Following Wollongong's heritage trail

Heritage officer Joel Thompson outside St Michael's Church during a walking tour in Wollongong. Picture: CHRISTOPHER CHAN

Heritage officer Joel Thompson outside St Michael's Church during a walking tour in Wollongong. Picture: CHRISTOPHER CHAN

Wollongong has a history to rival almost anywhere in Australia - but sometimes it takes a special tour to remind us.

Few know the region's first land grants were distributed in 1816, less than 30 years after the First Fleet landed in Sydney, or that our oldest building dates to the 1830s. This reporter did not know, until walking the Wollongong City Centre Heritage Trail, as part of the Heritage Festival.

"We don't talk about our heritage well, but it's time to shift that," said council heritage officer Joel Thompson, who led the tour.

"Many parts of our history are not highly visible, so people tend to not notice it."

The 23-stop tour of Wollongong.

The 23-stop tour of Wollongong.

The 23-stop tour takes in our most obvious heritage sites - the court house, St Mary's, churches - but more camouflaged icons prove most enthralling. A stone icon at Harbour and Smith streets, the location of Charles Throsby's stockman's hut, sits quietly outside an apartment block. Originally located in Port Kembla, due to historical anomalies in the hut's location the marker was moved in 1954 - still a bone of contention in the Wollongong historical society, Mr Thompson said.

"I walk past this every day but I've never looked at it," said one of the tour's attendees.

Up Smith Street towards Little Milton, thought to be the oldest building in the Wollongong area dating to the 1830s, the tour takes in Wollongong Public School, Crown Street and town hall, and is full of local tidbits.

St Mary's College is built on (and from) the remains of an 1820s pub; St Andrew's church's bell tower has no bell; and St Michael's church only moved to its current location after disputes with contractors over the correct material from which to build the church.

"We usually rush past, but a tour like this is a chance to be aware of what's around us," said tour-goer Kerrie Christian.

Wollongong's history is all around - slightly hidden, a little forgotten, but bubbling under the surface nonetheless.

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