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Page sections: Land grants | Early residents | Early industry 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.


Various meanings are given for the aboriginal word Warrawong:
these are "a whiting" and the "side of a hill", "a windy place on a hill", "wind-swept".

The Warrawong area has been known variously as Steeltown, Kembla Estate, New Kembla and, finally, Warrawong. The use of the name Warrawong was first recorded in a South Coast Times article of 1936. (South Coast Times, 4 Sept 1936).

Land Grants

Surveyor General John Oxley marked out the first land grants in the region on 2 December 1816. He marked out large parcels of land surrounding Lake Illawarra which were named Illawarra Farm, Berkeley Estate and Macquarie Gift. Crops such as wheat, oats and potatoes were grown around the lake and dairying became the primary industry in the late 1880s.

In 1817, David Allan was granted 2,200 acres at Five Islands. His property fronted the ocean at Red Point and Port Kembla and was between Tom Thumb Lagoon and Lake Illawarra. The grant was called "Illawarra Farm".

Allan was Deputy Commissary-General of the colony from 1813 - 1819. He carried on his grazing interests on his Illawarra Farm" of which 600acres were cleared. Produce from the farm was sold to the Government Stores.

Allan left the colony in 1822 and he leased the farm "with good cottage and office (Sydney Gazette, 22 June 1824).

In 1827 the property was sold to Richard Jones who later sold it to William Charles Wentworth & it came to be known as "The Five Islands Estate". Wentworth died in 1876 leaving the property to his son D'Arcy Bland Wentworth.

In 1899, 500 acres of the land was resumed for the Port Kembla Harbour and a further 1470 acres was resumed in 1913. (Herben, 2000)

Early Residents

Wentworth Family

The Wentworth Family had a long association with the Warrawong/Port Kembla area. William Charles Wentworth I purchased Illawarra Farm, later known as Five Islands Estate from Richard Jones. He died in 1876 and left the property to his son D'Arcy Bland Wentworth. D'Arcy Bland died without heirs and his nephew, William Charles Wentworth III, inherited the Five Islands Estate.

W C Wentworth III sold some of the land to Australian Iron and Steel to enable them to move from Lithgow to Port Kembla and some to a group of Sydney businessmen called "Heart of Kembla". The Wall Street crash (1929) and subsequent Depression meant that Heart of Kembla became bankrupt and as the land had not been paid for it reverted to W C Wentworth III. (Lawson, 1991)

In 1935, W.C. Wentworth IV began to develop parcels of land from his estate for sale. He granted 4 acres of land for a new school at Steeltown (Warrawong) and built a new Kembla Estate hall at Port Kembla.(South Coast Times & Illawarra Mercury).

When the land at Warrawong was subdivided the Wentworths would not allow inferior structures to be built in case they developed into slums. The subdivisions included unusual features for the time such as wide streets, kerbing and guttering and underground drainage as well as recreational areas & parklands. [South Coast Times, 30 August 1935]

Although the Wentworth family owned the Kembla Estate for over 100 years, they did not live in the district for any length of time. The land was leased or managed through a family trust.

Early Industry


David Allan, the first land grantee in the area, carried on grazing interests on his "Illawarra Farm" of which 600acres were cleared. Produce from the farm was sold to the Government Stores. Crops such as wheat, oats and potatoes were grown around the lake and dairying became the primary industry in the late 1880s.

Lake Illawarra

In the 1890s, attempts were made to make Lake Illawarra a deep sea port. A jetty was to be built on the western shore of the lake to allow the export of coal from the Ocean View colliery. As part of this scheme, a channel was to be dredged through the entrance of Lake Illawarra to allow ocean-going boats to reach the lake jetty. The channel was to be four and a half miles long and 430 feet wide between the breakwaters at the lake entrance. A railway line was built on Windang Island to carry rock cut from the southwestern side of the Island through to the mainland side of the Island. This rock was used to build the breakwaters, the remains of which can be seen today. The project was abandoned in 1902 because of the problem of drifting sand blocking the lake entrance channel. (Lake Illawarra Authority).

Warrawong - Historic buildings

Port Kembla District Hospital, Cowper Street, Warrawong

W.C. Wentworth first offered land for a hospital in Keira Street, Port Kembla. In 1923, this land was found to be unsuitable as it was not large enough.

After many years, demand for a hospital south of Wollongong grew and land in Warrawong was found to be suitable. The hospital was designed by the Government Architect, E.H. Farmer and opened in January 1965. It is situated in Cowper Street, Warrawong and has views of Lake Illawarra and the Pacific Ocean.

The hospital was built at a cost of almost £2 million. At the time it was the biggest hospital on the South Coast.

Design ideas were drawn from the Nuffield Report - a 6-year study into the function and design of hospitals (University of Bristol). [South Coast Times, 28 January, 19651

The Illawarra Area Health Service now manages the hospital.

Open Hearth Hotel, King Street, Warrawong

Originally built as a boarding house by the Wentworth family in 1939 to provide accommodation for the engineers and their families who came from the United States to start up Commonwealth Rolling Mills. It was known as the Commonwealth Hostel.

It became a hotel in 1948 and in the 1960's sold more beer than any other country hotel in NSW. [Illawarra Mercury, 13 March 1979]. It still operates as a hotel.


Warrawong is located on the shore of Lake Illawarra, a valuable natural resource and habitat for local wildlife. See also Windang profile.

Lake Illawarra is a shallow coastal lagoon approximately 31 square kilometres in area. The lake has approximately 39 kilometres of shoreline, very little of it remaining natural. It is predominantly an urban lake with 68% of the shoreline covered in urban or industrial development. The wetland areas of the lake provide habitats that are used extensively by waterbirds.

The following species are found on the lake:

  • Pelicans
  • Cormorants
  • Musk Ducks
  • Hoary-headed Grebes
  • Black Swans
  • Black Ducks
  • Grey Teal Ducks
  • Herons
  • Ibises
  • Spoonbills



 Warrawong - Timeline

First houses
Steeltown Public School opened (Flagstaff Road). Name of school changed to Warrawong Public School in 1946. School transferred to Cowper St site in 1946
First shop in shopping centre
Commonwealth Hostel opened (later became Open Hearth Hotel)
 Post-office opened
St Andrews Anglican Church, Cowper Street - built on land given by W.C. Wentworth (demolished 1999)
Odeon Theatre opened
Open Hearth Hotel (built 1936 as a boarding house for steelworkers)
Warrawong Shopping Centre opens
St Francis of Assisi School opens
Warrawong High School opens
Waghorn family opens the Gala Cinema (involved converting part of the the former Odeon Theatre which closed in 1971)
Westfield Shoppingtown opens, includes a Hoyts multi cinema complex
New library opens in Westfield Shoppingtown (combination of Warrawong, Berkeley and Pt Kembla libraries)
Stormwater quality improvement device installed at Kully Bay
Warrawong Catholic Church celebrates 50 years. (I.M. 11/04/06)
Launch of Laneway 127 art project (I.M. 10/09/06)
New Warrawong Library is opened on King Street (I.M. 30/11/2010)
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