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Helensburgh - History

aboriginal | place names | land grants | early residents | historic buildings | early industries | early transport | timeline | Bibliography | Images & photographs

Place names


Parish of Heathcote County of Cumberland

Helensburgh was first known as 'Camp Creek'. It was mainly a tent town of railway workers who were constructing the Illawarra railway line. There are two different explanations for the choice of the name Helensburgh. The first is that the town was named after Helensburgh in Scotland, birthplace of the Cumberland Coal Mine's manager, Charles Harper. The second explanation is that the town was named after Harper's daughter, Helen. Today Helensburgh in Scotland and Helensburgh in NSW are sister cities.

From: Place Names of the Wollongong Region

Land grants

Until the early 1880's there was very little settlement between Sutherland and Little Bulli (Stanwell Park) as the land was considered desolate, rugged and wild. There were some small holdings but because of the difficulty in travelling through the area it remained largely undeveloped.

In 1883 the Cumberland Coal and Iron Mining Company took a 99 year lease on 18,000 acres of Crown land and in 1884 were successful in finding coal in the area. The Metropolitan Coal Company of Sydney took over the lease in 1887 and a mine opened in 1888. A miner's camp was established and the area became known as Camp Creek.

Shanty towns sprang up on Crown Land as the railway came through and workers' camps were established.

Other large land owners were Thomas Walker and Sir John Robertson*. The village of Helensburgh West was subdivided for building sites on land owned by Sir John. (Buckley, 1984; Church of the Holy Redeemer.)

* Sir John Robertson was Premier of NSW on numerous occasions between 1860 and 1886.

Early residents

The first residents of Helensburgh were railway workers, miners and their families. Early dwellings were tents and rough shanties built from turpentine and iron bark from Otford sawmills. In the 1890's fifty, four room cottages were built for mine employees by the Metropolitan Coal Company.

Charles Harper

Charles Harper was one of the first successful coal miner's and a leading community worker in Helensburgh. He was the first manager of Metropolitan Coal Company, the father of nine children and he died in a tragic mine accident in 1887. Charles Harper was an active member of the committee of citizens lobbying for roads, a school, post office and public facilities for the new community. (History of Helensburgh, 1978)

Thomas Horan

Thomas Horan was the first storekeeper and postmaster. The Post Office was opened in 1886 and he held the position of postmaster for 22 years. Thomas was also given the contract to run a mail service from Waterfall to Helensburgh using a horse drawn cart, also from Helensburgh to Otford by horseback six times a week. In 1901 the present Post Office building was opened. Thomas was also the Registrar of Births Deaths and Marriages for 11 years. Tom Horan was described as a very capable, prominent citizen and an asset to Helensburgh. (History of Helensburgh, 1978)

Nurse Chadwick

Nurse Chadwick came to Helensburgh from England with her husband. She was a highly respected local midwife and endeared herself to many maternity patients because of her kindly attentiveness, cheerfulness and generosity. Nurse Chadwick first took up residence in Walker Street and then moved with her husband and daughter to Short Street. In the late 1930's she had three bedrooms of her home converted into accommodation for maternity cases. She died on 18 June 1977 and was a patient at Garrawarra Hospital before her death. (Buckley, 1984)

Early industry

Coal Mining

In 1883 Cumberland Coal and Iron Mining Company took a ninety nine year lease of 18,000 acres of Government land known as 'Camp Creek'. Coal was found in 1884 on the site where the mine is located today. The opening of the coal mine was responsible for the growth of the village of Helensburgh. The Metropolitan Coal Company of Sydney took over the mine in 1887 and opened in 1888 employing 45 men. This mine was described as the most perfectly arranged mine in Australia because miners were able to walk perfectly erect in contrast to most mines. It was also possible to use horses rather than ponies in the unusually high tunnels. The mine was bought by Australian Iron & Steel, Port Kembla in 1965. This mine has been closed and re-opened on a few occasions. (History of Helensburgh, 1978)

Mushroom Industry

Lilyvale Mushrooms Pty. Ltd. is the largest growing mushroom firm in Australia. It began in 1952 in a very small single tunnel at Lilyvale and in 1959 two tunnels were in operation. Eighty to ninety crops are grown per year and eighty percent of the production is canned and the remainder is sold fresh.(History of Helensburgh, 1978)

Clothing Factory

Helensburgh Manufacturing Company, a subsidiary of Leathercrafts Ltd, Sydney, was established in June 1945 and was sponsored by the government. This factory produced many types of clothing including 'King Gee' orders. The company was forced into liquidation because of insufficient orders. It closed down but was re-opened in 1960 as Anvil Industries Pty. Ltd. Today it manufactures boys and youths casual wear and employs 75 people.(History of Helensburgh, 1978).

Early transport

Transport for the first settlers of Helensburgh was mainly horses and bullock teams. The postman and butcher delivered on horseback and milk was delivered by horse and cart.


In 1884 there was a great demand for a rail service from Sydney to Wollongong and the construction of the Illawarra line was commenced. Settlements for railway construction workers were established at Otford and Cawley in 1884 and the coming of the railway in 1888 provided improved communications for the isolated Helensburgh. Helensburgh growth depended on the operation of the Metropolitan Colliery and its establishment was due to the opening of the railway line. In October 1888 a continuous service from Wollongong to Sydney was opened. Helensburgh's original railway station operated from January 1889 until May 1915. (History of Helensburgh, 1978)


Helensburgh's first 'Motor Bus' was owned by Arthur Perks and was running in the 1920's.

Otford road was commenced in 1905 as a direct link between Otford and Helensburgh and was abandoned in about 1916 because of the rugged bushland. Helensburgh was consequently only accessible via Bald Hill (History of Helensburgh, 1978)


1885 First school was established with Edwin Byrnes as its first teacher
1886 South Cumberland Coal Mining Company commenced operations at Camp Creek
1886 First Post Office opened
1887 Metropolitan Coal Company of Sydney took over mine
1887 Opening of Centennial Hotel - Licensee Bill Handley
1888 Construction of Miners' Hall
1888 Opening of Helensburgh railway station
1889 Paragon Hotel built for George Welch by George Ricketts
1892 Establishment of the Helensburgh and Lilyvale Cooperative Society Ltd
1892 Helensburgh Church of England parish was opened by Rev. J L Boswell
1894 Opening of the School of Arts building in Walker St
1895 Establishment of police station and court house
1901 Present Post Office building opened
1915 Construction of the Band Hall at a cost of $800
1925 Electricity for the Helensburgh township was switched on 
1945 Helensburgh Manufacturing Co established - name was later changed to Leathercrafts Ltd
1951 Supply of water to Helensburgh township officially opened
1952 Lilyvale Mushrooms Pty Ltd begins production in small tunnel at Lilyvale
1965 Mine purchased by Australian Iron & Steel, Port Kembla
1981 Population of Helensburgh 3,750
1985 State Government requests Wollongong City Council to undertake Local Environment Study for Helensburgh area
1985 Draft Plan for development of 2,200 lots in Camp Creek and Gills Creek Area and 40 hectare site for commercial development on the town's outskirts
1989 Wollongong City Council produces The Helensburgh Plan (Draft) on the future development of Helensburgh


Ali, Anne. Illawarra region: historic buildings and sites Anne Ali, c1981

Buckley, Bryant Helensburgh: the first one hundred years 1884-1984 Helensburgh, 1984

Cousins, Arthur. The garden of New South Wales Producers' Co-op, Sydney, 1948

Helensburgh: linking old and new Helensburgh Community Centre, Helensburgh, 1991

History of Helensburgh Public School, 1887-1987 Helensburgh Public School Centenary Committee, Helensburgh, 1987

History of Helensburgh Helensburgh Public School, Helensburgh, 1978

Illawarra Mercury

Local Studies Cuttings File

Wollongong Advertiser

Wollongong City Council. Strategic Planning Section. The Helensburgh Plan: Draft. Wollongong City Council, Wollongong 1989

Wollongong City Council. Planning and Development Department. Future development of Helensburgh Wollongong City Council, Wollongong, 1984

Wollongong City Council. Planning and Development Department. Helensburgh local environment study progress report Wollongong City Council, Wollongong, 1986

Place Names of the Wollongong Region

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