Longwall roof supports, South Bulli Colliery, 1975

(From the collections of the Wollongong City Library and the Illawarra Historical Society)

In 1861 Messrs. Taylor, Walker and Longmore (TW&L) leased land from Henry Osborne at Russell Vale about one and a half miles from a successful mine owned by Thomas Hale, and opened a mine. While Walker had some previous mining experience, Taylor and Longmore were farmers who became miners in their own mine. After encouraging production results in 1861 and early 1862 the partners obtained approval in 1862 for a rail line from the mine. That was constructed from the mine to enable both bullock and horse drawn wagons to be hauled to and from the Bellambi Point where a jetty was erected.    

Early Problem    

In September 1864 TW&L were declared bankrupt and ceased mining. This was also at a time of a State wide economic depression and a turn down in the coal trade. Following the mine’s closure the Osborne Bellambi Co-Operative Coal Mining Company was floated, with plans to raise the funds needed to take over the assets and liabilities of the TW&L and continue mining. These plans were not realised and the decision was made to sell the saleable assets of the company. The mine was to remain idle for twenty years.    

The Advent of South Bulli    

In 1885 the mine, rail line and jetty, in a derelict state, were leased by the Osborne family to a syndicate headed by Messrs. Saywell and Wilson who had formed the South Bulli Coal Mining Company to reopen the mine. Mine plant recovered from the abandoned Ringwood Colliery in the Southern Highlands, where Saywell had been a part owner, was installed at the mine, and a rail line from the mine was constructed, with capacity to accept haulage by steam locomotive, to a jetty erected at Bellambi Point.    

In 1887 the South Bulli New Tunnel Colliery (SBNTC), known more generally as the South Bulli Colliery was opened on 12th November. The optimism of the time was reflected in the celebrations of the day, hundreds of people gathering to partake of the “..superabundance [of inner man supplies] provided by the Company ”. The latter included roast bullock, sandwiches and “other eatables”, and casks of ale provided by three local hotels.    

The first coal was shipped by sea in that same year. Details of the capital expenditure outlaid to establish the mine, the operating costs and the estimated profit from the mine were provided in a press statement by Mr. Wilson a Director of the SBNTC and Manager of the Colliery. The data indicated the undertaking to be most profitable, and showed also the dominant role of labour costs in the mine’s overall cost of operation.    

Thomas Hale’s Mine    

At this point, it should be noted that in 1857 a local business man Thomas Hale, had opened his Woonona mine a short distance to the north of the (later) South Bulli Colliery on land owned by Henry Osborne who acquired a half share in the mine in 1859.    

Coal from the Woonona mine was hauled in wagons by bullock and horse teams along a tramway to Bellambi Cove, where Hale had erected a jetty, the first to be constructed in Illawarra. Hale had been successful in establishing overseas export markets for his Woonona mine in both China and the USA.    

The Woonona mine closed in 1863 as a result of financial difficulties related amongst others, to geological conditions encountered in the mine and the sinking of one of several vessels owned by Hale.    

The Bellambi Coal Company and the Model Colliery     

The Woonona mine plant, tramway and jetty remained idle for twenty five years, until Joseph Mitchell and Woolcott-Waley approached the Osborne family in 1888 to reopen the mine and were offered a 50 year lease of 770 acres (310 ha) that included the earlier Woonona mine holdings. Mitchell and Waley were well known as coal contractors, engaged in purchasing coal and supplying ocean going steamers to the coal mining companies. 

Mitchell and Waley established the Bellambi Coal Company (BCC) in 1888 and raised £60,000 in capital funds to reopen the Woonona Mine, naming the mine the Model Colliery.    

The BCC purchased new and additional plant to complete the construction of the facilities required to establish a mine capable of producing 450 tons a day. As coal contractors and board members of the BCC, Mitchell and Waley made an offer to the Board of Directors of the company of a guaranteed price per ton for the purchase of all coal produced by the mine over a period of ten years. That offer was accepted.    

New Rail and Jetty    

With Joseph Mitchell in charge of the development and operation of the mine, changes were made to the mine access entries, and new plant was purchased for the incline haulage system and screening plant. A standard gauge rail line following closely along the route chosen earlier by Hale was constructed, and a new jetty was erected at Bellambi Point. The jetty was to play a central role in the company’s operations for many years. Whilst the mine was named the Model Colliery by the BCC, it was to remain known by the community as Hales/ Woonona colliery and later as the Bellambi Colliery.    

The Model (Bellambi) and South Bulli Collieries Tramways and Jetties.

In 1893 the partnership between Mitchell and Waley as coal contractors to both the Bellambi and South Bulli mines was dissolved by mutual consent, with the coal contracting business of that partnership being taken up by the BCC. Joseph Mitchell moved out of the BCC to take up other roles in the local mining industry and Waley was appointed General Manager of the BCC based in the company’s Sydney Head Office.    

Joining South Bulli and Bellambi.    

In 1902 South Bulli mine (bought by Ebenezer Vickery in 1890) was purchased by the BCC and this led to the progressive linking of the underground workings of the Bellambi and South Bulli Collieries with Mr. Thomas Cater at that time appointed as the manager of both mines.    

In 1904 the South Bulli mine replaced the existing steam driven Waddle 20ft (6.0 m) diameter mine ventilation fan with a 26ft (8.0 m) diameter Walker Indestructible fan with the required capacity to ventilate both the South Bulli and the Bellambi mines.    

Mine portal, South Bulli Colliery ca 1915

(From the collections of the Wollongong City Library and the Illawarra Historical Society)

At the South Bulli mine between 1908 to 1931 Gibson’s Tunnel was opened in the Balgownie Seam at the pit top and linked to the Bulli Seam above by an underground drift roadway. That enabled the underground to surface haulage systems, mine portal exit and surface incline haulage handling large capacity rail wagons (established in 1876) to be progressively abandoned. The older systems of haulage from underground to surface were replaced over a period by the underground to surface haulage system exiting the mine from Gibson’s Tunnel. This system was designed to deliver the coal skips to an endless rope inclined haulage system and a screening plant erected at the base of the incline. This work was completed in 1931. In the 1960’s the endless rope incline haulage system was replaced by a Decline conveyor belt.    

Rapid Development    

In 1909 a relatively high output capacity electric power generating plant was installed to meet the increased needs of the mines installed plant. This plant was also used to provide a domestic power supply to residents of the Shire of Bulli.

Power Generation Plant, South Bulli Colliery ca 1909

(Bellambi Coal Company, 1909)

As demonstrated by this development, the company and its mines were by 1909 well established, profitable and progressive. The company marked the occasion by publishing a descriptive and well-illustrated volume titled The Mines of the Bellambi Coal Co. Ltd, Southern Coal District, New South Wales. This depicted the full span of the company’s operations from underground coal extraction to the coaling of large ocean liners with whom the company had supply contracts. Selected photographs may be found here.    

Sawmilling    

In 1917 the Sassafras Saw-Mill and Timber Company erected a mill on top of and a short distance west of the escarpment, adjacent to Bellambi Creek. This mill was erected under the financial guidance of senior staff members the South Bulli Colliery including Mr. A. E. O. Sellers the Superintendent of the colliery.    

The sawmill provided the roof support bars and pit props to both the South Bulli and Bellambi mines and sawn timber for the local and metropolitan building industry. All timber from the mill was delivered by an overhead flying fox system from the top of the escarpment to the Model mine screening plant. The pit timber was unloaded and initially taken underground by the Bellambi mine and the South Bulli mine, and as required when the mine workings of these mines were linked together. The sawn timber was unloaded from the flying fox into rail wagons and transported to a rail siding on the South Coast Rail line.    

The End of the Bellambi Mine