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Parish: Woonona
County: Camden 

Bulli is a suburb in the northern part of the Wollongong Local Government Area.

Local communities of Aboriginal people were the original inhabitants and Traditional Custodians of Illawarra Land. Their dialect is a variant of the Dharawal language.

Before European settlement, the Aboriginal people of the region lived in small family groups with complicated social structures and close associations with specific areas.

Suburb boundaries do not reflect the cultural boundaries of the local Aboriginal community.

Traditional Custodians today are descendants of the original inhabitants and have ongoing spiritual and cultural ties to the Land and waterways where their ancestors lived.

The name Bulli appears to have been first recorded in the Sydney Gazette of 22 April 1815 when it was reported that one of a party searching for lost cedar-getters was at a place called 'Bolye', 35 miles south of Port Jackson.

In 1823 reference was made to a small land holding at 'Bull Eye'.

For many years the name Bulli was used for all the country from Wollongong north to Coalcliff.

The original Aboriginal name for the area was Bulla or Bulla Bulla, meaning "two mountains" (Mount Kembla and Mount Keira). Other meanings of the name Bulli have been given as "white grubs" and "place where the Christmas Bush grows" (Place names of the Wollongong Region).

Cornelius O'Brien

Cornelius O'Brien migrated to Australia at the age of 16. He was married to Catherine Browne. In the years between his arrival in Australia and his application for a grant, there is evidence of his owning cattle. In the Sydney Gazette of 18 October 1817 it is listed that, as a contractor to the army, he supplied 2,000 pounds of beef to the government (King, 1965).

A 300 acre grant was promised to Cornelius O'Brien in response to his application for a grant of land Governor Macquarie's successor, Sir Thomas Brisbane. The grant was selected in the vicinity of Bulli and the deed was dated 31 March 1821. The grant extended to the sea between Bulli Point and Woniora Point in the east. It was bounded on the north by James Christianson's grant, on the south by Farrell's grant, and on the west by the mountain range.

O'Brien's quit rent of six shillings a year began on 1 January 1827.

Cornelius O'Brien's house was the only one in this part of the district for some years. The township of Bulli was built on the property of Cornelius O'Brien, and his neighbour William Bowman.

In 1836 the land was sold to Robert Marsh Westmacott.

In 1841 the estate of Bulli, consisting of 900 acres, was offered for private sale. Later the estate was subdivided into farms of from 25 to 165 acres.

Peggy McGawley

In 1828 Bulli was known as Bowman's Estate. Bowman was the grantee, and the estate consisted of 300 acres. The only residents of Bulli were Peggy McGawley, Cornelius O'Brien, and the Gerraty brothers (James and Patrick). The latter occupied a grant of 100 hundred acres adjoining McGawley's.

In late 1820 four convicts ran away from their master at Appin and travelled down over the Bulli mountains to Peggy McGawley's. Here they stole a fowling piece, and then went to the adjoining farm where the Gerraty brothers lived. Peggy McGawley sent a little girl by a shortcut to tell her neighbours that the bushrangers had taken a gun from her house and were out for mischief. Jim Gerraty shot and killed one of these convicts. The convict was buried at the corner of Peggy McGawley's Point, north of the Bellambi jetties (Young, 1989).

Other grants

Other grants to be made in the Bulli area were one of 300 acres to William Bowman; one of 100 acres to George Tate; and small grants to R M Westmacott, P Callaghan and John Kelly at Woonona (Lindsay, 1994).

According to Royal Australian Historical Society data, the town of Bulli stands on original land grants to Cornelius O'Brien, William Bowman and George Tate (Illawarra Mercury, 1/6/94 p.21).

Alexander Ross

In July 1868 the board of the Bulli Coal Company donated 50 pounds and land valued at 100 pounds for the establishment of a public school. The land was on the western side of the road just north of the Company railway.

Alexander Ross, manager of the Bulli Coal Mine, occupied the Chair. After the opening, Bulli Coal Company entertained about 200 children to tea and buns in the playground and 300 parents and friends to tea in the tent erected for the occasion. Alexander Ross, Richard White and Samuel Smedley were appointed members of the school board on 1 October 1869.

In the 1880s the Bulli Coal Company Directors granted a sum for the purchase of prizes which were presented on 23 December - break up day - by Alexander Ross. Before the presentation the "pupils gave recitations and otherwise entertained an interested audience….". (Ninety Years On, 1959).

G S Turnbull

The coal mining village of Bulli obtained an official Post Office on 1 October 1869. It was located near the present corner of the Princes Highway and Hobart Street. Post Master G S Turnbull received and dispatched the mail. Turnbull's salary for running the Post Office was £12 per annum.

Post Master Turnbull erected a new Post Office building in 1879. It consisted of a large room adjoining his general store and let to the Postal Department in conjunction with another three rooms used for the existing Post Office. The Telegraph Office was moved from Bulli Point to these new premises and J H Miller became the Post and Telegraph Master. Turnbull's services to the community were recognised when he presented with an address at Wilson's Assembly Room in 1879 (Roberts & Smith, 1993; Illawarra Mercury, 30/5/1879).

Bulli, a small coal mining township located at the northern end of the Illawarra district, first came into prominence in 1850 when Captain Westmacott made formal application to open up the Bulli coal field. The powerful Australian Agricultural Company promptly opposed the proposition. The Crown Law Offices refused to admit that the latter company had a monopoly, and informed Westmacott that he could proceed with his plans without official interference. However, little seems to have been done as far as actual mining was concerned, and the scheme was eventually abandoned.

Further delving into the mountainside occurred about 1859 and a company, known as Bellambi and Bulli Coal Company, was formed with a capital of 30,000 pounds. Operations commenced at the Bulli Mine in 1861 when a tunnel or adit was driven into the seam about 400 feet above sea level. The workings were connected with the sea-board by a standard gauge tramway. The line was officially opened on 2 June 1863. The first ship loaded with Bulli coal from the new jetty was the "Ironside". The Ship left with a cargo of 750 tons.

In about August 1878, a second mine known as the "B" Pit, was established on the hillside to the north of the old Bulli workings, near the famous Bulli Pass. The "B" Pit had a very chequered history and after about seven years the mine closed.

In 1879 an article in the Town and Country Journal stated that "the Bulli mine is the most important mine in the Illawarra, and its development is proceeding at an astounding rate. The company are working a fine seam of coal, by the inexpensive process of a single adit or tunnel. Not fewer than three hundred and fifty hands are now employed".

On 23 March 1887 the company gained world-wide notoriety in connection with the explosion at Bulli Mine. 81 people were killed. Rescue work was immediately organised and the parties worked with great courage in clearing away debris and fallen ground to gain access to the mine (Eardley, 1954).


One of the first pioneers to cut a track down the mountain slope to the Bulli vicinity was Dr Charles Throsby in 1815. He was travelling with a party of two Europeans and two Aboriginal people, and was investigating whether the land at the foot of the escarpment was rich in grass and water as he had been told by the Aboriginal people. By 1828, the pioneers had found a way to take bullock drays down the mountain.

Determined efforts by the pioneers led to gradual improvements in negotiating the steep descent. The original Throsby track, which lay less than a kilometre to the south of today's Bulli Pass road, was used from 1815 to 1844.

In 1867 today's Bulli Pass was built.  Wheeled vehicles began using the road in 1863. Before that date, carriages had to take the road built by Deputy Surveyor General Perry in 1852, which led from Mount Keira through Broughton's Pass to Appin. Perry reported at the time that the road down the mountain at Bulli was both difficult and dangerous.

The new road down Bulli Pass was shorter and safer than Rixon's Pass, and provided Bulli residents with a greatly improved method of travelling by horse-drawn coach via Appin to Campbelltown to meet the Sydney train (Wood, Anne, 1999).

Bulli Pass was not bitumen surfaced until 1926.


The Bulli Coal Company constructed a horse tramway of standard gauge between the incline of Bulli Colliery and a jetty on Bulli Point in 1861. In May 1867 it operated its first steam locomotive, the first in the Illawarra district.

Bulli Coal Siding was close to the site of the North Bulli Colliery Crossing where the isolated portion of the Illawarra line, opened in 1887, crossed the old private line of 1867 to Bulli Jetty.

Bulli Station was opened on 21 June 1887. The yard had the usual crossing loops and goods siding arrangement until 1916. During the duplication of 1923 the western platform and brick station building were added.

A triangular connection between the two railways was opened on 9 August 1890 (Singleton, 1970).

Bulli Family Hotel

The Bulli Family Hotel opened its doors for business on 6 September 1889. This grand old building is a classic example of the Federation Filigree style of Australian architecture. The architect was William Kerwood.

George Croft, a wealthy landowner, was the first owner of the hotel. The hotel was very grand for its day. It contained 28 bedrooms, an assembly room, a dining room, a billiard room, parlours and a bar. There were electric bells connecting the upper and lower floors. The water supply, which came from three underground wells, was pumped up into iron tanks for the convenience and comfort of the guests in the apartments.

The first licensee of Croft's Hotel was William Tory Dickson, who leased it from Croft for nine years. Of the many distinguished guests who visited the hotel at that time, the most notable was Sir Henry Parkes. During the period 1901-1910, Henry Stokes held the license of the hotel. The street adjoining the Hotel is called Stokes Lane.

Today the Bulli Family Hotel, garbed in its heritage colours, still stands proudly on the Princes Highway as a prominent landmark (Wood, 1999). The charming and distinctive external appearance of the building has changed little in over 100 years. It is a key townscape element and part of the Bulli streetscape. It has a high level of architectural significance as one of the best examples of this type of Victorian period hotel in Australia (City of Wollongong Heritage Study, 1991).

Image: Bulli Family Hotel, image number P05568.

Denmark Hotel and Stables

This building is located at 202 Princes Highway, Bulli. It is a two-storey building with a lookout tower. It is a rendered masonry building with a corrugated metal roof, lace veranda and the rear section is built of timber boards (older). The rear lodging quarters of the original hotel (1877) were retained when the two storey front section was built in 1886. It was previously a stopover hotel in association with the Cobb & Co Coach. It also operated as a tourist hotel in 1896. It is a landmark building, with architectural and townscape value.

Image: Denmark Hotel, 1994, image number P01166.

Methodist Manse and Church

These buildings are located at 96 Princes Highway, Bulli. The church is a small sandstone Victorian Gothic building with a tile roof. The Manse is a single storey brick house with a corrugated metal roof. The church was built in 1864-1965 and opened on 7 May 1865. The church spire was rebuilt to the original design in 1962. The manse forms a valuable element within the Church precinct.

Image: Methodist Manse and Church, image number P03499.

The sequence of sedimentary rocks in the Bulli district is Wianamatta Shale, Hawkesbury Sandstone, Chocolate Shale, Narrabeen Sandstone, Upper Coal Measures. The influence of parent rock and topographic shelter is very apparent on the type of vegetation that grows in different areas of the district.

Vegetation on the Escarpment in the Bulli area consists of mixed heathland, mature eucalyptus forest, remnant rainforest, dry sclerophyll and wet sclerophyll. Species present include Eucalyptus seeberi, Banksia serrata, Eucalyptus Sieveriana, Banksia ericifolia, Cargillia australis and the tree-fern, Alsophila australis.

Fauna found in the area include the lyrebird, Satin bower-bird, Red-necked pademelon, Red-necked wallaby and Long-nosed Rat Kangaroos (Gordon, 1985; Davis, 1936).

Sandon Point

Sandon Point is located at the southern end of Thirroul Beach between the Illawarra railway line and the Pacific Ocean. The site encompasses the northern slopes of Bulli Point and covers an area of approximately 61 hectares. Three creeks flow in an eastward direction through the site: Hewitts Creek, Woodlands Creek and Tramway Creek. The site is highly valued for its significant coastal wildlife habitat and local aesthetic appeal.

Flora and Fauna species sighted at Sandon Point

Vegetation at Sandon Point includes large areas of remnant vegetation community bordering the creeks. These are representative of the Sydney Coastal Estuarine Swamp Forest Complex, which is listed as an Endangered Ecological Community; Hibiscus diversifolius is regionally rare in Illawarra; Melaleuca stypheliodes is uncommon north of Corrimal; Eucalyptus robusta is uncommon north of Bellambi; Crinum pedunculatum is regionally rare in northern Illawarra; Isachne globosa is the largest population recorded in the district and is regionally rare

Birds: Brown Quail are breeding on the site; Southern Emu-Wren and White-cheeked Honeyeaters have been identified as resident 'refugee' species at Sandon Point wetlands; Australasian Bittern; Lewin's Rail; Latham's Snipe; Cormorant use the area of Tramway Creek lagoon; Cattle Egrets; White-faced Herons and the Australian Night Heron.

Mammals: short beaked Echidna; Eastern Pygmy Possum; Bandicoot; Large-footed Myotis 'Fishing bat'.

Reptiles: Eastern Water Dragon; She-oak Skink; Swamp Snake; Weasel Skink.

Amphibia: Brown-striped (Marsh) Frog; Bleating Tree Frog; Leaf Green Tree Frog.

Fish: Short-finned eel; Striped gudgeon; Mosquito Fish; Sand Mullet (Tramway Wetlands Planning Committee, 2003).

1817Cornelius O'Brien settled at Bulli Point
1844Cattle stealing was said to have been carried on to some extent at Bulli
1858Robert Sommerville opened a sawmill in July
About this time a company known as the Bellambi and Bulli Coal Company was formed.
1861A Sunday school was in operation, taught by Messrs. Sommerville and Salter in the house of Mr & Mrs Salter
1861A School of Arts called Bellambi & Bulli School of Arts was opened
A Roman Catholic School was conducted by a Miss McNamara in a slab building
1863The Bulli Coal Company officially opened its mine on the mountainside west of Bulli Point
1863Overseas trade started when the Ironside carried the first shipment of coal to Shanghai
1863Wheeled vehicles began using the Bulli Pass
The Uniting Church was built for the Wesleyans of the Bulli district
1867Miners campaigned for extra pay as compensation for the larger coal skips which had been introduced by the Manager
1867Bulli Pass road built
1868The board of the Bulli Company donated 50 pounds and land valued at 100 pounds for the establishment of a public school in July
1869Alexander Ross, Richard White and Samuel Smedley were appointed to the School Board
1869The Bulli Post Office was opened on 1 October
1879Bulli grew to have five stores
1880Archbishop Polding travelled to Bulli in July to bless a new school-church being built
188781 men died in the Bulli Mine Disaster occurred on 23 March 
1887The Wollongong to Clifton section of the South Coast railway was opened
1889The Bulli Hotel opened its doors for business on 6 September
1891The abandoned Bulli "B" Pit was reopened by Messrs. Williams and Garlick on 11 February
1892The first shipment from Bulli Pass collliery was made on 2 June
1893Bulli District Hospital opened on land given by Mrs George Organ
1895The "B" Pit was renamed the Bulli Steam Coal Company by a Mr Evans
1906Bulli Shire proclaimed on 15 May
1907In April severe gales raged off the South Coast and swept away the greater portion of the Bulli Coal-loading jetty
Bulli Shire Council secured a town water supply for the Bulli area around this time
1913An electricity supply was obtained from South Bulli Colliery for lighting homes and streets
Shire of Bulli amalgamated with the City of Wollongong, Central Illawarra and the Municipality of North Illawarra to form the City of Greater Wollongong
1948Bulli Hospital opened
1950About this time the Australian Iron & Steel Company undertook the formidable and costly task of re-organising and modernising the old Bulli Colliery and its outmoded rail transport system
Bulli show society formed. The first annual show was held at Slacky Flat the following year.
1956Baby health centre opened
Bulli branch of the Wollongong City Library opened
1960Bulli Woonona RSL club opened
196915 bed female ward opened at Bulli hospital
1969Centenary of Bulli Public School
1988Bulli Miner’s Cottage advertised for sale as a development site. It was eventually deemed to be of heritage significance and purchased by Wollongong City Council
Sydney car dealer Ray Hannah buys a tract of land stretching from South Thirroul to East Bulli, which will eventually become the site of an application for large scale housing development at Sandon Point
Conservation plan for Bulli Miner’s Cottage released, with the recommendation that it become a Miner’s memorial museum
Development application lodged for subdivision generating 14 house sites at Hill Street Bulli. This application is the first stage in a proposed housing development by Stockland. The application causes immediate controversy.
2000100th anniversary of Weber’s Lookout, Bulli Tops
2001Council rejects stages 2-6 of the ongoing Sandon Point development application. Stockland challenges this decision in the Land and Environment Court. The court eventually decides in favour of the development, subject to a number of conditions being met.
2003A Commission of Inquiry recommends scaling back the development at Sandon Point
2004Production ceases at Bulli Tile and Brick works. An industrial Heritage assessment is carried out, deeming the site to be of local industrial heritage significance.
2006The NSW government grants conditional approval for continuing development at Sandon Point, subject to its being scaled back to 181 lots in total, with 60% of the development area to be retained for open area and public space
2006Development consent granted for a new Southern Gateway Tourism and Information Centre at Bulli Tops
In a landmark decision, the Land and Environment Court overturns state government approval for further Sandon Point development on the basis of climate change considerations
Southern Gateway tourist centre goes ahead after a $13 million funding injection from the Federal Government
2007Cavion's Scrap Yard relocates to Nowra after its Bulli site was purchased by Woolworths for development (Illawarra Index)
The inaugural Bulli Markets held at Bulli Harness Club were well attended in April (Illawarra Index)
2010Bridge over intersection at foot of Bulli Pass is constructed (Illawarra Index)

Bulli Beach Tourist Park, Wollongong City Council, 2001.

City of Wollongong Heritage Study, Wollongong Council and McDonald McPhee Pty. Ltd., [Wollongong, NSW: Wollongong City Council], 1991.

Davis, Consett, Plant ecology of the Bulli District, [Sydney : Linnean Society of NSW, 1936-1941].

Eardley, Gifford Henry, The Bulli Coal Mining Company, NSW, [s.l.] : The Steam Tram and Light Railway Research Group of the Australian Railway Historical Society, 1954.

Gordon, David F., The Illawarra Escarpment Park: a proposal for extensions to the Illawarra Escarpment State Recreation Area, Wollongong: Illawarra Environment Centre, 1985.

Illawarra Mercury, Wollongong, NSW: Illawarra Newspapers Holdings.

King, Norman Spencer, Cornelius O'Brien: pioneer of Bulli, Wollongong: Illawarra Historical Society, 1965.

Lindsay, Benjamin, Organ, Michael & Doyle, Peter, Early Land Settlement in Illawarra: 1804 - 1861, Woonona, NSW: Illawarra Historical Publications, 1994.

Ninety Years On: celebrating the ninetieth anniversary of the opening on 7th July 1869 of Bulli Public School 1869-1959, Bulli, NSW: The School, 1959.

Place names of the Wollongong Region, Wollongong: Wollongong City Council, 2008

Singleton, Cyril Corbet, Railway History in Illawarra New South Wales, Wollongong, NSW: Illawarra Historical Society, 1984.

Tramway Wetlands Planning Committee, Sandon Point: a community vision: bushland management strategy 2003 and beyond, Illawarra, NSW?] : Tramway Wetlands Planning Committee; NIRAG, [2003].

Wood, Anne, Tales from our streets: a photographic history of Illawarra, [Wollongong, NSW] : A Wood, 1999.

Young, Frank et. al., Old Pioneer's Reminiscences of Illawarra: (1830's-1920's), Wollongong, NSW: Illawarra Historical Publications, 1989.

Do have historical information, family stories or photographs of Bulli ?

We welcome donations of historical and recent material about our region, as long as there are no restrictions on how material can be used.

Contact our Local Studies team to discuss a donation in person, by phone on (02) 4227 7415, or by email.

Top image: Bulli Fair procession, 1913. See image details on our catalogue.