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Wombarra, NSW

Quiet coastal village near the impressive Sea Cliff Bridge.

There are old coal mining settlements between Bulli and Stanwell Park that seem so small and inconsequential that as you make your way along Lawrence Hargrave Drive they can slip by and be barely noticed. Wombarra which lies, between the escarpment and the Pacific, in a thin strip with Scarborough to the north and Coledale to the south, is typical. Located only 66 km south of Sydney it is one of those secret places with a glorious rock pool, a wonderful small area of coastal vegetation with the plants all identified on small plaques and, most impressively, the Scarborough Wombarra Cemetery which is set on a headland and, although much smaller, is the South Coast's panoramic equal to Bronte's iconic Waverley Cemetery. But the highlight of the village is Gaby Porter's Wombarra Sculpture Garden a sublime combination of fascinating sculptures in an unspoilt rainforest garden.

Location

Wombarra is located 66 km from Sydney via the Princes Highway, the F6 to Helensburgh and Lawrence Hargrave Drive.

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Origin of Name

It is claimed that the Tharawal Aborigines used the term 'wombarra' to describe the black ducks that lived in the area.

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Things to See and Do

Wombarra Sculpture Garden
Gaby Porter’s Wombarra Sculpture Garden is located at 57 Morrison Avenue which runs west off Lawrence Hargrave Drive. It is open on the first weekend of every month (Saturday and Sunday) from 10.30-4.30. It took Porter four years – from 1997-2001 – to turn this piece of rainforest into a wonderland of paths where the visitor can inspect, and reflect on, more than sixty pieces of sculpture by Porter and other artists. The materials used range from local stone to bronze (she won a major commission from Chatswood Council and a copy of the bronze statue is included), ceramic (some delightful birds hidden in the ferns), ceramic mosaics, steel, concrete and local timber. Porter estimates that all the works can be seen in an hour but explains that many visitors stay for the day. There are plenty of seats and she serves coffee and cakes and encourages contemplative picnics for those who want to spend time in the bushland. Check out http://www.wombarra.com.

Rock Pool
One of Wombarra's best kept secrets lies at the bottom of Reef Avenue (which runs east of Lawrence Hargrave Drive). On a rock platform with cliffs rising above it is a large, clean pool. It is idyllic and seems to be rarely used. This is ideal for visitors wanting a swim or wanting to mooch around the rock platform.

Scarborough - Wombarra Cemetery
Located between the ocean and Lawrence Hargrave Drive, this spectacular cemetery has glorious views over the Pacific Ocean. People visit the Waverley Cemetery in Sydney because of the views. The same deserves to apply to this stunningly located cemetery.

Sea Cliff Bridge
The Sea Cliff Bridge follows the coastline south, linking Coalcliff and Clifton.  Parking on the northern side of the bridge is available along a short road which runs off Lawrence Hargrave Drive about 400 metres north of the bridge but there is more, and better, parking at the southern end.  The 1.6-km bridge has a pedestrian lane shielded from traffic on one side and fencing on the other.  The views it dramatic and below is a rock platform which is popular with anglers. Dolphins and whales are seen offshore in season. The bridge was opened in December 2005, follows the winding coastline but stands with its feet in the sea, owing to the instability of the adjacent cliffs.  Rock falls and other safety concerns caused the closure of the old coast road and the construction of this new span which keeps it clearly well removed from the slowly crumbling geological facade.

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History

* 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.

* 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.

* 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.

* In 1833 1000 acres (405 ha) was granted to ex-convict Matthew John Gibbons. The property, which he named 'Little Bullie" ran from Coalcliff to Stanwell Tops.

* There were early attempts in the region to extract the coal. The NSW surveyor general, Thomas Mitchell, acquired land which he handed on to his son. He was unable to raise sufficient funds to exploit the coal on his land.

* Around 1876-77 mining began to dominate the area. The Coalcliff Mining Company built a timber chute down the cliffs and a 150-metre jetty but still getting the coal from the mines to the ships was difficult and companies changed hands regularly.

* In 1868 Wombarra was opened up to Wollongong when a bush road called Clifton Road was cleared north from the bottom of Bulli Pass.

* Between 1879-1886 a more substantial road known as Main Road was constructed to connect the mine at Coalcliff to Bulli.  It eventually became part of Lawrence Hargrave Drive.

* The railway line from Sydney to Wollongong was completed in 1888.

* Shaft mining began in the area around 1907.

* In 1997 Gaby Porter bought the land which is now the Wombarra Sculpture Garden.

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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 Wombarra.

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Useful Websites

There is no specific website for the township but the Wombarra Sculpture Garden has an excellent website at http://www.wombarra.com.

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Got something to add?

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2 suggestions
  • You have a lovely picture of the Scarborough Wombarra Surf Life saving club in the background, built in the 70’s. I wonder if you could include some background information on the inception of the club in 1914? Any pictures of the area floating around of that time?

    Bindi Adams
  • It would be nice to list any eateries close by so one can plan for dinner.

    I did that 25 years ago. They change too often. You spend all your time correcting them. Last time I had 20,000 entries. Imagine if only 1% change every day that is 200 changes. Nice idea … but too difficult.

    Westley