Parish: Wollongong
County: Camden 

Wollongong is the centre of the Wollongong Local Government Area. It includes the city's central business district and the iconic Wollongong Harbour.

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.

There are many conflicting suggestions about the meaning of the name Wollongong:

  • The meaning of the word, according to positive information handed down traditionally from a great-niece of Dr Throsby, is "the sound of the sea". The word was pronounced Woll-long-gong, the second syllable being accented, and is supposedly onomatopoeic for the pounding and surging of the waves.
  • An expression of surprise and fear uttered by Aboriginal people when they first saw a ship in full sail. This has been rendered as "see! The monster comes". According to this view the original word was actually pronounced "Nywoolyarngungh".
  • Wollongong has also been thought to be from "Wol-lon-yuh" meaning "sound of the sea". Other versions of the word are "Wolonya, "Wollonga" and "Woolyunyal".
  • "Woollungah" is the correct Aboriginal name for Wollongong, according to Aboriginal Billy Saddler (of 'Nioka' Port Kembla). Woollungah means a place where a marriage took place between the son of one great king and the daughter of another great king, long before Captain Cook found this country. The word also means that there was a great feast of fish and other good things at the wedding, which was such a remarkable event that the place was named after it. The name has also been spelled "Wullungah".

Some other suggested meanings are: hard ground near water; song of the sea or sound of the waves; many snakes.

Charles Throsby Smith

Charles Throsby Smith has been called "The Father of Wollongong". He was born in 1798 in Cambridge, England. Throsby arrived in Sydney on the 'Guildford' in 1816 and stayed for three months at Glenfield, near Liverpool, with his uncle Dr Charles Throsby. During this time he helped drive some of his uncle's cattle from Glenfield to the Illawarra, where his uncle had a cattle-grazing station.

After resuming his sea career for a short while he returned to Australia and secured his 300 acre grant at Wollongong, which he called "Bustle Hill". The land had been occupied by him from about 1818 under a promise of grant to him by Governor Macquarie. In 1834 Smith's land was chosen as the site for Wollongong. The grant for this land was issued to Mr Smith by Governor Bourke in 1835.

Throughout his life Smith played a prominent role in the development of the town.

His barn near the harbour provided shelter for the first church services and schools in the area. He gave land to the Church of England on the hill where St Michael's Church was built and he later gave sites for other churches. He was on the Committee of Management of the Illawarra Steam Packet Company which secured the first steamship service for Wollongong in 1839. In 1842 he was a member of the Illawarra District Council and when Wollongong became a municipality in 1859 he was one of the aldermen.

Charles Throsby Smith died in 1876.

(Illawarra Historical Society Bulletin, May 1975; Cousins,1994)

John Osborne

John Osborne, a retired naval surgeon, was one of the first medical practitioners to practice in the Wollongong area. He came to Australia in charge of convicts and was appointed surgeon at Illawarra in 1834.

In 1831 John Osborne applied for the transfer to him of a grant of 640 acres which had been made to Joseph Thompson in 1824. The grant was named Glen Glosh. In 1836, Dr Osborne added another 300 acres to this purchase and renamed the property 'Garden Hill'. Osborne built his home on 'Garden Hill', now better know as Hospital Hill. He died at Garden Hill in 1850.

(Illawarra Historical Society Bulletin, September 1996; McDonald,1976)

Other land grants

  • Rachel Moore White was granted 280 acres This land was south of John Osborne's grant and is now called Coniston
  • Frederick Jones was granted 100 acres between the grants of Rachel White and Jemima Waldron
  • Robert Anderson was granted 200 acres in January 1827. This included the area now known as Stuart Park (Lindsay,1994).

Catherine Ann Bright

Catherine Bright, born in 1841, was a native of Wollongong. She was the daughter of Robert Osborne and Rebecca Musgrave. She married John Bright, the proprietor of the London Stores situated in Crown Street.

Catherine and her husband John were involved in the building of the Wesley Church. John was the treasurer for the building fund and her brother, George Osborne, was the builder.

In December 1880 Catherine Bright laid the foundation stone for the Wesley Church. Catherine and John's only child, Charles Osborne Bright, had died 18 months before at the age of 13 years. A memorial window was placed in the church in memory of their son.

Catherine died suddenly in 1882 at the age of 41 years. A Baptismal font was placed in the church in her memory "in consideration of the many valuable services she rendered in connection with the erection of the new church building." (Illawarra Historical Society Bulletin, March 1997; Illawarra Mercury, 17 October 1882).

At the beginning of European settlement in Wollongong most employment was in timber-getting and land clearing for farming. According to the 1828 Census, 42% of those in work were employed in agriculture. By the early 1830s a few farms had been established in the Illawarra. Surplus produce was taken to the bay at Wollongong and shipped to Sydney in small vessels.

In 1849 James Shoobert opened the first coal mine in the Illawarra at Mount Keira. From this point on, coal mining began to develop as the major primary industry of northern Illawarra. The developing coal industry had a major impact on the trade at Wollongong Harbour. Coal was carted from the mines to Wollongong Harbour for export. The increase in trade that the coal industry brought to the harbour was a major incentive for improvements that commenced in 1861. The new basin opened in 1868 and was capable of loading "3000 tons of coal per day".

Patrick Lahiff established a coke works at Wollongong Harbour in the 1870s. He erected two beehive ovens midway between the north-eastern end of the Basin and Pulpit Rock. In 1877 small shipments were made to Melbourne and in 1878, 44 tons of coke were exported. The ovens were demolished in 1892 (Gardiner-Garden, 1959; Hagan, 1997).

In the early years people came to the Illawarra from Sydney via Campbelltown and Appin. From here they could follow a rough bush track to Bulli, come down the Range by Throsby's track and follow the coast to Wollongong, or go on to cross the Cataract River and come along O'Brien's Road to Figtree.

Acting on a petition from residents asking for roads and safe harbours in the district, Governor, Major-General Sir Richard Bourke visited the Illawarra in 1834 to find out "how the district could be best opened by roads and its communication with the Sydney Market improved." As a result of this visit a survey of the township of Wollongong was completed, the Mount Keira Road was planned, and surveys for roads from Wollongong to Bulli and from Wollongong to Minnamurra via Dapto were carried out.

Work began on the construction of Wollongong Harbour in 1837 and the first stage was completed in 1844. The Harbour became a centre for the transport of both passengers and goods between Wollongong and Sydney (Gardiner-Garden,1959).

1815Dr Charles Throsby established first settlement in Illawarra. He brought a herd of cattle down the escarpment and had a hut and cattle yards built behind South Beach, Wollongong, where there was a lagoon of fresh water
1815Wollongong Harbour was first used for the shipping of cedar
Organised settlement began in Wollongong and land grants were made
1826Earliest known reference to the name 'Wollongong' appears in a report on the cedar industry, written by John Oxley
1830New military barracks constructed near Wollongong Harbour
1833A school was established at Wollongong
Surveyor-General arrived from Sydney to lay out a plan for a township on property owned by Charles Throsby Smith. This township, which was named Wollongong, was bounded by Crown, Keira and Harbour Streets
1834Town of Wollongong gazetted on 26 November 
1834'Sophia Jane' is the first steamship to visit Wollongong
1835Wollongong's first Court House built by George Brown
1837Work began on the construction of Wollongong Harbour. A stockade was built on Flagstaff Point to house about 300 convicts employed on the harbour works.
1839The Illawarra Steam Packet Company was formed. The steamer 'Maitland' provided the first regular steamboat service between Wollongong and Sydney
1839National School built at Wollongong, but lay idle for 10 years
1839Wollongong Presbyterian church erected at the corner of Church and Crown Streets
1841The population of Wollongong was 841
Illawarra District Council was formed; it covered the coastal plain from Bulli to Nowra and also Kangaroo Valley
1843The road from Wollongong to Sydney via George's River was begun
1844Construction of Wollongong Harbour completed
1849First coal shipped from Wollongong Harbour
1849St Francis Xavier's Roman Catholic church at Wollongong consecrated
1851Wollongong National School established
1854Paddle steam 'Illawarra' commenced regular freight and passenger trade between Wollongong and Sydney
1855Wollongong's first newspaper, the Illawarra Mercury, was published
1857Wollongong Congregational church built
1858Court House near Wollongong Harbour was opened
1859Two local government areas formed: Wollongong Municipality was proclaimed on 22 February, and Central Illawarra Municipality formed on 19 August
1859St Michael's Anglican church consecrated
Wollongong Gaol completed on a site near Wollongong Harbour, next to the old Court House
Horsedrawn tramway from Mount Keira to Wollongong Harbour was completed
Work began to extend Wollongong Harbour
1862Telegraph line opened between Wollongong and Bellambi
Albert Memorial Hospital opened (closed 1907)
1865First gas supply in Wollongong provided from a plant in Corrimal Street
1868Extensions to Wollongong Harbour were opened by Lady Belmore and named Belmore Basin
1868Horse bus service established between Bulli and Wollongong by A McIntyre
1871Breakwater lighthouse at Wollongong Harbour completed
1873Sisters of the Good Samaritan arrived in Wollongong, establishing the St Mary Star of the Sea College and St Francis Xavier’s School
1880Steam locomotives introduced to haul coal from the foot of the incline at Mount Keira mine to Wollongong Harbour
1881-1882Formation of the Wollongong Gas Company, and erection of new gas works in Charlotte Street
1883Gas street lighting installed in Wollongong
1884Wollongong Agricultural and Horticultural Society pavilion constructed
1885New Court House built in Market Street
1885Wollongong Public School opened
1886First Wollongong Town Hall erected on old National School site
1887Railway line between Sydney and Wollongong was completed; railway extended south from Wollongong to Kiama
1887First Town Hall opened
1892Wollongong Trade School (later to become a Technical College) was opened
1901Population of Wollongong now 17,182 with 3,031 dwellings
1902Wollongong provided with reticulated water supply from Cordeaux reservoir
A telephone system was established in Wollongong
1908Wollongong District Hospital established on Garden Hill
North Wollongong Surf Bathing and Life Saving Club established
1915Wollongong City Surf Life Saving Club established
Wollongong High School opened in Gipps Street
1916Christian Brothers College opened
1926Continental baths opened
1927Wollongong's new Town Hall opened by Mayor Norman Smith
1927Wollongong West Public School established
1931Wollongong's first radio station, 2WL, began broadcasting
1937Wollongong lighthouse built on Flagstaff point near disused fortifications
1942Wollongong was proclaimed a City in NSW Government Gazette 125 on 11 September
1947City of Greater Wollongong formed by the amalgamation of the City of Wollongong, the Shires of Bulli and Central Illawarra, and the Municipality of North Illawarra under the Local Government Act, 1919 in the NSW Government Gazette 104 of 12 September 1947
The new City of Wollongong Council takes over the electricity supply responsibilities of the four constituent councils
1948First amalgamated Council elections held
1952Mount St Thomas Public School established
1954Population of Wollongong was 90,852
1955Sydney Church of England Grammar School for Girls (SCEGGS) opened at Gleniffer Brae
1956New Wollongong City Council Chambers opened in what is now the Wollongong Art Gallery building (corner of Kembla and Burelli Streets)
1956Wollongong High School relocated to Lysaght Street, Fairy Meadow
1958Illawarra County Council formed, signalling the end of direct local government control of the electricity supply in the Wollongong area
Smith’s Hill Girls High School opened
1959The Illawarra Grammar School (TIGS) opened as a boys school in West Wollongong, moving to its current site in Mangerton in 1960 (TIGS amalgamated with SCEGGS in 1975 and became co-educational)
1959Lindsay Park Public School opened in West Wollongong
1959Alderman Rube Hargrave was the first female to be elected to the Council of the City of Greater Wollongong; she was elected on 5 December 1959
Wollongong Library moves from School of Arts Building to Town Hall Building (SCT 18/6/1959)
1960Keira Boys’ High School officially opened at Lysaght Street, Fairy Meadow; the school was previously known as Wollongong Junior Secondary Technical School
1961Wollongong University College established
1962Edmund Rice College opened in West Wollongong; initially it was the senior school of the Christian Brothers College
1963Wollongong Teachers College established
1965New Town Halll opened, which has since been listed as an item of heritage significance
1970A Lord Mayoralty was conferred on the City on the eve of the visit of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on 10 April 1970.  Alderman Ford became the first Lord Mayor
1970The City of Greater Wollongong became the City of Wollongong, gazetted on 30 October 1970
1974SCEGGS closed and merged with TIGS as it became co-educational in 1975
1975Wollongong University College becomes the University of Wollongong under its own Council
Crown Central shopping centre opens
1975Christian Brothers College closed
1978Wollongong Library moves from Town Hall Building to the former Coles Building (Illawarra Mercury 29/3/1978)
1979Wollongong City Gallery established
1981A new city flag design was adopted following a community competition
Wollongong Library moves to the former Wollongong Leagues Club building in Burelli Street (Illawarra Mercury 20/8/1984)
Wollongong Library's automated loans system LIBS 100 launched by Lord Mayor Frank Arkell (Illawarra Mercury 20/11/1984)
1985Smith’s Hill Girls’ High School becomes co-educational and is renamed Smith’s Hill High School
1985Keira Boys’ High School becomes co-educational and is renamed Keira High School
1986Crown Gateway Shopping Centre opened
Crown Streeet Mall opened
1986Council Ward boundaries were abolished
1987Wollongong won the 1986 A R Bluett Award for Excellence in Local Government
1987The new Council Administration Building and Library opened at 41 Burelli Street (Wollongong Advertiser 22/7/1987)
1988New Performing Arts Centre opened
1988Sister City relationship established between Wollongong and Kawasaki, Japan
1989Smith’s Hill High School became a ‘selective’ high school
1990Return to Council Ward boundaries, with five Wards gazetted on 29 June 1990
Keira High becomes Keira Technology High School.
1993Wollongong High School becomes Wollongong High School of the Performing Arts
1994Wollongong City Council won the prestigious Australian Quality Award
199750th Anniversary of amalgamation of Bulli, North Illawarra, Central Illawarra and City of Wollongong to create the City of Greater Wollongong
1998Opening of the new $20 million, 6,000 seat Wollongong Entertainment Centre
1999University of Wollongong named University of the Year
1999Sister City relationship established between Wollongong and Ohrid, Macedonia
2001Population of Wollongong 181,612
2001Friendship city agreement signed between Wollongong and Longyan, China
2004Wollongong City Surf Life Saving Club's new premises opens on the corner of Marine and Endeavour Drives
2005Qantas establishes a daily air service from Wollongong to Melbourne, from Albion Park Airport
2006University of Wollongong's Graduate Medical School has its first stage accreditation approved by the Australian Medical Council. The graduate medical school will take 80 students
Illawarra Escarpment Strategic Management Plan signed off by Wollongong City Council and the Minister for Planning
2007Chief Executive Officer, Rod Oxley, resigns after 19 years as CEO at Wollongong City Council
2007Wollongong City Council celebrates 60 years of amalgamation on 12 September
2007David Farmer is appointed as General Manager of Wollongong City Council
Centenary of surf-lifesaving in Wollongong is celebrated, including the unveiling of a bronze statue of a 1908 lifesaver at North Beach
2008New South Wales government sacks Wollongong City Council due to corruption within Council and appoints administrators; Council's elected representatives are replaced by three Administrators, Colin Gellatly, Gabrielle Kibble and Robert MacGregor
2011Council elections held in September; the City is divided into three Wards, with four Councillors representing each Ward. Gordon Bradbery OAM (now AM) is elected as Lord Mayor
2015NSW State Government proposes to merge Wollongong City Council with Shellharbour City Council
2016Proposal to merge Wollongong and Shellharbour councils is called off
2017Council elections held in September; Cr Gordon Bradbery AM re-elected as Lord Mayor
2019David Farmer resigns as General Manager of Wollongong City Council; Greg Doyle appointed as new General Manager

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

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

Top image: Wollongong Harbour, 1900. See image details on our catalogue