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Wollongong, NSW

Third largest city in New South Wales

Wollongong is the third largest city in New South Wales (after Sydney and Newcastle) and today it stretches, as Greater Wollongong, from Stanwell Park in the north in a continuous coastal sprawl, all the way to Shellharbour in the south. Nearly sixty kilometres of coastal development. Historically the city was a classic coal and steel centre with Port Kembla at its heart and numerous coal mines in the hinterland. This led to a perception that it was a big, industrial, smelly, smoky, and very ugly city ... and that perception has persisted. In reality the image of the 'dark satanic mills' is belied by the city’s beautiful northern beaches which entranced D. H. Lawrence; the charms of the rugged woodland on the edge of the escarpment which hide such treasures as the Wombarra Sculpture Garden; the city’s elegant Botanic Gardens which are larger than Sydney’s and offer excellent picnic areas and the elegance of the Hoskins' family home, Gleniffer Brae; the excellent local art gallery with its unique collection of great Australian artists all of whom painted the South Coast; the Science Centre with its interactive play area for children and its world-class planetarium; and the grounds of the University of Wollongong which must surely boast the finest gardens of any Australian university. It is a city worth exploring where a traveller could spend a week and not exhaust the attractions.

Location

Wollongong lies 85 km south of Sydney via the Princes Highway and the F6 freeway. A slower, scenic route through the Royal National Park and the small towns along the coast north of the city is 97 km.

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Origin of Name

It is claimed that Wollongong is a D'harawal (sometimes written Tharawal) Aboriginal word, correctly pronounced 'wol-lon-yuh' which is an onomatopoeic word trying to capture the sound of waves breaking and surf sucking the sand back - in other words 'the sound of the sea'. There are other interpretations with some sources claiming it means 'five clouds' and 'hard ground near the water'.

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Things to See and Do

Entering Wollongong
The argument about "the best entry point to Wollongong" is a tug-of-war between Sublime Point and Stanwell Tops. Both of them are accessed off the Princes Motorway.

Sublime Point, overlooking Wollongong's northern suburbs, offers dramatic vistas which extend from the southern edges of the Royal National Park down to Saddleback Mountain behind Kiama. The view of Wollongong – with both the steelworks and Port Kembla Harbour – and the city's northern beaches is spectacular and, in season, can be enhanced by the site of whales making their way up and down the coast. Equally impressive is Stanwell Tops where the view southwards, often with hang glider enthusiasts floating on the thermals above the beach, is characterised by sheer cliff faces and waves crashing against dark rock platforms and the sight of Wollongong away in the distance. The drive south from Stanwell Tops through the old coal mining towns includes the glorious arc of the Sea Cliff Bridge and a superb coastal road which winds between the escarpment and the edge of the ocean offering dramatic views at every turn.

Wollongong City Gallery
Wollongong City Gallery is an exceptional regional gallery with notable works from famous Australian painters all of whom painted in the local area. For example Conrad Martens, the great painter of the Blue Mountains and Sydney Harbour, is represented by the sublime ‘Illawarra Lake’. Margaret Olley, who used to holiday at Era in the Royal National Park, ‘Era Landscape’. So, too, are Arthur Boyd, Ian Fairweather, Tony Tuckson, Lloyd Rees, Eugene Von Guerard, Sali Herman and Grace Cossington Smith’s whose sublime The Sea at Thirroul is one of the gallery's highlights. The gallery also contains works by Arthur Streeton, Margaret Preston, Joy Hester, John Brack, Jeffrey Smart, Desiderius Orban and Brett Whiteley. The gallery is free and is open from 10.00am-5.00pm Tuesday to Friday and 12.00-4.00pm Saturday and Sunday. Check out http://www.wollongongcitygallery.com/ for more details.

Wollongong's Historic Buildings
Crown Street
Little is left of the historic centre of Wollongong. It has been replaced by a mall, large department stores and modern buildings of little significance. The only places of historic interest are the Post Office which dates from 1892, a terrace shop at 87 Crown Street which still retains its attractive decorative facade and veranda and Wollongong's Uniting Church (1882) - a stone building which is known as the Church on the Mall -  which replaced the city's original Wesleyan Church which dated from 1843.

St Michael's Church of England
Up the hill above Crown Street and, appropriately, on Church Street, is St Michael's Church of England which was designed by Edmund Blacket whose famous works include Sydney University Quadrangle and St Andrews Cathedral in Sydney. The design cleverly incorporates sandstone from an older church that was completed in 1847.

Historic Buildings in Market Street
At the top of Market Street is the ornate Italianate Court House(1886) which was designed by colonial architect James Barnet. The turret clock added in 1890. Extensions were completed in 1951 and, in 1970, the original courtroom was restored.

At Market Street is the Congregational Church, one of the oldest surviving buildings in the Illawarra, the Congregational Church. It was dedicated in August, 1857 with prominent Sydney businessmen, John Fairfax and David Jones, being trustees and benefactors. When the church was completed Wollongong had only 124 houses and a population of 864. See http://wollongongcongchurch.org/history/ for more details.

Illawarra Museum
At 11 Market Street is the old Wollongong Post and Telegraph Office (1876-92) which is now the Illawarra Museum. It is a fascinating insight into life in the Illawarra with special displays including:

(1) a Stockman's Hut - "On 2 December, 1816 Richard Brookes received a 1300 acre grant on the western perimeter of Lake Illawarra which he named "Exmouth". The homestead he built consisted of split timbers such as stringy-bark, red gum and red mahogany with some wall plates of sassafras. After the homestead was dismantled some timbers were taken to Mt Brown where they were used for a shed to store grain and tools. With the construction of the southern freeway in 1968 the building had to make way for progress. The Society obtained the timbers and Ken Thomas set about constructing a typical stockman's hut at the rear of the museum, completing it in 1979."

(2) An Historic School Classroom - the display varies and represents different eras

(3) An Air Raid Shelter - "The air raid shelter was built during World War II. The Museum building was then used as Government Offices. The air raid shelter is located at the rear of the building. The Illawarra Historical Society has used the air raid shelter as a display area depicting various items used by the people of Illawarra during the war years, such as knitting patterns and sheet music. Also on display are posters relating to the war years, a gas mask, an air raid warden’s helmet and hand book which would have been used during this time. In the corner is an old wireless set. A switch on the wall allows the visitors to turn back the clock and listen to recordings relating to World War II."

There is also a display dealing with the 1902 Mt Kembla mining disaster. It is open from 1.00 pm to 4.00 pm on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays and on Thursdays from Noon to 3.00 pm, tel: (02) 4228 7770. Check out http://www.illawarramuseum.com/ for more details.

The Boat Harbour and Lighthouses
To the east of the city's CBD is Wollongong Harbour which has recently undergone an impressive update and renovation. There was a time when it was the economic hub of the town and the entire Illawarra. It served the town well until the arrival of the railway and improvements in road transport. There are still indications of its historic importance. The lighthouse, for example, was erected in 1871-72 in response to numerous shipwrecks off the coast. It was made of cast iron and riveted boiler plates, Originally the beam was lit by an acetylene gas-lamp but this was replaced with electricity in 1916.

On the hill, known as Flagstaff Hill, above the harbour is the second lighthouse which was built as recently as 1936. The hill is known as Flagstaff Hill because a flagstaff placed on top of the stockade on the hill  in the 1830s to warn incoming ships of difficult sailing conditions. Other historic features include a cutting in the cliff, now a pedestrian track, which was originally part of the tramline route from Mt Pleasant mine to the harbour and, in Battery Park, two cannons and the partially-excavated underground fortifications, which are the remnants of a fort built in 1890 to guard the approaches to the harbour.

Skydiving
One of the region's great drawcards, particularly for backpackers and thrill seekers, is the Skydive the Beach which takes off from Albion Park airport and drops skydivers over Wollongong's North Beach and onto an oval in Stuart Park. Every skydiver is attached to your experienced tandem instructor and the jump, from up to 14,000ft (4267 m) above the beach, reaches speeds of up to 220km/h for up to 60 seconds, before the instructor pulls the chute and participants float down enjoying the view and thinking about the photos and DVD they are about to purchase. It is not cheap, tel: 1300 653 634 or check out http://www.skydivethebeach.com.au/

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Other Attractions in the Area

Port Kembla
In many ways Port Kembla deserves a separate entry. It is a fascinating industrial landscape and an area vital to the health of the Illawarra economy. In the early 1980s over 20,000 people worked at the Port Kembla Steelworks and they were the lifeblood of Greater Wollongong's booming economy. Today the area is still fascinating.

(1) the northern side of Port Kembla Harbour - visitors can drive along the road which lies between the Port Kembla Coal Terminal and the Tasman Sea and observe the huge coal stockpiles, the giant cranes which scoop up the coal, put it on conveyor belts and deposit it in the holds of the ships which take it to Asia, Europe and North America. The Port Kembla Coal Terminal was originally run by the Maritime Services Board but in the late 1980s it was taken over by a consortium of coal companies. The breakwater which protects the harbour from high seas is a popular haunt for both surfers and fishermen.

It is one of the ironies of Port Kembla that, although it is dominated by the Bluescope Steelworks, beneath the industry there is a beautiful area with glorious beaches. If you really want to experience this contrast at its most extreme drive south on Five Islands Road, turn east into Darcy Road and on to Gloucester Boulevard which is edged by two beautiful white sand beaches. Nearby is Hill 60 Lookout and Park, surrounded by regenerated bushland, which has views up and down the coast and across to Five Islands. The hill has a number of old gun emplacements and tunnels from the Second World War.

Nan Tien Temple
The Nan Tien Temple can be seen from the Princes Highway and can be accessed via Five Islands Road. It is the largest Buddhist temple in the Southern Hemisphere. Established in 1995 it is spread across 55 ha and includes a pagoda, shrines (the main shrine has five main Buddhas surrounded by 10,000 smaller Buddhas), a museum, auditorium, conference room, meditation room, a reception room, dining hall and a 100-room accommodation centre for visitors. There is also an excellent vegetarian restaurant. Guided tours are conducted on Saturdays and Sundays at 1.00pm, tel: (02) 4272 0600. For more detailed information check out http://www.nantien.org.au/

Wollongong Botanic Gardens and the University Grounds
Located on 28 hectares next to the University of Wollongong the Wollongong Botanic Gardens, apart from extensive lawns and fine floral displays, boast a rare All Abilities Playground where people restricted to wheelchairs can happily get lost in a true rarity: a maze for disabled people. Ideal for a picnic – there are extensive open grounds and cool retreats under large trees – the gardens have special areas including a herb garden, an area of flowering trees and shrubs, an open forests and grasslands featuring dry and wet sclerophyll forest plants from the east coast, a sandstone collection highlighting the heath plants found in the Illawarra and Shoalhaven, an impressive succulent mound, a dryland area including Australian plants which thrive in regions with less than 500 mm a year, and a rainforest community which includes a stand of Illawarra rainforest with 80 different species of trees and 15 species of ferns. An indigenous garden, which will feature both bush tucker and plants used for medicinal purposes, is currently being developed. In the south-west corner of the gardens is Gleniffer Brae Manor House, a home built by the Hoskins family (of Australian Iron & Steel fame) in 1938. It is currently closed to the public but is still a remarkable celebration of the fine art of bricklaying.

The Botanic Gardens, which are open from 7.00am – 5.00pm weekdays and until 6.45pm on weekends are free and lie south of the University of Wollongong just off the Southern Freeway. Check out http://www.wollongong.nsw.gov.au/botanicgarden for more details.

While in the gardens make sure you cross Northfields Avenue (it lies to the north of the gardens) and wander through the exquisite gardens of the University of Wollongong.

Mt Kembla Historic Village
Mt Kembla drew cedar cutters as early as 1815 but quickly evolved into an area of farming and orchards. By 1865 kerosene shale had been discovered and a kerosene works had opened. Fifteen years later coal was being mined and it was this that 'immortalised' the area because in 1902 it was the site of Australia's worst mining disaster when 96 'men' (some as young as 14) were killed as the result of a gas explosion. The tragedy is still recalled by the Mt Kembla Mining Heritage Inc who hold an annual festival (fr more information check out http://www.mtkembla.org.au/). Particularly important is the cemetery of the Soldiers and Miners Memorial Church of England which contains a number of graves of the miners killed in the 1902 explosion.

Today Mt Kembla village, located up the escarpment on Cordeaux Road which runs off the old Princes Highway south of Wollongong, still retains something of its turn of the century character. It is a pretty village surrounded by bushland with attractive views and the Mt Kembla Hotel is a magnet. There is a downloadable map - http://www.mtkembla.org.au/docs/Walk%201%20-%20%20Mt%20Kembla%20Village.pdf - which lists 28 places of interest in the village.

Walks around Wollongong
The excellent book Best Bush, Coast & Village Walks in the Illawarra (available at the Wollongong Visitor Information Centre in Crown Street) lists nine walks in its 'Around Wollongong' section. These are:

(1) Bellambi Lagoon - an easy, 7 km circuit lasting around 2 1/2 hours around Bellambi Point, Bellambi Lagoon and Corrimal Beach.

(2) Brokers Nose/Corrimal - which is a medium/hard 12.5 km walk and climb lasting around 4 hours from Tarrawanna up the escarpment to an exceptional vantagepoint above the city.

(3) An easy walk incorporating Wollongong's Harbour and Crown Street which lasts around 2-3 hours and is a 5km loop.

(4) A pleasant walk around Wollongong's Botanic Gardens and University which is a 3.3 km circuit lasting 2 hours.

(5) The Mount Keira, 4 km one way, medium/hard walk from Northfields Avenue to Mt Keira Lookout which starts at the Ken Ausburn Track.

(6) the Mount Keira Ring Track, a 5.7 km circular track which is medium difficulty and takes around 3 hours

(7) The Summit of Mount Kembla which is a 3.4 km, medium difficulty, 2 hour walk from Kembla Lookout to the top of Mount Kembla.

(8) The easy 5.5 km circuit walk around Mount Kembla and the easy

(9) Port Kembla Heritage walk which lasts three hours and is 5.7 km return.

The Beaches
The beaches of the Illawarra stretch from Stanwell Park in the north to Easts Beach at Kiama and they are noted as good surfing beaches, many are patrolled and are ideal family destinations and some are edged by delightful rock pools and rock platforms. Surfers are drawn to Stanwell Park, Coledale, and Sandon Point (Thirroul), Pt Kembla, the northern end of Warilla Beach, The Shallows near Bass Point, Killalea and Minnamurra Beaches (Shellharbour), Jones Beach at Kiama Downs and Bombo Beach.

Anglers, both from the shore and off the coast, are rewarded with good catches and there are prawns in season at Lake Illawarra.

Wollongong Science Centre and Planetarium
The Wollongong Science Centre is one of the best hands-on science centres in the state run as an adjunct to the University of Wollongong. There are two floors of exhibits including Foucault’s Pendulum, a working beehive, a gyroscope in a suitcase, an underground mine model and dinosaurs which move and roar. The Centre's planetarium has a full-dome where visitors can gaze at the planets and galaxies. As well there are impressive laser concerts and a movie about the history of natural selection that, amusingly, includes a cave man with an electric guitar. There are also Science Shows in the centre’s Science Theatre.

The Centre is open from 10.00am – 4.00pm seven days a week. The Science Shows, Planetarium and Laser Show cost extra. Check out http://sciencecentre.uow.edu.au/

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History

* Prior to European settlement the Illawarra was occupied by the Wodi Wodi people, part of the Dharawal or Tharawal language group, 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. Cook named 'Red Point' (Port Kembla) and 'a round hill top of which look'd like the Crown of a hatt' (Mount Kembla) which was subsequently named 'Hat Hill' by Matthew Flinders.

* 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 an eight-foot (2.4 m) rowing boat, Tom Thumb,  in 1796. The boat overturned at Towradgi Point, they stopped at Port Kembla and they saw Lake Illawarra. They named the small islands off Port Kembla 'Martin Islands' to honour of William Martin's bailing which had kept their small boat afloat. The name did not endure and the islands became known as 'Five Islands'.

* 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, passed the cliffs of Royal National Park, and discovered coal at what is now known as Coalcliff just 5 km north of Wombarra. The journey lasted only eight days. Bass made another trip that year and reached what is now Wollongong Harbour.

* As early as 1803 a certain Captain Isaac Nicholls, trying to prevent starvation in Sydney because of a drought, shipped cattle into the fertile Illawarra plains.

* Other early explorers of the Illawarra included Captain Kent in 1804 and botanist Robert Brown who visited the region between 1800 and 1805.

* Cedar cutting had existed in the area since 1805 when surveyor James Meehan noted the stands of huge red cedar trees. The challenge was to get the cedar to Sydney and in the early days the logs were simply floated offshore to waiting ships. By 1810 cedar cutters were illegally harvesting the timber and shipping it to Sydney.

* In 1812 the explorer George Evans camped at Barrack Point while en route to Appin.

* In 1815 Charles Throsby opened up the Illawarra to settlement when he created a track down Bulli mountain while looking for pasture for his cattle. He returned with his livestock and set up the first stockman's hut at what is now the corner of Smith and Harbour Streets, Wollongong.

* In 1816 Governor Macquarie requested that his surveyor general, John Oxley, establish free land grants and this resulted in the land being divided into free grants. Few of the wealthy landowners took up residence. They left stockmen in charge of their properties and employed convicts as station hands.

* By 1826 soldiers had arrived in the area to bring law and order to the increasingly recalcitrant cedar cutters and to curb conflicts with the Wodi Wodi. The first soldier barracks was established at Port Kembla and they moved to Wollongong in 1829. This was the beginning of the township of Wollongong.

* the 1830s saw Wollongong taking shape with the first church services (1831), first hotel (1833) and first regular steamship service to Sydney (1834). The town was officially gazetted in 1834. Convicts cut a path down from the escarpment through Mt Keira in 1835-36 and Wollongong Harbour was improved in 1837 so that people could actually arrive at a wharf rather than wading ashore.

* By the 1840s dairying was starting to dominate the local economy and cedar cutting was in decline. But the huge economic change occurred in 1849 when coal mining started at Mount Keira. By 1880 there were ten coal mines in the region and the demand from heavy industry and transportation was insatiable.

* By the 1850s Wollongong had a population of 864 (1856), a newspaper - the Illawarra Mercury (1855) and a government school (1851).

* The 1860s saw two important developments in transportation with the Bulli Pass opening to wheeled traffic (1868) and the construction of Belmore Basin expanding Wollongong Harbour.

* A jetty was erected at Port Kembla in 1883 and the railway reached Wollongong 1887. Work on the inner and outer harbours commenced at Port Kembla in 1898.

* In 1906 the main smelting works, which had started on the shore of Lake Illawarra, was moved to Port Kembla which grew rapidly. There was a copper refinery by 1908 and metal manufacturing occurred by 1918.

* In 1928 the biggest industrial change in the region occurred when Hoskins Iron and Steel moved their main steel making operations from Lithgow to Port Kembla. In 1935 BHP purchased the operation and it became the largest steelworks in Australia.

* Today Wollongong's manufacturing base is in decline. BlueScope still produces steel and BlueScope Lysaght produce Colorbond - a hugely popular roofing and fencing material. Tourism to the area is on the increase but it is confronted with the challenge of moving away from the traditional manufacturing base which has sustained the area for nearly 150 years.

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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 Wollongong.

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Useful Websites

The city's official website has useful information for visitors at http://www.wollongong.nsw.gov.au/city/visitor/Pages/default.aspx with special sections on the gardens, beaches, pools and galleries in the area. Also http://www.wollongong.com/ has extensive accommodation and restaurant listings.

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