Whether it’s cars, iron ore, grain, tourists or even royalty, there’s been plenty going in and out of the port of Port Kembla.
Operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week, it sees around 1000 ships a year.
Those ships could be heading to the BlueScope berths with a load of ore for the steelmaking process.
They could arrive empty, having offloaded their cargo elsewhere, ready to pick up a load from the silos of either of the two grain terminals.
They might even be laden car carriers heading for the inner harbour, where they will berth so crews can be driven on board in a minibus, drive a car off the ship each and park it in the massive car parks on shore. Then they get back in the bus and do it again. And again.
The port is the largest terminal in the state for vehicle imports – and grain imports.
READ MORE: Historical photos of the Port Kembla stack
With the coal loader located there, it’s also the second largest terminal for coal exports.
The state government’s freight strategy will only see the port get busier – the plan identified Kembla as the location for a container terminal to handle the overflow from Port Botany.
Over the next six weeks the Mercury will take you inside the port to see some of the operations not usually seen by the general public.
Inside the port’s 186ha of land there are six major independently operated terminals, 20 berths, 29 kilometres of rail lines and a 3.5-kilometre road network.
There are actually two bodies who oversee the running of the port. The landside operations fall under NSW Ports’ control, the entity that was granted a 99-year lease back in 2013.
The marine operations – which includes providing pilots that board each ship in open waters and direct it into the port – are the job of the Port Authority of NSW.
But at one stage, it might not have been used for anything.
In the 1800s, Wollongong harbour was the region’s major port. To overcome the problems with depth an idea was floated to dig a 2.5-kilometre channel from Belmore Basin to Tom Thumb Lagoon where an inner harbour would be dredged.
That never happened and, in 1898 the NSW government chose to turn Port Kembla – which had already been in use to export coal –into a deep-water port.
For around 60 years, it was around half the size it is today – what we now call the “outer harbour” was actually the entire harbour.
Look at the port on Google Maps and you’ll see a channel in the middle linking the inner and outer harbour. Known as “the cut” that was once where the port ended.
Plans for an inner harbour at Port Kembla go as far back as 1916 when it was suggested that dredging of Tom Thumb Lagoon – which flowed into the harbour – could allow for an expansion of trade in the port.
READ MORE: Cleaner ships to pay less at Port Kembla
But nothing really happened until 1955, when the NSW government passed a bill to dig out much of the lagoon to a depth of 10 metres. The work was to be done in two stages – the first completed in 1960 and the second in 1965.
The work affected traffic through the Illawarra – in the 1950s Old Port Road travelled through the lagoon and was the main road south from Wollongong.
But it was very much in the way of the inner harbour, so the road was cut and replaced with Springhill Road, which led to the growth of Warrawong.
The inner harbour officially opened on November 28, 1960, when the SS Iron Yampi sailed in with 10,000 tonnes of ore on board.
Perhaps the most famous visitor to Port Kembla was Queen Elizabeth – or her ship at least.
On April 10, 1970, HMS Britannia docked at Port Kembla during the Queen’s Wollongong visit as part of her Australian jaunt.
Her ship wasn’t here long – 50 minutes after pulling in at No 6 jetty HMS Britannia set sail again.
It has also been the location of tragedies, including the sinking of the Gabriella on August 14, 1986.
Strong winds and heavy seas caused its cargo to shift as it waited to enter the harbour.
This caused the ship to list, but it safely berthed in the harbour.
A snapped cable saw the heavy equipment being unloaded crash suddenly onto shore and the Gabriella rolled away from the wharf and capsized.
Two men – Mt Ousley’s David Brook-Smith and Melbourne’s William Martin – drowned when they were trapped on board.
A monument in Heritage Park at the harbour area pays tribute to the memories of the two men.