Windy Gully Cemetery | NSW Environment & Heritage

Culture and heritage


Windy Gully Cemetery

Item details

Name of item: Windy Gully Cemetery
Other name/s: Cemetery*
Type of item: Archaeological-Terrestrial
Group/Collection: Cemeteries and Burial Sites
Category: Cemetery/Graveyard/Burial Ground
Primary address: Cordeaux Road, Windy Gully, Kembla Heights, NSW 2526
Local govt. area: Wollongong City
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
Cordeaux Road, Windy GullyKembla HeightsWollongong City  Primary Address

Statement of significance:

Windy Gully cemetery at Kembla Heights is of significance for the Wollongong local area for historical, social, scientific and reasons of rarity and representativeness. The cemetery, set in a mature landscape, is a local landmark. The cemetery comprises a number of graves of miners who died in the 1902 Mount Kembla Colliery disaster, including several monuments to pairs of close relatives, e.g. father and son or two brothers who died in the same accident. Monuments and headstones are generally elaborated and present representative examples of the beliefs and convictions of their time, particularly those relating to death and funerary customs, while the grounds have potential to contribute further to our understanding of these customs and practices. This cemetery is a related place, in heritage terms, to the Anglican Church and Cemetery in Mount Kembla.
Date significance updated: 05 Apr 17
Note: The State Heritage Inventory provides information about heritage items listed by local and State government agencies. The State Heritage Inventory is continually being updated by local and State agencies as new information becomes available. Read the OEH copyright and disclaimer.


Physical description: The cemetery comprises a number of carved headstones and monuments and retains the ability to interpret the extent of the 1902 Mount Kembla tragedy particularly emphasized through descriptions of details of the deceased, their ages and family situations. Additonal monument and plaques were added on occasssions by societies for preservation of memory of the event.
Current use: Cemetery
Former use: Cemetery


Historical notes: The Windy Gully Cemetery was established to cater for the victims of the 1902 mine disaster as the small cemetery at the church in Mount Kembla was not large enough at the time to accommodate the 96 victims.

The following has been extracted from "The Spirits of Windy Gully" by Paul Treanor (2013):

The 31 July 1902 started just like any other winter's day in the village near the Mt Kembla mine, but it was to be a defining day in its history and the history of Australia. It was a cold fine winter’s day without a breath of wind and by all accounts with a blue sky.

Night Deputies, brother-in-laws John Morrison and William McMurray, were in the cabin near the mine entrance after completing their nightly inspection. McMurray was writing up their report when the first men on the front shift began to arrive around 6 o'clock to start their day's work. Men on the back shift would join them two hours later. Morrison and McMurray's night inspection had found nothing to prevent the day's work from going ahead. As men arrived to start their day's work John called out: “All Right” and handed the man his token. Even though the men were supposed to read the report prepared by the night deputies, the calling out of: “All Right” was an accepted way of the miners knowing it was safe to take the token and to go into the mine to start their day's work. Their work was now finished and the brothers-in-law went home to bed.

Around two o’clock in the afternoon both shifts were in the mine along with Mr. Bates a Mine Inspector adding up to 261 men and boys. The front shift were getting ready to finish their day while the back shift was still working their last three hours including the young Wheelers and Clippers (mostly boys) who were moving skips along the tunnels.

It was 3 minutes past 2 o'clock when the mine erupted. The roof in the 35 acre goaf near the 4th Right, that everyone had been expecting to fall, started to come down in large sections. A previous smaller fall allowed gas to accumulate in the cavity it had left in the roof, and that along with any gas liberated by the large fall was forced out of the goaf into the tunnels near the 4th Right. This sudden rush of air and gas stirred up the coal dust that had accumulated in this section of the mine into a huge black gritty cloud.

Unfortunately the young 17 year old son of the night deputy, Henry Morrison, was in the path of this deadly mix of air, gas and coal dust and when it came in contact with his naked light from his coffee pot lamp attached to the front of his head it ignited and set off a terrific explosion with the coal dust particles killing him instantly. The explosion had stirred up the cloud of coal dust shot off in different directions in the mine. One direction it clearly went was down the main tunnel causing untold destruction. The force of the explosion was such that skips full of coal were thrown around like a toddler throwing a tantrum. Their contents tipped out across the floor of the tunnel. Wooden beams were blown out causing the roof to collapse and were flung down the tunnel along with rocks from the falling roof. Telephone cables were wrapped around timbers and skips. While this destruction was occurring in the main tunnel other areas of the mine also felt the effects of the gas and coal dust mixing and several simultaneous explosions occurred throughout various parts of the mine.

Amazingly miners in some areas didn't hear or feel a thing and men were reported to have continued to work unbeknownst to them that something terrible had happened.

The force of the explosion was so great it not only collapsed the mine entrance, it also destroyed plant and machinery as well as several of the buildings on the narrow level area of the escarpment being used to house the various pieces of equipment and for storage. Some of the workers above ground were injured and killed as pieces of wood, rock and metal flew through the air. Some received severe burns from the flames shooting out of the tunnel's mouth. Machinery had been thrown about with great force and the engine house was completely wrecked. Metal and galvanised sheets had been twisted and scattered around the site. The scene was one of complete devastation. One of the only buildings left in tact was the fitters' shop, which would later be used for handling the bodies and became known as the Death House.

Suddenly a great cry went up when 70 men appeared out of the darkness via the Manager’s daylight adit, lifting spirits and raising hope that more would survive. These men owed their lives to an experienced miner from the old country David Evans, who was one of the Day Deputies and had taken the men through some of the old workings to avoid the gas and got them out alive. Sadly about another 20 men had not followed his lead and instead walked down the main tunnel into the gas and their death.

In the end 96 men and boys lost their lives. 21 were officially listed as injured leaving 154 to make it to safety most under their own steam. Australia's most deadly industrial accident and until the Victorian Bush Fires in 2009, the biggest loss of life on Australian soil.

Each year on the anniversary of the disaster, 96 candles are lit at Windy Gully Cemetery to commemorate the victims as well as a range of other commemorative activities that remember others lost in mining accidents around the Illawarra. 2017 was the 115th anniversary of the disaster.

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
The item has historic value.
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
The item has social value
SHR Criteria e)
[Research potential]
The item has archaeological and natural value.
SHR Criteria f)
The item has rarity
SHR Criteria g)
The item has representative value.
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.

Recommended management:

Retain in use as cemetery and memorial site. All headstones, monuments and interpretive elements should be conserved in situ. Any eventual disturbance of grounds should be subject to an archaeological assessment.


Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Local Environmental PlanCemetery594126 Feb 10 2010-76 
Local Environmental Plan  28 Dec 90 18311553
Local Environmental Plan  07 Jan 00 1/200069
Heritage study     

Study details

TitleYearNumberAuthorInspected byGuidelines used
City of Wollongong Heritage Study1991L1-MKMcDonald McPhee Rogers Conacher FullartonGraham Neaves No
Review of heritage items in Wollongong LGA20135941Zoran PopovicZoran Popovic Yes

References, internet links & images


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: Local Government
Database number: 2700794

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