Wollongong, New South Wales
The suburb of Mount Kembla viewed from Mount Keira
|Population||1,068 (2016 census)|
|• Density||668/km2 (1,730/sq mi)|
|Elevation||534 m (1,752 ft)|
|Area||1.6 km2 (0.6 sq mi)|
|LGA(s)||City of Wollongong|
View of Mount Kembla from Mount Nebo
|Elevation||534 m (1,752 ft) |
|Location||Illawarra region, New South Wales, Australia|
The suburb, a semi-rural township of Wollongong, gets its name from the mountain, located on the Illawarra escarpment, is derived from an Aboriginal word, kembla, meaning "plenty of game". The satellite localities of Kembla Heights, Windy Gully, Cordeaux Valley and Kembla Village are comprised within the suburb of Mount Kembla that at the 2016 census had a population of 1,068.
The area surrounding Mount Kembla is a coal mining area, notable for the Mount Kembla Mine disaster of 1902 in which 96 people lost their lives.
Mount Kembla suburb
The suburb of Mount Kembla and its associated "main" village includes a local primary school, church and graveyard, several hundred houses and the Mount Kembla Hotel, which was built in 1896. The general store/post office closed in 2010, making it the first time in 145 years the village has been without one. The village also has a heritage centre showcasing local history, emphasizing the mining disaster. An annual Heritage Festival and 96 Candles Ceremony, commemorating the victims of the mine disaster, have been performed consistently every year since the disaster. The village is accessible from Wollongong, via Cordeaux Road, named after early settlers; and from Mount Keira via Harry Graham Drive. The small village of Kembla Heights is to the northwest, reached by Harry Graham Drive.
The Mount Kembla Colliery was established in 1883, and the purpose-built township was constructed by the company to house the employees. The community thrived until late-1970 when the mine closed and the town went into decline, losing its general store, post office, Presbyterian church, tennis courts and public telephones during the following years.
BHP Billiton is a mining/steel export company which owns substantial property on and around Mount Kembla. It is currently mining at the Dendrobium site, half a kilometre west of the village. Mount Kembla is joined to the west by the Illawarra escarpment and, in particular, a mass with two lower summits, Kembla West (512 m) and Mount Burelli (531 m). The mountain forms a prominent peak pointing approximately eastward.
The Mount Kembla Mine disaster was the worst post-settlement peace-time disaster of Australia's history, until the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria. It occurred at the colliery adjacent to the village at 2pm on 31 July 1902. The explosion was caused by ignition of gas and coal dust by flames used as torches by the miners. 96 workers were killed by the explosion. Hundreds of people helped in the rescue of survivors.
A quote from the mine manager, William Rogers, stated that the mine was "absolutely without danger from gases", the Illawarra Mercury reported that "gas had never been known to exist in the mine before" and The Sydney Morning Herald recorded "one of the best ventilated mines in the State".
However, after the explosion left 33 widows and 120 fatherless children; an enquiry returned a conclusion that Mount Kembla Mine was both gassy and dusty and that the Meurant brothers and William Nelson "came to their death … from carbon monoxide poisoning produced by an explosion of fire-damp ignited by the naked lights in use in the mine, and accelerated by a series of coal-dust explosions starting at a point in or about the number one main level back headings, and extending in a westerly direction to the small goaf, marked 11 perches on the mine plan."
A royal commission concerning the disaster, held in March, April and May 1903, confirmed the gas and coal-dust theory accepted by the earlier coroner's jury. Rather than holding any individual official of the Mount Kembla Company responsible, the Commission stated that only the substitution of safety lamps for flame lights could have saved the lives of the 96 victims. However, flame lights continued to be used well into the 1940s.
Some of the dead were buried in Mount Kembla's village cemetery, which also contains a 2.5-metre (8 ft 2 in)-tall memorial to the disaster, listing the names of the miners and two rescuers who perished. The majority were buried in the more remote Windy Gully cemetery, 1.5 kilometres (0.93 mi) south-west of the village, at which an annual memorial ceremony is observed during the Mt Kembla Mining Heritage Festival on the weekend after 31 July.
Local Aboriginal legends told of Mount Kembla and Mount Keira being sisters and the Five Islands being daughters of the wind. The first European to observe the mountain was Captain James Cook on his voyage from Whitby. While navigating the east coast of Australia, he noted it as 'a round hill', its top resembling a hat. The village was first settled in 1817 by George Molle.
Two old pit-pony watering holes on the ring track are still visible, as are the remains of an intended carriageway to the top (suspended in the 19th century and never completed) to the north of the Summit Track. On the eastern part of the Ring Track there are two mine entrances. Lantana weed has become a problem in the bushland of Mount Kembla, as have feral goats and deer.
During European times Mount Kembla has had a very significant role in mining industry. Mount Kembla is noted as being the home of the first kerosene mine in Australia. This mine was located near American Creek on land owned by John Graham, who remained one of the proprietors once mining operations commenced in mid July 1865. Coal mining has been the main industry in the area and continues presently with Dendrobium Mine still operating.
In addition to mining, Mount Kembla has a significant agricultural history; in particular the Cordeaux Valley area which was one of Australia's top fruit growing industries, exporting as far away as London in its hey day as one of the country's best apples producers.
Mount Kembla is known for producing or attracting creative people; painters, poets, writers, photographers and history buffs are inspired by the area. Notable people include:
- Wendy Richardson OAM, a playwright
- Ivan and Patricia Englund, both renowned potters
- John McNamara OAM, a poet and historian
- Fred Moore, a miner and activist.
Mount Kembla is joined to the sandstone cliffs of the Illawarra escarpment, overlooking Wollongong. The summit is 534 metres (1,752 ft) above sea level and is a prominent local landmark, where it has a lookout linked to a 5.5-kilometre (3.4 mi) ring track. The mountain has a unique collection of flora, being the fusing point for northern and southern types of eucalypt growth and containing many types of rainforest. It also has two orchards on the western slope. American Creek flows down the mountain, past the mine and village. The mountain is a high outcrop of mainly sandstone in a roughly east-west ridge extending from the escarpment to about 2 kilometres (1.2 mi) to its east. It has a summit plateau divided into two sections, the higher one raised slightly above the west one, forming a small rise at the top. The ridge descends from the plateau and the mountain is generally quite thin at the top, widening below to create foothills that extend into the outer western suburbs of Wollongong and Unanderra. Many high trees are to be found there and pockets of rainforest grow about Dapto Creek and American Creek. American Creek flows to the north of the mountain from the joint to the escarpment and Dapto Creek from the southern side. A prominent foothill is at its southeast side, which juts out above farmland.
Mount Kembla forms part of the Illawarra Escarpment State Conservation Area, which stretches from Stanwell Park in the north to Wongawilli in the south. The conservation area is managed by the NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service.
Flora and fauna
Flora on the mountain includes blackwood, native peach, bastard rosewood, native cucumber, sandpaper fig, Moreton Bay fig, native ginger, native raspberries and hibiscus. Locally rare species include white beech and Bangalow palm.
Fauna on the mountain includes swamp wallabies, deer, spotted-tailed quolls, southern brown bandicoots, grey-headed flying foxes, sugar gliders, wombats, possums, giant burrowing frogs, red-crowned toadlets, striped marsh frogs, eastern water dragons, water skinks, blue-tongued lizards, diamond pythons, red-bellied black snakes, golden-crowned snakes and broad-headed snakes, although it is not common to see snakes, as some sources state incorrectly. Common birds are lyrebirds, spotted turtle doves, kookaburras, satin bower birds, superb blue wrens, crimson rosellas, king parrots, white-headed pigeons, brown cuckoo-doves, silvereyes, eastern yellow robins, rainbow lorikeets, little wattlebirds, grey and pied butcherbirds, yellow-tailed black cockatoos, golden whistlers, topknot ("flocker") pigeons, wonga pigeons, Australian magpies, pied currawongs, Australian ravens, noisy miners, honeyeaters (Lewin's, New Holland, spinebill, yellow-faced) eastern whipbirds, white-browed scrub wrens, rufous fantails, red-browed finches, and welcome swallows. In 1804 a logrunner bird was collected on Mount Kembla, this being the first to be scientifically described, although it is not common to see logrunners, or brush turkeys as some sources incorrectly state.
The European and scientific discovery of the koala in Australia was made at Mount Kembla and took place between June–August 1803 and involved type specimens collected and brought into Sydney in August 1803 where they were immediately figured by botanical draughtsman Ferdinand Bauer (1760–1826) and described by noted botanist Robert Brown (1773–1858). Koalas disappeared from the area probably during a subsequent gradual period of time due to the effect of clearing of forest in the habitat by settlers—however they were noticeably absent after a great fire of 1909 swept the Cordeax Valley and Mount Kembla area. The last report of suspected koala activity was in 1919 in the Cordeaux area.
The Mount Kembla Ring Track follows a course around the mountain starting from the Kembla Lookout carpark on Cordeaux Road. It goes down some stone steps into a gully that flows down into Dapto Creek and then goes along the southern side of the mountain through palm and fern growth before turning at a junction. At this junction there is one of two pit pony watering holes on the east side of the mountain. The right turnoff goes into private property on Farmborough Road, but the left goes north to the second watering hole and a mine entrance. Another deviation on this side goes to another mine entrance, both are closed due to tunnel collapse risk. From here it goes through more open canopied Sclerophyll growth before coming out at Cordeaux Road near private property, though the track is legal for walking as long as within this marked section one does not deviate from the track itself. To complete the walk one must go up the road back to the lookout. This is generally done as described in an anti-clockwise fashion. Deer and wallabies are a not uncommon sight, with occasional snakes and feral goats seen.
The Mount Kembla Summit Track goes along the same small stretch of dry bush that begins the Ring Track but then branches to the left after a map/information stand. It climbs gradually up the summit ridge and on to the two summit plateaus, one by one, before going along the second to the trigonometry station.
The plateaus are both thin and go in an east-west direction along the ridge. The track is signposted near the beginning warning of 'crumbling edges' but is also known for being saved from weathering and allowing easy access to the top. Beside this track to the left (north) is an old carriageway built but not completed, after finding large sandstone boulders at the top, in the late 19th century. It is still clear though overgrown. Halfway along this track there are several rock outcrop lookouts where good views south and west can be seen, the summit offering views northeast to southeast. Lyrebirds are often seen as well as pigeons and occasional wild turkeys.
A former bridle track, the now somewhat overgrown after a while track that starts on the west side of the Cordeaux Road carpark at the Kembla Lookout is known as the Bridle Track on most maps. It goes along the escarpment, just below the edge, and can be quite slippery in moist conditions, several stages requiring jumping from rock to rock, however for the most part it is accessible if careful. The track goes through Illawarra rainforest with Lyrebirds quite common as well as swamp wallabies. The track used to go all the way to the Unanderra - Moss Vale railway line but is now overgrown beyond several hundred metres or so.
- Australian Bureau of Statistics (27 June 2017). "Mount Kembla (State Suburb)". 2016 Census QuickStats. Retrieved 16 July 2017.
- "Terrain around Mount Kembla, NSW". Bonzle Digital Atlas of Australia. Retrieved 13 May 2015.
- "Mount Kembla (mountain)". Geographical Names Register (GNR) of NSW. Geographical Names Board of New South Wales. Retrieved 13 May 2015.
- "Mount Kembla (suburb)". Geographical Names Register (GNR) of NSW. Geographical Names Board of New South Wales. Retrieved 13 May 2015.
- "Mt Kembla Colliery Gas Explosion - 1902". illawarracoal.com. Retrieved 22 November 2010.
- Mount Kembla remembers 1902 tragedy Wollongong & Northern Leader 31 July 2008 Archived 8 January 2009 at the Wayback Machine.
- "Mt Kembla Mining Heritage Festival". Retrieved 22 November 2010.
- Ivan Englund
- Patricia Englund
- Bofeldt, Anders (1987). "Mt Kembla Rainforest Species List".
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