Mount Kembla Colliery Including Site of Mine workings, Portal, Mine Air Shaft and Pit Pony Stables | NSW Environment & Heritage

Culture and heritage


Mount Kembla Colliery Including Site of Mine workings, Portal, Mine Air Shaft and Pit Pony Stables

Item details

Name of item: Mount Kembla Colliery Including Site of Mine workings, Portal, Mine Air Shaft and Pit Pony Stables
Other name/s: Pit Pony Stables, Mt Kembla No 1, Mt Kembla Colliery
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Mining and Mineral Processing
Category: Other - Mining & Mineral Processing
Primary address: Harry Graham Drive, Kembla Heights, NSW 2526
Parish: Wollongong
County: Camden
Local govt. area: Wollongong City
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
Harry Graham DriveKembla HeightsWollongong CityWollongongCamdenPrimary Address

Statement of significance:

The Mount Kembla Colliery site is significant for its association with the Kembla Heights village, a purpose built company village, as evidence of the evolving relationship between mines, mining companies and their workers and for its association with the Mount Kembla Mine Disaster 1902, the worst mining disaster in Australia. Ninety six men and boys were killed. Many reminders of the disaster are found in the town and surrounding area and the memory of the disaster holds an important place in the memories of the local residents which was demonstrated in the formation of the Mount Kembla Mine Disaster Centenary Commemoration Committee in 2001. The Mount Kembla community is a rare example of a community that is actively involved in coal mining and in the preservation of their mining heritage, with the continued attendance of thousands of people annually to the Mt Kembla Mining Heritage Festival organised by the Mount Kembla Mining Heritage Committee. Their desire to preserve the social heritage alongside the physical fabric has been clearly demonstrated in the publication of numerous volumes of written material from plays, poetry, prose to historical works. The Mount Kembla Colliery was at one time the largest and most important Colliery on the south coast and was one of the first collieries to construct a jetty of any proportion and rail line (still in use today) from Dendrobium. It was also one of the first mines to introduce longwall advancing with early coal cutters and the fist mine in the Illawarra to have its own electric power. Large skip wagons were used on the incline, instead of the standard gauge which was unusual in the area (one had been kept as a monument in Mt Kembla village). A fine example of pit pony stables can still be found in situ. The Colliery is significant for its association with the trade union movement in the Illawarra as it was the site of active unionism, for its history of shared facilities and use with the Kembla Heights Village which was built to house mining families and the special associations and meanings for residents and people who have worked in the mine.
Date significance updated: 18 Nov 14
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.


Designer/Maker: William Burrell
Builder/Maker: Mt Kembla Coal and Oil Company
Construction years: 1883-1970
Physical description: The site has been substantially cleared with some incomplete sandstone retaining walls remaining. The stables erected in about 1954 are constructed of a steel frame and are clad in corrugated steel sheeting with an unusual construction using railway tracks. The floor slab of the bath house can be identified nearby, although it is partially obscured by overgrown vegetation. The area originally used as the mines pit timber storage yard and located next to Harry Graham Drive was reworked to create a picnic area by the Rotary Club of Unanderra in the mid 1980s and includes a marker with details of the mine and the 1902 explosion. Mine air shaft: approximately 500 metres north of the site and beside the Harry Graham Drive is a circular brick chimney - a furnace shaft dating from the 1890s. A coal fire set in a grate at the base of the shaft helped to draw air through the mine.
The mine managers cottage (manager of old Pioneer Kerosene works) still stands below the old mine and is situated at Slow's Corner (A Profile History of Mount Kembla, K.C. Stone). The path of the incline can still be seen as part of the landscape from Mt Kembla village.
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
The site of the Pioneer Kerosene works is now buried. The pit pony stables are in a stable condition with some vandalism to the timber flooring. All other pit top buildings have been demolished. A 2008 landslip covered the Haulage Road entrance adit. In 2009 the Traveling Road mine entrance was partly collapsed, with a landslip above the area and the general area overgrown.
Modifications and dates: The company, under the supervision of the mine’s engineer, William Burrell, began construction on the mine and a railway to Port Kembla where it also built a jetty. In 1896 a shaft was sunk to the northwest behind the escarpment and ventilated the mine as a furnace shaft. A second shaft was sunk further again to the northwest and in this instance fitted out with a mechanical fan. The mine was totally destroyed by an explosion in 1902 and reopened the same year. The surviving stables probably date from the 1950s. 1968 - The hand worked contract method of mining was replaced by a mechanised system using rubber tyred front-end loaders.
The Colliery was closed in 1970.
Further information: A number of major movable items from the mine have been used at the Anglican Church in Mount Kembla village, adjacent to the Memorial, including a coal skip.
A kerosene retort has been installed in the local reserve to commemorate the shale mining industry.
Current use: Reserve
Former use: Coal Mining


Historical notes: This colliery, set in the escarpment behind the village of that name, is famous because of the major mine explosion that took place in 1902. The mine grew from the remains of the old Pioneer Kerosene Works, which was formed in 1865, this was the first shale oil works opened in Australia. The shale oil works was closed in 1877. An abortive attempt was made to mine the nearby bituminous coal seam that had been mined by the shale works for fuel for their retorts. In 1877 moves were made to establish a major coal mine in the area and build a railway from the mine to a bay at Five Islands (Port Kembla) where a jetty, capable of berthing ocean going vessels, was to be built. Government granted authority in March 1881 for the company to build the jetty and the railway line. The mine, the railway and the jetty went into service in February 1883. When the State Government built the eastern breakwater to form the new Port Kembla harbour in about 1900 they resumed the Mount Kembla jetty and portion of the railway line and then leased it back to the Mount Kembla colliery.

The company, under the supervision of the mine’s engineer, William Burrell, began construction on the mine and a railway to Port Kembla where it also built a jetty. William Burrell was responsible for the design and construction of the mine having begun his exploration in 1882. (Department of Mines Annual Report 1882)

In 1883, the first shipment of coal from Port was made in February 1883. In that year, over 21,000 tons of coal was mined and Mt Kembla employed 110 men. By 1901, the workforce had grown to over 300.

A new furnace shaft and chimney was built near the outcrop in 1887. The second furnace shaft was built in 1891 to the north west behind the escarpment. On 9 May 1903 the South Coast Times reported that the Mount Kembla Colliery had recently installed “a most thoroughly efficient and up-to-date electric light plant.”

The main rope roads, the engine house, workshops, offices and all the outbuildings at the mouth of the tunnel are fitted with lighting which at night presents a brilliant aspect. The generators are belt driven and are located in the main engine house. According to Department of Mines Annual Reports two 2,200 volt AC generators were installed, one rated at 220 kW while the other was rated at 120 kW; power was reticulated at 250 volts. In the 1931 DOMAR (Department of Mines and Resources) states that there were 54 lamps on the surface and 152 underground; there were 5 electrically driven haulages, 6 electrically driven pumps and 2 electrically driven fans. It is possible that the decision to introduce electric power into the mine came from the reports covering the 1902 mine explosion. Mount Kembla Colliery was the first coal mine in Illawarra to use electric power.

The late 1880s and early 1890s were troubled times for the colliery with frequent disputes between managers and workers over conditions, safety, pay and the right of the workers to unionise.

In 1902, disaster struck Mt Kembla when a vast gas explosion destroyed the mine killing 96 men and boys. The explosion was to have a profound effect on the village of Mt Kembla and the families of those killed and led to a Royal Commission into the explosion. Although the mine was rapidly back in production, memories of the disaster have survived in the local community and the 2002 the centennial commemoration was a major local event. The loss of life in this disaster is the worst experienced in any land accident in Australian history. In 1913 the ownership of the mine passed to the Mount Kembla Collieries Ltd.

The colliery and the railway line were acquired by Australian Iron and Steel on 1 July 1946. The mine ceased working in 1970 but the railway continued to be operated by AIS to haul coal from the nearby Nebo, and later, Dendrobium collieries. The railway is still in service hauling coal to the BlueScope Steel steelworks. Mt Kembla mine was the first colliery to use mechanical coal cutters.
1968 - The hand worked contract method of mining was replaced by a mechanised system using rubber tyred front-end loaders. This proved to be uneconomical. By 1970, its production was down to 400 tons a day and it closed having yielded 14 million tons in 90 years.

Social History:
The Union movement: The Mount Kembla Lodge conducted three major strikes before the disaster: in 1885, 1889 and 1893. The first strike arose from difficulties encountered particularly at Mt Kembla. (See also oral history of Fred Kirkwood who worked in the mine from 1926 and who describes the lack of decent conditions and facilities – no ambulances and no first aid attendants). After Jack Lang’s government came into power Mt Kembla had the 1st first aid room in the region with a qualified ambulance man.

Public Education: Mount Kembla primary school established in 1884 (originally weatherboard cottage) and later new building in 1895 after agitation from local community for school. The only other school was at Cordeaux which opened in 1857. A remission of school fees of 6d per week was sought by parents because of a long mining strike.

3 Cemeteries: Windy Gully, Miner’s Memorial Church Cemetery, Wollongong General Cemetery.

Rivalry between the mining community at Kembla Heights and the farming community of Mount Kembla.

(Historical Coal Mining Sites of the Illawarra, 2006)

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
The site as a whole has a strong association in the course of the Illawarra’s and the state’s history because:
• Evidence of key historical theme of mining from 1890s to the present day in the evolution of land use and character in the Illawarra region.
• It was the site of Australia’s worst industrial disaster, when in 1902, 96 men and boys were killed. – evidenced in the attendance each year by hundreds of people to Windy Gully Cemetry in July and the lighting of 96 candles in memory of those who died, and the continued attendance at the Miner’s Memorial Church, Wollongong General Cemetery.
• Evidence of relationship with development of company township of Kembla Heights and the growth and development of Mount Kembla as a mining township.
• Evidence of relationship with the supply of electric power to the Wollongong area as it was the first mine to supply power to the Illawarra
SHR Criteria b)
[Associative significance]
Peripheral association with local identities on the Illawarra coast and the state of NSW, of particular note is Ebenezer Vickery, who acquired an interest in seven coal mines in the Illawarra and was chairman of the Mount Kembla Coal and Oil Company. He was appointed to the Legislative Council of NSW in 1887.
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
The mine site and associated remnants including the incline are overgrown and much of the site is in the Illawarra Escarpment Reserve.
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
The site has strong cultural associations with the local community and, to a lesser degree, the broader coal mining community of the Wollongong and general Illawarra escarpment area. The associations relate predominantly to:
• The continuous attendance, since 1903, of a memorial service in the Soldiers & Miners Memorial Church, in remembrance of those who died in the 1902 Mt Kembla Mine Disaster.
• The hundreds who continue to attend each year, the Windy Gully Cemetery for a cold July 31 open air night service and lighting of 96 candles in memory of the 96 miners who died in the same disaster.
• The continued attendance of thousands of people to the annual Mt Kembla Mining Heritage Festival with its many and varied historic and cultural events.
• The restoration of the Windy Gully and Mt Kembla Cemetery headstones of the victims of the disaster.
• The relocating of the 1905 monument to the disaster victims from Wollongong to the Mt Kembla Church in the 1970’s.
• The erection of the wagon and skip monument at the same church and the last piece of shale from the 1865 Kerosene Shale Mine mounted with the plaque in the church grounds.
• The attempt to preserve the Workman’s Club rooms from circa 1895 at Windy Gully
• The numerous volumes of written material from plays, poetry, prose to historical material.
• Other associations are to be found in the history of the labour movement on this site in the early years, which culminated 3 strikes in 1885,1889 & 1893.
SHR Criteria e)
[Research potential]
SHR Criteria f)
The area is a rare example of a community that still is involved in the industry for which reason it was first established. It is also a rare example, as demonstrated above, of a community which is very involved in preserving its mining heritage – both the obvious physical mine site and the socially and culturally significant elements which have formed this community. This area has a high social and landscape value.
• The site has a rare example of a pit pony stable still in situ
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:

Protect remnant structures. Archaeological assessment is recommended. Interpretation of significance is recommended. It is recommended that the components of the Mount Kembla Mine be linked using historical tracks which form much of its social significance to form walking tracks within the escarpment.


Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Local Environmental PlanMt Kembla Colliery, portal, shaft, pit pony stable710526 Feb 10 2010-76 
Local Environmental Plan  07 Jan 00 1/200069
Heritage study     

Study details

TitleYearNumberAuthorInspected byGuidelines used
City of Wollongong Heritage Study1991A2-MK; A3-MK; A4-MKMcDonald McPhee Rogers Conacher FullartonGraham Neaves No
Review of heritage items in Wollongong LGA20137105Zoran PopovicZoran Popovic Yes
Historic Coal Mining Sites of the Illawarra20065.2.8O.H.M. Consultants M Landau & D McBeath Yes

References, internet links & images


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Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: Local Government
Database number: 2700819

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