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Bulli, NSW

Historic coal mining village north of Wollongong.

The historic coal mining village of Bulli, now considered a northern suburb of Wollongong, has in recent years become an increasingly chic destination with a superb local pub, excellent cafes on the beach and the arrival of people happy to commute to Sydney on the electric train service. Nestled under the Illawarra escarpment and blessed with beautiful beaches the town is slowly evolving from worker's paradise to fashionable south coast retreat.


Bulli is located 72 km south of Sydney via the M1 and the Princes Highway. A particularly dramatic and scenic route via the Royal National Park and Stanwell Tops is 86 km.


Origin of Name

It is thought that the word 'Bulli' is a Wodi Wodi (Tharawal) Aboriginal word meaning 'two mountains' and indicating two points on the escarpment - Mount Kembla and Mount Keira. It was being called Bulli as early as 1815 by the cedar cutters who moved into the area. There is no agreement regarding the meaning of the word. It has also been suggested that it might have meant 'place where the Christmas bush grows' or 'white grubs' and that it may have derived from Bulla or Bulla Bulla.


Things to See and Do

Bulli Miner's Cottage
Located on the Old Princes Highway just beyond the town sign declaring that Bulli is a  'Black Diamond Township' is the Historic Bulli Miner's Cottage. When, in 2012, the Wollongong Council were accused of neglect (they bought the house in 1990 and it had been empty for seven years) a local historian observed: "Located adjacent to the historic Denmark Hotel, it remains a unique example in the northern Illawarra of a building which typically housed the first generation of miners to extract ‘black diamonds’ from the Bulli coal seams. Though a sublimely simple structure, the cottage is one of the City of Wollongong’s most significant buildings."

It was probably built some time between 1870-1874 (although some claim it was constructed as early as 1850) and it offers a rare insight into the typical living conditions of a 19th-century South Coast miner's family. At one time seven children and their parents lived in this small structure. The cottage is made from a rough-hewn slab construction with pit-sawn plank walls of hardwood timber. The roof, once shingled, probably with ironbark, is now of corrugated iron. Behind the cottage there is a memorial wall recalling over 600 men who lost their lives in the region's mines from 1887 to the present. For more details check out http://www.illawarracoal.com/museums.htm

Denmark Hotel
The Denmark Hotel, located at 202 Princes Highway, was built of locally-produced bricks. It is a two storey building with a lookout tower, a corrugated metal roof, lace veranda and the rear section is built of timber boards. The rear lodging quarters of the original hotel (1877) were retained when the two storey front extension was built in 1886. The 1886 upgrade was to cater to the growth of trade brought by the railway. It was previously a stopover hotel for Cobb & Co coaches. It operated as a tourist hotel in 1896. It was built by Danish immigrant Peter Orvard.  It ceased to function as an hotel in 1907.

Bulli Uniting Church
Originally known as the Methodist Church and Manse these buildings, located at 96 Princes Highway, are the district's oldest-surviving buildings. Built in 1865 this small sandstone Victorian Gothic building is the oldest Wesleyan stone church in the Illawarra.

Historic Bank
On the north eastern corner of the Princes Highway and Park Road is a private home which was designed by noted architect William Wardell and opened as a bank in 1888. It is a fine example of a simple bank of the era.

Bulli Family Hotel now known as the Heritage Hotel
The most dominant building in the Bulli shopping centre is the remarkable Heritage Hotel, once known as the Bulli Family Hotel. Opened on 6 September, 1889 this huge three-storey High Victorian building (it is an example of the Federation Filigree style of architecture) was designed by architect William Kerwood for George Croft, a wealthy local landowner. The guests either arrived via the newly completed railway line or came down the Bulli Pass. They were accommodated in 28 bedrooms and treated to such luxuries as a billiard room, an assembly room and electric bells which connected the upper and lower floors. Famous guests included two governors-general and noted politician Sir Henry Parkes who addressed a public meeting at the hotel in 1893.  The hotel remains largely in its original condition with a beautiful cast-iron balcony, fluted iron columns, elaborate moulded trim and frosted bar windows. It was classified by the National Trust in 1977 and in recent years has gained a reputation as a superior, intimate music venue.

Park Road and Bulli Mining Disaster Memorial
Beyond the Bank on the corner of Park Road there are a number of cottages and just before the railway bridge the station master's residence. They all date from the late 19th century. On the eastern side of the bridge is a small park with a monument erected by the government to honour those killed in the Bulli Mine disaster. It bears the 81 names of the dead.

St Augustine's Church of England
Located at 66 Park Road  and now known as the Bulli Anglican Church, St Augustine's Church of England was designed by the famous architect, Edmund Blacket (Sydney University Quadrangle, St Andrews Cathedral in Sydney) in 1882. For those wishing to experience the sense of tragedy involved in the Bulli Mining Disaster 62 miners were buried here. For more information about the cemetery go to http://austcemindex.com/cemetery.php?id=622

Black Diamond Heritage Centre
The eastern platform and buildings of Bulli Railway Station were built in 1887 and saved from demolition in 1989 by the local community. Part of the building now houses the Black Diamond Heritage Centre. "The museum's focus is the preservation of the 1887 Bulli Railway buildings. On display is the South Bulli Number Two steam locomotive imported in 1888 and used until the early 1960's. The centre has a collection of maps and objects relating to local mining life and the Bulli Mine which once operated on the escarpment. The Bulli Mine was the first source of coal, colloquially known as black diamond." The Heritage Centre is open on the second and third Sundays of each month from 1.00pm - 4.00pm. Tel: (02) 4283 6429 for more information.


Other Attractions in the Area

Sublime Point
No trip to Bulli is complete without driving up Bulli Pass to Sublime Point which offers one of the great coastal views in New South Wales. The view stretches from Kiama and Saddleback Mountain on the horizon to the south, through Lake Illawarra, Port Kembla and Wollongong and up the coast to the villages huddled below the escarpment. Upon first sighting this remarkable vista in 1822 Governor Lachlan Macquarie wrote: "On our arrival at the summit of the mountain, we were gratified with a very grand magnificent bird's eye view of the ocean, the 5 Islands, and of the greater part of the low country of Illawarra ... The whole face of the mountain is clothed with the largest and finest forest trees I have ever seen in the colony."

Bulli Pass Scenic Reserve
Just south of the Panorama Hotel (which has spectacular views) at the top of the escarpment is the Bulli Pass Scenic Reserve which, like both Sublime Point and the Southern Gateway Centre, provides exceptional views of the coast. On October 19, 1920 a ceremony was held here to officially name the new coast road from Sydney to Melbourne the Princes Highway, after the then Prince of Wales.

Today there is a kiosk, toilets, picnic and barbecue facilities and two walking tracks at the southern edge of the clearing which lead down the escarpment or back to Bulli Pass Scenic Reserve.



* Prior to European settlement the Illawarra had been occupied by the Dharawal or Tharawal Aboriginal people for at least 20,000 years. They roamed across the narrow coastal plain, ate fish and crustaceans they caught in the rock pools and lived an idyllic life beside the sea.

* In 1770 Captain James Cook sailed up the coast. Cook attempted to land in the Illawarra but was forced to return to his ship because of the heavy surf that was running at the time. Of the area around Bulli, Joseph Banks, the ship's botanist, was to write: "The country today again made in slopes to the sea ... The trees were not very large and stood separate from each other without the least underwood; among them we could discern many cabbage trees but nothing else which we could call by any name. In the course of the night many fires were seen."

* Shortly after the settlement of Port Jackson in 1788 George Bass and Matthew Flinder, accompanied by their servant William Martin, sailed down the coast in tan eight-foot (2.4 m) rowing boat, Tom Thumb,  in 1796. The boat overturned at Towradgi just south of Bulli and it was here that Bass and Flinders made contact with the local Aborigines.

* In 1797 the survivors of the Sydney Cove traversed the area on their walk from the coast of Victoria. The vessel had been beached on the Furneaux Islands in Bass Strait. A boat was launched with seventeen of the crew but it was wrecked at Point Hicks . The survivors started walking north to Port Jackson but only three survived.

* In August 1797 George Bass sought Governor Hunter's permission to take two of the three survivors from the Sydney Cove and return to the Illawarra to investigate the survivor's reports of coal in the area. He set out in Governor Hunter's whaleboat and discovered coal at what is now known as Coalcliff. The journey lasted only eight days.

* The first Europeans to settle in the area were timber cutters who were chopping down the rich harvest of cedar as early as 1812. They dragged the logs to the beaches and shipped them to Sydney. They were working the forests around Bulli by 1815.

* There is evidence that the word Bulli, which supposedly is a Wodi Wodi word meaning 'two mountains', was first used by Europeans in 1815 to describe the area from Bulli to Mt Keira. It was in 1815 that Charles Throsby opened up the Illawarra to settlement when he created a track down Bulli mountain in looking for pasture for his cattle.

* In 1821 Governor Brisbane granted 300 acres to Cornelius O'Brien who established a farm in 1823 on the land that stretches inland from Sandon Point. In 1836 O'Brien sold his land to Captain Robert Marsh Westmacott who was enterprising and, during the next decade, purchased more land, bred and raced race horses, established a brickworks, cut a proper track down from Bulli Tops and established the first coal mine in the area. He returned to England in the 1840s.

* In 1861 the Bellambi and Bulli Coal Company was formed. It was connected by a tramway to Sandon Point in 1863 and the first ship to carry coal was loaded with 750 tonnes to be shipped to Shanghai.

* In the early 1860s the township started to grow. Miner's cottages were built, the Wesleyan church was built in 1865 and shops sprang up. The Bulli Pass road was built in 1867.

* By 1870 the Bulli mine was the most productive in the district. It employed nearly 100 men but conditions were harsh. There was no set weekly wage and no benefits. They were only paid for what they produced. The miners formed the first trade union in the Illawarra in 1879. Management closed the mine, evicted workers and brought in non-union labour.

* On 23 March 1887 the Bulli Mine Disaster killed all 81 men and boys working in the mine, leaving behind 50 widows and 150 fatherless children. That same year the railway connecting Wollongong to Clifton opened.

* In 1889 the Bulli Family Hotel (now the Heritage Hotel) opened.

* Bulli Shire was proclaimed in 1906. It amalgamated with Wollongong in 1947.

* In 1987 the Bulli coal mine closed down after 125 years of operation.


Visitor Information

The Wollongong region has two major visitor information centres. The first is located at Bulli Tops just off the Princes Motorway, is known as the Southern Gateway Centre and can be accessed by either going to http://www.southerngatewaycentre.com.au/ or tel: 1800 240 737. The second, known as the iHub Centre is at 93 Crown Street and can be accessed by going to http://www.visitwollongong.com.au/ or tel: (02) 4267 5910. Both these information centres can help with information about Bulli.


Useful Websites

The Wollongong Library website had a detailed history of Bulli. Check out http://www.wollongong.nsw.gov.au/library/onlineresources/suburbprofiles/pages/bulli.aspx

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