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Mount Keira ( )is a 464 metre high mountain lying 4 kilometres northwest of the city of Wollongongmarker, New South Walesmarker, Australia. Its distinctive shape and proximity to Wollongong make it a major local landmark. It is noted for the views of the city from the popular summit lookout and its history of coal mining. It was formed as part of the Illawarra escarpment fold between 80 and 60 million years ago and the erosion by creeks that ensued.

Mount Keira is also the name of the suburb that includes the mountain's summit and southern flank.

Keira is an indigenous Australian term meaning large lagoon or high mountain. Place Names of the Wollongong region. Wollongong City Library. Retrieved 30 December 2005. The aborigines called it Djera, meaning wild turkey. The first maps of the area called it Keera, later adding the i.


Mount Keira forms part of the Illawarra escarpment which it joins by a high saddle on the back (western) side. It is capped by a westward sloping plateau of relatively hard sandstone ringed on the remaining 3 sides by cliffs. From the cliff base the mountain slopes down to the surrounding foothills and coastal plain. From Wollongong the mountain looks rather flat topped; while from the north it appears part of the escarpment.

The majority of the mountain is forested with eucalypt (sclerophyll) forest and sub-tropical rainforest, while civilization encroaches on the lower slopes. Surrounding suburbs are (from north to south): Balgowniemarker, Mount Pleasantmarker; Mount Ousleymarker; Keiravillemarker; West Wollongongmarker; Figtreemarker and Mount Kemblamarker.

View from the peak of Mt Keira facing Wollongong City.

The mountain is drained by several creeks, and has many gullies on its slopes such as the ones present on the ring track and the one directly south of the mountain known as Hell Hole after an axe murder by a convict who dispatched a labourer known as Old Tom in Byarong Creek.Illawarra Escarpment State Conservation Area – Culture & history Retrieved on 2008-01-08 The south and western slopes are drained by Byarong Creek which flows west of Byarong Park before descending to Figtreemarker and then to the sea. The eastern slopes are drained by creeks that flow into Para or Fairy Creek which flows through the Wollongong Botanic Gardensmarker before arriving at Fairy Lagoon at Puckeys Estate Reservemarker. The northern slopes are drained by Cabbage Tree Creek.

Mount Ousley Road climbs up the northern spur and over the escarpment and is the major road link between Wollongong and Sydneymarker. On the road is the small suburb of Mount Pleasantmarker. At Mount Pleasant is the Illawarra Rhododendron Park, located on Parrish Avenue near the start of the Mount Pleasant Track. It contains thousands of azaleas and hundreds of rhododendrons as well as camellias. A section of rainforest is located in the top section with short walking trails. The park covers 13 hectares.

On the southern side, Mount Keira Road leaves suburbia and winds its way through the bush up the back of the mountain, giving access to the (now closed) Kemira coal mine, Byarong park, Girl Guides camp, Scout camp, and ultimately the summit lookout via Queen Elizabeth Drive. The Scout camp was established in 1939 by Sid Hoskins and later described by Lady Baden Powell (wife of Lord Baden Powell, the founder of Scouting) as "surely one of the most beautiful campsites in the world" . Mount Keira Road was built using convict labour in 1835-1836, surveyed by Surveyor General Thomas Mitchell, The Eureka Council (Inc) - History of Wollongong using much of the route used by O'Brien's Road but descending the south and west slopes of Mount Keira rather than Mount Nebo, a nearby hill to Mount Keira's south. Byarong Park was originally a pit pony grazing area, the ponies were stabled at the site of the Girl Guide camp.

Mt Keira Summit Park, a project of the Rotary Club of Wollongong

In 1955, the Rotary Club of Wollongong, with the active support of local government and businesses, constructed the summit lookout. In 2005, the Summit Park refurbishment provided an opening up of magnificent vistas of the coastal plain from Kiama to Sydney, and is managed as an annex of the Wollongong Botanic Gardenmarker. It contains 9.4 hectares of land Mount Keira – Local area information. Wollongong City Library. Retrieved 30 December 2005. and it is a major tourist destination, many visitors to Wollongong climbing the Ken Ausburn Track.

As well as overlooking Wollongong, the summit provides views from the Kurnellmarker Oil Refinery 53 kilometres north to the northern headland of Jervis Baymarker, 64 kilometres south, as well as the Blue Mountainsmarker to the far west and out to sea to the east for 77 kilometres. On a good day it is easy to see the northern escarpment and, from the Victoria Rock Lookout, reached by a short trail or cliff track, one can see Knight's Hill, Mount Kemblamarker and Saddleback Mountainmarker clearly. Summit facilities include car parking spaces, toilets, picnic areas with wooden tables and benches and a kiosk/restaurant, the Mountaintop. An early man to climb the mountain of note was botanist Allan Cunningham.

At the summit is the Mountaintop Restaurant, used for food, drink and function purposes. Just west of it by a few metres is the transmission tower, visible easily from the plain and a local landmark. The new larger tower was built by Telstra with the ownership reverting back to Wollongong City Council on completion. There was a campaign to paint it green so it would blend with the summit plateau canopy but this failed and it remains grey.

In 2006 binocular telescopes were fitted, and after several tests, vandalism and malfunctioning being a problem, they are currently in use for gold coin donation to the rotary club. With these it is possible to see up close places like Stanwell Parkmarker in the distance and Broker's Nose trigonometry station.

The summit lookout and Queen Elizabeth Drive was officially opened in 1959, but attempts to secure land from the Australian Iron and Steel company began in 1954. Both a map and plaque remain from the original lookout park design, though the previous hang-gliding ramp has been taken down for the new observation walkways.

Flora and Fauna

Eucalypt forest and rainforest cover the mountain summit and undeveloped slopes. Rainforest is predominant in sheltered areas, particularly on the southern side.

The mountain has been heavily logged in the past, yielding blackbutt, blue gum, turpentine and other timbers. Red cedar in particular was highly prized, and there are stories of giant trees with trunk diameters of 3 metres or more being felled. Remnant bushland on the west and north slopes and a few trees defying extensive logging still exist, but much of the east slopes are replaced bushland grown after clearing since the 1930s.

Plant species found on the mountain include:

Introduced weeds such as lantana (Lantana camara) have also gained a hold on the mountain, particularly since the 1968 bushfires.

The forests provides habitat for a large number of bird and other fauna species.

Notable fauna species include:

There is also a population of introduced Rusa deer residing on and around the mountain, which are often seen by local residents at dusk or dawn.

Walking Tracks

Ring Track

East summit plateau cliff seen from Ring Track

The Mount Keira Ring Track provides walkers with a moderate 5.5 kilometre (3–5 hour) round trip that can be commenced from either the summit, Byarong Park or the Mt. Pleasant Track in Parrish Avenue. It encircles the mountain at an average height of 250 metres, with many entrances. From Byarong Park, a picnic area with an information and map stand with a car park, a short track goes beside the road to the entrance of the Girl Guides. On the other side of the entrance road is the track to the Ring Track. This short track ascends a 0.8 kilometre section of rainforest, with ferns being the main groundcover. Much of it has rock steps. Once this reaches the main ring most choose to go left, going clockwise is considered, according to the information stands, the less strenuous route. The track goes west along the side of the mountain through rainforest and Wallabies can sometimes be seen here, as well as Lyrebirds, wild Turkeys and many species of bird. The track goes north to the west entrance, on the other side of Mount Keira Road is the entrance to the Dave Walsh Track. From here it descends into a gully formed by Byarong Creek, the main drainage on the western slopes, which has an open feeling and lush foliage. Lyrebirds are common on the western slopes. The track climbs the other side of the gully and goes north to cross the road to the scout camp, in this area there is mostly no ground cover apart from weeds such as Lantana and spiky bushes. The forest becomes dry, with many eucalypts. The track goes up gently to the joint of the Robertson's Lookout Track and the northwestern entrance at the gates of Queen Elizabeth Drive. From here fine views of Warra to the south and Broker's Nose Promontory to the north can be seen. The track descends slightly and then goes east north of the drive through dry bushland, with many of the tallest trees on the mountain seen here, with breathtaking views of their open canopy, tall eucalypts and a steep gully are present. On the eastern side of the gully is a bench from where, on a quiet day, the feeling is quite tranquil with only the sound of distant trucks on Mount Ousley Road disturbing the sounds of birds and the creek. This gully has many tall trees and the track is stepped for easier walking. From there it goes east along the north face, until it comes to the turnoff to the northern entrance. A short, steep track ascends, via stone steps, the north face and then goes through clusters of Sleber's Mint Bush to Queen Elizabeth Drive from where one can walk to the summit park. Going further east from the junction, the main ring descends once again from the western saddle into several gullies, again full of rainforest. It is here that some magnificent photograph opportunities can be had and the boulders and small caves are plentiful. Hanging vines and creepers can be seen and this is also the point for the turnoff into the Mount Pleasant Track. From here the track goes along the eastern side of the mountain around a projected area of slope, to the grandest gully on the mountain. Here the track climbs the slopes of the gully where a bench is. From there the track descends past several large boulders and down steps to the carpark at the western entrance on Mount Keira Road, also the turnoff for the Ken Ausburn Track. This area is known as Geordie's Flat. From the carpark the track winds down through partly open areas of bushland and then up to the road where it crosses. Here there are more steps and then the track levels and goes to the Byarong junction. The southern section of the track follows the early convict built road on Mount Keira, some of which is still visible. A similar phenomenon, that of an attempt at building a carriageway, is visible west of the summit track on Mount Kemblamarker though more obvious. Also on the southern track is the old Telegraph Camp site. The ring track is a locally well known track used by joggers, walkers, and some school excursions. It is very popular and was upgraded in the early 2000s due to heavy use.

Dave Walsh Track

View from Victoria Rock Lookout

Sculpture at Victoria Rock Lookout

The Dave Walsh Track, named after a scout leader, climbs from the western entrance to the ring track through a small open area of ground ferns, up the western slope of the mountain, along through a rocky area until it reaches a lookout over Mount Kemblamarker, then, after climbing the western edge of the summit plateau where a short detour north finds some rock caves in the Hawkesbury Sandstone, going along the southern cliff face top and a distinctive termite mound it reaches the Victoria Rock lookout, at the southeast corner of the summit plateau, which can be reached from the summit by a maintenance trail and a track with several lookouts along the eastern cliff facing Wollongong. This section of the track has been closed due to a landslide in early 2007.The tree growth is mainly Eucalypt, ground plants including Lomandra Longifolia and Maidenhair fern. Wallabies, lizards, snakes and many forms of bird and insect life live in the abundant area. This section of the track has been closed due to a landslide in early 2007.

Lawrence Hargrave Sculpture, Located near the base of Mt Keira

Ken Ausburn Track

The Ken Ausburn Track begins at the end of Northfields Avenue (near the University of Wollongongmarker and Wollongong Botanic Gardenmarker). It climbs up a steep grass path and turns into a section of wooden steps and a boardwalk. At the top of the steps is a plaque indicating several bird species to be found on the track. Near this is an oddly out of place lemon tree. It follows a level path to an open grass area where it then reaches the Lawrence Hargrave Memorial Sculpture, situated in an open grass area. The sculpture was made from 1988 to 1989 by Herbert "Bert" Flugelman, and is of stainless steel and part of the University of Wollongong Art Collection.

After this the track goes along gradually climbing a ridge until it reaches the Northern Illawarra Lookout, which gives views to the north and has a plaque telling of the shipwreck at Towradgimarker Point. From here it continues through a cutting, with a plaque indicating the cutting is a survivor from the Mount Keira Tramway opened in 1859. The track goes up some more wooden steps and reaches a brick airshaft completed in 1907 used to ventilate the Kemira Colliery, and a plaque tells of the mines history. from here the track goes for a short distance before reaching the Mount Pleasant Management Trail, and then to the southeastern entrance to the Ring Track on Mount Keira Road. The track is popular for fitness joggers and tourists, and has many plaques indicating various sights such as a remaining grey ironbark left from extensive logging in the late 1800s and several plants such as the invasive weed Lantana Camara and the native grass Settlers Flax.

The Mount Pleasant Track is 750 metres long and goes from a bench nestled in dense rainforest on the northwest part of the ring track to the carpark at the wooded wealthy suburb of Mount Pleasant reached by a turnoff from Mount Ousley Road. It winds downwards from the ring track, beginning in dense rainforest containing many ferns and palms, near a large boulder. It goes through rainforest until going through some large boulders then downwards through rock strewn bushland until it reaches a grass clearing. From here it descends a steep grass track until it arrives at Mount Pleasant. A short way from Mount Pleasant is a turnoff, this track leads to a grass clearing. Near to the track is the Illawarra Rhododendron Gardens. It is pleasantly cool in most seasons and can be combined with the Mount Pleasant Management Trail as a circle track in conjunction with the eastern section of the ring track.

The Mount Pleasant Management Trail is a trail used for walking and mountain bike riding, bikes only being allowed on management trails and not tracks in the Illawarra Escarpment State Conservation Area, that goes from the suburb of Mount Pleasant to Mount Keira Road at Geordie's Flat, where the road doubles back as part of its ascent up the southern slope. The track is wide, averaging at two to three metres so along its length and begins (at the Mount Keira Road end) by going along for a short while before descending steeply. Once the descent is complete the track turns and the entrance to the Ken Ausburn Track is present to the right. From here the track goes north over some minor hills before descending to Mount Pleasant. Near here an unofficial track turns off, used by bicycles though illegal. From near the entrance to the Ken Ausburn track views of Wollongong can be had, and the track in conjunction with the Mount Pleasant Track and Ring Track east section is used as a 'loop' track. From Mount Pleasant good views of the northern cliff face can be seen. Birdwatching is an activity on this track, for many species can easily be seen including lyrebirds.

The Cliff Track is a track connected to several good lookouts over Wollongong and connects the Five Islands (summit) lookout with the Victoria Rock Lookout. Combined with Jubilee Drive, a management trail to the Victoria Rock lookout, it provides a commonly used circuit track. The track goes through thick bush at the eastern clifftop and includes Sleber's Mint Bush, Lomandra grasses and many native flowering plants.

The West Track is an unofficial track used by walkers and bicyclists (despite the latter being illegal) that starts from two points on Queen Elizabeth Drive near the Ring Track's northwestern entrances. The two tracks soon converge and go through rainforest along a contour around a gully, drained by Byarong Creek. The track features several boulders, and Lyrebirds are present. The track then meets the Dave Walsh Track and continues for a while to the south through the bush. This track is generally quite cool due to its position south and west of the higher points of the mountain.

Mining History

Coal was recorded at Mount Keira in 1839 by the Rev W. B. Clarke, a qualified geologist.

In 1848 James Shoobert, a retired sea captain, drove a tunnel into what is now known as the No. 3 (Wongawilli) seam. He then observed an outcrop of the No. 2 (Balgownie or 4-ft) seam, in which the coal was of better quality, and drove tunnels into it in 1849 and 1850. This was known as the Albert Coal Mine and was the first in the Illawarra.

Shoobert lacked the capital to develop the mine and in 1856 sold it by auction to Henry Osborne.

In April 1857 a new tunnel was opened into the higher No 1 (Bulli) seam a short distance away by William Robson for Osborne and called the Osborne Wallsend Colliery.

On 16 April 1857 the first 3.5 tons of coal from the new mine was delivered to the wharf at Wollongong’s Belmore Basin by bullock team for trial in the S.S. Illawarra. Keira coal gained a reputation for being superior to any other coal, and by the 1870s large shipments were being made to Sydney, India and parts of Asia Mount Keira – History Wollongong City Library. Retrieved 2007-06-09.

Coal was originally forked into approximately 1 ton capacity wooden skips, hauled to the surface by horse and then carted down the mountain by a track joining Mount Keira Road near Hurt Street. Later improvements include a Main and Tail Rope Haulage installation to bring coal to the surface, and a self acting skip incline (that is, empty skips hauled up to the mine by the descending loaded skips) to transport the coal to the foot of the mountain at what is now Gooyong Street Keiraville Kemira Colliery – History. Retrieved 2007-06-09.

In May 1861 a narrow gauge tramway was constructed from the incline to Belmore Basin (Wollongong Harbour) after the Mount Keira Tramways Act was passed by parliament. In 1878 the tramroad was widened to standard gauge and horse teams used for hauling the coal were replaced by steam locomotives. These locomotives, the Keira No. 1 and Keira No. 2 were the first locomotives to work on the South Coast. The locomotives ceased running in 1954 when the line was closed.

On a modern street map the route of the tramway followed Gooyong Street, Rose Street, Throsby Drive (Tramway Bridge) and then between Campbell Street and Smith Street (including the Illawarra Master Builders Club carpark) to Osborne Park and Belmore Basin. The route can still be traced on a modern aerial or satellite photograph.

In 1937 Australian Iron and Steel (later a subsidiary of BHP and then BHP Billiton) acquired the colliery for its Port Kemblamarker steelworks.

In 1942 a diesel locomotive was introduced at the mine, the first underground diesel locomotive in Australia.

In 1954 the skipway and tramway was replaced by a tunnel driven from the escarpment at the head of the company’s private railway between Mount Nebomarker and Mount Kemblamarker. In 1955 the mine was renamed Kemira (from Kembla and Keira).

Longwall mining was introduced in the 1960s.

Peak production was reached in the year ending November 1979 with 770,684 tonnes. Kemira History. BHP Billiton. Retrieved 2007-06-09

In 1982 a downturn in the steel industry resulted in 189 employees (60% of the workforce) being retrenched, resulting in a 16 day “sit-in” protest by 30, and mining finally ceased on 27 September 1991.

Aboriginal Dreamtime References

According to the Alcheringa, the dreaming of the local Aboriginal peoples, Mount Keira is Geera, the daughter of Oola-boola-woo, the West Wind. The story of the creation of Mount Keira is tied to the creation of the Five Islands, which sit just off the Wollongong coast. In the story, Oola-boola-woo had six daughters, Mimosa, Wilga, Lilli Pilli, Wattle, Clematis and Geera. They lived a-top the Illawarra escarpment, and one by one the first five children misbehaved, raising the ire of Oola-boola-woo, who cast them and the stone beneath them out to see, forming the Five Islands.

Geera, who was now the only child left on their escarpment home, had no one to play with and no one to talk to as her father was often away. Geera spent all day sitting, hunched over and watching the camps of the local Aboriginals and looking out to sea to her five sisters. Eventually she turned to stone, dust and leaves building up around her until she became a part of the escarpment. She is known today as Mount Keira. Illawarra Aboriginals: An Introductory History

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