T Price of Helensburgh, the originator of the movement
Bulli Shire Council seeks old railway line for roadway when Stanwell Park deviation complete from Cliftonville level crossing to Stanwell Park level crossing
Passenger trains running to Sydney on new deviation. Grade reduced and time the same. Deviation eliminates Otford tunnel
1921  Lady Carrington Drive, Stanwell Park to causeway road in neglect and disrepair. Trustees policy to re-open for motor traffic
Stanwell Park to Clifton bus proposed
Old railway route to be converted to a road by the Main Roads Board. The new station 289 feet above sea level, 191 feet above the old station. In 1920 the railway was diverted to reduce the railway grade of 1 in 40 which limited operations.
New school building to be erected
Bridge over Hargrave Creek opened
Three rooms and veranda of "Hillcrest" blown away in a storm
New school opened on Saturday 21 April.
Electric light officially switched on  by D Hopkins, one of the oldest residents of Stanwell Park, in the presence of shire councillors. Installed by Bulli Shire Council to replace hurricane lamps. Celebration at "Stanwell House" of Mr and Mrs D Hopkins
Great storm. Lagoons cut through beaches. Tremendous damage to railway. Family swept away
Lawrence Hargrave Memorial proposed
Lawrence Hargrave Memorial on top of bald hill unveiled by Governor, Lord Wakehurst, on Saturday 3 August
Lady Wakehurst officially opened Lady Carrinngton Drive, the resurrection of the old Lady Carrington Drive. It had fallen into disrepair in 1931 and was now rebuilt. Lady Wakehurst Lookout also opened
On Bald Hill, a memorial overlooks Stanwell Park, the home of Lawrence Hargrave|He lived at Stanwell Park from 1893 to 1899 and experimented there with box kites. Memorial erected by Bulli Shire Council and unveiled by Lord Wakehurst
Blue Gum residents want name changed to Hargrave Heights. Area above Stanwell Park already called Stanwell Tops
Water famine in Stanwell Park and Stanwell Tops. Residents rely on house tanks and water cart
Stanwell Park branch of Country Womens Association active
Water to be turned on at Stanwell Park
Members subscribe £300 towards cost of building Stanwell Park Surf Club clubhouse. Stanwell Park is oldest surf club in Illawarra
Water supply for Stanwell Park turned on by J B Renshaw, Minister for Local Government, on Saturday 15 September
Stanwell Park Ladies Surf Club formed on Sunday 1 December
State surf championships to be held at Stanwell Park
Stanwell Park has Country Womens Association group
Fire last November razed 24 holiday huts that had been erected without council approval
Railway blocked by landslide on southern mountain
Stanwell Park Country Womens Association building fund reaches £950
Stanwell Park Country Womens Association rooms and Baby Health Centre construction begun
Argentine ant eradication campaign. Infestation over 50 acres to be sprayed
Swimming pool sought by deputation to council
James Irvine’s folk museum established in the basement of the former home of Lawrence Hargrave. Exhibits date back over a century
Camping area costing $56,000 proposed. Alderman Bartlem says unwarranted
Wollongong Council drops the camping area project
Stanwell Park conservation society formed
$200,000 federal grant for additions to Frank and Jess Kennett home for the elderly.
Stanwell Park railway viaduct is damaged after mining activity is carried out in its proximity. Repairs carried out and further reinforced in 1992.
Stanwell Park viaduct identified as a structure of high heritage significance to the local area.
NSW government commits to establishment of a Priority Sewerage Program for the area.
Priority Sewerage Program plan released for public comment. Program to involve a mixture of pipes, pumping stations and overland transfers.
Stanwell Park railway viaduct undergoes remedial work and reinforcement.
Work commences on a Priority Sewerage program for the area at total projected cost of approximately $45 Million.
$40,000 NSW Environment trust grant allows extensive bush restoration work at Hargraves Creek.
Priority Sewerage Program works completed.
Helensburgh-Stanwell Park Surf Life Saving Club celebrates its 100th anniversary with membership of almost 500


Adams, Michael., Little Bulli: the Pioneering of Stanwell Park and Northern Illawarra till the 1860s, Cultural Exchange International Pty Ltd, 2005

Adams, Michael., 'Matthew John Gibbons: Pioneer and first owner of Stanwell Park', in Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, Vol. 68 Pt 4 March 1983

Adams, Michael. The history of Stanwell Park and surrounding districts of the northern Illawarra region until 1950, 1986?

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

Short, A.D., Beaches of the New South Wales Coast, Australian Beach Safety and Management Program, Sydney, 1993

Sydney Water, Priority sewerage program for Coalcliff, Stanwell Park, Stanwell Tops and Otford Sewerage Scheme : environmental impact statement, [Sydney] : Sydney Water, 1999

Thorn, Jim, The first 75 years, 1908-1983 : a history of Helensburgh-Stanwell Park Surf Life Saving Club, [Stanwell Park, N.S.W.] : Helensburgh-Stanwell Park Life Saving Club, [1983]

Walker, J. D., Lawrence Hargrave : Australia's pioneer aeronautical scientist, Canberra : Australian Government Publishing Service, 1984

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