Just over two hours drive west
of Sydney, in the middle of the Great Dividing Range
between Lithgow and Bathurst, lies the historic mining
town of Portland. Once a bustling town built around the
Portland cement works, the town has struggled to regain
its former economic strength for more than a decade since
the cement works closed.
The first successful manufacture
of cement in NSW was carried out here late in the 19th
century, based on local limestone deposits. The old bottle
kilns (circa 1888) still survive since those days and
now enjoy heritage protection.
Prior to white settlement, the
Portland region was occupied by the Wiradjuri people.
The first European in the area was James Blackman who
surveyed roads in the area in 1820 and today Blackman’s
Flat and Blackman’s Crown bear the family name.
Portland really got its start
when Thomas Murray selected 61 hectares of land in 1863
and constructed his first lime kiln on what is now the
corner of Lime and Villiers Streets.
The railway came to Portland in
1883 and the station was called Cullen Siding until 1889.
The Cullen Bullen Lime and Cement Company established
operations in the village that year. During the early
1890’s, the first cement-making kilns west of the
Blue Mountains were built in Portland.
In 1894 the village was gazetted
as Portland, possibly named after the limestone rich
Isle of Portland, on the southern shores of England.
Others say the name derived from the Portland cement-making
works opened in 1902 and Portland was declared a town
in 1906. Cement
produced at the Portland cement
works helped build the city of Sydney and was shipped
around Australia until the works were closed in 1991.
Local resident, 85 year old Jack Kearns coined the phrase “the
town that built Sydney” one evening in the Coronation
Hotel where he sometimes plays an impromptu rendition
on the accordion and the harmonica with his friend Dexter
on guitar in front of an enthusiastic audience. Jack
has a wealth of local knowledge and his son was once
the postmaster at Portland.
Dr August Wilhelm Karl Scheidel
can be considered the father of the modern cement industry
in Australia. He
registered the Commonwealth Portland Cement Company Ltd
in Sydney in December 1900 on behalf of the New Zealand
Mines Trust whose Board of Directors was in England.
He was a brilliant man who designed the cement works
at Portland and supervised their construction. It is
a great credit to him that there were no accidents during
the erection of these works and the associated infrastructure.
Dr Scheidel was a pioneer in industrial relations who
insured his employees against accidents and introduced
the eight-hour work day at the Portland cement works.
He provided an ambulance service and accident ward for
the works which he shared with the town when such facilities
were rare in the country. He supported the building of
a hospital, which was opened in 1913. In 1901 he provided
land for a church in the southwest corner of the cement
works, which is still in use today as the Anglican Church.
The Portland cement works provided free street lighting
for the town and housing for staff members. Many of those
building still survive in the town today.
Today the dust from the
cement works is gone and the industrial focus of the
town is the Mt Piper Power Station
and the coal mines located nearby. Surrounded by sheep
and cattle farms, the town has also attracted an increasing
number of new businesses whose owners have come to enjoy
a country lifestyle close to Sydney. Goats, alpacas,
horses, olives, chestnuts and grapevines are making inroads
as large farms are broken up into smaller holdings and
more ‘out-of-towners’ move in.