Australia Day at Mount Kembla

About Mount Kembla see Wollongong City Library:

Kembla is an aboriginal word meaning “wild game abundant” or “plenty of game”. The aborigines called the area “jum-bullah” or “Djembla” which means a wallaby. Mount Kembla has been described as a “sub-tropical belt of rainforest ” which “housed a variety of game life which provided an abundant food supply”. The first grant in the Parish of Kembla was made to George Molle in 1817. It was for 300 acres. In 1818 W. F. Weston received a promise of 500 acres. Both these grants were on the northern side of Mullet Creek. In 1843 four grants were obtained by Henry Gordon which had frontages to American Creek. Another grant on American Creek, 24 acres, was issued to Patrick Lehaey. A settlement developed in this locality and in March 1859 a National School was completed here.

First record of the name Mount Kembla appeared on H.F. White’s map of the Illawarra in 1834…

I was there yesterday with Jim and Helen (nee Christison) Langridge – Helen is my cousin – and a delightful lady born in France whose childhood around Brittany in the latter years of World War 2 was to say the least eventful. There was much reminiscing about schools and family.

Now of course I took pictures of my grandfather Tom Whitfield as a child in the 1860s and as an old man in the late 1940s. Why? Because we were lunching in the Mount Kembla Village Hotel. You may recall this post: Neil’s personal decades: 18 – 1890s – T D Whitfield.

I had noted the work my grandfather T D Whitfield did repairing Tory’s Hotel, which still stands. What escaped my notice is that it seems my grandfather built the Mount Kembla Hotel – now the oldest weatherboard hotel in the Illawarra (1898).



2010 – with Sirdan

See Sunday lunch–Mount Kembla Hotel (2010) and First Sunday out of cardiac ward: Mount Kembla Pub (2011). I then had no idea of my grandfather’s connection with the place. UPDATE: Built 1887, opened 1898. T D is ambiguous: he may have built it, or he may (presumably later) have “painted and repaired” as he did the Freemasons, which used to be on the corner of Crown and Keira Streets.

Now remarkably I have found an amazing photo, thanks to the Lost Wollongong Tumblr – which I plan to explore again:


Yes, that is the actual building of the Mount Kembla Hotel! See also tag “Mount Kembla” A note there says “The Mount Kembla Village Hotel is one of the few original timber hotels remaining in the Illawarra today, seen here during construction in 1870.”  I doubt that date; Wollongong Library has: “This two storey building was built in 1887. It is constructed of weatherboard with a corrugated iron roof, and a timber front upstairs verandah. It was a meeting place for the miners of Mount Kembla for many years. In 1924 the Tooth’s company purchased the hotel from its original owner, Mr O’Halloran, the village’s first publican. Over recent years the interior has been extensively refurbished.”


There are peculiarities about the dates for the Mount Kembla Hotel. The pub itself has 1898 on its site and on the building. Yet the University of Wollongong list of local pubs says “Mount Kembla Hotel Cordeaux Rd, Mount Kembla, 1907-Present”. It does seem strange that a pub built, it seems, in 1887 would wait until 1898 or even less likely 1907 to open, though that last date is “years of operation”. Maybe the issue is when it was actually licensed under its present name.

Just as a framework, here are dates from the Wollongong Library page, and a strong clue there:

1865 Pioneer Kerosene Works opened at Mt Kembla

1878 Mount Kembla Coal and Oil Co. established to work coal seams.  E. Vickery principal shareholder

1882 Railway constructed by the Mt Kembla Coal & Oil Co from Mt Kembla Colliery to the Port Kembla jetty

1883 Post Office established at Mt Kembla on 1 October 1883

1883 Mt Kembla Colliery opened

1884 Name of school changed from Violet Hill to Mt Kembla

1887 A second coal mine was opened directly below the summit of Mt Kembla

1887 Mt Kembla signal box was built at Unanderra on the main southern line

1889 Mt Kembla Gun Club established

1894 First Roman Catholic Church at Mt Kembla opened by Dr Higgins, Auxiliary Bishop of Sydney

1896 Workmen’s Club formed at Windy Gully

1896 New two storey school building and teachers residence opened on 18 April

1898 Mt Kembla Hotel receives confirmation of its licence

1899 Mt. Lyell Co. establishes coke ovens alongside Mount Kembla Colliery jetty – operated until 1925

1901 336 men employed at the Mt Kembla mine

1902 Mount Kembla Colliery disaster 31 July 1902.  96 men and boys die