Edna Walling Landscaped Precinct, Mount Kembla (Under consideration) | NSW Environment & Heritage

Culture and heritage


Edna Walling Landscaped Precinct, Mount Kembla (Under consideration)

Item details

Name of item: Edna Walling Landscaped Precinct, Mount Kembla (Under consideration)
Other name/s: Edna Walling Estate, Village, Precinct, Alison Norris houses, BHP, Port Kembla Mine No.2, (small) Mine Managers Houses Mount Kembla, Alison Norris houses
Property description
Lot/Volume CodeLot/Volume NumberSection NumberPlan/Folio CodePlan/Folio Number
PART LOT17 DP255285


Organisation NameOwner CategoryDate Ownership Updated
OEH, Department of EnvironmentState Government 
OEH, NPWSState Government 

Statement of significance:

The Edna Walling Landscaped Precinct, Mount Kembla, dating from 1949, is likely to be of State significance for its aesthetic quality as a mid twentieth century landscape designed by Edna Walling and for the rarity of the estate as a built environment precinct in NSW designed entirely by professional women. It is of significance for its associations with its designers Edna Walling and Alison Norris, and with the visionary general manager of BHP, AJ Keast. It is also likely to be of representative significance as an estate built for the mine managers of BHP, a major industrial company which generated much industrial wealth and employment in the Illawarra and NSW.
Date significance updated: 06 Jun 11
Note: There are incomplete details for a number of items listed in NSW. The Heritage Division intends to develop or upgrade statements of significance and other information for these items as resources become available.


Designer/Maker: Edna Walling - landscapes, Alison Norris - architecture
Construction years: 1948-1949
Physical description: [To be expanded]
The Edna Walling Landcaped Precinct consists of a group of four houses designed by Alison Norris c.1948 within landscaped gardens designed by Edna Walling c.1949, commissioned by BHP to house the families of several mining managers near the Port Kembla No.2 Mine.

The group is located in the Illawarra Escarpment State Conservation Area, directly west of Mount Kembla Village, above Wollongong city.
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
[To be expanded]
Three of the houses are in reasonable condition and currently tenanted. The road below the fourth house suffered a landslip in 1998; that house has been vacant and subject to vandalism. However the road and the house are being repaired (in May 2011). The gardens are run down but retain their underlying structure in terms of stone walling and terracing, substantial trees and older plantings allowing for fine vistas.
Date condition updated:19 May 11


Historical notes: ABORIGINAL LAND
The indigenous occupation and connection to this site as part of Mount Kembla is spirtually signifiant in Aboriginal culture as a place for hunting wild game and possibly as a site for for men's business. The indigenous name for Mt Kembla is "Jumbullah", meaning place of much game. Mount Kembla is spiritually significant in Aboriginal culture as a place for hunting wild game and possibly as a site for men's business. (GML, 2012, pi)
Several reported examples of Aboriginal resistance to the European occupation of the Illawarra are provided in 'A History of Aboriginal People of the Illawarra 1770 to 1970' (Dept Environment, 2005). By the 1830s some Aboriginal people began participating in paid work. There are some records of Aboriginal men working in the coal industry in the Illawarra in the early 1900s as coal trimmers and Aboriginal people continue to work in the industry today. (GML, 2012, pi)

The first Europeans to visit the Illawarra area were the navigators George Bass and Matthew Flinders, who landed at Lake Illawarra in 1796. The first settlers in the region were cedar cutters in the early nineteenth century, followed by graziers in 1812. (GML, 2012, pii)
In 1848 the first coal mine opened in the Illawarra at Mount Keira and from this point coal mining developed as the major primary industry of the region. The developing coal industry had a major impact on the trade at Wollongong Harbour and also saw the development of mining villages at Balgownie, Mount Keira and Mount Kembla. The Illawarra Railway line, connecting Wollongong to Sydney, opened in 1887. This reduced coal transportation costs and coal industry expanded
dramatically. (GML, 2012, pii)

In 1887 the Southern Coal Company purchased 600 acres of land at Mt Kembla from various farmers intending to establish a major mining enterprise. Failure to find good quality coal saw the land sold, in 1910, to Wollongong business man and former Mayor William Wiley. He too was unsuccessful at finding coal and in 1923 the 600 acres was leased, and later sold to the Illawarra Coke Company (ICC). ICC already owned a large coke works adjoining the Coalcliff Colliery and
wanted to establish their own mine. In the early 1940s, using the name Port Kembla No. 2 Colliery they began to mine the Wongawilli No. 3 seam on Portion 173 of their land and this time were successful. (GML, 2012, pii)
Two entrances to the mine (adits) were driven in 1942 and 1944 and operations commenced in 1944. Mine infrastructure during this early period included a bathroom and blacksmith's workshop in an iron shed located opposite the current bath house. It also included the incline infrastructure down to the railway siding located adjacent to the Unanderra railway. John Benjamin, local farmer and prospector, managed the mine in this early stage. Pit pony stables lay where cottage 1 lies today. (GML, 2012, pii)
In January 1948 ownership of the now 581 acre site was transferred to Port Kembla No. 2 Colliery Pty Limited and management of the site came under the control of a large South Australian company Broken Hill Associated Smelters (BHAS). They purchased the mine to provide coal for their smelting works in South Australia. BHAS injected a large amount of money into the site and were responsible for the construction of most of the existing buildings including the mine
administration buildings and the four mine manager's cottages which were almost all constructed in 1948. BHAS engaged leading landscape designer Edna Walling to design the layout and plantings for the cottages and Alison Norris to design the four cottages. The mine operated until 1964 when lack of contracts saw its closure. (GML, 2012, pii)
In 1965 the mine and surrounding land were sold to Australian Iron and Steel (AIS/BHP) who had purchased most of the mines in the area by this time. They used the former PK2 site as the headquarters for their Geological Department from 1965-1989 using the buildings as a laboratory, drafting and store space. The cottages they rented to mine managers form other AIS collieries. It was during this period that the tennis court was constructed. In 1980 AIS/BHP donated 1503ha (3700 acres) of escarpment land, including 85.39ha (212 acres) of the wider PK2 site to the NSW Government as part of the Illawarra Escarpment State Conservation Area. AIS/BHP maintained ownership of the now reduced PK2 site on 73ha. (GML, 2012, pii)

The Edna Walling Landscaped Precinct, Mount Kembla was constructed by BHP as a housing precinct for its mine managers in 1949. BHP employed the Melbourne-based landscape designer Edna Walling to design this group of houses as well as a group in Port Pirie, South Australia, although only the Mount Kembla group was actually built. It appears that Walling influenced BHP to commission a young Melbourne-based architect, Alison Norris, to design the houses (Watts' entry on Edna Walling for ADB online, 2002; Watts, 1981; Goad, 2002; Nash, 1997).

Peter Watts explains in "The Gardens of Edna Walling":
"Two other villages were designed [by Edna Walling, as well as Bickleigh Vale in Melbourne]. One in New South Wales was built, and the other at Port Pirie in South Australia only reached the report stage. The client in both cases was Broken Hill Associated Smelters Pty Ltd. In the late 1940s Edna was invited to meet the general manager, who asked her to help with the siting of several houses for their coalmine at Mount Kembla in New South Wales. The design required four houses to be placed on a hillside backed by dense rainforest with a view over Lake Illawarra. Within hours of arriving at Mount Kembla Edna had abandoned the house plans she had been given, had won over the mine manager, and was directing a front-end loader to shift giant boulders around the house sites she had chosen: 'I soon realised that here was an opportunity not to be missed. It was such a treat to have men and machinery so geared to carry out one's ideas instead of a whole gang of men standing limply around waiting for a slow-witted boss to make use of them.' She was rarely complimentary about men!) Returning to Melbourne she had the general manager employ a young lady architect to redesign the houses. Together they pushed around small models of the houses on a contour plan until a satisfactory result was achieved, Passing through that country some years later Edna found 'it was most gratifying to see how pleasantly the little gardens were nestled up to the huge boulders we had placed, and how well those houses looked'. (Watts, 1981, p42)

Sharon Nash explained Alison Norris' (nee Banks) involvment in the architectural design of the precinct in "The architecture of Alison Norris FRAIA", an article which according to Footnote 3, was based on many lengthy interviews with the architect in 1993:
"At the beginning of 1946 Alison Banks arrived back in Melbourne from Sydney with the intention of finding private work. She and Marcus Norrris had decided to marry, and eventually to set up a joint practice; for the time being, however, he remained in Sydney.
"Only twenty-five years old, she had spent five years away from Melbourne, was recently qualified and did not appear to have extended contacts of the sort that would bring in work. She did however possess drive, immense energy and a quiet but sure belief in her own abilities. . .
"After some residential work - at Airley's Inlet and at Clontarf in Sydney - she was approached by A.J. Keast, General Manager of Broken Hill Associated Smelters (BHAS), to build three mine managers' houses for the Kembla Coal and Coke Company at their Port Kembla No. 2 Colliery on the New South Wales coast. What appeared at first to be a small project proved to be an important introduction into a network of mining company interests with the capactity to offer a diversity of private and commercial commissions.
"The reason for being granted the commission appeared to lie with Banks' interest in integrating landscape and building. As a student she had once met Edna Walling who was then working on the Port Kembla project. Walling's recommendation would have been particularly influential as A.J. Keast had also been interested in the double benefits of landscaping in mining towns - improved climate and better working conditions. . .
"The three houses, close to the mines for the mine managers, could not be large because of the restriction on house size after the war of ten or twelve squares. Materials were hard to obtain - in one house they used local stone. Banks travelled to Port Kembla with Keast once a week while the houses were under construction and then quickly discovered that she had a free hand. The houses were done satisfactorily, quickly and on time.
"Keast then asked her to go to Port Pirie and write a report on housing being built for new research staff. Her structural expertise was enough to convince him to employ her to design and build a further fourteen houses on the Balmoral estate at Port Pire for BHAS, where Edna Walling was also working in public parks. [However this estate never eventuated]" (Nash, 1997, pp31-33)

In 1989 the 73ha of the former PK2 site aquired by the NSW Goverment, initially under the Minister Administering the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act and then from 1991 under the Minister Administering the National Parks and Wildlife Act, 1974. The Department of Education then leased the former PK2 administration buildings where they ran a field studies centre from 1989-1998. The cottages were leased commercially. A land slip in 1998 forced the closure of the
Field Studies Centre and cottage No. 1. Those buildings have remained closed ever since. The remaining three houses continued to be rented. NPWS continues to manage the land under Part 11 of the NPW Act 1974; this allows for a broad flexibilty in scope for management and adaptive re-uses in future.

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria b)
[Associative significance]
The Edna Walling Landscaped Precinct, Mount Kembla is likely to be of State significance for its historical associations with Edna Walling, landscape designer and AJ Keast, the visionary general mnanager at BHP, as well as BHP itself, a major industrial company which has generated great industrial wealth and employment in NSW. [To be expaneded]
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
The Edna Walling Landscaped Precinct, Mount Kembla is likely to be of State aesthetic significance as an landscaped estate designed by Edna Walling, one of Australia's leading 20th landscape designers. It is remarkable for the relationship between the placement of boulders, wall, cottages and the mature plantings and in the relationship of these plantings to the adjacent rainforest. The cottages incorporated local materials, enforcing Walling's Arts and Crafts philosophy of a dwelling having an 'organic affinity to the site'. The location of the precinct surrounded by rainforest on the escarpment above Wollongong adds to its aesthetic distinctiveness and sense of place.
SHR Criteria f)
The Edna Walling Landscaped Precinct, Mount Kembla is likely to be of State significance for its rarity in NSW for being gardens designed by Edna Walling, who worked mostly in Victoria. Only four other sites in NSW are known to have Edna Walling designed gardens: Kildrummie, Holbrook; Kiloren, Crookwell; Markdale, Binda; and Millamolong, Madurama.
The precinct is also rare as a mid 20th century built environment precinct designed by professional women. Walling encouraged BHP to employ young Melbourne architect Alison Norris to design the four cottages and worked closely with her in positioning them within the landscaped gardens. It is also rare as a village precinct designed by Walling. There is only one other landscaped estate designed by Edna Walling, in Bickleigh Vale Victoria. Another estate was designed by Walling with Alison Norris for BHP in Port Pirie South Australia but was never built.
SHR Criteria g)
The Edna Walling Landscaped Precinct, Mount Kembla is likely to be of State significance as a representative example of an estate planned by a prominent designer for employees of a major industrial company (BHP).
Integrity/Intactness: The houses and gardens are generally intact although a little run down. One of the houses suffered a landslip and was vacated and vandalised but is being repaired by NPWS.
Assessment criteria: Items are assessed against the PDF State Heritage Register (SHR) Criteria to determine the level of significance. Refer to the Listings below for the level of statutory protection.


Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Heritage Act - Under consideration for SHR/IHO listingEdna Walling Gardens Mount Kembla 18 May 11   
Local Environmental PlanWollongong City Council6496 (Cottages) & 63   
National Trust of Australia register  228222 Nov 94   
Register of the National EstateInterim listing    

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
WrittenGodden Mackay Logan Heritage Consultants2012Port Kembla No.2 Mine Conservation Analysis (Draft) Report
WrittenPeter Watts2002'Edna Walling' entry for the Australian Dictionary of Biography
WrittenPeter Watts1981The Gardens of Edna Walling
WrittenSheila Nash 'Alison Norris"

Note: internet links may be to web pages, documents or images.

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Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: Heritage Office
Database number: 5061266
File number: 11/08482, EF15/2053

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