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


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.


Thirroul - History

In the 1870’s when settlement of the area began, all the area north of Wollongong was known as Bulli and Thirroul was called North Bulli. Before white settlement Aboriginals belonging to the "Thurrural" tribe roamed this area. There were many different ways of spelling the name which translates to "the place or valley of the cabbage tree palms"


Robbinsville was a former name for the village of Thirroul. The village was called Robbinsville after Frederick Robbins, who owned land in the area. The name was adopted at a meeting of inhabitants of the area in February 1880.

Land Grants

From the Parish map for the area, it appears that the first land grant in Thirroul was made to Samuel McAuley (later referred to as McCauley) in 1/6/1855. Other original land grantees were Joseph Roberts, James Holt, Jane Rose, Thomas Rose and David Ballantyne (Map of the Parish of Southend, County of Cumberland, 1921)

Early Residents

Samuel McCauley

Mr Samuel McCauley was one of the very oldest residents of the Illawarra district when he died in June 1899 at his home in Thirroul. He arrived in Sydney from Ireland in 1838 after which he immediately came to the ‘Five Islands’ as the Illawarra was then popularly known. From the time of his arrival, he never lived outside the Illawarra area.

The first five years after his arrival he lived on the Berkeley Estate where he was one of several settlers who respectively cleared and cultivated the property. He left there to buy and settle on a farm in Thirroul, then known as North Bulli, until his death at age 85. He was survived by his wife aged 84. They had three sons, two daughters, fifty-seven grandchildren and thirty-eight great-grand children.

‘….The deceased was a true type of the grand old veteran colonisers who faced the wild woods of the country in the early days with strong hearts and hands and subdued the land for the convenience, advantage and enjoyment of succeeding generations.’ (Obit. Kiama Independent, 29/6/1899 p.2)

The McCauley land extended from the beach to the railway line, adjoining Bulli Pass and north to Fords Road. In 1906 the first land in Thirroul to be advertised for auction was submitted under the name of "MacCawley Park Estate" (Gray, 1994)

Frederick Robbins

Frederick Robbins was a prominent resident who gave his name to the township of North Bulli as at was then called. Other suggestions for a name included, Southend, Newtown and flippantly, Mudmire, but were defeated by Robbinsville. The Department of Railways petitioned for the name of Robbinsville to be changed to the original name of Thirroul, and this was granted in 1891.

He was made the first postmaster of Robbinsville in 1888 after, along with other residents, lobbying the government to supply a post office and railway platform.

He was also actively involved in local meetings in particular those of the New South Wales Public School League. He was reported [IM 14/7/1888] to have sold one acre of his land, ‘well situated and elevated, being the centre of population’, to the Department of Education for the purpose of building a school and teacher’s residence. The school subsequently opened in 1889 with 154 children on the roll.

At a public meeting on 31/10/1879 it was resolved to favour a "universal and uniform system of national education; that aid should be withdrawn from denominational schools" and that "primary education should be national, secular, compulsory and free". Frederick Robbins said, "many children yet unborn would have cause to bless the perfecting of such a system in this country". (Illawarra Mercury 13/11/1874, 4/11/1879, 24/2/1880, 24/4/1888, 14/7/1888)

Early Industry


Cedar logging began along the escarpment from Bulli and to the north in 1890. The logs were sawn up on the spot and taken by horse and dray to Parramatta for sale. Most of the timber was removed by the 1850.


Whaling operations were in progress by 1817 and boiling down works had been established at Sandon Point. Whaling never really flourished here as whales only pass at certain times of the year making it a seasonal operation.

Ship Building

Cornelius O"Brien settled on Sandon Point in 1817. He was a very resourceful man who farmed and also built boats for the whaling industry. Evidence of his boat building activities in Hewitt’s Creek were still visible in modern times, but not much research into this activity has been done.


Tourism was the first real industry in the Thirroul area. This was due to the construction of the railway, beginning in 1882 and completed from Kiama to Sydney in 1888. This made the area easily accessible to people from Sydney and Robbinsville, as Thirroul was then still known, became a popular family seaside holiday destination with boarding houses and holiday cottages in demand. This changed in when the coal mines and the railway marshalling yards came to the area, and tourists chose to spend their holidays in neighbouring Austinmer, where a seaside holiday atmosphere remained.

In 1912, Mr T Horan, postmaster, erected an open-air theatre, King’s Theatre, in Thirroul. It had a canvas roof and canvas deck-type chairs. The name was changed to the rather grand ‘Crystal Garden Pictures’ in 1915, still without a proper roof. It became the summer picture show while the School of Arts was used in winter.

Coal Mining

Coal was first discovered in the Thirroul area in a creek bed off Ford’s Road in 1895 and five years later, John S Kirton opened Excelsior No 1 Coal Mine at this spot and the coal which was extracted was sold locally. In 1905 Excelsior No 2 was opened at the top end of Phillip Street. Initially coal was hauled to the surface by pit ponies but as the mine progressed, steam driven steel ropes were installed. The coal was then transported to the rail line at Kennedy’s Road by incline in skips. Once empty, the skips were returned to the mine by steam driven tailed ropes. However, pit ponies were still used underground until the mines were mechanised in the 1950’s. Excelsior Mine closed in 1962.


Thirroul Brickworks was the common name given to the "Vulcan Silica Fire Brick Company" which started to manufacture bricks in approximately 1920. In 1938 it was sold to "Newbolds Industrial Refractories" and the bricks were in great demand for use in gas retorts and furnaces. In 1974 Newbolds were taken over by "Australian Industrial Refractories" increasing the number of employees to about 300 with a much greater output. BHP has been in charge of the company since 1991. (Gray,1994; Parkinson,1994)

Early Transport


Dr Charles Throsby cut the first track down the escarpment in the Bulli vicinity, in 1815. This track was in use until 1844 when Captain Westmacott found another route up Bulli Mountain in approximately the same vicinity as the Pass of today. (Illawarra Mercury 31/12/98 p.11)

By 1880 maps showed the main South Coast Road from Sydney to be via Campbelltown down what is now known as Bulli Pass, Mount Ousley road not being built until 1939. In 1925 the Main Roads Board was formed and improvements to sections of the Princes Highway were begun. The section of road, which followed the coast from Bulli to the top of Bald Hill, was named Lawrence Hargrave Drive after the famous aviator from Stanwell Park. (Wollongong History Highlights, 1983)


Construction of the first section of the rail link between Sydney and the South Coast began in 1882. By 1884 the Illawarra Line as far as Hurstville was operational, and by 1886 the line to Loftus opened and buses began to operate completing the Sydney to Wollongong journey. The complete link up with Sydney was made in 1888 and the double rail line came in 1892. (Gray, 1994)


Steam ships carrying coal made their way up the coast to Sydney and further afield as early as 1863. Most of the Illawarra’s early coal was shipped from Bulli jetty which unfortunately did not offer enough protection for ships moored to it. Several vessels were washed ashore during storms and wrecked. In June 1864, 250 feet of the jetty was washed away and mining in the area came to a halt.

Ships also brought new settlers, cargo and supplies in and out of the area. For example the locomotives for use on the Kiama-Clifton run were transported by ship to Wollongong Harbour. (Wollongong History Highlights, 1983; Gray, 1994)

Thirroul - Historic buildings

Former King's Theatre

264-270 Lawrence Hargrave Drive, Thirroul

This large two storey rendered masonry and fibro corner building is a significant townscape element in the main Thirroul street displaying Federation Free-Style elements. This building, erected in 1912 by Mr Horan the then postmaster, was an open-air theatre with a canvas roof.

It is considered to have rarity, landmark & representative value as well as cultural, social, architectural, townscape & aesthetic significance. It is currently used as a skating rink. (McPhee, 1991)

Former Methodist Church

Princes Highway, Thirroul

Weatherboard Federation Carpenter Gothic church hall with entrance room and a simple metal pitched roof. This former church is one of a few surviving buildings of Thirroul that date to the early 20th Century. Built in 1911, it forms an important element within the townscape. It has representative, cultural, social, architectural, townscape & aesthetic value. It is currently being used as a community centre

Thirroul - Environment

Thirroul lies between the Pacific Ocean and a section of the Illawarra escarpment known as Lady Fuller Park. It is adjacent to Bulli Pass Scenic Reserve. Cabbage Tree palms were once plentiful in the area. These trees were highly prized by both aboriginal and white settlers. They have diminished with development although some still grow along the escarpment and the sides of Bulli Pass.

Early settlement began on the hilly area of the village as the lower beachside area was swampy and susceptible to flooding when high tides combined with a period of heavy rain. [Gray, Lenore. History of Thirroul. 1994]

The flora in the area belongs to the subtropical/warm temperate rainforest group, termed Mixed Notophyll Vine – Fern Forest, and occurs on the level sections of the escarpment where the soils have developed an accumulation of moisture and nutrients. On the upper slopes of the escarpment, Coachwood Rainforest is found.

The underlying geology is generally the Illawarra Coal Measures or sometimes the Narrabeen Group.

Types of trees include, Red Cedar, Moreton Bay Fig, Brown Beech, Cabbage Palm. Shrubs are Brittlewood, Orange Thorn, Native Olive and Hairy Pittosporum. Groundcovers of Giant Maidenhair and Climbing Fishbone Fern grow beneath vines such as Anchor, Giant Pepper, Common Milk and the Monkey-rope.

The escarpment area is rich in its variety of birdlife. Regularly recorded birds in the northern suburbs of Wollongong in summer include the Australian King Parrot, Crimson Rosella, and the Brown Gerygone, perhaps the most common small brown bird in the Illawarra rainforest. The Channel-billed Cuckoo and Pied Currawong are most often found in or near fig trees which provide their favourite food. Honeyeaters and Satin Bowerbirds commonly visit gardens adjacent to the escarpment. The Green Catbird is not as common but still well distributed throughout the district. (Mills, Kevin & Jakeman, Jacqueline. Rainforests of the Illawarra district)



 Thirroul - Timeline

25-28 April. Lt James Cook sailed up the Illawarra coast, observing and naming features, but was prevented from landing by heavy surf
Whaling took place off the Thirroul/Bulli coast & a boiling-down works was set up at ‘Boulli’ Point
Cedar tree felling began and most of the valuable timber was exhausted by the 1850’s
Bulli Mountain Road was replaced by Westmacott Pass track as main route over the escarpment
Settlement began in the hilly area of Thirroul (North Bulli) because the flat beachside area was swampy and susceptable to flooding
The name of Robbinsville was adopted to the area known as North Bulli
Construction of the first section of the Illawarra line commenced
Railway line from Clifton to Kiama completed
Licence granted to Samuel Kirton to open a hotel in Thirroul, called MacCawley Park Hotel
Railway link from Sydney to Kiama completed
Robbinsville post office was opened with Frederick Robbins, acting as postmaster
One acre of land obtained from Frederick Robbins for the purpose of building a school in the area
Primary school opened
The name "Thirroul" was officially adopted
Small Post Office erected at Thirroul Railway crossing, shared by rail & postal departments
Coal was first discovered in a creek bed off Ford’s Road
The ship "Amy" was wrecked on the rocks at the southern end of Thirroul beach. Ship and all hands were lost
John S Kirton opened Excelsior No 1 coal mine
Excelsior 2 seam was opened
Telephone came to the Bulli/Thirroul district
First land auctioned on the east side of the railway line, McCawley Park Estate
Bulli Shire Council was proclaimed
Swimming carnival held at Flanagan’s Creek
Open-air picture theatre opened by J S Kirton, the "King’s Theatre"
Railway marshalling yards and locomotive depot established
World War I memorial erected on the corner of Railway Parade. The memorial statue is now located in Woodward Memorial Park
Thirroul brickworks began production – Vulcan Silica Fire Brick Co
Author D H Lawrence and his wife came to live at "Wyewurk where he wrote the novel "Kangaroo"
Arcadia Theatre opened by Yardly Bros, built between the railway line and the main road
"New" King’s Theatre opened
Bus service began between Thirroul and Austinmer – Dions
A Melbourne-Sydney bound plane was forced to land on Thirroul beach during heavy fog. Residents formed a runway with car headlights to lead the plane safely down
Thirroul brickworks sold to Newbolds Industrial Refractories
Olympic pool opened
Bulli Shire Council, Central Illawarra Shire Council and the Municipality of North Illawarra combined to form The City of Greater Wollongong Council
Thirroul Library and Baby Health Centre opened
Kings Theatre becomes a roller-skating rink
Thirroul Plaza opened
Northern Illawarra Action Group (NIRAG) formed to oppose the construction of coal loading bins, a conveyor and balloon rail loop at Sandon Point.
NIRAG called for an integrated approach to the re-zoning and proposed development of land in Sandon Point/South Thirroul area
Ward boundaries were abolished
Thirroul Resident Group opposes development of old Excelsior colliery site
Return to Ward boundaries – 5 Wards were gazetted on 29 June
Residents and Council set up a beautification scheme for Thirroul village
Conflict over land development on the escarpment
Cycleway extension to Thirroul completed
Thirroul Village Committee wins prestigious Basil Ryan gold award at the 1993 Rise & Shine Awards presentation for improved streetscapes
Residents concerned about health risks, picket against Telstra phone tower
August – Thirroul is affected by storms and floods
June – Historians seek to delay the demolition of the disused BHP brickworks due to historical value. Demolition part of proposed redevelopment
September – Residents object to proposed high rise building development
Thirroul pool refurbished
New set of controls for development in Thirroul town centre endorsed by council
Anita’s Theatre (former King’s Theatre) opened.  Purchased, refurbished and renamed by Mr Comelli to honour his late wife, Anita
Construction of the new Thirroul Community Centre and Library commenced
June - Thirroul Community Centre and Library opens
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