Updated: Dec 20, 2020
The initial colonial expansion in NSW was to the poorer lands close to the small settlement at Sydney Cove.
Wheat was grown around Sydney Town and its densely packed suburbs, and then at Ryde and Parramatta, to help meet the urgent food needs of the small population.
Subsequently the richer lands of the Hawkesbury and Nepean, and the rich pasture lands about Camden were discovered - leading to settlement along the edge of the Blue Mountains on the west, opening up the districts of Windsor, Richmond and Penrith; and in a south-westerly direction, opening up the districts of Liverpool, Campbelltown, Camden, etc.
The herds of cattle in these districts had increased considerably by the time of Governor King, and with periods of drought, feed became scarce, so locating fresh land for pasture was critical.
In the Sydney Gazette of 18 March 1815, the following item of news appeared: “A considerable extent of fine grazing ground is described by late travellers to be about the Five Islands, to which, however, it would be thoroughly impracticable to convey cattle by land; and between Port Aiken [Hacking] and the Five Islands a fine stratum of coal shews itself for the extent of several miles.” From the years 1803-4, to at least 1858, many cattle were brought to Illawarra from the north by boat.
Landowner Charles Throsby of Bong Bong arrived in the district from the west via Appin and Bulli, with the assistance of Joseph Wild and two local Aborigines, where he established the first cattle station at Wollongong,
It is probable that, in seeking fresh pastures using the tracks or trails of the local Aborigines, Wild may have found a way down the mountain from Bong Bong, and succeeded in getting stock into Illawarra from that direction, before a passable route for stock was made from Campbelltown, Appin, etc.
Cedar cutting had also become an important industry in the young Colony, and it was inevitable that the more adventurous of the cedar cutters would overcome the mountain barrier on the northern approaches to Illawarra in search of this valuable soft wood.
So, pioneers of these two important industries were seeking access to the Illawarra at about the same time - the cedar cutters for its wealth of Red Cedar and the cattlemen for its pasturage. It is mainly through their combined efforts that the difficulties in reaching Illawarra across the northern mountain were ultimately overcome.
Wollongong and Port Kembla were considered to be the ‘hub’ of the Illawarra and in June, 1829, a Gazette notice announced that the Five Islands, Kiama, Gerringong, Shoalhaven, Coolangatta, and Ulladulla were proclaimed post towns.
Development was fairly rapid from the 1830s as convict labour was used to build roads and more settlers moved into the region, and crops such as wheat and corn were introduced.
It was in the later years of Colonial history, after 1850, that the Illawarra began to become industrialised, with the introduction of coal mines, coke ovens, smelting works and jetties.
The first art painted by artists in the Illawarra, which is still in existence, appeared around 1817.