Mount Kembla is a mountain in New South Wales, Australia, as well a suburb of Wollongong, which gets its name from the mountain. Kembla is an Aboriginal word meaning "plenty of game". It is a former coal mining town and the home of the miners killed in the Mount Kembla Mining Disaster. The township contains a local primary school, general store/post office, church and graveyard, several hundred houses and the Mount Kembla Hotel, which was built in the 1887. The only two ways into the village are from Wollongong, up the residential/bushland Cordeaux Road, its name coming from early settlers, and over from Mount Keira down Harry Graham Drive. The small village of Kembla Heights is part of the suburb but to the northwest, reached by Harry Graham Drive. The Mount Kembla Colliery was opened in 1883. BHP Billiton is a mining/steel export company which owns substantial property on and around Mount Kembla. It is currently mining at the Dendrobium site, half a kilometre west of the village. Mount Kembla is joined to the west by the Illawarra escarpment and in particular a mass with two lower summits, Kembla WEst (512 m) and Mount Burelli (531 m). The mountain forms a prominent peak pointing roughly eastwards.
A quote from the mine manager, William Rogers, stated that the mine was "absolutely without danger from gases", the Illawarra Mercury reported that "gas had never been known to exist in the mine before" and the Sydney Morning Herald recorded "one of the best ventilated mines in the State".
However, after the explosion left 33 widows and 120 children fatherless; an enquiry returned a conclusion that Mt. Kembla Mine was both gassy and dusty and that the Meurant brothers and William Nelson "came to their death … from carbon monoxide poisoning produced by an explosion of fire-damp ignited by the naked lights in use in the mine, and accelerated by a series of coal-dust explosions starting at a point in or about the number one main level back headings, and extending in a westerly direction to the small goaf, marked 11 perches on the mine plan."
A Royal Commission into the disaster held in March, April and May of 1903, confirmed the gas and coal-dust theory accepted by the earlier coroners jury. Rather than holding any individual official of the Mt. Kembla Company responsible, the Commission stated that only the substitution of safety lamps for naked lights could have saved the lives of the ninety-six victims.
There are two graveyards where the bodies of the men and boys were buried. Mt Kembla Graveyard is in the center of the village, behind the village church. It also contains the 2.5 metre memorial to the disaster, listing the names of the miners who died on the day as well as two rescuers who perished saving other miners. The second is the more remote Windy Gully Memorial, which is a 1.5 kilometres South-West of the village. The explosion is still known as one of the worst disasters ever to hit the area and has since become part of the villages heritage. There is an annual festival dedicated to the disaster on the weekend following July 31 each year.
Local Aboriginal legends told of Mount Kembla and Mount Keira being sisters and the Five Islands being daughters of the wind. The mountain was first observed by a European by Captain James Cook on his voyage from Whitby. While navigating the east coast of Australia, he noted it as 'a round hill', its top resembling a hat. The village was first settled in 1817 by George Molle. Two old pit pony watering holes on the ring track are still visible as is the visible attempt at a carriageway to the top (suspended in the 1800s and never completed) to the north of the Summit Track by mere metres. On the eastern part of the Ring Track there are two mine entrances. Lantana has become a problem weed in the bushland of Mount Kembla and another feral problem is wild goats and deer.
Mount Kembla is joined to the volcanic fold of the Illawarra escarpment, overlooking Wollongong. The summit is 534 metres above sea level and is a prominent local landmark, where it has a lookout linked to a 5.5km ring track. The mountain has a unique collection of flora, being the fusing point for northern and southern types of eucalypt growth and containing many types of rainforest. It also has two orchards on the western slope. American Creek flows down the mountain, past the mine and village. The mountain is a high outcrop of mainly sandstone in a roughly east-west ridge extending from the escarpment to about two kilometres to its east. It has a summit plateau divided into two sections, the higher one raised slightly above the west one, forming a small rise at the top. The ridge descends from the plateau and the mountain is generally quite thin at the top, widening below to create foothills that extend into the outer western suburbs of Wollongong and Unanderra. Many high trees are to be found there and pockets of rainforest grow about Dapto Creek and American Creek. American Creek flows to the north of the mountain from the joint to the escarpment and Dapto Creek from the southern side. A prominent foothill is at its southeast side, which juts out above farmland.
Fauna on the mountain includes swamp wallabies, wombats, possums, giant burrowing frogs, red crowned toadlets, and broadheaded snakes. Lyrebirds, wild turkeys, spotted turtle doves, kookaburras, bower birds, superb blue wrens, australian magpies, pied currawongs, australian ravens, common mynahs, honeyeaters and welcome swallows. In 1804 a logrunner bird was collected on Mount Kembla, this being the first to be scientifically described.
The Mount Kembla Ring Track follows a course around the mountain starting from the Kembla Lookout carpark on Cordeaux Road. It goes down some stone steps into a gully that flows down into Dapto Creek and then goes along the southern side of the mountain through palm and fern growth before turning at a junction. At this junction there is one of two pit pony watering holes on the east side of the mountain. The right turnoff goes into private property on Farmborough Road, but the left goes north to the second watering hole and a mine entrance. Another deviation on this side goes to another mine entrance, both are closed due to tunnel collapse risk. From here it goes through more open canopied Sclerophyll growth before coming out at Cordeaux Road near private property, though the track is legal for walking as long as within this marked section one does not deviate from the track itself. To complete the walk one must go up the road back to the lookout. This is generally done as described in an anti-clockwise fashion. Wallabies, snakes and feral goats are a common sight.
The Mount Kembla Summit Track goes along the same small stretch of dry bush that begins the Ring Track but then branches to the left after a map/information stand. It climbs gradually up the summit ridge and on to the two summit plateaus, one by one, before going along the second to the trigonometry station.
The plateaus are both thin and go in an east-west direction along the ridge. The track is signposted near the beginning warning of 'crumbling edges' but is also known for being saved from weathering and allowing easy access to the top. Beside this track to the left (north) is an old carriageway built but ot completed, after finding the large sandstone boulders at the top, in the late 1800s. It is still clear though overgrown. Halfway along this track there are several rock outcrop lookouts where good views south and west can be seen, the summit offering views northeast to southeast. Lyrebirds are common as well as wild turkeys and pigeons.
A former bridle track, the now somewhat overgrown after a while track that starts on the west side of the Cordeaux Road carpark at the Kembla Lookout is known as the Bridle Track on most maps. It goes along the escarpment, just below the edge, and can be quite slippery in moist conditions, several stages requiring jumping from rock to rock, however for the most part it is accessible if careful. The track goes through Illawarra Rainforest bushland with Lyrebirds quite common as well as wallabies. The track used to go all the way to the Moss Vale-Unanderra Railway track but is now overgrown beyond several hundred metres or so.
Further up Cordeaux Road, the Ridge Track used to give walkers access to Harry Graham Drive, bypassing the summits of both Mount Burelli (531 m) and Kembla West (512 m), but this was recently closed and included in the catchment zone. A small section was still open to walking as of the 2005 map upgrade.
Even further up the road is the Kembla State Forest, an area of protected bushland on Dombarton Mountain, overlooking Dapto.