About the Museum

Don’t forget to check our upcoming Exhibitions programme!

The Bulli Black Diamond Museum &  Heritage Centre at the eastern platform Bulli Railway Station was opened in 1989. The Centre houses a collection of railway and local coal mining artefacts, as well as exhibitions of social history, eg Sherbrooke the Lost Village on Bulli Mountain. We are an affiliated member of the Royal Australian Historical Society.

Please look out for our regularly changing displays and exhibitions – click to view pics from our past exhibitions. Selected items from our collection may also be viewed  on eHive.  We also open our Museum midweek for Groups by arrangement – attracting Seniors Groups, School Groups and Special Interest Groups – which cater for 5 – 45 people.  For Schools, we aim to provide support for the NSW Schools History Syllabus K – 10 : Organisation of Content Early Stage 1 to Stage 3  and also for Teaching Heritage in NSW

Our Museum and Its History

The old station was headed for demolition in 1987, which triggered a concerted community effort to save it  – click here for more details of the Centre’s establishment – why not join us too – download a  Membership Form (New members 50% discount in 1st year).

Rail in Bulli has a history of over 150 years. The first rail in the township was the 1861 horse drawn tramway of standard gauge for the Bulli Mine, after mining had commenced as early as 1858. Though commercial operations didn’t get underway for several more years.  The horse drawn trams were followed by the first steam locomotive in May 1867. The South Coast Line was opened between Clifton and Bombo on June 21 1887, with full duplication of the line completed May 27 1923  (Source : C.C. Singleton – “Railway History in Illawarra“).

In addition to the main focus on Rail and Coal, the Museum also features some local family history, particularly of the Blinkco and Chamberlain-Hargrave-Nicklin-Aston families. There are also a number of books on local history for sale.

Visitor Entry to the Centre is via the Porch at the roadside on the Station ‘down side” – which then opens to the Main Waiting Room.  Self guided heritage tour brochures, of Bulli’s heritage trails, are currently being developed for visitors to the Museum.

Exhibition Rooms include :

Main Waiting Room : holds a mining collection concentrating on 3 local coal mines : Bulli, Woonona (Bellambi or Old Model) and South Bulli, only South Bulli still operates.

Bulli Mine, also known as Old Bulli or the Corn Beef Pit, operated at the western end of Hobart St Bulli, west of Bulli Public School from 1858 until 1987. It is where the gas explosion occurred in 1887, which killed 81 miners – the second worst industrial disaster in Australia to this day (NSW State Records) – see Illawarra Coal site on history of Old Bulli Pit & Michael Organ’s article on Trains & Trams of Bulli Coal Company Mine.

Woonona Mine was west of Gray St Woonona, in which is now the Edgewood Housing Estate, Woonona, and operated from 1857 until 1921. The mine was operated by Thomas Hale and later by the Bellambi Coal Company – see Illawarra Coal site on history of Woonona Mine

South Bulli Mine is situated halfway up the escarpment, west of Bellambi Lane, above Russell Vale, and has operated since 1862. Currently it is still operating,  with its parent company having recently being renamed from the Gujarat NRE  to Wollongong Coal – see historical article by Martin Kimber.

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Signal Room : To the North up the step is the Signals room, housing the operating levers which were used for the control of signals and points between Thirroul and Woonona, including the Bulli Mine siding and the Goods siding to the South of the Bulli Station. The room also contains original Station desks and equipment.

Lamp Room : Continuing north and down the step is the former Lamp room, which was used for the storage of oil lamps, oil and cleaning equipment. It now contains various items of Railway memorabilia.

Ticket Office : The former Ticket Office is used as the Centre’s office and also with a display of books for reference and sale – note a doorway has been added to the north side to connect with the Signal Room.

Ladies Waiting Room – the Blinkco Room : To the left of the Main Waiting Room, on the South Side, through a doorway (added during the transformation of the building, is the former Ladies Waiting Room. This room houses the Blinkco Collection from the family home in High St Woonona, which was donated in 1999. The Blinkco family was one of the many Sherbrooke families who relocated into the coastal villages of the northern Illawarra  in the early 20th Century years. They had been forced to leave Sherbrooke, when it was resumed for the construction of Cataract Dam – read more at the Sherbrooke web site.

The Blinkco Collection is a social history collection, mainly of three Blinkco Sisters, Elsie, Rita and Alice. Of particular note are the sewing and handiwork items, for which the Blinkco ladies were noted, winning many prizes. See The Blinkco Sisters and Their Times page. 

There is also a charming old Singer Sewing Machine in the Blinkco Room which would bring back memories for many older visitors, and items like this would have been used by many in the Black Diamond District. It is acknowledged that it was not owned by the Blinkco family, however it does have a Sherbrooke link, like the Blinkco’s. It was owned by Bulli’s Edith Nicklins who was apprenticed to the Misses Dumbrell of Bulli. The Misses Dumbrell’s were members of the Dumbrell family of Sherbrooke, and were contemporaries of the Blinkco’s at Sherbrooke,  in the 19th Century years.

Note – The Blinkco’s also brought down the Union Church Building at Sherbrooke, and moved it to Woonona, integrating it into a private home. When that Woonona property was bought by developers in the 1990’s, the old timber Church was moved to the Illawarra Grevillea Park, where it is used for weddings etc.

Steam Locomotive, Brake Van and Coal Wagon  : to the south of the museum, resting on the grassy knoll is the Hudswell Clarke N0. 297 of 1888 steam locomotive, with an AIS brake van and Corrimal Balgownie / Corrimal Coal & Coke timber coal wagon.

Further information ….

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The history of the No.2 Steam Loco from South Bulli Colliery 

Download notes on – click :  South Bulli Hudswell Clarke No.297 of 1888 Steam Loco

There is a surprising amount of information around about our Hudswell Steam Locomotive No. 297 of 1888, which is summarised below :

It was said to be imported by Thomas Saywell in 1888, later brought down to South Bulli Colliery, and was in use until the early 1960s.

Additional information from Australian Steam :

“Possibly Hudswell Clarke 297 of 1888 – This locomotive may have originally worked on the Ringwood Colliery Railway, Bundanoon.  It  spent most of its life at South Bulli Colliery.  It was part of he NSWRTM collection at Enfield in the early 1970’s but was not transferred to the NSWRTM’s Thirlmere site in 1974, instead returning to the Illawarra region for display at the Illawarra Light Railway Museum at Albion Park.  In the late 1990’s it was cosmetically restored and moved to Bulli Station for display at the local museum.

Sydney Tramway Museum information from 1982 indicates that when it was transferred to the Illawarra Light Rail Museum it was restored in the period 23.8.75 to 17.12.78, and then placed on static display.

Information from LIGHT RAILWAY NEWS – Published by The Light Railway Research Society of Australia – No. 108 October 1995 – Hon.Editor: John Browning,

“The transfer of Hudswell Clarke 0-6-0T SOUTH BULLI No.2 (297 of 1888) from Albion Park has been completed. It is displayed outside the old Bulli station with a 4-wheel non-air hopper wagon and an ex-AIS CHG-type brakevan. “

Click here for 1965 images of South Bulli No.2 Steam Locomotive.

From Sydney Tramways in 1974

South Bulli No.2 arriving at Albion Park in 1974

The second project was the arrival of the standard gauge ‘Hudswell Clarke ‘ loco South Bulli No. 2 at Albion Park on 15th October. This loco was donated to the Australian Railway Historical Society by the South Bulli Colliery in 1965 and was handed over to that group on 12th March 1966 and taken to Sydney , eventually appearing at the Enfield display of the N.S.W. Rail Transport Museum. The loco carries builders number 297 of 1888 and was one of two units built for Thomas Saywell . No. 297 worked on the Rockdale Tramway from 1888 until 1900 as Pygmy and later appeared on the Toronto Tramway. South Bulli No. 2 was delivered to Saywell’s Ringwood Colliery at Bundanoon , N.S.W. but when this enterprise failed to live up to expectations the loco was transferred to Bellambi where it worked on the South Bulli Colliery line for almost 80 years. With the transfer of the R.T.M. to Thirlmere near Picton in N.S.W., the A.R.H.S . approached th e I.L.R.M.S. t o ascertain if the loco could be transferred to Albion Park on loan as the Historical Society felt that such a relic would have more interest value if it returned to the Illawarra area where it worked for so long . The necessary formalities were settled and the loco ha s now ‘returned home’ . The engine is in remarkably good order and a start is expected to be made on an external repaint during 1975 .

From Sydney Tramways in 1981

“At the start of June work commenced on repainting the 0—6—OT standard gauge loco South Bulli 2 (Hudswell Clarke 297 of 1888). This loco is owned by the ARHS (NSW) and was last painted at ILRM in 1977.”

Note – It appears that there are about 97 Hudswell-Clarke steam locos listed globally, with about 20 Hudswell Clarke /Hunslet 0-6-0 steam loco’s in Australia. Possibly there are only four  such Husdwell/Hunslet steam loco’s able to be located  in NSW . The South Bulli No.2 being  the oldest Hudswell/Hunslet not only of these able to be located in NSW, but also of those able to be found in Australia. There were possibly two earlier Hudswell / Hunslet locos ie built N0.23 & No.24 which were built in 1864 – but their location appears to be unknown ? So  many of these Hudswell  steam loco’s would appear to be not as old as the South Bulli No.2 Steam Loco, and which would appear to be the only Hudswell Clarke still in NSW that was used for Collieries ?

Hudswell Clarke was an engineering and locomotive building company which was located at Jack Lane, Hunslet, Leeds in West Yorkshire, which commenced operations in 1860, and still operates in a form as the Hunslet Engine Company. During WW2 it diversified into armaments operations.

According to its Wikipedia entry, there are not many surviving 19th Century Hudswell Clarke Steam Locomotives.

AIS CHG-type Brake Van & Coal wagon, CBC 156 / CCC 156,.

Displayed with our No. 2 South Bulli Steam Loco, are an AIS Brake Van  and the last remaining CBC/CCC Coal Wagon.

Brake Vans were often used on freight trains, especially in the steam train era, so they were in the use in the southern coalfields of the Illawarra. The guard could use the brake van’s brakes to assist with keeping the train under control on downwards gradients and whenever he could see that the locomotive’s crew was attempting to slow the train.

The provenance history of the brake van is being established for the Museum. From earlier photographs it is clear that it is an AIS CHG type brake van. It was sourced from the Albion Light Rail Museum, along with the Corrimal Balgownie CBC 156 / CCC 156 colliery coal wagon and transferred to the Black Diamond Heritage Centre. There had been some speculation that the brake van may have been used at either Wongawilli or Old Bulli collieries. With assistance from Ian Sheppard and Chris Stratton, information from 1998 has been sourced from Don Estell. Click here to read more of the CHG story, including some specification and materials of construction details. Don Estell is considered the expert on CHG Brake Vans and he has indicated that the one at the Museum was used in the Wongawilli – Unanderra area, ie not in the Black Diamond Districts.

It would appear that the Museum’s brake van was CHG 10841 and dates from around 1897, being used on the Government Railways, before being sold to AIS in 1928, the year that the Hoskins established the AIS Steelworks at Port Kembla, after they relocated their steelmaking operations from Lithgow. CHG 10841 was one of 20 vans supplied in 1897, although the original draft contract was for 25 brake vans. Thus dating the brake van to less than a decade after the construction of the Hudswell Clarke Steam Loco 297 of 1888. Many of the other 19 brake vans of 1897 were condemned in the period 1935 – 1975, according to Don Estell’s report. AIS’s Wongawilli Colliery ceased operations in 1977, before it was incorporated into Elouera Colliery in 1993, according to Illawarra Coal History of Coalmining in the Illawarra.

A copy of Don’s CHG Brake Van article is held in a ring binder at the Black Diamond Heritage Centre Museum. And although our Brake Van is not of the local Black Diamond Districts, nevertheless, together with the South Bulli Steam Loco and the Corrimal Balgownie coal wagon, it does gives a picture of operations of the rolling stock in moving coal around in the wider Illawarra area.

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Steam engines pulling timber coal wagons along Bellambi Lane from South Bulli to Bellambi Jetty and from Corrimal Mine to Corrimal Coke Works were once a common site in the Northern Illawarra. Now only a few wagons remain – there is a South Bulli Wagon west of Bellambi Lane and the Highway. And apparently our Corrimal Coal Wagon is the sole remaining, preserved Corrimal wagon.

The wagon is described as a 4-wheel non-air hopper wagon, of the Corrimal Balgownie Coal Company, which later operated as the Corrimal Coal & Coke Company. At this stage the age of coal wagon is still being determined, however it is expected to be dated to pre 1964, the year that AIS took over Corrimal Coal and Coke.

Coal mining commenced in Corrimal circa 1870, and over the ensuing 145 years there have been various changes in ownership of both the Corrimal Mine and Corrimal Cokeworks. For more information on ownership – click here.

In 1990, Corrimal No.1 Shaft was sealed and the portals capped, although Corrimal had been combined with Cordeaux Colliery in 1986. As for cokemaking – for a time there had been joint ownership of the Corrimal Colliery and Corrimal Cokeworks near Corrimal Railway Station. Cokemaking ceased there in 2014. More information

Brief timeline for the Corrimal Mine operations is as follows :

  • Circa 1870 – Coal mining commences at Corrimal
  • 1885 – Commencement of coal mining under Brokers Nose Corrimal
  • 1891 – Corrimal Balgownie Coal Company CBC takes over Corrimal Colliery Company
  • 1906 – A new entrance to Corrimal Colliery and the mine renamed to Corrimal Balgownie Coal Company CBCC Ltd
  • 1912 – Cokeworks open near Corrimal Railway Station
  • 1937 – Corrimal Balgownie Coal Company, CBC,  is renamed to Corrimal Colliery and combined with the Corrimal Coke Works to form Corrimal Coal and Coke Company, CCC.
  • 1964 -AIS bought Corrimal Coal and Coke Company,
  • 1969 Bellambi Coal Company bought the Corrimal Coke Works from AIS.
  • 1980 Australian Coal and Coke bought the Bellambi Coke Works.
  • 1984 –  Illawarra Coke Works a subsidiary of Kembla Coal and Coke bought Bellambi Coke (aka Corrimal Coke) – which Illawarra combined with its Coalcliff Coke Works.
  • 1986 – Corrimal Colliery is combined with BHP’s new mine Cordeaux Colliery
  • 1990 – Corrimal Colliery No.1 Shaft is capped and the colliery portals sealed
  • 1996 – ICC holdings bought both Coke works.
  • 2013 – Closure of Coalcliff Coke Works
  • 2014 – Closure of  Corrimal Coke Works

Also Refer :

The aims and objectives of the Centre are to :

  1. Generate a sympathetic and appropriate use of the old “down side” Bulli Railway Station building.
  2. Promote local history, including family history.
  3. Open the Centre to the Public at set times – 1pm – 4pm on most Sundays – and at other times for Group bookings.
  4. Continue to restore, maintain and landscape the whole of the Bulli Railway area, encouraging other groups to be involved.
  5. Make the Centre available as an educational resource.

The Black Diamond Heritage Centre is located on the eastern or “down” side of the Bulli Railway Station in Franklin Avenue, off Park Road Bulli. It is open Sundays from 1pm-4pm and at other times by appointment. For details on current office bearers – CLICK

New members are welcomed,  and volunteers are always sought to assist in the operation and maintenance of the Centre. Download Membership application (New members 50% discount in 1st year).

Further Reading …

  • Railway History in the Illawarra” by C.C. Singleton, Past President and Honorary Research Officer – Australian Railway Historical Society – originally published by the Illawarra Historical Society in 1964, later editions published in 1970, 1972, 1984. The book was expanded from a January 1946 article in the Australian Railway Historical Society Bulletin.
  • “Steam on the Illawarra” – Frank Larkin 1979
  • “A Railway History of the Illawarra – The history of rail transportation at Australian Iron and Steel Pty Ltd, Port Kembla, New South Wales together with an account of the development of railways and shipping ports in the Illawarra regoin – J.L.N. Southern 1978
  • See more suggested reading at our Bulli in Books Page
  •  History  and Images of Illawarra Colliery Wagons
  • Coke Making in the Illawarra by Don Reynolds, Illawarra Historical Society 2006.
  • UOW Archives – Illawarra Coke Company
  • Illawarra Coal – Corrimal Colliery
  • Tarrawanna – Wollongong City Library
  • Keith Macdonald’s history of colliery locomotives at AI&S.

20 Responses to About the Museum

  1. Pingback: A Walk around the Bulli Railway Station Heritage Precinct in Bulli | Black Diamond Heritage Centre – Bulli Railway

  2. Tanya Johns says:

    I came from Bulli. My father and grandfather worked in the mines. My aunty lived in the miners cottage and nanna lived in the terrace house on the highway.

  3. narelle mckenna-bennett says:

    wanting to know more about the 2017 anniversary.my great grandmothers father and two sons were killed in the explosion. Thomas harris snr, Thomas harris jnr and francis harris.

  4. hi Tanya – it was great to have you visit the Museum last month

  5. Les Simpson says:

    My brother, Howard Simpson, grew up in Willcath St not far from Bulli Station. He has a great deal of railway pictures, books, vidios, Cd’s many taken in the Bulli area. Howard is now in hospital and would like to donate what ever you want to the museum. His pictures are of high quality and has had many printed in publications about steam on the Illawarra lines. I live in Sydney now and would like to make contact with the museum about the donation. My father Leo was a coal miner at old Bulli and I have some photo’s and hand made tools from the blacksmiths shop as well to donate.
    My number is 02 95960420

  6. kim mckenzie says:

    Hi, You have created an interesting webpage. Just letting you know that you have attributed a picture of a WW2 nurse, doing hairdressing, as being a photo of Gwen Keys from the Illawarra. Its actually a photo of my mother, Florence Simmonds who was on Morotai with the 2/5th Field Hospital. My mother was from Melbourne. Thanks

  7. Marilyn Woodward says:

    Are you open everyday?? I want to visit but can’t find opening hours

  8. Jim Pinnock says:

    Hi Kerri my name is Jim Pinnock I visited your lovely museum about a month ago and told you what a very close resemblence Sherebrook had to the villiage I was brought up in in UK. I asked you if you would photocopy that a4 sheet of paper on your display board about Robert Lowe and you said if I gave you my email address you would send it out to me. I am still waiting for that information I do hope you havnt forgot me,I am sending all the information I get to our local historian in shirebrook UK so he can compare our stories. If you forgot my email or have lost it its hippoducky@hotmail.com.I also mentioned your museum to a nursing home that my father is in and they have sent you an email asking for some imformation about facilities for disabled people and the woman in charge has told me shes still waiting for your reply,could you please check it out for me please . Thankyou look forward to hearing from you Jim Pinnock

  9. Sharon Atkins says:

    Hi Can you tell me how much entry is please for a seniors group on a week day, around 40 people.

  10. noel.brackenreg. says:

    hi. my name is noel.brackenreg I worked in north bulli colliery with the pit ponys also I worked at old bulli mine & appin mine & I have something I would like to give to the black diamond museum to display if you want it I could come down on easter sunday.

  11. john croxson says:

    i would like to contact my cousin Dianne Morrison if possible, as i am interested in the Roberts family history……regards John Croxson

  12. Mary says:

    I am in Bulli looking around the area part of my family came from, and while disappointed Covid has enforced the Musuem to close for now, it was lovely to have a look around the outside and know my great grandfather and I shared the same ground!

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