Old Bulli Railway Guest House


Bulli Railway Station, eastern side, looking south-westerly. In the right background can be seen the two-storey Railway Guest House, with iron lacework verandahs.  Postcard, circa 1900. The horse and buggy at the station entrance indicate the approximate age of the photograph.

Under Threat 2006-7

The historic Old Bulli Railway Guest House (1887) at No.2 Station Street, Bulli, is threatened with demolition as a result of a plan to construct a Woolworths shopping centre on land to the south of the building at Molloy Street, Bulli. The proposal was approved by Wollongong City Council’s Environment and Planning Committee on 5 June 2006, with the developer’s access road to the shopping centre from No.2 Station Street, Bulli, cutting right through the Guest House (refer: Wollongong City Council Environment and Planning Committee, 5 June 2006, BD40/06, Item 3, page 68 – Attachment 2 – Indicative Proposal). The destruction of this unique heritage item for the sake of a concrete driveway would be a travesty. Since the community was first informed of this proposal, there has been an active campaign to fight for the protection and preservation of the building and for recognition of its important association with the adjacent Bulli Railway Station and heritage precinct.

Old Bulli Railway Guest House, No.2 Railway Street, Bulli, June 2006. Note the unsympathetic modern brick-veneer addition at the front of the building and the removal of the verandah.

The heritage values of the Old Bulli Railway Guest House have long been known by the local community. They were specifically highlighted in association with the 1989 City of Greater Wollongong Heritage Study. A submission to Wollongong City Council by the Illawarra Historical Society and Black Diamond District Heritage Centre in 1992 requested that the Railway Guest House be placed on the heritage list. In August 1993 Council agreed to list the building as an item of local significance and also to include it within the regionally significant Bulli Heritage Conservation Area. The latter was subsequently listed in Development Control Plan No.42 - Heritage Development (11 August 1993), however for some unknown reason Council officers never followed through in placing the Railway Guest House building on the heritage list as a distinct item. This failing was only brought to the attention of the local community in May 2006. It highlighted the often secretive and inappropriate manner Wollongong City Council had dealt with heritage items and heritage issues since the late 1980s.

A report to Wollongong City Council of 5 June 2006 on the proposed rezoning of the combined Cavions Scrap Metal and Railway Guest House site contained the following erroneous statement (page 64):

" Heritage - The site does not contain any heritage items. The northern portion of the site (No.2 Railway Street) is within the Bulli Heritage Conservation Area, but is not listed as an individual item. The property has been identified by the proponent for further investigation. The report also states (page 65) that Council has indicated that further information may be required in regards to: Information in relation to building and public domain design principles supporting the conservation objectives of the Bulli Heritage Conservation Area. An assessment of the heritage significance of the building at No.2 Railway Street. (Note: A preliminary assessment of this property by the applicant’s Heritage Consultant has confirmed the property “appears to have very limited cultural significance’)."

This statement indicated a failure by Wollongong City Council to recognise the heritage values of the Old Bulli Railway Guest House. The owner of the building, in the past, had apparently objected to the heritage listing of the building, and Council officers accommodated the request that it not be specifically identified, despite the 1993 decision to list it. Nevertheless, the building does possess significant heritage value.

On 5 July 2006, as a result of concerns that the Railway Guest House would be sold and demolished before its heritage significance was appropriately recognised by Wollongong City Council, Miss Jill Walker of Bulli contacted the NSW Heritage Office requesting that a Interim Heritage Order be placed on the building. In a letter in response, dated 12 September 2006, the Heritage Office determined not to issue the IHO on the grounds that Wollongong City Council had agreed to call for a heritage report on the building to assess its heritage significance. Members of the community subsequently provided information to the Council on the history and heritage significance of the Railway Guest House and a report was completed in February 2007. In the interim the building was apparently sold to Wollworths. At the end of February 2007 the Department of Planning gave the ok for the rezoning of the land to proceed, subject to Council ensuring that consideration be given to the "high level of local heritage significance" of the building and compliance with Section 83 of the NSW Heritage Act.

The following is a collection of material relating to the history of the Old Bulli Railway Guest House - the building, the people who passed through it and the history of the local area.

Historical Background 1887-2007

The Old Bulli Railway Guest House comprises a 2 storey brick building and attached structures, including a wooden single story wing, dating from the time of the construction of the Illawarra railway line in 1887. It forms part of the historic Bulli Railway Station precinct. This precinct comprises the railway station buildings and grounds - including the Black Diamond District Heritage Centre - and the restored stationmaster's residence. The 120 year old Railway Guest House is in good condition, though no restoration has as yet taken place. It has a north-facing frontage onto the Bulli railway station carpark and landscaped area. The Railway Guest House is one of only three such guest houses left in Bulli. One other – the 1870s Seaview Boarding House on the Princes Highway - is facing imminent demolition to accommodate the Northern Distributor road expansion. The third, Bon Accord on Park Road, is a private residence. The Railway Guest House is all the more significant due to its rarity, substantive construction and historical context.

The Railway Guest House, Bulli - Family Reminiscences

Compiled by Maureen Slapp

[Historical notes compiled by Mrs. Maureen Slapp, 19 Glenhaven Street, Woonona, 13 June - 18 September 2006. Mrs Slapp is the great-granddaughter of Roger and Sarah Heard, who operated the Railway Guest House from the 1870s through to the 1920s. Mrs Slapp's grandfather was Albert Heard, son of Roger and Sarah.]

Roger Heard was born in 1840 in Devon, England, to William Heard and his wife, ? Holmes.

Sarah Cavill was born in 1852 at Sofala, on the goldfields near Bathurst. Her parents - Albert  Cavill and Harriet Oliver - subsequently moved to Bulli.

Sarah and Roger met and were married at Saint Michael's Church of England, Wollongong, in 1868. They bore 3 sons between 1869 and 1874, including William A. (b.1869) and Albert (b.1875).

Roger and Sarah were living in Cadia, on the Orange district goldfields, at the time of the birth of their son Albert in 1875, but they had lived in Bulli previous to this. They returned to Bulli by 1876.

In 1877 Roger Heard, then described as a farmer, purchased land at Bulli from John Stewart (ref: Department of Lands Book 169, No.181). At some point shortly thereafter he and Sarah opened a small guest house on the site, near the main road at Bulli. This was prior to the erection of a modern, two-storey building there in 1887 in connection with the opening of the south coast railway line between Sydney and Wollongong and construction of the Bulli Railway Station adjacent to their land. It is possible that some Heard and Molloy land was either purchased or resumed by the government to allow for the railway line extension, thereby promoting the construction of the new, more substantial guest house.

During this period - the 1870s and 1880s - Roger Heard worked in the local coal mines and was a trustee of the nearby Primitive Methodist Church at Bulli. Sarah, meanwhile, raised their young family and managed the Railway Guest House.

The Bulli Mine Disaster of 23 March 1887, in which 81 men and boys were killed, affected the family, as it did most poeple in the Bulli area. Three young nephews and a cousin of the Heards lost their lives in the explosion.

However all was not bad news that year. The story is told that Sarah provided a meal for the dignitaries on the train carrying the official party when the railway was extended from Waterfall to Bulli and on to Wollongong in September – October 1887. At some stage she cooked a meal for the visiting Governor General. It was subsequently laid out in the train. The Governor General later came across to the Guest House and thanked her for the meal.

With the opening of the railway line the Bulli district became a popular tourist destination. Whereas prior to this visitors had arrived from Sydney by coach or sea, they could now use the train, and later cars, with the Railway Guest House as a base to enjoy the surrounding area.

A visiting naturalist - Neville Cayley (1887-1950) - is mentioned in family recollections as staying at the guest house during his numerous visits to sketch local bird life in the surrounding bush. As well as researching birds of the local rainforest, he was also interested in "canaries in coalmines."

Between 1879-1894 two more sons and two daughters were born to Roger and Sarah. These included Elizabeth (b.1879), John Henry (b.1881), Mary M. (b.1884) and Oliver Holmes (b.1894).

The New South Wales Post Office Directory for 1894-1895 lists 'Roger Heard - boarding house, Bulli.'

Roger Heard was known as a gentleman. He always dressed in collar and tie. Likewise Sarah was a smart dresser, able to sew from the materials she purchased. She had long dark curls down her back and wore a bonnet with a bow under the chin. It was said that she could make a meal out of scotch thistles.

Sarah was also said to sing like a lark. In fact, the whole family were gifted singers and instrumentalists, so dinner was followed by everyone gathering in the sitting room around the piano, with family and guests taking part. Some family were well known singers in the district. Albert had a fine tenor voice and, with his three children Fred, Ede and Min, formed the Heard Quartet. They were active in the Woonona Methodist Church all their lives and would take solo parts in the Messiah both locally and outside the district. Albert also played cornet in the Woonona Town Band. At one point Orange Lodge entertainers from the Tivoli in Sydney stayed at the Guest House and asked Sarah to join them, such were her talents. A popular dance was held at Coal Cliff Hall, so this provided a social activity for guests as well as the locals. One of the sons of Roger and Sarah - Albert - met his wife-to-be Minnie at this dance.

The Guest House continued operating throughout the nineties and into the first decades of the new century despite the death of Roger Heard died on 23 June 1911. He was buried in Bulli Cemetery. Sarah continued to run the boarding house after his death. Her daughter May had married George Mitchell and her grand-daughters – including Emmeline Mitchell - assisted Sarah in running the Guest House, preparing all day with housekeeping, cooking, arranging flower vases from flowers in the garden, and setting tables. Guests were required to dress formally for dinner.

When Oliver Holmes Heard, the last child, enlisted for World War I service, Sarah signed his papers with the address 'Railway House, Bulli.' The balcony of the building was gaily decorated with Chinese lanterns when Oliver returned from the war.

In the 1927 New South Wales State Electoral Roll for Bulli, Sarah is listed as: 480 HEARD, Sarah Elizabeth, Railway Street, boarding house, proprietress. She died in December of that year (refer obituary notice below).

In her final years Sarah was cared for by May and her son-in-law George. Following Sarah's death, in 1930 George purchased the property (ref: Department of Lands Book 1597 No.46C). The transfer of land title document also contains a copy of the probate will of the late Roger Heard, which directed the trustees to permit his wife Sarah "to enjoy his property and the rents and incomes  .... till sold." The building remained a boarding house for many years thereafter.

Reference : Illawarra Pioneers pre 1900, Illawarra Family History Group, Wollongong, 1988. Entries for Roger Heard and Sarah Cavill.

Chronological References

Illawarra Mercury, 11 June 1887 - construction of Guest House.

Bulli Items - Mr Roger Heard, of Bulli, is proceeding with a grand two-storey brick building facing the railway. It is Expected that more large buildings will soon be built in the vicinity of the railway station...

Illawarra Mercury, 9 July 1887

Bulli Items - It is strange that no one living near the railway station is following Mr Roger Heard's example, viz., the building of larger-houses for the accomodation of persons who will visit this part of the district when the railway is open right through...

Illawarra Mercury, 9 December 1927 - obituary notice of Sarah Heard.

Mrs Sarah Heard

Again it is our sad duty to record the passing away of another of the identities associated with Bulli-Woonona, for such a considerable period. We refer to Mrs. Sarah Elizabeth heard, widow of the late Roger Heard, who predeceased his wife 16 years ago. Mrs. Heard had been in failing health for a couple of years, receiving every care and attention at the residence of her daughter, Mrs. George Mitchell, Campbell Street, Woonona, at which place she passed peacefully away last Sunday, and whence the funeral moved off at 4pm on Monday. A large number of relatives and friends, some of the latter being of many years' standing, were included in the sad cortege, the remains being placed to rest in the Methodist section of Bulli cemetery, Reverend William Evans officiating at the graveside, and he made nice reference to the deceased. There were a number of nice wreaths.

The late Mrs. Heard, who had passed her 75th milestone in life, was a native of Sofalo, near Bathurst. She had resided in the Bulli-Woonona district for about 60 years. Together with her husband, the couple were known to everybody in the early days, paerticularly by reason of the fact that they conducted a small boarding-house in Railway Street, Bulli, near the railway station, and later on, in 1887 - when the railway line was being extended through - erected on that site the modern two storey building which today bears the sign "Railway Boarding House."

Deceased was a faithful adherent of the Methodist Church. She was noted for her commendable actions in various ways, and reference was often made to her very kindly disposition. Members of the family remaining are - William (Woonona), Roger (Mt. Kembla), Albert (Woonona), Elizabeth (Mrs. A.C. Gray, Enfield), John (Mt. Kembla), May (Mrs. George Mitchell), Oliver (Wollongong). Sisters and a brother of deceased are Mrs. A. Mackey (Corrimal), Mrs. M. Graham (Wollongong), Mrs. J. Sedger (Bulli) and Mr. J. Cavil, senior (Coledale). There are many grandchildren, all commanding respect, and to the sorrowing relatives we extend our sympathy.

Illawarra Mercury, 6 January 1928 - notice of sale of Guest House.

In the estate of the late R Heard. For sale by tender. Railway Boarding House, at present unoccupied, adjecent to Bulli Railway Station, two storey, nine rooms with detatched wooden kitchen and outhouses. Land approximetly 78 feet frontage to Railway St, depth approximately 300 feet. Ideally situated for a boarding house.

Compiled by Michael Organ. Site last updated: 24 September 2006. Home Page. Any comments, corrections, or additions to this site are most welcome.