Wollongong is a seaside city located in the Illawarra region of New South Wales, Australia. Wollongong lies on the narrow coastal strip between the Illawarra Escarpment and the Pacific Ocean, 82 kilometres (51 miles) south of Sydney. Wollongong's Statistical District has a population of 292,190 (2010 est.), making Wollongong the third largest city in New South Wales after Sydney and Newcastle, and the tenth largest city in Australia.
The Wollongong metropolitan area extends from Helensburgh in the north to Windang in the south. It sits within the Wollongong Statistical District, which covers the local authority areas of Wollongong, Shellharbour and Kiama, extending from the town of Helensburgh in the north to Gerroa in the south Geologically, the city is located in the south-eastern part of the Sydney basin, which extends from Newcastle to Nowra.
Wollongong is noted for its heavy industry, its port activity and the quality of its physical setting, occupying a narrow coastal plain between an almost continuous chain of surf beaches and the cliffline of the rainforest-covered Illawarra escarpment. It has two cathedrals, churches of many denominations and the Nan Tien Temple, the largest Buddhist temple in the southern hemisphere. Wollongong has a long history of coalmining and industry. The city attracts many tourists each year, and is a regional centre for the South Coast fishing industry. The University of Wollongong has around 22,000 students and is internationally recognised.
The name "Wollongong" is believed to mean "seas of the South" in the local Aboriginal language, referring to NSW's Southern Coast. Other meanings have been suggested, such as "great feast of fish", "hard ground near water", "song of the sea", "sound of the waves", "many snakes" and "five islands."
The area was originally inhabited by the Dharwal (or Turuwal) Indigenous Australians. The first Europeans to visit the area were the navigators George Bass and Matthew Flinders, who landed at Lake Illawarra in 1796. The first settlers in the region were cedar cutters in the early nineteenth century, followed by graziers in 1812. Charles Throsby established a stockman's hut in the area in 1815. The first land grants were made in 1816. In 1830, a military barracks was constructed near the harbour. Further settlers arrived and in 1834 a town was planned. On 26 November 1834, the town was first gazetted and George Brown erected the first court house. The main road down the Escarpment through Bulli Pass was built by convict labour in 1835-6, although other passes were built during the 1800s as well, such as O'Briens Road and Rixons Pass. By 1856 Wollongong had a population of 864.
In 1858, a court house was built. In 1861, a horse-drawn tramway from Mount Keira to the harbour was completed. In 1862 a telegraph line was opened between Wollongong and Bellambi. In 1865, the first gas supply in Wollongong was provided from a gas plant in Corrimal Street. In 1868 the extensions to the harbour were opened by Lady Belmore and named Belmore Basin. Patrick Lahiff established a coke works at Wollongong Harbour in the 1870s. He erected two beehive coke ovens between the north eastern end of the basin and Pulpit Rock. The ovens were demolished in 1892. The remains of the coke ovens were uncovered and recovered and are now preserved beneath the hill, with a plaque explaining their history.
In 1871, the old lighthouse was completed. In 1880, steam locomotives were introduced to haul coal loads from Mount Keira mine to the harbour. Gas street lighting was introduced in 1883. In 1885, a new court house was erected in Market Street. Like many Australian court houses, it was designed in a Classical Revival style considered appropriate for public buildings. It is now listed on the Register of the National Estate. In 1886 the first town hall was erected. The Illawarra Railway to Wollongong was completed in 1887, and now continues as far south as the town of Bomaderry on the Shoalhaven River. The navigator George Bass first documented the Illawarra coal deposits in 1797. There have been many coalmines in the district. Australia's worst coal mining disaster occurred in 1902, at the Mount Kembla mine when an explosion killed 94 men and boys, the youngest aged 14, the oldest 69. Two other men died attempting to rescue survivors. In 1908 the Wollongong District Hospital was established on Garden Hill. In 1916 the Wollongong High School was opened.
Heavy industry was attracted to the region by the ready availability of coal. In 1928 Hoskins, later Australian Iron & Steel, started a steelworks at Port Kembla, a few kilometres south of Wollongong. The former Broken Hill Proprietary Company (now BHP Billiton after merging with Billiton plc) acquired AI&S in 1935, but has since spun-out their steel division as a separate company, now known as BlueScope Steel. The steelworks has grown to become a world-class flat rolled steel producer, operating as a fully integrated steel plant with a production of around 5 million tonnes per year. Other industries to have set up in the massive Port Kembla industrial complex—the largest single concentration of heavy industry in Australia—include a fertiliser plant, an electrolytic copper smelter, a locomotive workshop, a coal export shipping terminal, a grain export shipping terminal and an industrial gases manufacturing plant.
In 1937 the new Wollongong Lighthouse was finished on Flagstaff Point. In 1942 Wollongong was proclaimed a City. In 1947 City of Greater Wollongong was formed. In 1954 the population of Wollongong was 90,852. In 1956 new Wollongong City Council Chambers were opened. In 1961 the Wollongong University College was established. In 1963 the Wollongong Teachers College was established. In 1965 the Westfield shopping centre at Figtree opened.
In 1985 the railway line was electrified to Wollongong, and in 1993 to Dapto. In 1986 the Wollongong Mall was completed. For a short while trams (trackless trains) were used in the mall, though this ceased due to dangers involved. The mall was re-opened to traffic after the initial test but re-zoned a pedestrian area after and has remained one since.
In 1987 the council chambers and library building were completed, replacing the old council building at the present art gallery site. The Crown Gateway Shopping Centre was completed. Wollongong Mall was opened. In 1988 the current council administration building was completed, as well as the Illawarra Performing Arts Centre (IPAC), across the road on Burelli Street. IPAC was officially opened by Prince Charles and Princess Diana in 1988. A sculpture recognising Lawrence Hargrave was placed via a helicopter on the eastern foothills of Mount Keira. In 1998 the 6000 seat Wollongong Entertainment Centre was opened.
In 1999 the Gateway and Crown Central mall buildings were unified as Wollongong Central and a pedestrian walkway/café was built connecting the buildings in an above ground bridge. In 2000, as part of the Sydney Olympics, the Olympic torch was carried through Wollongong as part of its journey. In 2001 the population of Wollongong reached 181,612 people. In 2004 the Wollongong City Gallery celebrated its 25th anniversary. In 2005 Qantas established a daily air service from Wollongong to Melbourne that lasted till 2008.
In 2006/2007 the library was renovated, including new facilities, as part of the tenth anniversary of the library's current site. Also at this time the beachfront was renovated with a new lookout and walkway upgrade. In June 2007 erosion was caused via storms to the beaches, the worst in 30 years.
In January 2013, Free WiFi was introduced to the city centre.
Despite the decline of traditional manufacturing and blue-collar industries due to the abandonment of protectionist economic policies in the 1980s, many of these industrial installations still exist. The city's economy is, however, on the rebound, thanks to diversification of economic activity including higher education, the fine arts, tourism, residential construction and eco-friendly electricity generation; however, the city's economy still relies primarily on heavy industry, and will continue to in the near future.