Coalcliff rail tunnel opened on St Pat’s Day

clifton inn C1900

The Clifton Hotel (top left of picture) where several toasts were “negotiated” to celebrate the completion of the ‘Gate of Illawarra’ tunnel project in 1887.

helensburgh rail tunnel workers

Tunnel workers on the Illawarra rail line at Helensburgh. Photo: Wollongong City Library and Illawarra Historical Society.

four leaf cloverBESIDES St Patrick’s Day, March 17 also marks the anniversary of the completion of the Coalcliff to Clifton rail tunnel.

Known as the ‘Gate of Illawarra’, and measuring 1070 yards or just under 980 metres, the completion of the tunnel was celebrated on St Patrick’s Day 1887 with Clifton storekeeper, P. J. Kenna given the honour of placing the last brick in position.

After cheers for the Government, the contractors, and Mr Kenna, the crowd adjourned to the nearby Imperial Hotel at Clifton where several toasts were “negotiated”.

In June 1884, tenders were called for the tunnel to commence, and men began working at both ends in November 1884 in three eight-hour shifts.

At 2pm on Friday, May 7, 1886, the mostly Italian workers broke through from both ends, finalising the drilling works, and lining of the tunnel in brick was begun.

“They assembled in number, singing glees and choruses, according to the custom of their country,” the Daily Telegraph reported at the time.

The completion of the railway tunnel at Clifton, known as the ‘Gate of Illawarra,’ measuring 1070 yards, was celebrated on St. Patrick’s Day by Mr. P. J. Kenna placing the last brick in position; after which cheers for the Government, the contractors, and Mr. Kenna were given; and, having adjourned to the Clifton Hotel, several appropriate toasts were negotiated.

– The Sydney Mail Saturday 26 March 1887. 

coalcliff clifton rail tunnel 1960s

A train emerges from the Coal Cliff (Clifton) railway tunnel in the 1960s. Photo: Wollongong City Library and Illawarra Historical Society.

Would you like to make a small donation towards the running of the Looking Back and Bulli & Clifton Times websites? If you would like to support my work, visit my donation page where you can leave a small tip of $2, or several small tips, just increase the amount as you like. Your generous patronage of my work and research, however small it appears to you, will greatly help me with my continuing costs.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s