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WollongongNew South Wales
Lookout from the Illawarra Escarpment above Wombarra over the northern Illawarra plain viewing Austinmer, Thirroul, Bulli, Wollongong up to Port Kembla in the far distance.
Population 5,620 (2011 census)
Postcode(s) 2515
LGA(s) City of Wollongong
State electorate(s) Keira
Federal Division(s) Cunningham
Suburbs around Thirroul:

Thirroul is a northern seaside suburb of the city of Wollongong, Australia. Situated between Austinmer and Bulli, it is approximately 13 kilometres north of Wollongong, and 69 km south of Sydney. It lies between the Pacific Ocean and a section of the Illawarra escarpment known as Lady Fuller Park, adjacent to Bulli Pass Scenic Reserve.


George St Thirroul undated (RAHS Photograph Collection) (27733725271)
View of George Street, date unknown

Before European settlement, Wodi Wodi Aborigines inhabited the area known then as Thurrural, meaning "The Valley of the Cabbage Tree Palms". Cabbage tree palms were once plentiful in the area. Early white settlers used cabbage tree palms to make strong fence posts. The trees are still present on either side of Bulli Pass.

Early settlement began in the late 1860s in the hilly area of the village as the lower beachside area was swampy and susceptible to flooding with high tides sometimes combining with heavy rain. Occupations consisted of farming, cedar logging, whaling and fruit growing and eventually mining when the Bulli Mine was opened in 1859 and the Bulli Jetty which shipped the coal from the mine opened in 1863. The township was known as North Bulli until February 1880 when the name of Robbinsville was chosen. The new name was decided upon at a meeting of ten men (including Frederick Robbins) in George's Whitford's "big new House" (located on the site of today's Ryans Hotel) in 1880. One suggestion for a name for the place was "Mudmire" but somehow Robbins convinced the others to call the town after himself. It only had a total population of 490 in 1891.

The town was then known as Robbinsville until 1892, when the name "Thirroul" was officially adopted by the Railways Department - most probably due to the influence of the politician Archibald Campbell who was also then owner and editor of the Illawarra Mercury who included both the names "Thirroul ("cabbage tree") and "Throon" ("bush leech - 'blackfellow doctor'") in a still-extant list of Aboriginal words he compiled in the early 1890s. The name "Thirroul", however, appears to be a misnomer. William Saddler (a well known Aboriginal elder from Port Kembla) contacted the Illawarra Mercury newspaper and complained about the "meaningless" name. He said the area was called "Throon" which meant "Bush leech". Saddler claims Aboriginal people warned their children about the large number of leeches found high on the escarpment near the site of what would later become the Excelsior Colliery.

In 1888 the rail link with Sydney was finished. Early construction workers on the railway caused a population increase, and the eastern side of the town progressed rapidly. The Thirroul Locomotive Depot opened in 1917. It closed in 1965 and only the barracks for the accommodation of the railway crews remain. The Railway Institute Hall (opened in 1920) where workers once studied has been classified as a heritage building. The construction of the rail link also created an increase in tourism for Thirroul. It became a popular family seaside holiday destination with boarding houses and holiday cottages in demand.

Two known early residents include Samuel McCauley and Frederick Robbins. McCauley was one of the oldest residents of the Illawarra district when he died in June 1899 in Thirroul. A street in Thirroul has been named McCauley street. Robbins was a prominent resident who gave his name to the township of North Bulli as it was then called. He 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.

In 1898 the Amy was shipwrecked on the rocks at the southern end of Thirroul beach. All of its crew died. A memorial plaque to the Amy and her crew is located in the Thirroul Beach Park.

Coal mining operations began at the start of the 20th century and miners needed residences, though logging had been occurring before for some time.

Thirroul circa 1920
Thirroul circa 1920 showing the town as it was described by D. H Lawrence.

The world famous English author, D. H. Lawrence visited Thirroul in 1922 and wrote the novel Kangaroo about Australian fringe politics after the First World War whilst there. Overlooking the Pacific Ocean, his house Wyewurk is the earliest Australian bungalow to show the influence of the Californian Bungalow style of architecture. He gave this description of the town... "…The town trailed down from the foot of the mountain towards the railway, a huddle of grey and red painted iron roofs. Then over the rail line towards the sea, it began again in a spasmodic fashion…. There were wide unmade roads running straight as to go nowhere, with little bungalow homes…..Then quite near the inland, rose a great black wall of mountain or cliff…..". The book D.H. Lawrence at Thirroul by lifelong Thirroul resident Joseph Davis was published by Collins (Sydney) in 1989 and questioned many of the assumptions made by Robert Darroch in his 1981 work entitled "D.H. Lawrence in Australia" published by Macmillan (Melbourne). The Cambridge edition of Kangaroo (edited by Bruce Steele) tended to accept the views of Davis rather than those of Darroch. Davis has gone on to write numerous articles and a number of books about art and the environment in Thirroul and the local area, including "Greetings from Thirroul" (1994), "Greetings from Wollongong" (1995),"The Illawarra Society of Artists" (2001), "Lake Illawarra: an ongoing history" (2005), "John Brown of Brownsville" (2011), "Gooseberry & Hooka" (2012) and "One Hundred Seasons" (2014).

The Thirroul Village Committee (TVC) was formed in 1983 because, in the words of Don Gray, ”the town was looking rather tatty” and something needed to be done. Don was the founding Chairperson and Lynne Jones, the founding Secretary. In 1983 the population of less than 5,000 qualified Thirroul as a village. In 1993 the TVC won the prestigious Basil Ryan gold award at the Rise & Shine Awards presentation for improved streetscapes. The Thirroul Seaside and Arts Festival, which is a very successful community event, was the brain child of Don. The first festival was run in 1993. Lynne organised the Festival for many years, building to the point where it was handed over to the Lions Club.

Another community event was "the Growing Green Kids Festival' – a not-for-profit event which was the brain-child of resident Cate Wilson (1948–2012). Cate was also President of the Thirroul Action Group (TAG) - an environmental group which has functioned for around 30 years. Residents concerned about health risks picketed against the Telstra phone tower in 1997. Storms and floods severely affected the Thirroul area in August 1998.

In August 2007, Thirroul's CBD and beach was declared an alcohol free zone as a council initiative to prevent public drinking on streets and footpaths within the designated area. A local developer, John Comelli, re-opened the old King's Picture Theatre In Thirroul as Anita's Theatre in 2007 after a lavish refurbishment but is now (as of May 5, 2011) in the hands of the receivers. In late June 2011 the theatre was purchased for $1.05 million by a consortium headed by Rennie Cristini.A buyer from Sydney with a ‘‘vested interest in theatre’’ is the new owner of Anita’s Theatre in Thirroul. The property recently sold for $1.4million – $350,000 more than its last sale price in 2011" according to the Illawarra Mercury (Illawarra Mercury Nov. 15, 2013).

Ninety-two-year-old Thirroul resident Don Gray has released (June 2011) a self-published book of his memories called My Thirroul illustrated by local artist, Christine Hill. A children's playground was opened by Wollongong Council with a plaque carrying their names on July 4, 2012. Some of the art work evokes Don Gray's memories of an elephant stuck in the former Thirroul Beach lagoon on the current site of the playground - a story he recalled (and which Christine Hill illustrated) in his book. Don Gray died on April 28, 2013 aged 93 (Illawarra Mercury, 30 April 2013).

A surprisingly well-informed history of the town can be found on the Community Facebook page entitled "Thirroul History in Photos". There is a similar community page on the adjoining suburb of Austinmer which also often includes much information about Thirroul.


Thirroul has one of the least culturally diverse populations in the Wollongong local government area (LGA). In 2001, 13.8% of the Thirroul population was born overseas, compared to 23.0% for the Wollongong LGA. In addition 4.5% of the Thirroul population reported in the 2001 Census to speaking a language other than English in the home, compared with 17.1% for the Wollongong LGA.

The 2001 census also indicated that the median weekly individual, family and household incomes in Thirroul are higher than those for the Wollongong LGA. 16.3% of Thirroul individuals earn more than $1000 a week, which is significantly higher than the Wollongong area. Levels of qualification in Thirroul are also higher than the Wollongong LGA.

Many former Sydneysiders have moved to Thirroul and now commute to work from the northern area and real estate prices have become ridiculously expensive. The price of a now near derelict house with ocean glimpses in Spray Street Thirroul increased from $80,000 in 1986 to selling for $1.560,000 on the 7th May 2016 - an increase of some 1900%. Average Weekly Earnings have simply not kept pace with such dramatic rises. Few employment opportunities exist in the suburb with much of the labour force commuting to Sydney for work. Thirroul's major industry of employment is education, with 14.5% of the labour force employed in this area. Health and community services is Thirroul's second major employer.


Thirroul railway station is a major station on the South Coast railway. Although not as important as in steam days, it is the major station between Wollongong and the Sydney metropolitan area. Local Wollongong suburban services terminate at Thirroul, while all express intercity services stop at Thirroul. Passenger services are provided by NSW TrainLink. Thirroul retains a number of passing / refuge sidings for the many coal trains from Metropolitan Colliery and the western coalfields which pass through the town.

Lawrence Hargrave Drive starts just south of Thirroul at the Princes Highway in Bulli and travels north through Thirroul, connecting with the Old Princes Highway and Southern Freeway at the Helensburgh exit.

Thirroul Beach

The beach is a prominent feature, as well as the backdrop of the 400 metre high escarpment, attracting many bushwalkers to northern Austinmer and surfers to both beaches. Thirroul beach is popular with both locals and tourists, becoming particularly busy in summer months and long weekends. The beach is 1 kilometre long and backed by a large, grassy reserve. Swimming can be potentially hazardous because of permanent and shifting rips. The beach is patrolled in Summer and a 50 m ocean pool is located near the beach. The Thirroul Surf Lifesaving Club was established in 1907 as one of 14 foundation clubs in NSW. There have also been complaints of under-age drinking, noise and anti-social behaviour occurring on Thirroul Beach Park after dark, especially in the summer months. Former Iron Men Champions Darren and Dean Mercer are from Thirroul and their parents still reside in the town.

Thirroul SLSC is also the home of the Thirroul Seagulls IRB (inflatable rescue boat) Racing Team, who have competed strongly for the last 15 years.

Thirroul Aerial
Aerial photo from north west

Thirroul is an exposed beach and reef break, and has reliable surf all year. The most desirable wind for surfing in Thirroul is offshore winds from the west north-west. Most of the surf in Thirroul comes from groundswells, with the best swell direction the south-east. The beach break provides for both left and right-handers. Caution should be taken with rips, rocks, sharks and, during the summer, bluebottles.

Natural environment and wildlife

The Sandon Point Stockland development, has given rise to much controversy and conflict between developers and environmental and Aboriginal groups over Aboriginal heritage and coastal wetland and floodplain since 1989, is just south in Bulli. Dootch Kennedy, Al Oshlack and Karen Gough have co-ordinated a series of legal actions against the development's impact on Aboriginal heritage. This protest is ongoing, and included a 24/7 picket for five years before an arson attack, and a continuing Aboriginal Tent Embassy. Resident Jill Walker has been heroic in taking Stockland and the Minister for Planning to both the Land and Environment and Supreme Courts over a number of outstanding non-Aboriginal environmental issues relating to the development. It is also the starting/finishing point to the bike track that runs south to Wollongong, the Wollongong to Thirroul Bike Track. The escarpment area is rich in its variety of birdlife. Recorded birds in the northern suburbs of Wollongong include the Australian King Parrot, Crimson Rosella, Eastern Sea Eagle and the Brown Gerygone.

In popular culture

Thirroul features in the musical piece Small Town by Australian composer Peter Sculthorpe. A note published by Faber Music states that forty years after the visit of D.H. Lawrence and his novel Kangaroo, "Peter Sculthorpe envisaged Thirroul as the quintessential Australian town, frozen in a more innocent time". The music evokes the architecture of the town, the township monument and includes a rendering of the Last Post evoking an Anzac Day ceremony at the town war memorial.

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