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Woonona’s History, Resources & Sources

Woonona a One Place Study – incorporating Bellambi & Russell Vale 

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Visiting our Museum : If you are visiting the Black Diamond District Heritage Centre Museum at Bulli Railway Station East, and are interested in Woonona connections, please ask to view our Woonona folder. It was an initiative of the August 2018 National Family History Month. The Woonona folder holds a range of information and photographs of the Woonona area. Just ask one of our Museum Volunteers to show you the folder.

Old Post Office Woonona

Old Post Office Woonona – now a childcare centre

Introduction by Kerrie Anne Christian

In 2018, we had decided that the Museum would feature an exhibition on Woonona, in conjunction with our Blinkco Family Collection items not usually exhibited. In preparing for the exhibition, and in conjunction with long time Museum volunteer and Woonona resident, Graeme Stewart, it became apparent that there was not a single book covering a comprehensive history of Woonona. I’d found the same hurdles, in researching my own McKenzie’s family in Woonona – when Alexander McKenzie acquired about 300 acres from the Robert and John Campbell Land Grants, part of the original Bellambi Estate, up around Nicholson Lane past Gray St and extending east and west of the Main Road in 1854. It seems that it was in this area, around Gray Street,  that Henry Fry established his first store, near where Downie’s set up their Blacksmiths operation, where the Denominational School and the School of Arts were located – and where Woonona’s village  began to grow from 1858, a consequence of Thomas Hale’s entrepreneurial coal mining activities. Later, the village moved further northwards, mostly centred between Nicholson Road and Hopetoun Street.


Woonona Industrial Cooperative Building (later Goldstar Bakery) in August 2018

Nevertheless aspects of Woonona’s history can be found on-line  and in a large number of local & family history books (see bibliography at bottom of page).

In consequence of the absence of a single text on Woonona’s history, this page is an attempt to initially seek to identify and weave together these various strands of Woonona’s history. Please note if there is already information available elsewhere, we will not reproduce it here – but instead link or point to where the information can be located.

We have also registered Woonona – Bellambi-Russell Vale on the Directory  of One Place Studies, as has been done with Sherbrooke, the Lost Village on Bulli Mountain.

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Note – a number of Sherbrooke families came to Woonona, after their properties were resumed for Cataract Dam from 1902.

Woonona’s History

Woonona before European contact had long been a place of the Dharawal people for thousands of years. European contact began in 1770 when James Cook unsuccessfully attempted to land in Woonona (though some claimed it was Bulli) during adverse weather conditions. But back then the whole area was called Bulli.

SPTN C Cook 1620659_402492319886593_808201488_n

There are mentions of Woonona in newspapers from the 1850’s at least – though with varied spellings : Woonona, Woonoona, Wonona.

Early European Travellers and Settlers

European connections with the area around Woonona  probably date from about 1797, when shipwrecked sailors passed through the area, followed by Charles Throsby in 1815, and then cedar getters. Often Woonona was lumped in with Bulli, though Woonona has increasingly overshadowed Bulli.

WA Bayley wrote in his epic “Black Diamonds“, that the houses owned by Peggy McGawley and the Geraghty brothers, had been built by 1828, between Woonona and Bellambi of today. Though, back then, the houses were described as being in Bulli.

There were land grants sought in 1820’s – 1840’s –  Harriet Overington Spearing nee Harwood was promised one of the larger holdings in the area –  the 1920  acres of the Bellambi Estate in 1827. In 1835, James & Harriet Spearing sold the Bellambi Estate to Lieutenant Colonel John Thomas Leahy and the Spearing’s left the Illawarra for Sydney.

In 1836,  there were some land sales of lots in the Bellambi Estate. About 1839, Lieutenant Colonel John Thomas Leahy died inestate and unmarried, his heir at law being his brother Daniel in Ireland.  Robert and Charles Campbell, Sydney Merchants – 12,  were appointed as attorneys for Daniel – and it was to them he conveyed the Bellambi Estate Land. In 1841, Robert and Charles Campbell of George St Sydney were issued the Bellambi Estate grant, and by the 1850’s, more of the lots in the Grant began to be more significantly sold off.

In 1871 it was written of Woonona – ” a small postal village is reached. It has a Wesleyan and Presbyterian Church, a good store and post office, Mr. H . Fry; a public house, Mr. Edwards; a School of Arts, which Is a large wooden building; and last. though not least, a certified denominational school with an attendance of fifty-six pupils under the charge of Mr. B. F  Levey. The chlldren were tolerably clean, and good discipline was maintained. The proficiency on the whole was very fair, and the headmaster who has only been a few months in charge, is generally acknowledged as a most painstaking teacher. There is in Woonona a benefit society – an excellent Institution in a flourishing state; Mr. H. Fry is president. “

In 1889, a local correspondent was much more effusive :

The ‘old Hands’ about Woonona are now proudly appealing to their neighbors in Bulli as to whether their old prophesies are not being gloriously fulfilled. They tell us to look  around from Collings’ Hill, where Woonona commences and Bulli ends, and say whether Woonona, one of the oldest postal towns in the colony, is not again to the fore. Houses of all kinds are going up in all directions. Two stores have just been opened, and two more are on the way. Mr. Ball, of the Steam Cordial Factory, talks of building a much-wanted coffee palace at the corner of his triangular allotment on the Campbell Estate. One public-house is quite enough for Woonona, and that at the other end of it. The place is
full of temperance people at the other end, who successfully blocked an application for a pub. six years ago. The Bellambi Hotel, now carried on by Mr. Wilson, sen. (who has retired from the management of the South Bulli and Bellambi Colliery), is just at a ‘ respectable,’ though not quite satisfactory, distance from the homes of the present and future citizens of ‘Beautiful Woonona.’ The Woonona and Bellambi School of Arts, we
hope, will soon bo opened, at the wish of a great number of tho reading peoplo of the district, the majority of whom live at Woonona. We want, and shall have, a railway platform at Woonona, near the late Mrs. Salter’s property, as soon as Hale’s Estate shall have become the property of the good people of Woonona and the aristocratic quarter in the village. Now as to a superior Public-school. We are in hopes that when the Public-schools at Woonona and Bulli shall have afforded nourishment for a year or two more to the ubiquitous white-ants, a school of this kind will be built in the neighborhood of the Woonona platform, or near ‘The Vatican.’ . . . . Tho Wesleyan minister is going to live amongst us at least for a little while, and we have the benefit of Presbyterian and Church of England places of worship. We are a little concerned at this moment about Mr. H. Osborne’s notice to quit to tenants settled on lands formerly belonging to the late Mr. Hale. It is generally thought that it is wanted for Woonona Coal Company purposes. We have on the border-line, near Bulli, a house for our new doctor-Dr. Nagel, the assistant of
the prosperous, genial and complaisant medico, Dr Lee The next thing we must seek is a lawyer as there are some hundreds of acres to be conveyed and a score or two of people ready to quarrel. We have a good many bush-lawyers, who think themselves equal to the legal fraternity of Wollongong. The Literary Debating’ Society may, perhaps, turn out a few Martins or Dalleys before our need is very urgent. As for a resident policeman, the honor has long been withdrawn. Our late constable (Trevallian) once lived in Woonona, but moved to Bulli over a year ago. His successor (Constable Duke) lives in the same place. Woonona possesses the Registrar of Births, Deaths, and Marriages— who is also an amiable representative inthe “Light Horse’ contingent. Again, the majority of the men of No 7 Battery, V.A., reside amid this favored community—and when a great post-office has to be erected for Bulli and surrounding villages common opinion points to a site on Collings’ Hill as just the centre from which may issue forth day by day, letter-carriers gathering in letters &c., from the boxes, and delivering others in every quarter. ‘

Map of Parish of Wonona in the County of Camden – note extends beyond what was the Private Village of Wonona.

How Woonona Grew : Housing & Real Estate – once described as a Private Village.

Below are some of the early subdivisions for town lots in Woonona in the 19th Century – click here to see more.

    • Middletown – Kenny’s Paddock Estate – Rixon Pass area 1889Middletown Rixons Pass Estate 1889  Kennys 2
    • Campbell’s Subdivisions – 1880’s – 1890’s Campbells first subdivision mapCampbells Subdivision 1889Campbells second subdivision map

Families of Woonona 

The Woonona folder in the Black Diamond District Heritage Centre, an initiative of the August 2018 National Family History Month,  holds family trees for a number of these families. Though still relatively small in number in 2018, it will be expected to grow over time.

There are notes for some Woonona families available on-line :

A-G / H-L/ M-Q / R- Z

Possibly the Gahan – Boland’s dating from about the 1840’s, or maybe the  Charlesworth’s, from the 1850’s at least, have just about the longest continuous connections with Woonona, and then there are the Downie’s with continuous connections in Woonona since the 1860’s.

Electoral rolls from the 1850’s, 1870’s, 1903 and 1913, Greville’s 1872 Postal Directory,  the Census of 1891 & 1901, as well as nominal rolls for WW1 and WW2 all provide an indication of many of the Early Woonona Family Names, plus how Woonona grew from the late 19th Century to the mid 20th Century. In earlier days especially, Woonona had strong connections with Sherbrooke on Bulli Mountain, and Bulli itself.

There were nearly 100 names listed for Woonona (including Bellambi) in this Grevilles Post Office Directory of 1872 – including Blinco, Caldwell, Cawley, Charlesworth, Collaery, Collins, Downie, Farraher, Gahan, Organ, Ziems – names still recognisable today.


The Blinkco Sisters – former Woonona residents, and granddaughters of Sherbrooke Pioneers George and Sarah Blinkco

It’s no surprise to find some families of the Woonona district with convict connections: – 

AndersonCharlesworth,  CollingsFarraherGahan,   GreenHicks,   Hunt,  Parmenter,  Spinks – Chilby.

And of course, there’s long been families with strong Scottish Protestant or  Irish Catholic heritage in Woonona’s old European families – but did you know there’s also some elements of Huguenot French Protestant connections too  – eg in the connections of the Collings (viz de la Penotiere) and Green (via Avard) families.

Woonona Places – History


      • Apiary – Henry Coltman’s Leura Apiary
      • Dairying
      • Orchard

Bushrangers1, 2,

Churches & Cemetery – featured in Stuart Piggin’s Faith of Steel

      • St Paul’s Anglican – demolished – mentioned in N. Crux’s “St Augustine’s Bulli – The First One Hundred Years”, 1982
      • East Woonona Anglican Sunday School Hall 1963 – 1978 –  mentioned in N. Crux’s “St Augustine’s Bulli – The First One Hundred Years”, 1982
      • Baptist
      • Methodist – now part of IRT
      • Presbyterian Church and Cemetery – dating from 1871
      • Roman Catholic – did they meet for a time at Charlesworth’s ?
      • Salvation Army

Cinemas, Halls & Theatres

      • Princess Theatre – now the site of Strachan Park
      • Royal Theatre – later Vista


Government & Politics

      • North Illawarra Council
      • Bulli Shire Council – James Davidson,
      • Wollongong Council – Jack Parker, Strachan, Brian Tobin, Stephen Whitehead,
      • NSW – Joseph Mitchell
      • Federal Parliament – John Barnes Nicholson /
      • Post Offices


      • BrickmakingPendlebury’s commenced in 1901 – later operated as Clark Kilns and Boral before it closed in 1985. A Mr Pendlebury had been foreman of the Bulli Brick and Tile Company before Pendlebury’s commenced brickmaking on the Woonona site
      • Coal & Coke  – It was to be in 1857 with coal mining, that Woonona would really begin to grow. By 1848, the monopoly allowing the Australian Agricultural Company to mine coal was withdrawn, opening up opportunities for Illawarra coal to be mined.
        • Thomas Hale opened the Bellambi mine (sometimes known as the Woonona mine, Model Colliery & Bellambi Colliery) in 1857, and operated in conjunction with John McMullen. Bankruptcy was declared in 1863, when the mine closed. There was an initial unsuccessful attempt to reopen the mine in 1864, but it was in 1889, that the mine was finally re-opened as the Bellambi Colliery by Joseph Mitchell MLA & Frederick Woolcott Waley. The Model Colliery continued until 1917, with an interuption when it was closed in 1895 and in 1909. In 1926, the Bellambi Colliery formerly became part of the South Bulli Colliery.
        • Robert Taylor & Christopher Walker followed with the nearby Dr O’Brien’s mine in 1858, on land owned by Dr Bartholomew O’Brien – it only lasted a year. Then, Robert Taylor, Christopher Walker & Robert Longmore followed with yet another nearby mine in 1862. However due to the downturn of the 1860’s, it closed in 1864-1865. In 1885, the mine began to be redeveloped under Thomas Saywell and William Wilson – finally reopening in 1887, being known as South Bulli, before it was sold to Ebenezer Vickery in 1890. It was this mine, in 1926 that Mitchell’s Bellambi Mine became a part.
        • Read more on the history of coal mining in Woonona area and the wider Illawarra area:
          • Illawarra Coal page – more
          • Industrial History Mining Metallurgy Heritage Trail page
        • Jetties – Illawarra Heritage Trail 1,
      • Cordialmaking – Young, Pallier, Ball, Holmes, Lockett, Parkinsons, Hedley. George Young was in the cordial making business in Woonona in 1864 – and later had the Woonona Brewhouse J Pallier operated a soda bottling plant (uncertain date but post 1872) opposite Bulli Court House which he operated until 1897 when he sold the plant. Thomas Ball had started up a carrier business in 1895, but by 1898-99 he was building his cordial factory. Later his son Sid sold it to Holmes, who in turn on-sold it Lockett who next sold it to Parkinsons – mostly all in the 1930’s. Of course Parkinson already had a cordial factory in Wollongong. And by the 1930’s Hedley’s also had a cordial factory in Liddle St Woonona. Who would have guessed that there had been so many players in cordial making in Woonona ? And were there any other cordial factories in Woonona ?
      • Timber
      • York Road – Huttons Illawarra Meat


      • Dutch Australian Society
      • Friendly Society
      • Girls Brigade
      • Girl Guides
      • Red Cross
      • Scouts
      • Woonona Athaneum Debating Society


      • Doctors
      • Nurses and Midwives


Pubs & Clubs – Mick Roberts is the ultimate authority !

      • Woonona Hotel Gray St Woonona
        • Publicans : James Rolfe 1863 – 1867, John Floyd 1867 – 1870, Frank Edwards 1870 – 1872, James Crane 1872 – 1880, John Pallier 1880 – 1881
      • Royal Hotel – Hoopers Hotel 1863 – 1983 – Main Road Woonona – its sudden demolition in 1983 still rankles with many, especially as the site stood empty for years, before McDonalds opened there- 1,
        • Publicans : Charles Ziems 1863 – 1881, John Pallier 1881 – 1885, Patrick D’Arcy 1885 – 1886, James Pointe 1886 – 1890, William Guard 1890 – 1892, John Heal 1892 – 1896, James Sharples 1896 – 1908, Thomas Ball 1908 – 1913, Bartin Jakins 1913 -1921, Harry M Stevens , William Henderson 1926 – 1929, S R Moore 1929 – 1937, Harold Victor Green 1937 – 1953, Luscombe’s 1953 – 1955, Clifford Norton 1955 – 1966, Clara Hooper 1966 – 1977, Lawrence Brannon 1977 – 1983
      • Woonona Bowling Club – formed in 1894
      • Woonona Bulli RSL Club – formed by 1919
      • Woonona Workmans Club – formed by William Morris Madden in 1902  – see details for  1903
      • Woonona Bulli Soccer and Sports Club – 1983 – once IRT & now Woonona  Medical Centre
      • Woonona Brewhouse – George Young – 1869

Roads, Ships and Railway

Earliest regular access was via the Sea – and later jetties were established for coal transport in the northern Illawarra, including at Bellambi. Tramways, with coal wagons initially being horse-drawn and later by steam trains, connected the collieries to the jetties.

1847-48 saw Benjamin Rixon, a mail contractor, developing Rixon’s Pass, a road still in existence in part at the southern end of Woonona. In the years 1863 – 1868, Westmacott’s Pass came to being, developed by another mail contractor George Organ, and then as the Bulli Mountain Road developed by Andrew Turnbull by 1867 – 1868.

1887 finally saw the first trains in the Woonona area, and in 1888 it was finally possible to travel all the way by train from Wollongong to Sydney. Prior to the trains starting on the south coast, people travelled by coach across rough roads, either up to Appin or into the south of Sydney to connect with the trains to the heart of Sydney.

Shops & Business

      • Henry Fry and Fry’s Store – the first in Woonona
      • Jack Devitt’s Memories of shops and the Tradesmen who called in the 1920’s,
      • Butchers – 1,
      • Newsagency
      • Woonona Industrial Coop – had branches in Scarborough, Coledale, Thirroul, Corrimal, Balgownie, Wollongong and Port Kembla – 1, . Later the Goldstar Bakeries (Woonona) operated from this site – which was deregistered in 1978 –2 , .


        Looking from near Russell Street Woonona in August 2018

Sports, Parks & Sportsgrounds

      • Beach – Surf Lifesaving, Swimming, Rock Pool
      • Bowls
      • Cricket
      • Croquet
      • Golf
      • Gyms
      • Hockey
      • Netball
      • Pony Club
      • Rugby Union
      • Soccer
      • Tennis
      • Vigaro
      • Balls Paddock – previously known as Ziems Paddock
      • Carole Avenue Reserve
      • Collins Park
      • Gahans Park
      • Gordon Hutton Park
      • Hollymount Park
      • Lighthorse Drive Park
      • Nicholson Park
      • Ocean Park
      • Pendlebury Park
      • Strachan Park
      • Thompson Street Playground
      • F S Woods Park
      • Woonona Heights Park,

Bibliography – Woonona on-line and in Print

Woonona is covered by a range of on-line historical resources, including :

Woonona is also covered by a range of print historical resources, including :

    • Bayley, WA – Black Diamonds History of Bulli District New South Wales
    • Cairns, R Editor – A History of the Prospecting and Development of Coal Mining in the Illawarra, Southern Highlands and Burragorang Valley Part 2 – North from Mt Keira
    • Cousins, A – The Garden of New South Wales A History of Illawarra & Shoalhaven
    • Dovers, S, Editor – Illawarra Heritage an Introduction to a Region
    • Eardley, G – Transporting the Black Diamond
    • Farmilo, A – Woonona Bowling and Recreation Club Centenary 1894 – 1994
    • Hapgood, W – Tall Timbers, Deep Valleys, Tough Men and Women
    • Middleton R & Figtree, AS – The history of the growth of surflifesaving clubs on the Illawarra coast of NSW
    • Mitchell, W – Growing up in the Illawarra
    • Neate, L – PaulsgroveIllawarra 1825 – 1836
    • Nicholls, E A – WOONONA-BULLI R.S.L. SUB-BRANCH Historical Souvenir to commemorate The Golden Jubilee 1919 – 1969
    • NSW Rail Transport Museum – Steam on the Illawarra
    • Organ, M & Doyle AP – Old Pioneer’s Reminiscences of Illawarra (1830’s – 1920’s)
    • Parkinson, R – Gauffered Velour A history of motion picture exhibition and picture theatres in the Illawarra district of New South Wales 1897 – 1994
    • Piggin, S – Faith of Steel
    • Roberts, M – The Little House on the Hill
    • Roberts, M – Greetings from Woonona & Bulli
    • Singleton, CC – Railway History in Illawarra New South Wales
    • Southern, JLN – A Railway History of the Illawarra
    • Swan, R – Poetry
    • Various  – True North
    • Wood, A – Tales From Our Streets & More Tales From Our Streets