Coalcliff, New South Wales

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WollongongNew South Wales
View of Coalcliff from the Illawarra Escarpment
Coordinates 34°14′S 150°58′E / 34.233°S 150.967°E / -34.233; 150.967Coordinates: 34°14′S 150°58′E / 34.233°S 150.967°E / -34.233; 150.967[1]
Population 179 (2006)[2]
Postcode(s) 2508
LGA(s) City of Wollongong
State electorate(s) Heathcote
Federal Division(s) Cunningham
Suburbs around Coalcliff:
Stanwell Park

Coalcliff is a town on the coast of New South Wales, Australia, between Sydney and Wollongong. Together with Stanwell Park it belongs to the Little Bulli indentation of the northern Illawarra coast strip.

Aerial photo from north west


In 1796 William Clark and others trekking north to Port Jackson from the wrecked ship Sydney Cove noticed coal exposed at the cliffs there and made a fire from it, attracting rescuers, giving the area its name.[3] George Bass was despatched to report on it and traced the deposit along the shore and inland.[4] There was nowhere for ships to safely land though, so it was not until 1850 that it began to be excavated.

Land grants[5]

In 1824 Matthew John Gibbons received a promised grant of one thousand acres from Governor Macquarie. The grant was known as 'Little Bullie' and later Stanwell Park. Gibbons was actually allocated one thousand and twenty acres from the top of Bald Hill to Judge's or Stony Creek in Coalcliff.

Although the grant included Coalcliff Gibbons was unable to use it because of its inaccessibility. The land was promised to him in 1824 but it was not finally granted to him until 1833.

Early residents[5]

Matthew John Gibbons

Matthew John Gibbons arrived in Australia in 1790 as a convict on the Second Fleet. He received a pardon and joined the NSW Regiment as a steward to Major Francis Grose, a member of the NSW (or "Rum") Corps. He married a free settler, Margaret Gordon. They had two children, Matthew and Elizabeth. The Gibbons family went back to England for a time but they returned in 1821. Gibbons worked in the civil service as a storekeeper to the Civil Engineer until 1832.

Matthew John Gibbons was a prominent citizen of the early colony, and died a respected member of the community.

Sir Thomas Livingstone Mitchell

Mr Mitchell was a well known explorer and Surveyor General of New South Wales. He first acquired property in northern Illawarra in the 1830s. Mitchell purchased property in anticipation of the highway to Illawarra passing through the land. The highway was surveyed but not used to any extent. Mitchell lacked the means to develop the properties in the Illawarra and they passed to his son Campbell Mitchell with little having been done.

Early transport[5]


Construction of a rail link between Sydney and Wollongong was approved in 1881. It was done in three sections, the first from Sydney to George's River, the second from George's River to Clifton/Coalcliff, and the third from Clifton to Albion Park. The contract for the third stage of the Illawarra Railway was signed in 1883.

The Coalcliff Railway Tunnel No. 8 (also known as the Clifton Tunnel) is owned by the State Railway and was the first tunnel built on the Illawarra Line. It allowed the southern isolated section of the line between Scarborough and Bombo to be extended northwards to Coalcliff. This section was opened on 25 July 1888 extending the then isolated line so that passengers could transfer by coach at Coalcliff to the operating line between Waterfall and Sydney.

The tunnel is a brick oviform railway tunnel featuring buttressed brick portals with pilasters and brick balustrade above. It is the second longest tunnel on the Illawarra line. Work commenced on the Coalcliff Tunnel in 1883. The unofficial opening of the Clifton to Coalcliff line was on 23 July 1888, and the first through train ran from Sydney to Wollongong on 7 September 1888. It is a single lane tunnel, 1,003 m long. A brick works was established at Otford in 1885 to provide bricks for the Coalcliff Tunnel. It took 3 million bricks to line the tunnel.[5]

The Coalcliff Tunnel No. 8 is listed under the Local Heritage Act.[6]


In 1868 a road was constructed from the foot of Bulli Pass to Coalcliff in response to the small but growing population in the Northern Illawarra.

Coalcliff General Store

Old Coalcliff General Store Showing Fading Signage

In 1888 the Coalcliff General Store opened at 19 Paterson Road (once referred to as the 'main street') by Mr John Earle Gibbons and his wife, son and daughter-in-law of Matthew John Gibbons. Architecturally the store was of plain colonial style, constructed of local wood with a sandstone foundation. It sold, amongst other household items, milk, bread, butter, drinks, meat, stationery goods, cigarettes and other tobacco paraphernalia, jams, preserves, poultry and bakery products. The shop was the major life force behind the township until its closure in 1907. The same year the shop was burned to the ground via unknown causes and remained a vacant lot until 1910 when another store was erected and opened by a Mr. L. Jameson. The building still stands today at the corner on Paterson Road, which has been a private residential property since 1961.

The Jameson Store was the last running commercial outlet in Coalcliff, which ceased operation in May 1960 due to an overexpense of running costs and a severe lack of customers, with many of the towns-people opting to shop at nearby Stanwell Park, Helensburgh or south to Bulli and Wollongong. At the height of its popularity it served as a milkbar, fish & chip shop, general store, tobacconist and even a small bottle shop within its small boundaries. Its unsurpassable views meant it was a popular place for holidayers passing by.

The only evidence of this once thriving store are the fading advertisements painted to its side and roof.

Leeder Park[7] Leeder Park, situated on Paterson Road, is a rest park and children's payground which provides access to Coalcliff's tidal rock pool. It was a five-year community project which started in 1959. Noel Leeder (then Manager at Coalcliff Colliery and President of the Coalcliff Progress Association) used his earlier background as a practising geologist to put together a proposal to Wollongong City Council, the Joint Coal Board, and the local member of the State Government (Rex Jackson) for the Council to acquire two blocks of land in Paterson Road which were slumping into the ocean and taking part of the road with it. Noel Leeder identified the cause of the slumping which was the pudgy band of Scarborough Greywacke, stratigraphically lying near the base of the water-laden Hawkesbury Sandstones and just above the coal measures, which was regularly pinching out during rain and allowing the strata above to collapse and fall onto the rock platform and into the sea.

Mechanical equipment and other resources of the Illawarra Coke Company (owner of Coalcliff Colliery) were used to support the Paterson Road land stabilisation project in which the two blocks of land were drained and filled with 3,500 tons of hard rock and soil. Noel Leeder also successfully lobbied the Joint Coal Board to provide substantial funding to dig deeply below part of Paterson Road and the newly acquired blocks of land to precisely identify the location of the buried Scarborough Greywacke (then confirmed as the main water source causing the land to slump) and to buy the large diameter rust-free piping needed to pipe the water from below Paterson Road to the rock platform and the sea.

Once completed, the Joint Coal Board provided the funds to buy most of the furniture, swings, etc. for the park. A community meeting of Coalcliff residents requested the park be named after Noel Leeder who not only initiated the project but guided it through to completion. This was supported by Wollongong City Council. Noel Leeder acknowledges the much needed support he received for the project from the then Wollongong Mayor Albert Squires, who officially opened the park on 22 February 1964. A video of the official opening of the park can be viewed here.

Coalcliff Community Hall[7]

When the Sydney Water Board began to plan the first complete water reticulation and sewerage system to link Stanwell Park and Coalcliff with the Sydney and Wollongong systems, Noel Leeder, then Manager of the Coalcliff Colliery, persuaded the Colliery to donate land for a proposed new community hall and give the Water Board freedom of access through the cokeworks' extensive land holdings on the scarp and the plain above (including use of the private dam then providing all the water to Coalcliff, the mine and the cokeworks), and some vital logistics support in doing the work. The pay off was an undertaking from Wollongong City Council to finance, build and maintain the new Community Hall (with substantial input from the Colliery in the design). However, ownership of the land and hall had to be vested in the Wollongong City Council as was required by State legislation. At the time, Wollongong City Council pledged to always look after the very best interests of the community (see Save Coalcliff Campaign below). The Community Hall was opened on 16 November 1957.[5]

Save Coalcliff campaign

In August 2013 Wollongong City Council launched "Securing our Future", a review to address their asset renewal funding gap. This could have seen, among other things, local rock pools run to fail, the cutting of permanent life guard hours, and Coalcliff's Community Hall demolished.[8] This sparked protests in Coalcliff which was reported in both the local[8][9] and state media.[10]

Historical videos

Noal Leeder has uploaded several historical videos about, or featuring, Coalcliff onto his YouTube site. "Coalcliff - Paradise Found" includes an interview Nick Rheinberger conducted in April 2014 with Noel Leeder about his work at the Coalcliff Cokeworks and the events leading to the creation of Leeder Park.


The Illawarra Coke Company (ICC) in Coalcliff.

Illawarra Coke Company's (ICC's) site at Coalcliff was a working industrial site from the late 1800s when coal mining commenced, until the closure of Coalcliff Cokeworks in mid-2013.[11]

Coalcliff Colliery 1878–1991

The working life of the Coalcliff site dates back to January 11, 1878 when the Coal Cliff Land and Coal Mining Company loaded its first commercial shipment of coal onto the `Eagle' which took it to Sydney. The coal was initially shipped out by sea from a man-made jetty as there was no road access. A proper road was built in 1880 with the coal company's assistance. A shaft was eventually sunk further inland to join up with the workings from the jetty mine and new facilities were constructed around this pithead. The shaft mine was commissioned in 1910 and operations were progressively relocated to the new shaft with coal transported via the Government Railway.

Coalcliff Colliery operated for 114 years from 1878 until its closure in 1991. In 1980 it was the largest underground coal mine in Australia employing 988 men with an output in excess of 1.7 million tonnes per annum.

Coalcliff Cokeworks 1913–14

Coalcliff Cokeworks was constructed in 1913 and commissioned in 1914. 50 ovens of the non-recovery modified `beehive' type formed one battery. Each oven was designed with an arched roof – but rectangular in shape when looked at from above and with a door at each end to allow the discharge of coke through the oven. All the ovens were connected to a flue system which facilitated the coking process. The original 50 ovens each had a shared chimney on the top.

Coalcliff Cokeworks 1915–49

Coalcliff Cokeworks was directly linked by conveyor belt to a coal bunker at the adjacent Coalcliff Colliery which supplied the `slack and duff' (small coal) used in the cokemaking process. The hot coke was pushed out of the oven by a `ram' and was quenched with water by hand on the hearth in front of the ovens.

Coalcliff Cokeworks 1950s

In 1954 both the Coalcliff Colliery and Cokeworks were acquired by Kembla Coal and Coke Pty Limited (KCC) – a subsidiary of The Broken Hill Associated Smelters Pty Limited (BHAS). BHAS was a jointly owned subsidiary of the Broken Hill mining companies Conzinc Riotinto of Australia Limited, North Broken Hill Limited and BH South Limited.

Coalcliff Cokeworks 1960s

In the 1960s eight more ovens were added to the existing battery of 50 ovens.

Coalcliff Cokeworks 1970s

In April 1971 half of the battery of 58 ovens was converted to common ducting – half of the chimneys were removed. In 1975 a new, award winning Quench tower was built (Prince Phillip award for achievement in industrial design). It was completed in November 1975 plus a new coke car and road, new quench settling pond, coke hopper and tunnel.

In 1973 the ABC's current affairs program 'Four Corners' told the story of protestors confronting a coal mining executive from the Coalcliff mine in an effort to halt the dumping of its waste near the town. The protesters lead the ABC journalist Gordon Bick to an area where dumping preparations have already begun.[12]

Coalcliff Cokeworks 1980s

In September 1980 a new coal grinding and screening plant was constructed.

Coalcliff Cokeworks 1990s

Coalcliff Colliery closed in 1991 and between 1992 and 1993 the Colliery buildings on the Cokeworks site were demolished.

In March 1996 the present owners, ICC Holdings Pty Limited – a private company – purchased Illawarra Coke Company Pty Limited (ICC) which operated both Coalcliff and Corrimal Cokeworks. It became the only independently owned producer of coke in Australia.

In 1998 the new owners of ICC constructed a new crusher and screening plant.

Coalcliff Cokeworks 2000–13

During 2000 to 2010 there were a number of operational and environmental changes at the Coalcliff Cokeworks site.

The original ICC ovens Numbers 1 and 2 were demolished in mid-2000 and construction of two prototype Thyssen ovens commenced that October. The new ovens were constructed with Silica refractories in place of fireclay refractories and included several other different design features.

Major site works to construct water storage ponds and a water treatment plant commenced in 2003. On completion of the ponds in 2004 a revegetation project was started from the top to the bottom of the site. A large area was planted with native trees and shrubs to stabilise the steep slopes and to improve the amenity for nearby residents in the village of Coalcliff.

A new truck wash was built in 2003 further away from the main entrance to allow more time for water to drain out of vehicles before exiting the site onto public roads. The cleaning and covering of truck loads was also further improved in 2005 with a new truck gantry erected for drivers to be able to easily climb up and cover loads.

In 2007 the first of two new chargecars was delivered and lowered by a huge crane on to the battery roof. A second new car was delivered in 2008. This changeover to custom designed chargecars provided numerous environmental improvements and significantly reduced charging emissions, as well as providing considerably improved air conditioned working conditions for operators.

The refurbishment of Number 1 combustion stack was carried out mid-2008. It improved the operating performance of the ovens and provided additional environmental benefits.

A new method of quenching the hot coke as it is pushed out of the hot car was introduced during 2010 and a new type of coke feeder to move quenched coke onto the conveyor was installed.

A significant landmark in June 2010 was the delivery of the one millionth tonne of coke to a Japanese smelter. This was celebrated with the presentation of two original oil paintings to the customer; limited edition prints to companies who assisted in the deliveries and the minting of a commemorative medallion for employees in Australia and Japan.

The decade ended on a sad note when the ICC Chairman at that time, John Horseman, died in a car accident in November 2010.

Coalcliff Cokeworks continued at full production until its closure in mid-2013.

Noel Leeder, Coalcliff Coke Work's works manager in the 1950-60s, spoke to ABC AM's Brendan Trembath and ABC Illawarra's Nick Rheinberger about the closure of Illawarra Coke Works on 2 and 3 April 2014 after its Corrimal site shutdown.

The arts[edit]

Coalcliff Days[13][14]

In 2011 the Wollongong City Gallery presented an exhibition named Coalcliff Days. The exhibition showcased the significant contribution to both the Illawarra and Australian art scenes made by an artists and poets "colony" located at Coalcliff from 1979–1992. The Coalcliff site was established by Ken Bolton and Sal Brereton and was based in a miner's cottage perched on the cliff overlooking the ocean. This local council sanctioned "squat" served as the site of a number of seminal "post-modern" poetry, film and art projects. Sal Brereton left in 1981 and Ken Bolton shortly afterwards. Alan Jefferies then ran the house until 1992 when the council reclaimed the land and bulldozed the house. Today there is no evidence of the Coalcliff spot having existed other than a vacant block of overgrown scrub.

Between 1979 and 1992 many artists, poets, musicians and film-makers were drawn to this Coalcliff house including: Micky Allan, Ken Bolton, Sal Brereton, Kurt Brereton, Barbara Brooks, Pam Brown, Erica Callan, Laurie Duggan, Denis Gallagher, Alan Jefferies, Rae Desmond Jones, Steve Kelen, Kate Richards, Leigh Stokes and Tom Thompson.

A wide range of projects and publications were produced at Coalcliff including the influential new poetry magazine Magic Sam; as well as anthologies (No Regrets) locally screen-printed and produced poetry books including Sal Brereton's Ideal Conditions, Ken Bolton's Two Sestinas, Notes for Poems, Denis Gallagher's Making Do and Pam Brown's Small Blue View. Artist's books included Kurt Brereton's Hang-Gliding, We Are A Movie and Tyre-Pinch: The Cyclist's Nightmare; Ken Bolton's An Italian Drink, and the collaborative Xmas Corpses. A number of poetry readings were held in Wollongong; the film The Coal Cliff[15] by Kurt Brereton & Kate Richards (1981) and other super 8 home movies by Pam Brown and Kurt Brereton were shot at the time.

South Coast from Coalcliff Mine to D. H. Lawrence

Colin Lanceley is a painter, sculptor and printmaker who arrived in Australia in 1940 from Dunedin, New Zealand. He lived and worked in London during the 1960s and 1970s, but returned to Australia in the 1980s.[16] In 1987 Lanceley produced a work titled "South Coast from Coalcliff Mine to D. H. Lawrence". The work uses paint and found objects to express Lanceley's response to the dramatic qualities of the northern Illawarra coast. The work is recommended as a subject for the study of creative arts in NSW schools.[17]


Midnight Oil filmed part of the music video for "Dreamworld" (released in 1987) at Coalcliff beach.[18]

Activities and attractions[edit]

Sea Cliff Bridge

Sea Cliff Bridge From Clifton

The Sea Cliff Bridge surrounding the coal cliffs was opened on 11 December 2005 and offers a spectacular walkway and cycleway above the ocean and along the escarpment. There are splendid views offered towards Wollongong and Port Kembla in the south, and towards Bald Hill and the Royal National Park in the north.

The bridge is a popular backdrop for filming and has been featured in a joint 2007 Ferrari/Shell Fuel television advertisement that was shown in many countries around the world including Australia.[19] The bridge has been featured in many car advertisements around the world, including in VE Holden Commodore commercials. [1] It is listed on the global locations gallery for filming locations, LocationsHub.

Coalcliff Beach

Coalcliff Rock Pool looking north to Coalcliff Beach and the Surf Club

Coalcliff Beach fronts the valley, and is a 500 m long east-southeast facing coarse sand beach, with a mix of sand and rock seafloor off the beach, and the small Stony Creek draining across the southern end. Waves average 1–1.5 m maintaining three dominant rips, a strong rip against the southern rocks, a shifting central rip and one flowing north past the northern rocks. When the bars are separated from the beach the waves reform and surge heavily up the steep beach face.[20]


Coalcliff's rockpool is situated south of the beach and offers a safe swimming area, including a children's pool. There is a fresh water shower on a platform west of the pool, and an additional shower and toilet facilities located nearby in Leeder Park.

Nippers at Coalcliff Rock Pool

Coalcliff Surf Life Saving Club (formed 1924)

Coalcliff hosts its own Surf Life Saving Club with events like Nippers in summertime and assuring beach safety. The Sea Eals' winter swimming club takes place in the rock pool and is co-organised with the Helensburgh–Stanwell Park Surf Life Saving Club such as the annual 2.4 km Ocean Challenge swim between the two clubs in early April.

Bombie Bar

Situated in the Coalcliff Surf Club, the Bombie Bar hosts live music concerts on alternate Sundays during summer and attracts well-known local, national and international performers.

Rock fishing

A 400 m long rock platform extends south of Coalcliff beach, widening to 200 m. This is a very popular fishing area.[20][21]

Coalcliff Rock Platform

Coalcliff timeline[edit]

[5] 1797 Coal found at Coalcliff by William Clarke and two other seamen who were the first white men to traverse the area on land

  • 1833 Land grant known as 'Little Bullie' (later Stanwell Park) given to Matthew John Gibbons
  • 1878 Coalcliff Coal Company created by John Robertson & Alexander Stuart
  • 1878 Plan to build a road where the narrow bridge track existed around the cliff linking Bulli with Coalcliff and Stanwell Park
  • 1879 Coalcliff landslip of 200 tons of earth and stones across the bridle track
  • 1879 Post and Telegraph Office opened
  • 1879 Men and machines landed at the jetty to work on the Coalcliff Road
  • 1879 Miners Lodge formed at Coalcliff
  • 1879 SS Herga and SS Hilda built in Glasgow and on their way to Australia
  • 1880 Coalcliff has hotel licence but no policeman
  • 1880 Construction of road is progressing
  • 1880 Coalcliff Colliery company being formed
  • 1881 Portion of Coalcliff Jetty carried away, to be replaced
  • 1881 Mountainous seas again delay reconstruction of Coalcliff Jetty
  • 1881 Landslips on road between Clifton and Judge Hargrave's residence
  • 1882 Pure water supply required for Coalcliff. Water to be supplied by company from the back of the mountain
  • 1882 Coalcliff miners strike settled. Stuart, manager, conceded 3 pence per ton above other mines
  • 1883 Charles Harper relinquished managership of the colliery to Charles Stuart, nephew of the Member for the district
  • 1884 Work commences on Coalcliff tunnel
  • 1885 Death of J F Hargrave
  • 1886 Death of Alexander Stuart
  • 1886 Cliff road being fenced
  • 1887 Third section of the Coalcliff tunnel opened
  • 1888 New station at Coalcliff called North Clifton
  • 1888 Trains commence on the railway line to Coalcliff
  • 1909 Coalcliff Colliery purchased by Coalcliff Colliery Pty Ltd
  • 1910 Miners return to work at Coalcliff Colliery after 4 day strike
  • 1955 Shaft being sunk at Coalcliff to connect the tunnel of the original Clifton mine
  • 1957 Coalcliff Community Hall opened on Saturday 16 November
  • 1964 Official opening of Leeder Park at Coalcliff by Alderman A Squires. The park was built on reclaimed swamp
  • 1970 Clutha Development Co plan to build a mile-long coal loader off Coalcliff. Campaign against the proposal succeeds
  • 1991 After 113 years of operation, Coalcliff mine is closed down permanently
  • 2003 Geotechnical investigations of Lawrence Hargrave Drive between Clifton and Coalcliff find the road to be unsafe. The road is closed pending tenders for a permanent solution.
  • 2003 Construction of a new sewerage system for the local area commenced.
  • 2004 RTA releases for public comment the preferred option for Lawrence Hargrave Drive.
  • 2005 The new Seacliff Bridge is opened after major construction works totalling approximately $50 million.
  • 2007 New northern suburbs sewerage system completed.


  1. ^ Coalcliff page at Geoscience Australia
  2. ^ Australian Bureau of Statistics (25 October 2007). "Coalcliff (State Suburb)". 2006 Census QuickStats. Retrieved 2009-01-11. 
  3. ^ "PLACE NAMES.". The Australian Women's Weekly (National Library of Australia). 13 May 1964. p. 61. Retrieved 22 February 2011. 
  4. ^ Miriam Estensen, The Life of George Bass, Allen and Unwin, 2005, ISBN 1-74114-130-3, page 72
  5. ^ a b c d e f
  6. ^ a b
  7. ^ a b N. Leeder, personal communication, 20 February 2014
  8. ^ a b
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^ "Tourism NSW - Insights 19 April 2007". Retrieved 2009-05-24. 
  20. ^ a b
  21. ^

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