Coal was discovered in the early days of European settlement in Australia, when a group of shipwrecked sailors was washed ashore on a South Coast beach in 1797. They found lumps of coal on the beach at what was to be aptly named Coalcliff.

The shipwrecked sailors had stumbled upon the edge of a fabulously rich coal seam that was to bring great economic wealth and development to the Illawarra region of NSW when mining finally started 52 years later in 1849.

Coal mining boomed in the region in the second half of the 19th century, with one of the biggest mines being Mt Kembla (not far from the location of South 32’s current showpiece, Dendrobium Mine). Mt Kembla’s coal was exported from a wooden pier at Red Point, but by the end of the century it was becoming increasingly apparent that a deep water harbour was needed to allow safe loading of ships.

The NSW Government approved construction of the harbour near Red Point - to be named Port Kembla in honour of the mine whose coal it would export - in 1898. Within 20 years it was the third largest harbour on Australia’s eastern seaboard. Port Kembla’s first coal loader operated from the early 1900s through to the 1960s.

The first coal loader at the present site was commissioned in 1964 with a capacity of two million tonnes. This had expanded to 7.2 million tonnes by the time the loader was replaced by the No. 2 Loader in 1982.