Parish: Southend
County: Cumberland 

Thirroul is a large town centre in Wollongong's northern suburbs, between the escarpment and the ocean.

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.

In the 1870s when settlement of the area began, all the area north of Wollongong was known as Bulli, and Thirroul was called North Bulli. Before Eurpoean settlement, Aboriginal people belonging to the "Thurrural" tribe roamed this area. There were many different ways of spelling the name which translates to "the place or valley of the cabbage tree palms".


Robbinsville was a former name for the village of Thirroul. The village was called Robbinsville after Frederick Robbins, who owned land in the area. The name was adopted at a meeting of inhabitants of the area in February 1880.

Land Grants

From the Parish map for the area, it appears that the first land grant in Thirroul was made to Samuel McAuley (later referred to as McCauley) on 1 June 1855. Other original land grantees were Joseph Roberts, James Holt, Jane Rose, Thomas Rose and David Ballantyne (Map of the Parish of Southend, County of Cumberland, 1921).

Samuel McCauley

Samuel McCauley arrived in Sydney from Ireland in 1838, after which he immediately came to the ‘Five Islands’ as the Illawarra was then popularly known. From the time of his arrival, he never lived outside the Illawarra area.

For the first five years after his arrival, he lived on the Berkeley Estate where he was one of several settlers who cleared and cultivated the property. He left there to buy and settle on a farm in Thirroul, then known as North Bulli. The McCauley land extended from the beach to the railway line, adjoining Bulli Pass and north to Fords Road.

Samuel McCauley was one of the oldest residents of the Illawarra district when he died aged 85 in June 1899 at his home in Thirroul. He was survived by his wife aged 84. They had three sons, two daughters, 57 grandchildren and 38 great-grandchildren.

"...The deceased was a true type of the grand old veteran colonisers who faced the wild woods of the country in the early days with strong hearts and hands and subdued the land for the convenience, advantage and enjoyment of succeeding generations." (Obituary, Kiama Independent, 29 June 1899 p.2).

In 1906 the first land in Thirroul to be advertised for auction was submitted under the name of 'MacCawley Park Estate' (Gray, 1994).

Frederick Robbins

Frederick Robbins was a prominent resident who gave his name to the township of North Bulli as at was then called. Other suggestions for a name included Southend, Newtown and flippantly, Mudmire, but they were defeated by Robbinsville. The Department of Railways petitioned for the name of Robbinsville to be changed to the original name of Thirroul, and this was granted in 1891.

Frederick was made the first postmaster of Robbinsville in 1888 after, along with other residents, lobbying the government to supply a post office and railway platform.

He was also actively involved in local meetings, particularly those of the New South Wales Public School League. He was reported [Ilawarra Mercury, 14 July 1888] to have sold one acre of his land, "well situated and elevated, being the centre of population", to the Department of Education for the purpose of building a school and teacher’s residence. The school subsequently opened in 1889 with 154 children on the roll.

At a public meeting on 31 October 1879 it was resolved to favour a "universal and uniform system of national education; that aid should be withdrawn from denominational schools" and that "primary education should be national, secular, compulsory and free". Frederick Robbins said, "many children yet unborn would have cause to bless the perfecting of such a system in this country". (Illawarra Mercury 13 November 1874, 4 November 1879, 24 February 1880, 24 April 1888, 14 July 1888).


Cedar logging began along the escarpment from Bulli and to the north in 1890. The logs were sawn up on the spot and taken by horse and dray to Parramatta for sale. Most of the timber was removed by the 1850.


Whaling operations were in progress by 1817 and boiling down works had been established at Sandon Point. Whaling never really flourished here as whales only pass at certain times of the year, making it a seasonal operation.

Ship Building

Cornelius O'Brien settled on Sandon Point in 1817. He was a very resourceful man who farmed and also built boats for the whaling industry. Evidence of his boat building activities in Hewitt’s Creek were still visible in modern times, but not much research into this activity has been done.


Tourism was the first real industry in the Thirroul area. This was due to the construction of the railway, beginning in 1882 and completed from Kiama to Sydney in 1888. This made the area easily accessible to people from Sydney and Robbinsville, as Thirroul was then still known, became a popular family seaside holiday destination with boarding houses and holiday cottages in demand. This changed when the coal mines and the railway marshalling yards came to the area, and tourists chose to spend their holidays in neighbouring Austinmer, where a seaside holiday atmosphere remained.

In 1912, Mr T Horan, postmaster, erected an open-air theatre, King’s Theatre, in Thirroul. It had a canvas roof and canvas deck-type chairs. The name was changed to the rather grand ‘Crystal Garden Pictures’ in 1915, still without a proper roof. It became the summer picture show, while the School of Arts used it in winter.

Coal Mining

Coal was first discovered in the Thirroul area in a creek bed off Ford’s Road in 1895. Five years later, John S Kirton opened Excelsior No 1 Coal Mine at this spot and the coal which was extracted was sold locally. In 1905 Excelsior No 2 was opened at the top end of Phillip Street. Initially coal was hauled to the surface by pit ponies but as the mine progressed, steam driven steel ropes were installed. The coal was then transported to the rail line at Kennedy’s Road by incline in skips. Once empty, the skips were returned to the mine by steam driven tailed ropes. However, pit ponies were still used underground until the mines were mechanised in the 1950s. Excelsior Mine closed in 1962.


Thirroul Brickworks was the common name given to the 'Vulcan Silica Fire Brick Company' which started to manufacture bricks in approximately 1920. In 1938 it was sold to Newbolds Industrial Refractories and the bricks were in great demand for use in gas retorts and furnaces. In 1974 Newbolds were taken over by Australian Industrial Refractories, increasing the number of employees to about 300 with a much greater output. BHP has been in charge of the company since 1991 (Gray, 1994; Parkinson, 1994).


Dr Charles Throsby cut the first track down the escarpment in the Bulli vicinity in 1815. This track was in use until 1844 when Captain Westmacott found another route up Bulli Mountain in approximately the same vicinity as today's Bulli Pass (Illawarra Mercury 31 December 1998 p.11),

By 1880 maps showed the main South Coast Road from Sydney to be via Campbelltown, down what is now known as Bulli Pass, Mount Ousley road not being built until 1939. In 1925 the Main Roads Board was formed and improvements to sections of the Princes Highway were begun. The section of road which followed the coast from Bulli to the top of Bald Hill was named Lawrence Hargrave Drive after the famous aviator from Stanwell Park (Wollongong History Highlights, 1983).


Construction of the first section of the rail link between Sydney and the South Coast began in 1882. By 1884 the Illawarra Line as far as Hurstville was operational. By 1886 the line to Loftus opened and buses began to operate, completing the Sydney to Wollongong journey. The complete link-up with Sydney was made in 1888, and the double rail line came in 1892 (Gray, 1994).


Steam ships carrying coal made their way up the coast to Sydney and further afield as early as 1863. Most of the Illawarra’s early coal was shipped from Bulli jetty which unfortunately did not offer enough protection for ships moored to it. Several vessels were washed ashore during storms and wrecked. In June 1864, 250 feet of the jetty was washed away and mining in the area came to a halt.

Ships also brought new settlers, cargo and supplies in and out of the area. For example the locomotives for use on the Kiama-Clifton run were transported by ship to Wollongong Harbour (Wollongong History Highlights, 1983; Gray, 1994).

Former King's Theatre (Anita's Theatre)

Address: 264-270 Lawrence Hargrave Drive, Thirroul

This large two storey rendered masonry and fibro corner building is a significant townscape element in the main Thirroul street, displaying Federation Free-Style elements. This building, erected in 1912 by Mr Horan, the then postmaster, was an open-air theatre with a canvas roof.

It is considered to have rarity, landmark and representative value as well as cultural, social, architectural, townscape and aesthetic significance.

The theatre was used as a roller skating rink from 1968 until the mid 1990s (McPhee, 1991).

The theatre was bought and renovated by John Comelli, who renamed it 'Anita's Theatre' after his late wife. Anita's Theatre opened in 2007, and regularly hosts concerts and live performances.

Image: King's Theatre, 1956, image number P02811.

Former Methodist Church

Address: Princes Highway, Thirroul

This building is a weatherboard Federation Carpenter Gothic church hall with entrance room and a simple metal pitched roof. This former church is one of a few surviving buildings of Thirroul that date to the early 20th Century. Built in 1911, it forms an important element within the townscape. It has representative, cultural, social, architectural, townscape and aesthetic value. In 1977 the building became socially significant for local people as a community centre. In 2011 the building was converted into its current use as a Post Office.

Image: Thirroul Methodist Church, 1950, image number P14890.

Thirroul lies between the Pacific Ocean and a section of the Illawarra escarpment known as Lady Fuller Park. It is adjacent to Bulli Pass Scenic Reserve.

Cabbage Tree palms were once plentiful in the area. These trees were highly prized by both Aboriginal people and European settlers. They have diminished with development, although some still grow along the escarpment and the sides of Bulli Pass.

Early settlement began on the hilly area of the village as the lower beachside area was swampy and susceptible to flooding when high tides combined with a period of heavy rain (Gray, Lenore, History of Thirroul, 1994).

The flora in the area belongs to the subtropical / warm temperate rainforest group, termed Mixed Notophyll Vine – Fern Forest, and occurs on the level sections of the escarpment where the soils have developed an accumulation of moisture and nutrients. On the upper slopes of the escarpment, Coachwood Rainforest is found.

The underlying geology is generally the Illawarra Coal Measures or sometimes the Narrabeen Group.

Types of trees include Red Cedar, Moreton Bay Fig, Brown Beech, and Cabbage Palm. Shrubs are Brittlewood, Orange Thorn, Native Olive and Hairy Pittosporum. Groundcovers of Giant Maidenhair and Climbing Fishbone Fern grow beneath vines such as Anchor, Giant Pepper, Common Milk and the Monkey-rope.

The escarpment area is rich in its variety of bird life. Regularly recorded birds in the northern suburbs of Wollongong in summer include the Australian King Parrot, Crimson Rosella, and the Brown Gerygone, perhaps the most common small brown bird in the Illawarra rainforest. The Channel-billed Cuckoo and Pied Currawong are most often found in or near fig trees which provide their favourite food. Honeyeaters and Satin Bowerbirds commonly visit gardens adjacent to the escarpment. The Green Catbird is not as common but still well distributed throughout the district (Mills, Kevin & Jakeman, Jacqueline, Rainforests of the Illawarra district).

25-28 April, Lt James Cook sailed up the Illawarra coast, observing and naming features, but was prevented from landing by heavy surf
1817Whaling took place off the Thirroul / Bulli coast and a boiling-down works was set up at ‘Boulli’ Point
1819Cedar tree-felling began and most of the valuable timber was exhausted by the 1850s
Bulli Mountain Road was replaced by Westmacott Pass track as main route over the escarpment
1870sSettlement began in the hilly area of Thirroul (North Bulli) because the flat beachside area was swampy and susceptable to flooding
1880The name of Robbinsville was adopted to the area known as North Bulli
1882Construction of the first section of the Illawarra rail line commenced
1887Railway line from Clifton to Kiama completed
1888Licence granted to Samuel Kirton to open a hotel in Thirroul, called MacCawley Park Hotel
1888Railway link from Sydney to Kiama completed
1888Robbinsville post office was opened with Frederick Robbins acting as postmaster
1888One acre of land obtained from Frederick Robbins for the purpose of building a school in the area
Primary school opened
1891The name 'Thirrou' was officially adopted
Small Post Office built at Thirroul Railway crossing, shared by rail and postal departments
1895Coal was first discovered in a creek bed off Ford’s Road
1898The ship "Amy" was wrecked on the rocks at the southern end of Thirroul beach; the ship and all hands were lost
1900John S Kirton opened Excelsior No 1 coal mine
Excelsior 2 seam was opened
1906Telephone came to the Bulli / Thirroul district
1906First land auctioned on the east side of the railway line, McCawley Park Estate
1906Bulli Shire Council was proclaimed
1910Swimming carnival held at Flanagan’s Creek
1913Open-air picture theatre opened by J S Kirton, the "King’s Theatre"
1917Railway marshalling yards and locomotive depot established
World War I memorial erected on the corner of Railway Parade. The memorial statue is now located in Woodward Memorial Park
1920Thirroul brickworks began production: Vulcan Silica Fire Brick Co
1922Author D H Lawrence and his wife came to live at 'Wyewurk' where he wrote the novel Kangaroo
1923Arcadia Theatre opened by Yardly Bros, built between the railway line and the main road
1925'New' King’s Theatre opened
1930Dions bus service began between Thirroul and Austinmer
A Melbourne-Sydney bound plane was forced to land on Thirroul beach during heavy fog. Residents formed a runway with car headlights to lead the plane safely down
Thirroul brickworks sold to Newbolds Industrial Refractories
1940Olympic pool opened
1947Bulli Shire Council, Central Illawarra Shire Council and the Municipality of North Illawarra combined to form The City of Greater Wollongong Council
1960Thirroul Library and Baby Health Centre opened
1968Kings Theatre becomes a roller-skating rink
1982Thirroul Plaza opened
1984Northern Illawarra Action Group (NIRAG) formed to oppose the construction of coal loading bins, a conveyor and balloon rail loop at Sandon Point. NIRAG called for an integrated approach to the re-zoning and proposed development of land in Sandon Point / South Thirroul area
1987Council Ward boundaries were abolished
1989Thirroul Resident Group opposes development of old Excelsior colliery site
1990Return to Council Ward boundaries; five Wards were gazetted on 29 June
1991Residents and Council set up a beautification scheme for Thirroul village
Conflict over land development on the escarpment
Cycleway extension to Thirroul completed
1993Thirroul Village Committee wins prestigious Basil Ryan gold award at the 1993 Rise & Shine Awards presentation for improved streetscapes
1997Residents concerned about health risks, picket against Telstra phone tower
1998Thirroul is affected by storms and floods in August
2000In June, historians seek to delay the demolition (part of proposed redevelopment) of the disused BHP brickworks due to historical value
In September, residents object to proposed high rise building development
2005Thirroul pool refurbished
2006New set of controls for development in Thirroul town centre endorsed by council
2007Anita’s Theatre (former King’s Theatre) opened after being purchased, refurbished and renamed by Mr Comelli to honour his late wife, Anita
2007Construction of the new Thirroul Community Centre and Library commenced
2009Thirroul Community Centre and Library opens in June

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

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: Thirroul Beach, ca. 1910. See image details on our catalogue