History: Looking Back

Looking Back history feature: The wild men of 22 Mile Camp

Looking Back history feature below

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Looking Back

Navvies working on the Illawarra railway near Helensburgh Navvies working on the Illawarra railway near Helensburgh

By MICK ROBERTS ©

Grog shanties like this sprung-up in secluded bushland along the Illawarra railway works during the 1880s. Grog shanties like this sprung-up in secluded bushland along the Illawarra railway works during the 1880s.

AMERICA’S Wild West could be considered tame compared to the wilderness separating Sydney from Illawarra’s far northern coal mining villages during the mid to late 1880s.

Notorious shantytowns sprang up in the bushland to service the men who built the Illawarra Railway and they were no place for the faint hearted.

The navvies employed on the government railway from Sydney to the Illawarra were tough, hard men who endured primitive living conditions in the wild country between the Georges River and Clifton.

The most notorious of these settlements was known as the 22-Mile Camp – located in the vicinity of the present Heathcote. It numbered over 200 workers and their families, who were regarded as the toughest of the tough, and where “respectable” navvies…

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About Mick Roberts

A Sydney journalist, writer and historian, Mick Roberts specialises in Australian cultural history, particularly associated with the Australian hotel and liquor industry. Mick has had an interest in revealing the colourful story of pubs, inns and associated industries in Australia for over 30 years. He is currently working on a comprehensive history of the hotel and liquor industry in the Illawarra region of NSW. Besides writing a number of history books, Mick has owned and managed several community newspapers. He was one time editor of the Wollongong Northern News, The Bulli Times, The Northern Times, The Northern Leader and The Local - all located in the Wollongong region. As a journalist he has worked for Rural Press, Cumberland (News Limited), Sydney based, City News, and Torch Publications based in Canterbury Bankstown, NSW. He currently calls the inner-Sydney suburb of Surry Hills home.

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