Lilyvale is a beautiful and picturesque area that lies on the southern fringes of the Royal National Park; nestled in between Helensburgh to the north-west, and Otford to the south. Lilyvale is situated in a lush valley of lands behind the Bulgo Mountain Range that adjoins the Hacking River, and has several tributaries flowing through to it like McKinnons Creek, Stuart’s Creek/Gully, Gardiner’s Creek, Cedar Creek and Hamilton’s Creek (also known as Cedar Gully).
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The Otford/Lilyvale area is listed on Robert Dixon’s ‘Map of the Colony of New South Wales‘ in 1842 with the name Bulgo. Bulgo spans the very northern part of the greater Illawarra area which was discovered by early settlers who began entering the region from the southern suburbs of Sydney in search of grazing lands around 1815. By 1820 the area from Bulgo to Kiama was used for grazing, but only the valleys around Bulgo could be used for this purpose as the Bulgo Range was thick in sub tropical rain forest.
In 1824, 1000 acres was promised to Matthew John Gibbons for grazing purposes, which then saw the land transfer to William Bucknell in 1838. During the 1840’s John Dwyer and G. W Newcombe acquired 2 land parcels totaling around 300+ acres north of Bald Hill. No development occurred, and the Bulgo Valley area was resumed by the New South Wales Government to preserve the flora and fauna; (only the valleys were granted for grazing). Sir Thomas Mitchell, the Surveyor-General and explorer, then took possession of the lands which he later sold to Lawrence Hargrave’s father, John Fletcher Hargrave (Supreme Court Judge & Member of the Legislative Assembly for East Camden), in 1872.
John Fletcher Hargrave had many parcels of land in the area in the late 1870’s, which included Coalcliff, Little Bulli (Stanwell Park), Otford and Lilyvale, (Bulgo Valley). He had a desire to develop the coal repositories located at the southern end of his property known as the Coal Cliffs. Difficult terrain and challenges in raising capital to fund his venture, eventually saw this desire pass. With age besetting him in the early 1880’s, he decided to divide the land between his four sons. Lawrence lived at Ruschutters Bay during the 1870’s and when Lawrence’s older brother Ralph died in an overseas trip, he left ‘Hillcrest’, (the home he built at Stanwell Park) to him. Lawrence moved into Hillcrest at Stanwell Park in 1893.
The Illawarra region was desperately needing a rail link to Sydney as farmers and coal mines in the district warranted such infrastructure. Several proponents of the railway voiced opinions in the major newspapers of the day, (The Sydney Morning Herald, NSW). One I have managed to locate traces back as far as the 25th March 1875 to a topical discussion about the need for the Railway among other interesting environmental and social points.
METROPOLITAN AND ILLAWARRA RAILWAY.
TO THE EDITOR OF THE HERALD
SIR,-In continuation of my letter, inserted in your columns of the 24th instant, I will now shortly point out the importance of the above undertaking in relation, first, to the future water supply of Sydney, and secondly, in relation to the whole South coast district, from Wollongong southwards.
First, as to the water supply of Sydney-it is surely enough for me merely to quote the following passage from Sir Thomas Mitchell’s evidence before the Special Committee of the City Council, March 12, 1850 -“The weakest point in the character of this great city-for a great city it is likely to be-is the present insufficient supply of water. The basin of George’s River contains 160 square miles; its highest sources are always flowing, and are elevated 2200 feet above the level of the sea at Madden’s Plains, on the range at the back of the Illawarra. This would form the finest supply of water in the world. “
These are the words of one of those great engineers who were educated by the Peninsular War into their sound and broad decisions upon all such matters as the present and they are words which, the more they are examined, the more sound and the more accurate will they be discovered to be.
Since 1850 the main George’s River has been taken altogether out of Sir Thomas Mitchell a views by the great changes on its waters by the progress of settlements and manufactories on its banks and creeks. I think also, it is well known that many of its creeks, especially on its western side, are brackish in their tributaries to the main channel. But in my former letter to your readers, I pointed out that a vast area of unalienated Crown lands, about fifteen miles by fifteen miles, would be brought into great value by the construction of the Illawarra Railway, and that this area is physically divided into about three equal portions, which are traversed north and south by two rivers, the Port Hacking Creek-the proposed route of the railway, and the Woronora River. The waters of both these rivers have their sources on Madden s Plains, as described by Sir Thomas Mitchell, and throughout their whole length contain the purest and most pellucid waters in the world, without the slightest brackishness or other disadvantages, and of continuous and abundant volume.
The Port Hacking River, the most easterly towards the Pacific Ocean, must of course be left to the present and future inhabitants of that beautiful valley But the Woronora river seems merely awaiting the arrival of some English engineer to be at once appropriated as a most valuable source of Sydney water supply. I say a most valuable source, because I fully appreciate the present water supply from the Botany works; but I also feel sure that the most superficial inspection of the Woronora valley, especially if inspected by a trip up its waters in a boat, from its debouchement into George s River, will be sufficient to convince the visitor of the value of the Woronora as an auxiliary source of water supply. In one of Mr. Holt’s hospitable picnics, by steamboat, up the Woronora River, a writer in your columns, about three years ago, described how “reach after reach opens on the view; how the voyagers were astonished by the width of the numerous creeks, the capacity of the river channel, and the volume of splendid water that was continually pouring into the sea” – that is being hourly wasted – utterly wasted, and cast away recklessly into the briny ocean, and this waste within ten miles of a city of 100,000 inhabitants, in a tropical climate.
I consider, therefore, that, as an auxiliary water supply for Sydney, cheaply to be obtained, unequalled in purity, and continuous in its volume, the Woronora River, whose valley is only about three miles due west of the proposed railway, cannot fail to be developed without any further delay into its real value, directly the Illawarra Railway project is undertaken; and the only practical suggestion I can now make is that the whole of this valley, about 15 miles by five miles, be at once reserved from occupation, though at present I do not believe there is a single acre unalienated, nor a single selection on its banks, throughout its whole route, or on any of its creeks, from Madden’s Plains until near Bottle Forest, about five miles from the entrance of the Woronora into George’s River. The whole of Madden’s Plains, the vast natural basin or water reserve at the back of Stanwell and the Bulli Mountain, ought, in my humble opinion, to be also at once withdrawn from all occupation and alienation until the Sydney water supply question be fully and finally settled.
The only other remaining topic as to which I will trespass upon your column is the vast importance of the Illawarra railway to all the landholders and inhabitants of the South Coast Districts. To estimate this importance properly let anyone take his stand, as I have often done, on the top of the Bulgo Mountain, which is the northern extremity of the Illawarra and South Coast Mountain Range, where it abuts on the Pacific Ocean, about 25 miles due south of Port Jackson. Looking due south from this position, the eye will first observe the Coal Cliff Mountain, so called by Captain Cook from the coal seams then, as now visible for human benefit on the ocean side of the Illawarra Range Immediately south of Coal Cliff the eye will dwell with rapture upon one of the loveliest districts in the colony.
On the left is the broad and glorious Pacific Ocean; on the right are the Bulli coal mines in active operation; then the various coal mines down to the Mount Keira mines, immediately adjoining Wollongong. The coal, iron, and kerosene treasures of the whole Illawarra range are now lying idle, unimproved and valueless, simply for the want of a railway along their outcrop, on about thirty miles of the ocean side of the range, while the inhabitants of beautiful Illawarra, as it is well styled, drive their calves and eggs and butter in their carts and drays to the daily steamboats at Wollongong and Kiama, as if they were fifty years behind the present age; though now at last looking earnestly and hopefully to the local committee-men of the Railway League for rescue from their present condition.
In order still more fully to appreciate the great importance of the present railway project to these south-coast districts, the inquirer need only go to Wollongong by the present day coach from Campbelltown and observe the vast tract of fertile country spread out before him just before the coach descends the Zig Zag down (Westmacott’s Pass) from the top of the Bulli Mountain into Bulli
Just beneath the observer, though at a depth of above 1500 feet will be seen the Bulli Jetty, with perhaps the 500-ton steam collier of this company loading for Sydney. The other coal companies ship their coal in the Wollongong Basin; but all these companies would, of course, sell and export fifty tons for one ton if the railway were in working across the mouths of their mines.
These companies, I fear, are no real supporters of the railway, preferring their present monopoly of their Southern coal trade by their present paltry means of export. But the landowners and residents of the grand agricultural and pastoral districts which the inquirer will gaze upon from the mountain spot I have mentioned, 1500 feet above the Bulli Jetty, are, I trust, stanch and firm to their undertaking and will permit no trifling with their efforts, but mist on the immediate commencement of the railway works, which, while enhancing in value manifold all the lands and property in the South Coast districts, will also ?our treasures of coal, minerals, and agricultural produce into Sydney and the Port Jackson wharfs far beyond the most enthusiastic calculations of any present conceptions of this truly colonial project.
Thanking you for your space to my ideas on this subject,
I remain yours &c.,
J. F. H. Sydney, March 25 1875
During the 1870’s there was considerable political pressure to construct the railways to the Illawarra. The need for a safe, land-based route to Sydney was required; in addition to the needs of the dairy and mining industries, (which was beginning to trend up in production). Much opposition and political debate was to be exchanged in heated parliamentary sessions. The NSW Premier of the time Sir Henry Parks, believed the inhabitants of the Illawarra region had no desire for a railway to the area. Members from the north of the state argued that Alexander Stuart, amongst others, had a vested interest in the railways construction as he owned and applied for coal-bearing lands in the Illawarra, (Coalcliff Jetty Mine). Northern members were fiercely defending and protected there own vested interests in the Hunter Region, as the mining boom there was well under way, and was seen as direct competition. According to an article in the Sydney Morning Herald dated the 19th of February 1878, Alexander Stuart had applied to mine for coal in the Parish of Bulgo, which is today, Wattamolla, to Bald Hill and out to Kelly’s Falls. I don’t think he succeeded, as the only mine in this area was a further 6 year away; the Helensburgh Metropolitan Mine whos coal seam was discovered by John Coghlan’s drilling team in 1883-4, and developed with Charles Harper as the mines manager.
On Friday the 26 April 1878, a motion about construction of the Illawarra Railway was put forward in the Legislative Assembly by the new member for Illawarra, Samuel William Gray. Three years later on the 6th April 1881, the Act was passed by the NSW Parliament consenting construction of the railway from Sydney to Kiama. The Engineer-in-Chief of the railways, John Whitton appointed a young engineer James Fraser, to oversee the work on the South Coast / Illawarra line.
At last the greatly needed railway infrastructure to the Illawarra was to be constructed. In 1884, the railway construction contractors, Messrs Rowe and Smith, moved into the area to continue the work of constructing the railway from Waterfall to Coal Cliff. The grade for the trains was steep and many gullys and tunnels were to be constructed. The gangers (railway constructions workers) would set up camps along the line as they worked, moving their temporary camps as the line progressed south. Camp Creek (Helensburgh), was one camp that grew and became more permanent when John Coghlan and his Diamond Drill team struck coal in Camp Gully. Cawley Station, (no longer in existence), was a major area for receiving goods from Sydney which aided construction of the railway and the Metropolitan Colliery. The rail line reached Lilyvale/Otford (Bulgo Valley), and Stanwell Park in 1885, and the Illawarra line was fully operational from Sydney to Kiama and officially opened with celebrations in North Kiama on the 3rd of October 1888.
On the 1st of October 1889, and some 50kms from Sydney, the official opening of the Lilydale Railway Station, (yes… Lilydale) was born. [Later that same year the station would be renamed Lilyvale Railway Station]. Lilyvale’s train station was constructed from local timbers, not far from the southern end of the Lilyvale No.2 tunnel. Once the railway lines construction had passed Lilyvale and down to Otford and beyond; the camps and villages that remained took on a quieter existence. In the early 1900’s, Lilyvale was large enough to hold regular church services and also had its own shops, hotel, and a post office. The Lilyvale Post Office opened on 1 October 1898 and closed in 1931.
Images/Photos, and Article © Ian Piggott 2017 – all rights reserved,