History: Looking Back

Looking Back history feature: Tom’s tall tales from the box seat

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Looking Back



ALTHOUGH supposedly handy with the whip, the real story of Thomas Kelly’s career as a coachman is littered with incidents of erratic driving, and accidents, which in the end left him a cripple.

The son of an Irish convict, Tom is arguably second only to the legendary James Waterworth as the Illawarra’s best-known coach operator. However, unlike Waterworth, who plied the Campbelltown to Wollongong route at the same time, Kelly, for reasons that will become apparent, never secured the prestigious, and lucrative, government mail contract.

The Sydney railway arrived at Campbelltown in 1858 – 30 years before Wollongong. As a result, a coach road, built in the late 1850s via Appin and over the notorious Bulli mountain, became the preferred route between Illawarra and Sydney.

Coach stops were provided for passengers at the pubs in the main service centres like Appin, Bulli, Woonona and Wollongong. The…

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About Mick Roberts

A 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 Australian pubs and associated industries for over 30 years. He is 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 managed several community newspapers. He has been 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), the Sydney city newspaper, City News, and Torch Publications based in Canterbury Bankstown, NSW.


3 thoughts on “Looking Back history feature: Tom’s tall tales from the box seat

  1. Hi Mick. Would you have any stories about John Benjamin Davis who was Chief Constable of Police from at least 1852. He married Sarah Emily Organ. They were my great grandparents. Any stories would be appreciated.


    Posted by Kim Archer | March 5, 2020, 9:28 pm
  2. Hi nice reading your bloog

    Liked by 1 person

    Posted by Sean Short | May 6, 2023, 9:34 am

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